Microsoft splits channel chief role between two ahead of annual partner conference

Following months of unrest among parts of its partner-channel community, Microsoft is divvying up the 'channel chief' role in a new way -- among two existing Microsoft execs.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft announced on July 14 that it will split the company's 'channel chief' role in two. Former chief Rodney Clark will be replaced with two current Microsoft execs, officials said today, a week ahead of the company's annual partner conference, Inspire.

Microsoft announced today that Nicole Dezen is now the Chief Partner Officer (CPO), in addition to being Corporate Vice President of Global Partner Solutions. But in spite of that title, she is not the new channel chief. 

A company spokesperson sent the following to explain what's happening:

"The channel chief role, previously held by Rodney Clark, will be split into two distinct leadership roles; one of which will be directly tied to sales with our channel partners and led by David Smith, new VP Channel Sales; and the other led by Julie Sanford, VP GTM, Programs and Experiences, with direct accountability for programs and offerings. The decision to evolve what formerly had been a single role into two distinct areas of responsibility is a reflection of the growing importance and breadth of our partner ecosystem all-up. "

Smith most recently was Vice President of the U.S. Partner organization. Sanford most recently was Vice President of Go-to-Market Strategy and Programs for Global Partner Solutions.

In May, Corporate Vice President of Global Channel Sales and Channel Chief Clark announced he was taking a new role outside the company. At that time, Microsoft officials said a search was on for his replacement and that Microsoft planned to have a new Channel Chief in place by the start of its new fiscal year on July 1.

Clark, a nearly-25-year Microsoft veteran, had been Channel Chief since March 2021. He was one of the main execs at Microsoft, defending changes in its partner program that were unpopular with a number of the company's partners. 

The company's New Commerce Experience (NCE) -- which officials have said is meant to streamline how partners license and customers purchase products -- is in the midst of being implemented across Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Windows 365, and the Power Platform. Many Microsoft partners have expressed their displeasure publicly and privately with the terms of operation of the NCE. In mid-March, Microsoft made a small concession about one of the NCE provisions

At the end of June, Microsoft made another NCE concession, postponing "indefinitely" the date by which Cloud Solution Providers would be required to sell licenses under the NCE terms. The previous deadline for this was July 11. However, in 2023, Microsoft will stop paying monthly incentive rebates to those maintaining legacy subscriptions instead of going NCE.

Next week is Microsoft's annual partner show, Microsoft Inspire, which will be a virtual event this year. Inspire typically helps Microsoft kick off its new fiscal year, which begins July 1. So far, as part of fiscal 2023, Microsoft announced a layoff of roughly 1% of its 180,000-plus employees, which officials have characterized as one of its regular realignments of its workforce.

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