With the hype around SharePoint many companies have formed SharePoint (Information Worker) consulting practices (Companies) that focus solely on SharePoint Technologies. With seven years under its belt, the attendance at the conference this year (4000 strong!) and the next version around the corner (And it looks good!), I’m sure many are looking for additional consulting revenues and SharePoint is their answer.

To build our own practice I developed a solid plan based on my experience in past organizations successes and painful learning’s:

  • Utilized a campaign that targeted hungry sales people (cant stress enough how important this is ) and practice managers looking for new revenue. My internal marketing was more aggressive than marketing to clients to help build awareness amongst the sales teams.
  • I researched how sales people were metric’d, assessed sales skills, shared pipeline with outsourcing services, server and storage lines of business. I trained them how to spot opportunities, 3-5 points to remember and followed up on a regular basis.
  • From a consulting readiness perspective, training campaigns were developed and delivered to the regions (quarterly), the attendees were then tied together with monthly SharePoint Interest Group meetings (one on one calls monthly). IP I (and other consultants) had developed was utilized to help position the service offerings.  Additionally, Engineering work being done in our labs and publications was utilized as well. I positioned our broad portfolio and reach in attempts to gain an advantage over smaller players around enterprise strategy utilizing key hot buttons such as enabling a mobile workforce, facilitating real estate cost reductions, IT application portfolio simplification, knowledge capture/succession planning and just in time learning travel cost reduction to name a few.
  • To leverage marketing campaigns, I tied SharePoint to the companies data center consolidation marketing campaign for those interested in consolidating all their farms. I worked with Marketing to package offerings with company products and campaign at conferences, Microsoft events and other client events.
  • Finally, I established relationships with Penton and others for publishing articles and a few other companies to help with industry visibility and added credibility. The rest was hard work.

Before tackling the above, I did my research and thought things through. I began my research a few years or so ago and additional research most recently specific to the new MOSS 2007 and WSS v3 products. With the added functionality and scalability, would customers adopt the technology? How many would adopt and why? For what purpose would they use SharePoint? What sort of budgets are clients allocating for SharePoint projects? How many would outsource vs. in-source? How do I teach hardware sales people to help sells solutions? What sort of revenues and margins can be expected? Whats my competition selling? What would make sales people interested? The list goes on and on…

According to IDC:

“Microsoft partners have built successful practices deploying, implementing, and maintaining Information Worker offerings for companies of all sizes and across a wide range of vertical markets. Information Worker projects generate revenues not just from the deployments themselves but also from service contracts and managed services; other software sales such as operating system upgrades and antivirus; hardware and other infrastructure sales; security infrastructure deployments; and follow-on engagements.”

Around 2005, I decided to approach my research in a few different ways:

  • Industry experience
  • Looking at trends in RFPs and RFIs
  • Trade show and conference attendance
  • Trade Magazines
  • Linkedin and TheLadders activity
  • Microsoft available research
  • IDC, Gartner and others studies

So what did I find? Projects range from $25k to $1.5m USD (less hardware and software) but the average is closer to $150k USD (Depends on region etc…) with margins ranging from 5-30% – depending on your operational efficiency, costs structures etc… The analogy I’d use for growth is similar to when Exchange 2000 was released which spurred significant adoption rates – The IDC article explains the financials and market opportunity in more detail. Services companies must invest in a handful of staff and can expect to begin seeing profits in a year two. Of course this depends on your companies reputation, client perceptions, the relationships your sales staff have and the regional economy. What sort of staff do you require? An Architect that knows the space inside and out! This person understands the vision and can sell to the C level. This person also knows the platform inside and out – knows where additional products are required to boost functionality. This person must also understand Information Architecture and Document/Records Management and business process/workflow mapping. A solid team of developers that know .Net, SharePoint and databases inside and out. They must also understand content migration as it relates to Notes, eRoom and other applications. Finally, you need a sales team that are able to close services business – have a proven track record in services sales (Not product sales, wrong skill set).

From an adoption maturity perspective, most companies have deployed SharePoint as an Intranet and or public facing website replacement. Aside from basic publishing and team sites, organizations haven’t really done much. So what does this mean to you? The first wave of SharePoint is foundational. The next wave will be to integrate applications, leverage forms, workflow and build composite applications – building a foundation for true business collaboration.

The target business should be to help companies set strategy, establish foundational services, service management, information architecture, integrate application and build internal knowledge. The next wave should be working with the business units to building composite applications, integrate existing applications and what ever their other needs are based on conducting experience design workshops. Additionally, its clear that having a solid underpinning in the core components of the Microsoft “stack” is a fundamental requirement for successful engagements. This includes skills in core infrastructure, Active Directory, and UC products including Office 2007, SharePoint 2007, and Office Communications. In addition, since Information Worker projects often extend to application areas such as Exchange and Unified Communications, it is important to have skills in those areas as well.

In the end it all comes down to a talented and experienced team, understanding that companies must invest (have the stomach for it) and making sure your staff and rates are marketable in the regions where your office(s) reside. You must also have a reputation for delivering quality which is tough in the services business. If you don’t have a history expect to buy your first three projects, network heavily with Microsoft and invest in conferences to build awareness. Additionally, building your own IP can also help differentiate you from the competition. Finally, having a savvy sales team with relationships and architects that have sales and technical acumen will facilitate the close since clients are buying their experience.

I’ll publish Part 2 soon.