Microsoft revamps its Partner Network program

NEW ORLEANS – With Windows 7 on the door step of worldwide availability and Office 2010 scheduled to be released in the first half of next year, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is launching a major overhaul of a Partner Network program that is coming up on its five-year anniversary.

Company channel chief Allison Watson is revamping the Partner Network under three pillars: capability, customers and connections, but the major change will come within the Gold partner tier.

New entrants to the gold status level or those channel partners who are re-enrolling will now be asked to pass a customer satisfaction score within the previous 12 months.Watson said that Microsoft has not set the bar for a certain standard, however, she is looking for excellence.

“What we want is excellence. If we take a grade school scoring system that would be an A+, and if that’s excellence then that’s what we are looking for. If it ends up being a B+ then that’s what the partners should aim for. We just want to make sure that the bar is set right,” she said.

Gold partners can still use the same logos that they use today, but Watson is encouraging them to update marketing collateral to reflect their competencies.

Watson is giving Microsoft channel partners, which currently number more than 640,000 worldwide, 18 months to make all the transitions necessary to meet the new Partner Network requirements.

“We know that the partners need time to digest these changes and partners need to decide when and where to make the investments before renewal,” she added.

The road map for Partner Network competencies and logo recognition collateral are scheduled for the year 2011 and existing logos will be retired six months after that.

Darren Bibby, IDC channel analyst, said the changes to the Gold-level tier will be felt throughout the channel in Canada.

“The changes to the Gold-tier are similar to Autodesk and Cisco Systems, and will be good for the overall channel population because there were too many Golds. It was inflated and harmful for the entire channel community. Someone cold be a Gold partner in business intelligence, say they were Gold and add that they did security (without being certified Gold in that area),” Bibby said.

He added that these changes will see Microsoft’s partner ecosystem look more like a pyramid instead of a hourglass.

Watson said that the company is about to embark on its biggest new product release period in its 24-year history. Following Windows 7, Exchange 2010 will be released near Christmas. In the first half of next year, SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 will be released and, in the second half of next year, OCS Server.

“Partners who invest early will be recognized and rewarded,” she said.

With these releases 30 new competencies will be introduced, including the Advanced tier.

Bibby said that a lot of channel partners talk about the Microsoft tax, which is the amount of work needed to fully understand and comply with all the partner program requirements. “It can be daunting,” Bibby said. “On the good side, Microsoft provides many resources and that is beneficial to partners. Microsoft has to be careful of this tax if they want partners to be serving themselves,” he added.

One of those resources is the re-launch of Microsoft’s Partner Learning Centre. This resource enables partners to create specialized learning paths for technical and business skill development.

Microsoft also announced an increase in financing options for about 25 countries they do business in. According to Watson, financing has helped partners increase deal sizes by 40 to 80 per cent.

Also part of the new Partner Network are the Practice Builder and Services Ready initiatives, which involve road maps for channel led service-line adoption and retirement and compensating services executives.

Watson said that seven services, including virtualization, will be dropped so that partners can take on that entire revenue opportunity.

They’ve also created a profitability tool for educating solution providers on three-year business models. This tool can pinpoint how much investment will be needed for partners to enter this new business.

Another important aspect of the Partner Network rollout will be social networking tools.

Microsoft wants to further partner-to-partner connections, and those that do participate will gain access to unlimited online technical support, while receiving a guaranteed response to all break-fix issues. The Microsoft Partner Network is also organized by partner type, technology expertise and vertical industry experience.

Finally, marketing will be accentuated in the new Partner Network. Besides a full complement of digital marketing resources, there will be a search engine optimization tool.

At the head of Microsoft channel marketing push will be Pinpoint. This service helps the channel find local solution providers along with online selling capabilities, business analytics and lead qualification information. Watson said that from last year to today, Microsoft has generated 350,000 leads for the channel.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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