Microsoft Remodels Channel Program

Dave Sobel, chief executive of Evolve Technologies, a Washington, D.C.-based managed services provider with a virtualization practice aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses, said in an online statement that the program changes will help partners to stand out.

“At least in the small- to medium-sized business where my company plays this does allow an engaged partner to really differentiate themselves well and show the value of their educational investment to their customer,” Sobel said. “I like the fact that Microsoft continues to respond to partner and customer demand and to continue to try to improve the program.”

Currently, Gold-certified Microsoft partners must earn at least one competency—an area of proven experience and skill—among 17 different categories comprising some 40 specializations. The company said that by December it will consolidate competencies and specializations into a set of 30 so-called solution competencies to include new technologies and reflect skills that customers are more apt to recognize.

For example, the Advanced Infrastructure Solutions competency, which encompasses Active Directory and Storage Solutions specialties, will be renamed to Server Platform Solutions.

Microsoft officials also said that current Gold program members re-enrolling in the program for 2010 must have participated in its Customer Satisfaction Index within the last year. In addition, the company is urging partners to update their marketing materials to reflect current competencies and designations. New program materials will be available in 2011.

Busy year ahead

Watson conveyed three specific areas—sales and marketing skills, customer satisfaction and social networking—that Microsoft will stress to partners as it phases in the new program, with the former carrying particular significance owing to the company’s rollout of new technology and the latter gaining importance as online communities play a greater role in everyday business activities.

Microsoft said that not only will it unveil an unprecedented volume of new technology this year—chief executive Steve Ballmer called it “absolutely the most phenomenal year we’ve ever had for new technology releases”—but also will unwrap or reconstitute learning resources, tools and models to build practices, drive sales and estimate profits.

Accordingly, the vendor said it will re-launch the Partner Learning Center, placing all training options at one central portal for partners to access. In addition, it is introducing tools for software-plus-services, specifically an enhanced profitability modeler that allows partners to estimate profits from an annuity business model.

Also, the company’s Practice Builder and Services Ready initiative is designed to help partners build a specific practice using proven intellectual property. Green Light provides tools to test applications along with technical suggestions for compatibility.

To help partners corral new customers, Microsoft is offering digital marketing resources such as search engine optimization, business planning services tools, a demo showcase on Windows Azure, tools to assist partners to make the case for IT investment to prospects and collaboration materials.

At the partner conference, Microsoft also announced the winners of its partner-of-the- year awards. From a list of 2,000 entrants, the company named 69 winners in 31 categories, ranging from Advanced Infrastructure Solutions, Active Directory Partner of the Year, won by Quest Software, to Unified Communications Solutions, Voice Partner of the Year, won by Intrinsic Technologies.

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