Microsoft partners still want channel program improvements

Microsoft has higher approval rates than most big tech companies, but the software giant is still lacking in business training and support for channel company executives.

Read part one of this story on Microsoft's partner program approval.

"Microsoft is helping resellers with 'Ready-to-Go Campaigns,' which help partners have the right conversations with customers," a Microsoft spokesman said. "Currently, the plan is to drive 5,745 campaigns in the U.S. through partners in alignment with product and solution launch campaigns."

This campaign effort includes marketing materials, targeted prospect criteria and "lists to help partners identify the right types of prospective customers," according to Microsoft. In addition, the company has launched its Microsoft Solution Finder. Partners can profile their offerings in Solution Finder, which lets prospective customers search for partner solutions by zip code, vertical market and product category among other criteria.

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Schijns, meanwhile, pointed to a second program-boosting opportunity: helping partners adapt to a world in which they will increasingly sell solutions in cooperation with other partners -- VARs, integrators and ISVs.

"The channel is very rapidly evolving into a new entity that sells through and sells with other partners," she said. "I think Microsoft can continue to be best in class by working to help partners evolve their businesses and go to market plans to address that issue."

Piwonka said Microsoft already offers help on the partnering front, organizing activities that pull together software vendors, resellers and integrators.

Piwonka said Microsoft creates a forum that lets the company work with partners who could potentially offer its solutions to end customers. Centennial develops IT asset discovery software. The Microsoft spokesman said the company "encourages partner networking to deliver customer value and drive partner opportunity, growth and profitability."

Microsoft's partner program includes several mechanisms for partners to connect for particular projects.

Those include: Partner Channel Builder, a networking and resource-sharing tool that lets Microsoft partners connect with others; The Worldwide Partner Conference, which provides a forum for discussing areas of potential collaboration; Partner Advisory Councils, Microsoft-sponsored events that bring partners together to discuss specific topics; and the International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners, a independent organization that consists of Microsoft Certified Partners.

Schijns, however, said Microsoft can take its partner matchmaking role a step further. She believes that teams of partners can reach higher levels of certification than a lone company working with just the talent within its walls. Schijns suggested that Microsoft could allow "bundled" partners to qualify for higher levels of technical certification than they would achieve individually.

Where Microsoft can improve

Microsoft's continuing push into the business world has compelled the company to deal with a changing set of partner needs.

Ciecierski said Microsoft's partner effort once lagged a bit when it came to backing business solutions partners as opposed to traditional software resellers. CAL Business Solutions focuses exclusively on Microsoft's Dynamics GP accounting software.

When Microsoft first launched its business solutions division, the company employed the same partner support approached it used with "classic" partners, Ciecierski said. But partner program personnel supporting business solutions providers needed to have industry experience with the "specific functionality of the software, as opposed to just being able to answer licensing questions and technical questions," she added.

But Ciecierski said Microsoft has vastly improved in giving business solutions partners the support they need, noting that the company now draws a distinction between classic partners and business solutions allies.

Schijns said Microsoft, overall, has achieved a greater understanding of its partner base.

"We are pretty pleased with the sate of our relationship right now," said Centennial's Piwonka. "I think Microsoft has made huge strides over the past few years in reaching out to the partner community."

Read part one of this story on Microsoft's partner program approval.

Company name:

Microsoft Corp.

Headquarters:

Redmond , Wash.

Founded:

1975

Partner Web site:

Microsoft Partners

Phone:

(800) 642-7676

Technologies developed:

platform products (OSes), application development, business solutions, and entertainment products.

Tiered program name:

Microsoft Partner Program

Tiers:

Registered, Certified, Gold Certified

Number of partners:

More than 600,000 worldwide; 370,000 in the Microsoft Partner Program. 10,000 Gold Certified; 20,000 Certified; 340,000 Registered.

Percent sold through channel:

More than 96%

Senior channel exec's name:

Allison Watson

Title:

corporate vice president, Worldwide Partner Group

Number of years at company:

14

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