Microsoft partners have at least another year to figure out if they want to hit new revenue targets to achieve Gold status. Perhaps more important, they now have an inkling of what those revenue targets will be.
Microsoft pushed the deadline back from October 2011 to October 2012. The stated reason is it wants to make sure it has the most accurate measurement system in place.
But many partners suspect the real reason is that there were so many complaints about the requirement that Microsoft had to regroup. The delay was mentioned in a post to the Microsoft Partner Portal in late June and comes just before the big Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference kicks off in Los Angeles next week.
Microsoft unmasks revenue targets
These revenue targets -- based on geography and skill set -- remain a huge issue for Microsoft partners. According to the MPN website, a U.S. partner must hit $100,000 to $500,000 in revenue, depending on competency. A Gold partner with a badge in application integration, volume licensing or Web development, for example, must attain $100,000 in revenue while a CRM Gold ISV has to hit $500,000. In the past there was no revenue requirement, per se.
Before this posting, many Gold partners said they would not pursue the Gold designation again because of what they saw as the high cost of entry and dubious payback on software implementation and sales as Microsoft moves more into cloud deployment.
One partner this week said he has heard nothing specific from Microsoft on his goal. “They tell us they have a number in mind for us but won’t tell us what it is,” he noted.
Julie Bennani, general manager of the Microsoft Partner Network, said notification of partners of the target numbers was left to field personnel. She also said that Microsoft has said all along it would revisit deadlines and requirements to make sure partners were given ample opportunity to adjust.
The stakes are high if IT buyers believe that Microsoft Gold represents an elite subset of the company’s partner community. The problem in the past has been there were too many Gold partners for too few customers. Partners also complained that some Gold partners actually had few skills to back up that badge. There were jokes of Microsoft Gold partners operating from post office boxes. Part of the rationale for the new program was to truly differentiate top-tier partners from the hoi polloi.
Several Microsoft Gold partners this week said they were unaware of the deadline extension and aren’t sure that it will make a difference. “I suspect that they’ll change [the date] again in the next year,” said one partner who may not re-up as a Microsoft Gold partner, citing the high cost of training and certification.
It is not clear to him, or to many Microsoft partners, whether any vendor certifications carry real weight among current or prospective customers.
“Nobody in our marketplace cares about vendor badges. Anyone who leads with certification, usually has no experience,” said another partner, George Brown, CEO of Database Solutions Inc., a Narberth, Penn.-based VAR. Experience with actual customers is really what people look for, he added.
Certs for some, but not all
Constance Quigley owner of Q Factor Consulting, said certifications can make sense for some VARs but not all. She said tests like the Sure Step exam for Microsoft Dynamics partners that sell the company’s ERP solutions are “worthless” for smaller partners.
“Customers aren’t going to make their decisions based on certifications. They’ll make them on deciding between best cost and the amount of available resources.”
The pushed-back deadline for attaining Gold revenue targets is just the latest delay to the evolving Microsoft Partner Network program. The company also gave Microsoft Dynamics partners several more months (until October) to finish the Sure Step and other certifications. Partners said it made sense to delay those qualifications beyond the end of Microsoft's fiscal year (which ended in June) because preparation and paperwork can take partners out of the selling process.
Linda Rose, owner of Rose Business Solutions of San Diego—a finalist for Microsoft Dynamics Cloud Business Excellence Partner of the Year -- does think every Microsoft partner should be certified in at least one product but agreed that the company has gone overboard with some of its requirements.
“Sure Step is a good tool, but Microsoft went too far with it. Requiring at least three partners to have been trained on it, regardless of organization size, to get the certification is a bit much,” she said. “It’s not fair to compare a six-person company against a 100-person one. I think Microsoft is going to announce some certification alternatives because it’s realizing that it’s alienating smaller partners.”
Perhaps the scariest thing for Microsoft going into WPC 2011 is that many of its best and brightest partners seem skeptical about the program's benefits beyond free software.
There is a feeling that the cost of maintaining an MPN Gold or Silver badge will not be recouped. Some partners remain unclear on what the real differences between the tiers are.
“What’s the value of MPN? Let’s be realistic about the difference between gold and silver. That needs to be clarified,” said Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies LLC, Fairfax, Va.
Bennani said 85% of partners surveyed recently said they want to re-up for the program.
(Editor's note: This story was updated Saturday with Bennani's comments.)
Colin Steele contributed to this story.