The Microsoft Partner Network is designed to provide VARs, managed service providers, systems integrators, system builders and consultants with guidance, support and development expertise in Microsoft products, to aid them in serving and selling to their clients. In this article we describe the program and explain how to become a Microsoft partner.
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The Microsoft Partner Network program consists of three levels: Community, Subscription and Competency (which is available as either a Silver or a Gold membership).
The first level, Community, is the easiest to attain and has no cost, yet is the least advantageous. It provides, according to Microsoft:
- Product training through the Partner Learning Center, which provides such resources as local classes; online courses; Virtual Labs; and independent study resources to increase your sales, technical and marketing skills.
- A standard listing in Microsoft's Pinpoint online marketplace.
- Incentives for cloud-related sales.
- Access to product promotions and other offers.
With the Subscription (also referred to as the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription) level -- which is available in two flavors, the Solution Provider MAPS and the Development and Design MAPS -- a number of additional benefits come into play:
- 10 internal-use licenses for each Microsoft software application.
- Unlimited access to the Partner Learning Center.
- Microsoft Students-to-Business, or S2B, program, which helps connect you with entry-level employees trained in Microsoft technologies.
- An "optimized" listing in the Microsoft Pinpoint online marketplace.
- Microsoft Payment Solutions, which offers resources and training to provide flexible payment options for your customers' IT needs.
- Access to the Microsoft LicenseWise for Volume Licensing self-service Web application, which recommends Microsoft products best tailored to your Volume Licensing customers.
- Partner Marketing Center and Demo Showcase campaign tools, which provide customer-ready marketing support.
Microsoft has announced that in January 2014, Subscription-level partners will see some significant changes. The Solution Provider MAPS and the Development and Design MAPS will be consolidated into one subscription option. And the program will include six resource centers that provide content based on a partner's business practice. (In November 2013, the company announced that some planned changes to the Microsoft Partner Network will be delayed.)
Competency level: Silver
According to Microsoft, Silver-competency memberships offer a number of additional benefits, including:
- 25 internal-use licenses for each Microsoft software application.
- A Silver-competency Certified Partner Logo, which displays your company's industry experience in providing services, software and support for Microsoft technology. The logo can be used in your company's marketing and promotional material, including on your website.
- 20 Partner Advisory Hours, which provide phone and online support from Microsoft personnel, extending technical, business and competitive sales help.
- Eligibility for business planning support from a Microsoft Partner Account Manager.
- Eligibility for discounts on Windows Phone plans and devices.
- A prioritized listing with Silver-competency designation on Microsoft Pinpoint.
- Licensing, solutions and cloud incentives.
- Technical presales help for deals worth more than $3,000.
- Unlimited online tech support, unlimited phone support for critical problems and phone support for five noncritical problems.
Competency level: Gold
The highest membership level, Gold competency, provides the largest array of benefits but is the most difficult to attain. In addition to all the elements promised in a Silver partnership, Gold status includes:
- 100 internal-use licenses for each Microsoft application.
- A "premier" listing with Gold competency designation in Microsoft Pinpoint.
- 50 Partner Advisory Hours.
- The Gold Certified Partner Logo.
- A Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Announcement Kit press release, which is drafted to announce your Gold status.
The core benefits and requirements grid outlined on Microsoft's Partner Network Membership page provides details on the benefits and requirements associated with each level.
Silver- and Gold-level members will see changes by January 2014, as part of a set of changes to the Microsoft Partner Network. Primary among the changes are a new cloud competency track and updated requirements. The existing Cloud Essentials, Cloud Accelerate, Cloud Deployment and Windows Azure Circle programs will be retired at the end of June 2014. For partners in those programs, Microsoft has mapped out transition plans to either MAPS or a relevant competency.
Additional changes include the following:
- Cloud Essentials partners and those with a subscription to MSDN will receive credit good for use in a trial of Windows Azure.
- The Small Business Specialist Community, or SBSC Program will be retired in November 2013.
- The Windows Embedded Partner Program, or (EPP, will be absorbed into the Microsoft Partner Network.
- Access to Business Critical Phone Support will be limited to Gold and Silver partners, with Gold receiving support for 15 incidents and Silver receiving support for 10.
More details on the upcoming changes can be found in Microsoft's Microsoft Partner Network Disclosure guide.
How to become a Microsoft partner
What are the actual steps to become a Microsoft partner? The requirements for eligibility begin with the type of business applying. Eligible organizations are those whose primary function is to sell, service, support or build solutions on the Microsoft platform, or to provide solutions based on Microsoft products and technologies to independent, third-party customers.
If your company fits that description, you can fill out a partnership application. The application requires that you provide your contact information, sign the Microsoft Partner Program Legal Agreement and complete an Individual Profile for use on Microsoft Pinpoint. The Individual Profile defines your company's business focus, the services it offers, the types of customers it works with and the technology it uses on a regular basis.
For Subscription and competency-level partners, there is a series of exams and assessments designed to confirm the competency of their business. Competency-level members must complete varying degrees of technical certification, with two Microsoft Certified Professionals required for Silver partnership and four MCPs required for Gold partnership. Additionally, a licensing overview assessment is required of Subscription and competency-level partners, a sales and marketing competency assessment is required for Silver- and Gold-level partners, and Gold partners must participate in the Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Index. (The CSAT Index program, which is administered by market researcher Taylor Nelson Sofres, is one way Microsoft measures the quality of its higher-level partners. To comply, Gold partners must receive responses to a quality survey from 10 customers within the 12 months before their membership renewal.)
Silver and Gold partners must also provide confirmed references from customers verifying the company's legitimacy and quality of business: three customer references for Silver membership and five customer references for Gold membership. Membership fees are currently $1,850 for Silver membership and $5,260 for Gold membership, with lower fees for "small business" versions of those competencies. For Subscription members that are satisfied with downloading the software, the annual membership fee is $329. For Subscription members that also want the physical media, the annual cost is $469. In January 2014, membership fees will increase for MAPS and competency-level partners.