Changing channels

As one of the biggest vendors in the IT business, with a diverse portfolio, there can’t be many channel companies that don’t deal with Microsoft in one way or another.

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Changing channels
By  Mark Sutton Published  October 18, 2011

As one of the biggest vendors in the IT business, with a diverse portfolio, there can’t be many channel companies that don’t deal with Microsoft in one way or another. With a major revamp of its partner programme under way, Channel Middle East spoke exclusively to Jon Roskill, corporate vice president and head of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group, about why the changes have been made and how they are being implemented in the region.

Microsoft has changed its partner programme, can you explain what is different about the new approach?

We’ve been working on a substantial change, with our channel partners to our core, Microsoft Partner Network programme, a change to a competency model.

Before we had essentially generic, horizontal, Gold-level partners, and from a customer perspective, they saw the Gold partners as the bigger, more reliable partners, but they weren’t differentiating them by skill set, the way we hoped for.

We spent time working with customer input and partner input to get a framework for taking the very broad Microsoft product line and looking at how to take that, with partners, into customer facilities. We developed this model, that’s made up of 28 competencies. The competencies include areas like business intelligence, portals and collaboration, unified messaging, and partners can now become Gold or Silver certified in those competencies, to reflect their focus and expertise.

What’s exciting now is, we’re eight months into this change and we’ve got a substantial percentage of our partner channel that has made the move. On the Gold partner side, we feel very good about it. We’re hearing customer and partner feedback that they think the model is really good. Customers know if they call a business intelligence-certified partner, that they’re going to get somebody who isn’t just a Microsoft partner, but somebody who’s really, really good at SQL Server and all of the business intelligence tools around that.

The partners are saying it is not just the incentive programmes, but the marketing that we’re putting in around the competency-based programme which is helping as well, and they’re seeing customer demand as a result.

How easy is it for the partners to pick up these new competency certifications?

If you’re brand new, it’s going to be more work than if you’re a partner who has previously had a Gold certification but perhaps let some of your certified professionals’ certifications lapse, then you’re going to have a bit more work to do. If you’ve been a great partner and you’ve been keeping your people trained and certified, it’s probably not that much work.

We’re asking partners to select, to be thoughtful about what their focus areas are. If you’re a big partner you can still do nine or ten competencies, but the majority of our partners are 20-30 [personnel], sometimes less. So we’re encouraging them, not to try and do everything, but to pick a few areas and really specialise.

Do existing partner qualifications translate into new certifications or have partners had to go through a process to re-qualify?

At the individual level for certified professionals, those come with you. At the organisational level, no, that’s where you’re enrolling into the new programme and you’re qualifying as a Gold competency partner in a particular competency.

How many partners have shifted so far?

The target for the year is 9,000 Gold partners worldwide, that is organisations, not competencies, and that compares to about 16,000 of the previous Gold certified partners. We’ve dropped almost 50% and we did that very intentionally because we’re trying to make this more exclusive and offer more benefits to those who get there.

In the Silver competencies we are projecting we’re going to wind up with in excess of 50,000 partners. To keep this in perspective of the worldwide Microsoft Partner Network right now, we have 640,000 partners. When you add this all up, the Gold and Silver partners together are less than 10% of the total base, it is the crème de la crème of the partner network.

We’ve been talking to the Silver partners about some of the benefits, and they’re getting excited, particularly about a support offering we have, that they will get unlimited support on deals of greater than $3,000 value. I think that shows them that we’re really putting the skin in the game. If they’re signing up to be one of our Silver partners, even at that level, we’re still willing to come and support them very strongly.

How many regional partners do you have enrolled in the competency programme?

Right now we’re tracking the target of 100 Gold and approximately 800 Silver, that’s basically the Gulf region, excluding Saudi.

How much have customers been involved in developing these programmes?

Substantially. From the start on the Microsoft Partner Network, we went out and spent a lot of time with customers of all different sizes and different types of services consumption. The Partner Network covers licensing, it covers solutions, it covers ISVs for people building package software, it covers hosters, and it covers Original Equipment Manufacturers. So we have to build a programme that’s broad enough to cover that whole space, and we have been very thoughtful in terms of the way we gathered input.

What are you doing in terms of promoting these competencies to the customer?

We are running campaigns around the Microsoft Partner Network and the competencies, we’re fairly active on digital advertising. What I’m most focused on is the products, because that’s what customers see; and positioning the partner as a call-to-action on those products: ‘If you want this [product], call these Microsoft Gold and Silver partners’.

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