Friday, April 23, 2010

The New Microsoft Partner Program (MPN)

While there is some buzz of discontentment about the new MPN program, I applaud the moves that Microsoft is making to revamp their partner program and create some differentiation once again among their channel partners. Under the current model – there are far too many gold certified partners, and it has become impossible to create any differentiation. The new model creates three levels with very different requirements that definitely not all partners will be able to achieve. SBSC was on the chopping block for a while, and through the determined support of some inside the walls at Microsoft, and a number of us as partners, it has survived and will play a vital role in providing community for all partners serving SMB that want to be part of it going forward. That is very good for the partner community as it gives all a place to fit in the new model.

The Small Business and Midmarket Solution Provider competencies allow differentiation one step up – and will fit many serving the SMB marketplace. The stakes are a bit higher but the benefits of having two different places to fit are very good. When you add the Advanced Competencies for these two areas, you really begin to differentiate the channel. Purely the required number of staff to even qualify here is one major separation point. And the levels these folks need to achieve is significantly higher than the old gold certified requirements. Throw in some of the other requirements and you have a level that is once again a challenge to achieve. I personally have lobbied for this for some time now – to allow companies that have some scale and have made significant investments in their team to be able to differentiate in the SMB channel. This level is not designed to fit all – only a small minority will be able to achieve this level. But that is not a turning away from the SMB – it is a matter of Microsoft listening to partners and creating a tiered partner program that allows companies to make investments and commitments to set themselves apart in the chosen areas they want to focus.

IMHO – Microsoft is showing a real commitment to the SMB partner by adding these two areas as full fledged competencies. After all, previously we only had SBSC to serve as the SMB banner and it wasn’t a real level – sort of some hybrid less than full certification. Now we are finally seeing the SMB treated just like the enterprise competencies with the same kinds of requirements and ultimately the same ability to market and focus on specific targets we want to build practices around. Requiring current version tests to qualify is just another of the very good decisions that have been made in rolling out MPN.

I believe Microsoft has done their job well and thought through the needs of the channel – from small partners who still have their home in the SBSC – to larger partners who can now build a practice and leverage their huge staff investment and be able to differentiate themselves from others in the channel. Some will feel it is unfair because they can’t get to the top level after being gold certified under the current program. I don’t think that is a ratcheting down of focus – I see it as a very positive ratcheting up of creating a partner program that will get larger partners more interested in being part of the SMB and Midmarket competencies again. Tiering of partners is critical to make any program of value. I applaud Microsoft for making it happen with this MPN plan.

If there is a downside - it is the delay in making the requirements known and creating the gap analysis tools that most every partner will need to use to determine their best fit in the new MPN. It is nothing like the current program where resources apply broadly across many competencies. In the new world, we need to map our staff to specific tracks and testing so we can get the most bang for the literal buck as the cost to participate has gone up. With these things kicking in fairly soon - partners need time to put their strategy together and get their team trained and tested. Every day the guidance is not available makes it more difficult for companies desiring the Advanced Competencies to achieve those. I hope there is some major haste made to get the tools in place to guide us to success. Otherwise the hard work and value will be pushed off as partners try and figure out what to do.

Many vendors are moving the opposite way - trying to add more partners and create a bigger pool. In HTG, we are taking a similar approach - focusing on depth and differentiation rather than breadth and the same old stuff. Great job Microsoft for making this move to the next generation. It fits right along with the other major shifts we will have to make addressing the reality of the Cloud.

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