Microsoft Certified Partner Program: Enhanced Offerings, Strong Focus on Customer Satisfaction

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 25, 2000 — When Solutech Inc. President and CEO Randy Schilling looked around for another company whose success could serve as a yardstick for his own business goals, he figured Microsoft was a pretty good choice.

Solutech, which Schilling founded in 1992, provides technical education about Microsoft products as well as strategic consulting, technology development, application hosting and creative services. His company has grown from a one-man operation eight years ago to more than 500 employees in 18 locations nationwide and nearly $50 million in annual revenue. By the time Solutech celebrates its 10-year anniversary, Schilling expects to have 1,000 employees and $100 million in revenue.

“When I sat back and asked, ‘How large do we want to be?’ I looked at where Microsoft was at after its first 10 years and saw that we’re basically emulating Microsoft’s growth,”
he said.
“We don’t expect that pattern to slow down, and it’s directly related to our partnership with Microsoft.”

Sustaining these kinds of success stories is at the heart of the expanded support resources within the Microsoft Certified Partner Program, which the company announced today as a comprehensive overhaul of the 31,000-member Microsoft Certified Solution Provider (MCSP) Program. Microsoft partners include vendors that create added value with Microsoft products through software, services, training, systems integration, application hosting and other offerings.

The enhanced Microsoft Certified Partner Program, which officially begins in January 2001, will unite traditional systems integrators with thousands of companies from other Microsoft partner programs under one simplified brand. The new program introduces more demanding partner certification requirements, including an optional
“Gold Certified”
level for which companies must provide customer references. Microsoft also has broadened the scope of benefits available to partners and introduced additional resources to help companies deliver solutions on current technology as well as prepare for the new Microsoft .NET Platform.

Partner, Customer Input Spurs Program Expansion

The new program will provide additional Microsoft resources for creating and marketing partners’ particular products or services. Also, it aims to help customers locate partners that possess the right blend of technical expertise and experience for a particular project. Rosa Garcia, general manager of the Partner Programs Group at Microsoft, said feedback from customers and partners directly influenced many of the program enhancements.

Microsoft previously maintained separate programs for different types of partners, from traditional solution providers to independent software vendors (ISVs). But as new services have evolved and more companies have begun doing business across multiple categories,
“we recognized the value of creating a unified program to support our partners’ relationship with Microsoft rather than expecting them to maintain memberships in three or four separate programs,”
Garcia said. Microsoft also heard customers asking for an easier way to determine what types of products and services the various partners offer, as well as greater assurances that a prospective partner can deliver what it promises.

“In the new Microsoft Certified Partner Program, our partners can interact with Microsoft representatives and each other through a single organization, regardless of how many different roles they fill within the technology market,”
Garcia said.
“We expect the unified program to help our partners better differentiate their offerings in the market, show them new opportunities to work together in creating integrated solutions, and encourage them to achieve higher standards of customer satisfaction.”

Gold Certified Standards Raise the Bar for Partners

One of the most ambitious enhancements in the Microsoft Partner Program is the new Microsoft Gold Certified Partner level. Companies seeking Gold Certified status must maintain a higher number of staff members who have become Microsoft Certified through tests in their various areas of expertise — or, in the case of ISVs, higher levels of product certification. Also, Gold Certified partners must provide at least three current customer references that attest to the partner’s real-world experience with Microsoft technology. Microsoft will contact each of these customers to verify that they are satisfied with the partner’s level of service.

Gold Certified Partner categories available in January include e-commerce solutions, enterprise systems, hosting services and support services, with additional groupings planned in the future. Partners at this level will receive advanced technical training, discounts on Microsoft Certified Professional exams, earlier access to the appropriate product information and evaluation software, and higher priority in Microsoft’s customer referral program. Microsoft expects roughly 3,000 partners — about 10 percent of the program membership — to become Gold Certified.

“The Gold Certified benchmarks give our most accomplished and highly motivated partners an opportunity to further distinguish themselves among customers, who in turn will be able to readily determine which partners have a proven track record,”
Garcia said.
“While all our Certified Partners will continue to receive a broad range of benefits, we think the extra rewards and enhanced attention of the Microsoft Gold Certified label will be a powerful incentive for companies to excel at pleasing their customers.”

Solutech, which has been a Microsoft partner for eight years, expects to qualify for Gold Certified status in e-commerce solutions, hosting services and enterprise systems. Schilling said he welcomes the greater emphasis on customer satisfaction that the new program requires.

“I completely agree that our focus must be on keeping our customers happy and proving to potential new customers that we know how to solve their business problems,”
he said.
“They deserve assurances that Solutech has done a similar solution before, that the project was successful, and that we delivered it on time and within the budget. Building those standards into the Gold Certified label is a great move by Microsoft, and we’re very excited to be a part of it.”

Microsoft Partner Connection Resonates With Customers

When the National Pork Producers Council needed training on SQL Server and other Microsoft products in 1996, the Des Moines, Iowa-based agricultural trade association sent its information technology department to a Solutech seminar. Three years later, when the organization sought a solution provider to help create a custom accounting software package, IT director Kathy Mennenga remembered how knowledgeable the Solutech trainers had been about Microsoft technology.

“Solutech’s close relationship with Microsoft is an important additional selling point for us,”
said Mennenga, who hired the solution provider in 1999 to design a SQL Server-based enterprise accounting application that handles funds received from federal assessments on hog sales. The Pork Producers Council brought Solutech back last fall to help develop a timesheet entry system on the organization’s intranet as well as design and build three public Web sites:, which educates children about the industry;, which contains pork recipes and other consumer information; and, which promotes pork’s role in a healthy diet.

“Whenever we get into a new area of technology, I look for a solution provider that can get our organization up to speed quickly. In that respect, the Microsoft certification held by Solutech gave us added confidence,”
Mennenga said.

During the implementation of the new timesheet entry system last year, Mennenga’s department experienced problems accessing the system. Solutech project managers contacted Microsoft, traced the problems to a browser compatibility issue, and kept the project on schedule for completion before the year 2000 rollover.

“Solutech’s ability to reach the people at Microsoft who could answer our questions quickly and turn the situation around spoke volumes about the extended service they can provide through their depth of experience with Windows technology,”
she said.

Increased Technical, Marketing, Field Support for Partners at All Levels

While partners are coming together under a freshly minted program, Garcia said the popular resources they relied upon in the past are still there — and in most cases, they’re better than ever. New or improved offerings include Certified Partner Business Development Kits containing customized print and radio advertising templates, a Partner Opportunity Network to help companies form alliances, an expanded customer referral database available over the Web, and a Partner Portfolio system designed to help Microsoft better understand the needs of its partners within each geographical area.

Current MCSP Program members can join the new Microsoft Certified Partner Program for the same $1,395 annual fee that they currently pay. Most other membership requirements will remain the same as well. All partners must have at least two Microsoft Certified Professionals on staff, or at least one Microsoft product certification. Membership requirements, enrollment information and descriptions of benefits for the various types of partners will be available at starting Nov. 27.

Beyond the wealth of informational materials that Microsoft makes available to partners, it is the personal attention that most impresses Solutech’s president.
“The people at each regional office of Microsoft strive to create tight relationships with the companies in their area,”
Schilling said.
“In fact, Solutech has opened its branch offices in line with Microsoft’s district offices because we get so much value from working closely with their representatives.”

Every year, Schilling brings his entire management staff to Fusion, Microsoft’s largest annual event for certified partners,
“to make sure our people get a head start on understanding the latest features of Microsoft products and aligning our services to support the direction that Microsoft is headed,”
he said.
“Another great benefit of our Microsoft partnership is all the sales referrals that we receive, as well as the leads that we are able to feed back into the pipeline. We can go after new business so much more effectively by working hand-in-hand with Microsoft.”

Partners Are Foundation for Microsoft .NET Success

By bringing a wider range of product and service providers together within one certified partner program, Microsoft hopes to stimulate greater cooperation among these companies as they develop offerings for the Microsoft .NET Platform. Announced in June, Microsoft .NET is a broad-ranging initiative aimed at creating technologies that fully exploit the capabilities of the Internet to make information available wherever and whenever users want.

“The .NET initiative is opening tremendous new opportunities, and Microsoft understands that effectively supporting our partners’ development of these next-generation technologies will be crucial to our success as well as theirs,”
Garcia said.
“We have revitalized our partner offerings and created the new Gold Certified standard to help companies work even more closely with Microsoft in building a rock-solid platform for realizing the .NET vision.”

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