Q&A: New Microsoft Partner Program Scaled for Industry Flexibility

Allison Watson, Vice President, Worldwide Partner Group.

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 9, 2003 From the main stage of its inaugural Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft today unveiled its vision and strategy for building a new global program that accommodates the depth and breadth of Microsofts industry partners. The new Microsoft Partner Program (MPP), which will be rolled out gradually throughout 2004, is designed to offer industry partners a predictable, consistent and flexible relationship with Microsoft in order to help increase revenues, accelerate sales cycles and enhance their long-term success.

Prior to the official announcement, Allison Watson , vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group at Microsoft, spoke with PressPass about how the new program was developed, how it will drive success for industry partners, and the evolving, increasingly complex marketplace in which Microsofts industry partners conduct business.

PressPass: Whats the driving force behind the creation of the new Microsoft Partner Program?

Allison Watson: We want to bring true innovation in partnering to complement Microsofts technical and marketing innovation, and to enable partners to capitalize on new opportunities and bring real business value to customers. Our goal is to build the best program in the industry for one of Microsofts most important constituencies — our industry partners. Our belief is that if we provide flexibility based on partners core businesses and recognize the full range of their impact to deliver IT value to customers, our industry partners will have greater access to more opportunities to build their business.

PressPass: Why did Microsoft choose to revamp the partner program now?

Watson: Our rationale for doing so is driven by some fairly significant trends in the marketplace and direct feedback from our partners. Since the original Microsoft partner program was rolled out in 1993, the industry has changed dramatically. For example, customers now expect Microsofts industry partners to offer business consulting as well as technical expertise. In addition, customers have put their IT investments under scrutiny and are demanding increased return on their investments.

There are a couple of key things these shifts mean to our industry partners. First, being a technology expert isnt enough anymore they need to prove their expertise because their customers have an unprecedented range of choices. Second, customers want a total solution. Industry partners need to offer their customers this expertise or build partnerships with other companies to bring a total solution together. These industry changes and customer demand have moved partner business models beyond traditional selling and training yet industry partner programs havent kept pace with this change. Working with our partners, we have designed a new program that scales to fit partners business models and provides support aligned with partners needs.

PressPass: What are some of the key changes?

Watson: Working with partners, weve designed this program so that partners can focus their relationship with Microsoft in a way that fits their unique business model. A key innovation is that the new program takes into account the entire contribution partners deliver to customers. Partner impact will be measured by a more holistic method that measures partners skills, customer satisfaction, influence, as well as sales volume and certifications. As a result of taking a holistic view of partner impact, Microsoft will be able to deliver benefits that will help partners in business development, communication and marketing, and increased product support and training.

PressPass: How does the new program work?

Watson: First, we are measuring partner impact by something new we call
“partner points.”
Partner points determine the level at which partners are participating in the new program, and also provide a clear roadmap for moving to the next level. Again, partner points encompass a holistic view of partner impact and give partners a great deal of flexibility in how they qualify for the program, and also open up program levels to partners of all sizes and types.

Specifically, the new program offers sets of benefits based on the industry partners level in the program, again, based on the partner points they have earned. At the first level, Microsoft Registered Members will receive product and sales information, business-critical support, and action packs that enable them to better serve their customers. Being a Microsoft Registered Member requires only a minor commitment from industry partners.

At the next level, Microsoft Certified Partners receive more value in the core program. Industry partners can attain this level by earning the required number of partner points based on their customer satisfaction rating, customer references and the presence of certified and trained personnel. Benefits for members of the Microsoft Certified Partner program include relationship management through account management, use of the Microsoft Certified Partner logo, and enhanced training and readiness programs.

The Microsoft Gold Partner program requires the highest level of investment and commitment and also has the highest level of value from Microsoft. The Microsoft Gold Partner program delivers significant benefits to industry partners, including account management and collaboration services, targeted go-to-market campaigns, robust training offerings, and other top-level benefits.

What are
Microsoft Competencies? How do they reflect partner business focus and how do they work with the program levels in the new Microsoft Partner Program?

Watson: In the new Microsoft partner program, industry partners can highlight key areas of specialization and expertise by qualifying for a Microsoft Competency. By qualifying for a Microsoft Competency, partners can communicate their expertise and demonstrate to customers how they can more effectively meet the customers needs.

Microsoft Competencies also help partners identify other Microsoft industry partners that they might work with to deliver a holistic solution for existing customers, or as a way of securing new business. For instance, if your expertise is in Web solutions, but you need to offer your customer access to a learning-solutions expert, having industry partners identified by competencies will expedite the process of delivering a critical solution for your customer, giving you the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with that customer.

Industry partners at both the Certified or Gold Certified level will be able to qualify for solution competencies.

Are industry partners limited to one Microsoft competency?

Watson: No, we want partners to have the flexibility to select competencies that make the most sense based on their business model and expertise. If that means selecting two competencies for their area of expertise, we want to enable them to do so. In many ways, the new Microsoft Partner Program is like a university degree program. There are basic requirements, that you must take in order to graduate and additional courses to earn your selected degree. So, following that analogy, the competencies would be the degree program. Industry partners will choose the competency with which they align themselves — or a mix of them — in the way that works best for them based on their current customer base and their growth plans.

Weve built the necessary flexibility into the new Microsoft Partner Program so partners can qualify for the Microsoft competencies as they see fit, in accordance with their business needs and the customers they serve.

PressPass: Youve spent a lot of time talking with partners about this new program. What have their reactions been?

Watson: One of the things partners have been excited about is the new way we are measuring impact. While Microsoft certifications are an important measure of an industry partners knowledge of Microsoft products, they do not really provide a complete measure of the total impact that partner has in delivering solutions to their customers. We recognize that partners do much more — they recommend, they influence, they provide service, and they train their customers. One of the major things we are providing our partners is a better recognition of the range of ways they deliver IT value to customers, and, as a result, industry partners will be recognized for the full range of their contribution to customers in the new partner program.

PressPass: Overall, what is the value industry partners will realize as a result of the Microsoft Partner Program?

Watson: We believe the new program will deliver several key enhancements that will help partners expand their expertise and take advantage of new opportunities for revenue In addition, for many partners the new program will simplify their relationship with Microsoft, as they will now have a single point of entry and will no longer have to join multiple programs. In the past, a partner who was an ISV and was also a systems integrator would have to manage two programs. In the new program, with partner points, they can participate in one program, based on their business model. We will launch the new Microsoft Partner Program officially in January 2004 and will deliver increased benefits and value to our industry partners over the course of the next 18 months.

PressPass: What about current partners? How will they fit into the new program?

Watson: We will be working with partners along the way, providing them a clear roadmap to transition into the new Microsoft Partner Program. During the first year of enrollment, industry partners at the Gold and Certified levels, including Microsoft Business Solutions Certified partners will be grandfathered into the Microsoft Partner Program at their current levels. Current Gold Certified Partners will be integrated based on the Microsoft competencies that map most closely to their current Gold Certified Partner category.

PressPass: How is Microsoft planning to roll out the Microsoft Partner Program?

Watson: This is a foundational leap forward that we want to deliver in an evolutionary way. We are mindful of the impact any change, even positive change, has on our partners businesses. While were announcing the program details at Microsofts first annual Worldwide Partner Conference, well be implementing the program throughout calendar year 2004 and into 2005. Our current plan is to open enrollment for the program in December 2003 and then formally launch it in January 2004 for Microsoft Certified and Gold Certified Partners. Microsoft Business Solutions Certified partners will enroll in the new program in July 2004, which is the traditional enrollment period for these partners.

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