REDMOND, Wash., June 20, 2006 – A year ago next month, at its annual Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft introduced a new way for its industry partners who specialize in providing solutions and services to the small-business segment: the Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC), a competency-like designation available to members of the Microsoft Partner Program.
On the eve of its first anniversary, there are 7,000 Microsoft partners worldwide enrolled in SBSC – with more than 29,000 who have started the enrollment process – making it one of the most popular offerings in the Microsoft Partner Program.
The community, designed to offer additional benefits for partners who have achieved the Small Business Specialist designation, provides a specialized logo, deeper training and tools, exclusive sales promotions, partner-ready marketing materials, private managed newsgroup support, and lists them in the Small Business Partner Finder, which small businesses use to identify the partner most suited to meeting their IT needs. Another key benefit is Partner Finder, which customers can access via Microsoft.com and select a partner based on profiles provided by partners.
To achieve the designation – and subsequently join the community – Microsoft has articulated four steps. First, partners must register in the Microsoft Partner Program and then take and pass one of two Microsoft Certified Professional exams. Step three is to pass the Small Business Sales and Marketing Assessment. Finally, for Registered Members only, partners must subscribe to the Microsoft Action Pack or Microsoft Empower.
According to several Microsoft partners who are members of SBSC achieving the designation is more than a worthwhile investment of time.
A “Little Partner in Havre, Mont.”
Two years ago, Edward Lohman opened the doors for business as Affordable Computing Enterprises in Havre, Mont. The two-person operation – Lohman, who handles the technical side, and his wife, who tends to the books – specializes is selling Microsoft Small Business Server to companies with between three and 20 employees. Customers include organizations in government, construction, and accounting. Affordable Computing Enterprises is currently a Registered partner and, as he adds staff members who are Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs), plans to become Certified in the near future.
Lohman says that when the SBSC was announced, he knew immediately that he wanted to sign up and get registered. “By participating, we’ve achieved an additional level of expertise we can use to demonstrate that we’ve done what’s required to really understand small businesses,” he says.
Lohman says that achieving the designation was relatively painless and that it’s yielded benefits.
The marketing materials, he says, are great. These include the partner marketing kit, substantially discounted pre-printed promotional materials, and the Microsoft Small Business Server Assessment Toolkit, which helps partners conduct an analysis from both business and technical perspectives. “It’s one of the greatest things ever,” he says. “It helps us understand our clients and prospects. Clients love it, and it’s opened up doors.”
Thanks to the toolkit, Lohman says that as a result of the eight analyses he’s conducted, five sales are in progress. “To me, that’s a big benefit,” he says.
Other areas of benefit that have resulted from the designation include having access to training and assistance with events for customers and prospects.
Lohman participates, on average, in between 15 and 20 online classes per month. “There are hands-on labs where you can go in and actually configure a virtual server,” he says. “The valuable thing about this is that you can really see what the impact is if you make a mistake. It’s a great way to learn.”
On the events front, Lohman recently worked with Microsoft to host an event that was attended by 20 people from businesses that were getting ready to make their first server purchase. So far, the event has yielded two sales, with more in the pipeline.
Lohman adds that the overall experience of partnering with Microsoft has been a good one.
“Microsoft is always there for us,” Lohman says. “We’re a little partner out in Havre, Mont., and Allison Watson knows about my business.” Watson is vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group. “I partner with lots of companies, and Microsoft is the best by about a thousand times.”
Understanding Products to Sell Products
Thomas Falborg is CEO of shg.dk A/S, a Denmark-based Microsoft partner that’s an e-tailer specializing in Microsoft Exchange Server and hardware. Founded in 1997, shg.dk A/S is currently in expansion mode, with plans to move into new markets and pursue more business-to-business sales. Falborg says that his company has focused on small businesses because so many partners are focused on larger ones. His business, he says, fills the void.
About a year ago, an employee read about the SBSC in a newsletter and thought it would be interesting, so Falborg signed up and got registered. “I’ve been very happy with it,” Falborg says. “I’ve learned a lot about how Microsoft products can make life easier. As a partner, this is very important. In order to sell products I need to really understand them.”
Two key benefits of membership in the SBSC, he says, are assistance with events and opportunities for employees to receive training from Microsoft.
“We’re too small to put on events,” he says. “We don’t have the people, and we don’t have the skills. As a member of the SBSC, I can invite potential customers to an event where Microsoft demonstrates the values of Microsoft Exchange Server. That leads to sales for our company.”
The second main area of benefit is the employee training available through the SBSC – so much so, in fact, that Falborg has built it into the HR policy of his business, where there’s something of a rally underway to pick up additional skills.
“People are developing a new level of understanding about what Microsoft products can do for them,” he says. “It’s valuable to me to be able to go out and visit prospective customers and be able to prove that our people are highly skilled. That’s important from a sales perspective. You can be sure that when you call us, we know what we’re talking about.”
Adding value at all levels
Allison Watson, Microsoft’s vice president of the Worldwide Partner and Small Business Groups, says Microsoft designed the SBSC to offer benefits to the full spectrum of partners that specialize in the small-business segment:
Registered Members: The SBSC is optimized for Registered Members that have demonstrated their experience in the small-business segment and are looking to Microsoft to recognize their skills and unique business models that are tailored specifically for those businesses. It also authorizes use of a logo for marketing purposes.
Certified and Gold Certified Partners: For Certified and Gold Certified Microsoft partners that already serve small businesses, this designation will help further differentiate their solution specialty to the small-business market.
System Builders: Being designated a small business specialist will offer system builders an opportunity to highlight their expertise in building PC and server systems based on Microsoft technologies. Registered system builders that join the Small Business Specialist Community will be provided with a clear road map that shows how they can move up into the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Hardware Solutions Competency with a System Builder specialization at the Certified or Gold Certified levels as their sales of hardware grow.