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Tighter Relationship Management on Tap for Microsoft Partners in 2006

Microsoft plans to work more closely with nearly every Certified and Gold Certified partner in 2006 even as the software giant aims to dramatically increase the number of partners in those top two tiers of the Microsoft Partner Program, according to industry analysts familiar with Microsoft's plans.

The company will leverage telephone-based Partner Account Managers to accomplish the strategy, which will be coupled with more intensive lead-generation efforts with those partners, the analysts say.

Analysts with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC described Microsoft's 2006 strategy in a recently published report, "Worldwide Software Channel Program 2005 Vendor Profiles" (see related story). IDC analysts Steve Graham and Paul Edwards provided additional details in an interview with Redmond Channel Partner magazine on Tuesday.

Edwards, IDC's research director for software channel strategy, said Microsoft has done most of the structural work on its partner program already, but that an effort to expand the number of Gold Certified and Certified partners and provide all of those partners with more productive interaction with Microsoft is in the "early stages."

"Part of their strategy in 2006 is to start to develop that," Edwards said.

Most of Microsoft's Gold Certified Partners and some of Microsoft's Certified Partners already are covered by a Microsoft Partner Account Managers (PAMs), Edwards said. Microsoft reported about 4,600 Gold Certified Partners and 28,000 Certified Partners in its Partner Program as of July.

"What they're talking about doing is expanding their capabilities through telePAMs. That means having a telemanagement coverage model for those partners who currently don't have much coverage at all," Edwards said.

While PAMs may personally visit the partners they manage, telePAMs interact mostly over the phone, and can handle a larger number of partners. The concept isn't new at Microsoft.

"They do have telePAMs, but the telePAMs do not get into any deep kind of conversations with the partners. That is going to be a stated change for the telePAMs and expanding the coverage to the partners through the telePAM process," Graham said.

Adds Edwards, "Where the investment is going to go is trying to do more meaningful contact. It will be more about getting into conversations about the business and strategies, not just about what's in the funnel this month. They're going to put more resources around doing more lead generation for partners and more lead generation with partners."

The changes are designed to help Microsoft meet what the IDC report identifies as "a 2006 goal of increasing partner profitability through driving up the number of productive partners, the average number of deals they do in a year, and the size of average deals."

What makes the initiative even more ambitious for Microsoft is a simultaneous effort to increase the community of Gold Certified and Certified partners, according to IDC. With the introduction of the Microsoft Partner Program in 2004, Microsoft created a huge new class of partners, the Registered Members who pay no fee and have no requirements to meet. So far, there are over 266,000 Registered Members, but the size of the Gold Certified and Certified communities didn't grow that much. Having successfully signed up a large portion of the estimated 640,000 worldwide Microsoft partners, the next challenge is to engage Registered Members more deeply in Microsoft's programs.

According to IDC, Microsoft is looking to grow its Certified and Gold Certified tiers to up to 50,000 partners -- a huge increase from 32,600 in the two classes that Microsoft claimed in July.

Microsoft officials declined on Tuesday to confirm any numerical goals for the programs. "We're working through enrollment right now. We don't have those numbers yet," said Sherle Webb-Robins, general manager of the Microsoft Partner Program. The partner re-enrollment process runs through March.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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