The MPN Comes into Focus

While Microsoft partners have known major changes were coming to the company's partner program this year, the specifics have been vague.

While Microsoft partners have known major changes were coming to the company's partner program this year, the specifics have been vague. That started to change in February as Microsoft posted lengthy documentation detailing the requirements and benefits of the Competencies that will begin to roll out in May under the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN).

The documents show that while partner benefits remain fairly similar to existing benefits for Microsoft's most committed partners, new requirements will make it harder for small partner shops to get the level of recognition and support they currently enjoy from Microsoft. At the same time, the requirements should make it easier for larger partner companies to make clear through logos and marketing materials exactly where their expertise lies and for highly focused partners to differentiate themselves from jack-of-all-trades solutions providers.

As detailed last summer, Microsoft is changing its old three-tier partner program to a four-tier system. Under the Microsoft Partner Program, partners were enrolled as Registered Members, Certified Partners or Gold Certified Partners. Under the new MPN, partners can aim for one of four levels: Subscribers, Communities/Quick Starts, Competency or Advanced Competency.

Microsoft's most engaged partners, currently Certified and Gold Certified, will mostly be looking at moving into the Competency and Advanced Competency levels, and the new documents lay out the requirements and benefits of the 30 new Competencies. Most of the Competencies will be available next month. A few, such as Small Business, Authorized Distributor, Digital Home and Digital Marketing, will be available sometime later, according to the Microsoft documents. The Advanced Competency level won't launch until October.

Called "The Value of Earning a Microsoft Competency," the documents come in an 11-page summary version and a 118-page full-length version available on the MPN portal.

Partners will be able to earn multiple Competencies and multiple Advanced Competencies. However, unlike with the current Gold Certified-level of partnership, Microsoft will insist that partners differentiate their level of expertise in each Competency area. On the Dynamics side, ERP and CRM partners will also be able to differentiate themselves by vertical industry expertise.

Requirements Get More Stringent
Having trained people on staff remains a core part of attaining a Competency. A partner company must have two Microsoft Certified Professionals, either employees or contractors, who have passed the applicable exams for a Competency. Individual MCPs can be eligible toward multiple Competencies for a company.

To attain a Competency, a partner company must also complete training and assessments for volume licensing and for sales and marketing. A company must also provide three unique customer references per Competency, provide a full company profile to Microsoft and pay a membership fee.

To earn an Advanced Competency, the personnel requirements are much more stringent and will be more difficult for small partner companies to attain compared to the existing Gold Certified level. An Advanced Competency requires four MCPs, and individual MCPs may not be used toward any other Advanced Competencies.

A minimum revenue threshold will also be a requirement for a partner to reach the Advanced Competency level. Advanced Competency partners will develop a Partner Solution Plan with Microsoft for each Advanced Competency and will have a named Microsoft contact, in other words a partner account manager (PAM) or telePAM.

The customer reference requirement increases with the Advanced Competency level. A partner must provide five unique customer references and must participate in the Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Index.

About the Author

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