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Channel Watch

MPN: Where Do You Want To Go Today?

It's time to get serious about the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN). Yes, the name changed from the Microsoft Partner Program (MSPP) to the MPN more than a year ago. But little of the substance arrived until the new competencies and subscription model went live in May.

And the deepest and broadest changes are supposed to take effect this month.

Among the changes scheduled for October: the Gold competencies launch, the three partner levels -- Gold Certified, Certified and Registered Member -- are being retired, Partner Points go away, Authorized Distributor and Digital Marketing competencies go live, and new partner logos become available for partner use.

Choices that Microsoft made in structuring the MPN will drastically change the makeup of Microsoft's global program, a comparatively huge community that has been officially sized in a relatively tight range of 350,000 to 400,000 partners over the last five years.

The MSPP was about partner enablement, while the MPN is much more closely tied to incentives. That's phrasing it from the benefit side. The same holds on the requirements side. Microsoft is introducing revenue requirements (albeit vague ones) for Gold competencies. Dynamics partners will have revenue requirements for Silver competencies.

To put it crassly, the best benefits now flow to partners who bring in the most revenues. Is there anything wrong with Microsoft doing that? Absolutely not. Is it a substantial change to the way Microsoft engages with partners? Absolutely.

A lot of small partner companies have built businesses around low-volume, Microsoft-based infrastructure over the last five years. They'll still have a place in the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community, but the days of coupling that badge with the prestigious Gold branding and leveraging those Gold benefits are over. To Microsoft's detriment a little bit. To those partners' detriment, a lot.

For larger partners generally, Microsoft's more strategic approach should help them accelerate, although, anecdotally, Microsoft's direct investments in its solution provider channel have been falling for years. The new approach will guarantee that big solution providers get a larger piece of the shrinking pie.

Whether there will be fewer partners is tough to say. Microsoft is the only source reporting the number of partners in its program, so they can slice them however they like and mask big shifts that don't help their public relations case of the moment. At the same time, the born-in-the-cloud opportunity of low-margin, low-touch resales of the Business Productivity Online Suite could lead to a boom in tiny, lean partner firms.

It seems logical, though, that for companies where Microsoft sales are a huge portion of the practice, the MPN changes will be another argument in favor of merging with complementary Microsoft partner firms -- especially in the Dynamics channel.

There will be a substantial sorting as the MPN changes reverberate through the channel. It's time to make a choice: Where do you want to go today? Tell me at sbekker@rcpmag.com.

About the Author

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