Channel Watch

The Microsoft Partner Network's On-Again, Off-Again Small Business Competency

The Small Business Competency will probably arrive in May, based on Microsoft's pattern of releasing MPN changes.

Microsoft's alternately hot and cold attitude toward a dedicated competency for small business partners in the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) is hot again.

"One of the big pieces of news that's been a large discussion on a number of these forums for awhile is we're planning on launching a Small Business Competency in the spring," said Julie Bennani, general manager of the Microsoft Partner Network, during an online partner forum last month.

"We will keep the Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC) in market, but based on your feedback and your requests that we elevate that space to the equivalent level of the other competencies, we are planning on doing that this spring," Bennani said.

The Small Business Competency had a place in the lineup of nearly 30 competencies just ahead of the MPN rollout in 2010. But Microsoft executives had second thoughts when it was time to make the new MPN competencies live and decided to leave the extra-competency structure of the SBSC alone for a while.

The decision was always conditional. As Bennani told Redmond Channel Partner magazine in 2010, "What we decided to do -- as opposed to being too dramatic in that area -- both for the partners and for customers, was to just raise the requirements in that community and see how partners respond and [see] what it does for the customer."

Part of Microsoft's expectation at the time was that many small business-focused partners would migrate to the then-new Midmarket Solutions Provider Competency, which might fulfill their need for a general-purpose competency in the MPN.

Instead, midmarket-focused partners have been choosing to get more specialized competencies and approach customers as Business Intelligence Competency partners or Portals and Collaboration Competency partners, Microsoft worldwide channel chief Jon Roskill told RCP in the December 2011 cover story, "The Microsoft Partner Network's 1st Year."

Meanwhile, Bennani hinted during last month's call that even partners interested in the midmarket competency have had some trouble with the complexity of the requirements.

"What we found was as partners were working through what we laid out from a qualification perspective there that we'd made it pretty darn hard. We have a pretty healthy population of partners that have attained the competency there, but what we're trying to do is simplify the requirements to make sure that we haven't overcommitted on complexity there."

Those simplifications to the Midmarket Solutions Provider Competency have been in effect since November. The Small Business Competency will probably arrive in May, based on Microsoft's pattern of releasing MPN changes.

We were fans of the idea of a Small Business Competency from the beginning. But we want to hear from you. Will it help your business to have the small business specialty elevated to the status of a competency. Let us know by leaving a comment below or sending your thoughts to sbekker@rcpmag.com.

About the Author

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