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For Top Partners, Microsoft Extends Invitation into 'Elite' Clubs

Microsoft is looking to add U.S. partners to special programs serving SMB customers both on-premise and in the cloud.

When it comes to partners serving small and medium-sized businesses, Microsoft is reaching out to draw more U.S. partners into special programs to help sell solutions to those customers on-premises and, increasingly, in the cloud.

Beneath a slide labeled "Elite Programs" during a Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference keynote earlier this month, Cindy Bates discussed three programs for high-performing partners -- the Top VAR Club, the VAR Champions Club and the Cloud Champions Club.

"Anyone can be part of these programs," said Bates, vice president for U.S. Small and Midsized Business and Distribution at Microsoft. In all, the clubs encompass roughly 2,000 unique U.S. partner organizations.

  • Top VAR Club: The Top VAR Club has approximately 1,700 partner members. To be eligible, partners must sell $30,000 or more of Open revenue annually to SMB customers. Unlike the other two clubs, Top VAR has only one tier. Microsoft executives say the club serves as a stepping stone into the VAR Champions Club.

  • VAR Champions Club: VAR Champions includes approximately 350 partners. There are two ways for partners to qualify. One is to sell at least $125,000 of Open. The other, reflecting Microsoft's ever-greater emphasis on cloud, requires $100,000 or more of Open sales, including three Online Services deals delivering a cumulative total of 75 seats or more. VAR Champions has three tiers -- Tier 1 is entry level and Tier 3 is highest.

  • Cloud Champions Club: Cloud Champions Club has 360 members. To be eligible, a partner must sell at least 150 seats and three deals of Microsoft Online Services, such as Office 365, Windows Intune and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, to SMB customers. Like VAR Champions, the program is also three-tiered with Tier 1 as the entry level.

One major benefit to membership in the clubs is an account manager, a valuable commodity in the SMB space where partners often engage with Microsoft only through programs and can struggle to make personal connections. Other benefits include marketing funds and technical and support resources.

Bates also announced at WPC that Cloud Champions Club members now have access to a new dedicated phone support line. "We are going to enable a 'batline' for all of our Cloud Champions partners to be able to have that direct phone line into specialized support just for them," she said. The line will provide 24/7 support ranging from basic technical issues to deployment support, a spokesperson said in a statement.

The latest Cloud Champions requirements represent an increase from when the engagement model first emerged in 2010. At the time, the lowest tier required only 75 seats over three deals. That's half what is required now, demonstrating how much more common cloud adoption is two years later.

Bates said that about 100 partner organizations currently belong to both the VAR Champions and Cloud Champions clubs.

For more news and analysis from WPC 2012, go here.

About the Author

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