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Profiles in Partnering: Realizing the Goals of the Microsoft Partner Network

What's your plan for the future? If your response is that you don't have one, please remember what Benjamin Franklin told us: "Failing to plan is planning to fail." Especially now in the partner ecosystem.

Unless you're one of the few that have advanced beyond the curve, you simply cannot keep on doing what you've always done. Zig Ziglar said that "If you're doing what you've always done, you're probably getting what you always got," but even that is no longer true. Whether you still call yourself a VAR or a reseller or an MSP, you can't just sit there. Stay still at your own peril.

In 2009, the Microsoft Partner Program (MSPP) was ending its eighth year and Microsoft replaced it with the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), which was not just something you sign up for -- it was something you become part of.

For the purposes of this discussion, we're just going to focus on one component of the MPN that represented the most significant change and challenge to Microsoft partners: the "exclusivity" or "uniqueness" rule that said that each gold competency you pursued required four unique individuals to pass tests. You could not use the same people to pass test for more than one gold competency. At the time, the No. 1 partner out of the over 118,000 listed in the partner directory held 29 out of 30 possible competencies. That entire company consisted of 17 people in total. Now, with the MPN, it could possibly hold on to four if the company had nothing but techs, which was hardly the case. To attain all 30 would require a minimum technical staff of 120.

Do you think Microsoft was only interested in having large partners? Hmm. Maybe.

The architects of the MPN explained that their goal was to remove "jack-of-all-trades" partners and have everyone declare their core competencies, thus "raising the bar." This would enable Microsoft to recommend the best possible partners for each project, knowing and certifying their capabilities. Customers would most certainly appreciate having the best of the best doing the work.

To their credit, the architects of the MPN relented and gave partners an extra year to fulfill all the new obligations spelled out in the 2009 rules. Since then, the raised bar has been the rule.

How Did That Go for You?
This year, the MPN becomes a longer-lasting program than MSPP, and the more highly specialized environment created by it has become the norm. In fact, only the largest Microsoft partners, generally those at Tier I of the Cloud Solutions Partner (CSP) program, continue to be "all things to all people," while smaller partners focus on specific areas of technology.

According to Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of One Commercial Partner at Microsoft, "The Microsoft partner ecosystem has continued to expand and thrive. We have had great success continuing to grow Microsoft's business through our partners. As a matter of fact, more than 90 percent of Microsoft's revenue is supported by our partners."

As a Microsoft employee for decades, Schuster witnessed the transition from MSPP to MPN, and from being a Gold or Certified Partner to having gold or silver competencies -- an interesting distinction introduced by MPN. Her observation, after nine years of the MPN: "We understand that change is difficult. Overall, we've found that this approach has proven to be popular with our partners. In fact, we see 7,000 partners coming into the Microsoft ecosystem every month -- nearly double the rate we saw just two years ago, and now we have 80,000 partners doing business in the cloud. Customers have shown they appreciate and prefer working with partners that have proven their expert knowledge by attaining gold and/or silver status with Microsoft."

Schuster also emphasizes the need for partners to distinguish themselves from other partners by branding their offerings and emphasizing expertise. "Having a competency allows partners to offer highly differentiated value to their customers. We are optimizing our competency portfolio to help enable partners to successfully connect with and serve their market," she said.

Driving the Need for Partners to Partner with Other Partners (P2P)
One major impact of the MPN is that if you agree that customers care about gold and silver competencies, it has to take more than one partner to fulfill most large project requests (since most projects involve multiple competencies). Partners would have to partner effectively with other partners to provide comprehensive services to most customers.

Partner-to-partner (P2P) partnering has long been a major emphasis for Microsoft partners. Many organizations have been created to assist partners in finding capable partners to work with on broader projects, including:

  • The Microsoft Partner Community, a great resource for partners to connect with other partners, as well as with Microsoft contacts. The community offers answers to FAQs, forums where partners can ask for help and advice, and many other resources. There are also a myriad of community groups focusing on different technologies and business models, including hosting and open source.

  • The International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), which also assists members in business development, offering business opportunities through partnerships with the global community of its members. IAMCP membership also allows partners to get early access to trainings at reduced costs.

  • The IAMCP also supports a Women in Technology (WIT) chapter that Microsoft highly encourages partners to get involved with in order to hire and nurture creative, innovative and hardworking women in the channel. WIT connects women in the Microsoft ecosystem and provides mutual support in achieving professional and personal goals while attracting and retaining women into IT roles.

Microsoft Inspire, the annual global partner conference that's taking place right now in Las Vegas, is also a great opportunity for partners to meet together and make connections with partners from around the world.

Those of you who have been regular readers of Redmond Channel Partner for many years know that my regular column, The Changing Channel, ended about a year ago mainly because we felt it really wasn't so much a channel anymore as it was a professional community. The channel was about moving a product from manufacturer to distributor to reseller to customer. Today's IT community is about helping organizations improve through the innovative use of technologies.

Given that we ultimately agree with Microsoft that a professional community consists more of specialists than generalists, this new blog series, "Profiles in Partnering" is dedicated to helping partners learn how to select partners, align with them, create synergies with them, and bring customers the best of the best from cohesive partnerships among the best.

Are you a Microsoft partner looking to collaborate with another partner on a customer project? Send your details to [email protected] and we'll help you connect with other Microsoft partners.

In my next post, "Income in Your Inbox," you'll learn about a new program we're introducing called RCP2P, which is a more common-sense, direct approach to making it far easier for you to find the right partners that will complete the proposals and the projects you deliver to customers with expertise and devotion to excellence commensurate with your own. Rather than depend on inconsistently maintained portals, we take the direct path right into your inbox with opportunities from other partners who need your skills to complement theirs. They've done the selling. They need you to help do the work, and they'll pay you to do it.

That's the sacred heart of mutually beneficial partnering. It is our hope to contribute to your continued growth as you wrestle with other top-of-mind issues like what you're going to do next now that there's no future in just selling stuff, and everybody and their brother-in-law is calling themselves an MSP. We'll be suggesting many viable alternatives in this blog, including advice on how to most effectively build your own channels to pave a faster path to more customers through proactive partnering.

Stay tuned, and please participate in the conversation!

Posted by Howard M. Cohen on July 18, 2018


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