The Evolving MSP

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From MSPP to MPN to MCPP: Microsoft Again Leaves Partners Asking, 'Why?'

The latest changes to the relationship between Microsoft channel partners and Microsoft itself have drawn many reactions from the partners. Some have called it "a scary time to be a Microsoft channel partner." Some claim Microsoft is taking advantage of market conditions to "hit partners when they're down." Others are running petitions to get Microsoft to reverse these decisions. None of this is new.

In 2000, Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Partner Program (MSPP), which was widely greeted as something long-needed. Naturally, it had the same challenges as any new program, but everyone negotiated and broadly agreed to move forward together happily.

In July 2009, Microsoft replaced the MSPP with the MPN, the Microsoft Partner Network, proudly announcing it was "not something you join, but something you're part of." It didn't take long for partners to find the pipe bomb hidden in the bunting. It was commonly referred to as "the exclusivity rule." Qualifying for any of the Microsoft partner competencies always required that four people pass specific tests. Those same four people could take tests for all the Gold competencies and pass them, meaning the partner would qualify for all 30 of the then-existing competencies. At that time, I was working at a partner that had 17 employees and held all but one competency, making us the No. 1 partner in the Partner Finder of that era.

With MPN, the "exclusivity rule" meant that nobody could take more than one test for one competency. If you wanted another competency, you'd need four other people to take the tests. And four more, and four more, etc. At our shop, we would need at least 116 employees to retain our competencies.

Partners were aghast. Kind of like they are right now about the Partner Competency Score (PCS).

Here's the Question You Have To Ask Yourself
It strikes me that I could just reach into the archives and pull this next thought right out of articles from a decade ago. With the introduction of the MPN, partners said it was a scary time to be in the channel, that Microsoft was hurting its partners, that they weren't sure if they would stay in the program. There was talk of finding "viable alternatives." Back then, the question I suggested partners ask themselves is the same question you should be asking yourself now: What do you really get out of your Microsoft relationship?

Along with that question, I made the suggestion that partners consider treating Microsoft with the same attitude they were treating us: benign neglect.

Benign Neglect
My good friend Richard Losciale often reminded us that we needed to maintain a posture of being "patriotically adversarial" with Microsoft. We love Microsoft, but we need to keep Microsoft honest. We need to maintain a strong voice when it does something that might injure us. At one time, I agreed with him totally, but experience has confirmed my decade-old belief that the best way to treat Microsoft is with benign neglect.

The only way Microsoft can hurt partners is by reducing their return on the relationship. Every time Microsoft messes with partner-of-record percentages or other compensation programs, it reduces the amount of money partners can earn on transactions. So, stop doing transactions. Stop selling Microsoft subscriptions of any kind. Let somebody else sell them -- like, say, Microsoft itself. That's very likely what will happen anyway, ultimately.

What I'm suggesting is that you join the legions of "non-transacting" partners. When I interviewed Gavriella Schuster upon her exit as channel chief, she spoke proudly about how many non-transacting partners Microsoft was adding every month. Clearly, Microsoft is good with it. You should be, too!

What do you think customers think about Gold Partners? With MPN, that concept was supposed to be gone; you could have Gold or Silver competencies, but you could no longer be a Gold Partner. With the upcoming Microsoft Cloud Partner Program (MCPP), Microsoft is abolishing it again. How many customers actually accord value to that appellation? If you stop worrying about having that logo to stick on your collateral and are willing to let Microsoft keep the pittance you can make selling its subscriptions, you can be free to do as you please, let Microsoft do as it pleases, and continue to build a brilliant business. Just treat Microsoft and its demands with completely benign neglect and the war ends for you.

People Engage You for You, Not What You Sell
Even as I write this, I'm convinced I'm overstating the obvious. Your customers don't buy from you because you sell Microsoft, or HP, or Cisco or any other vendor's products. They engage you for your intelligence, your talent, your expertise and your experience. They respect your performance, not your line card.

Some of you may cry, "But what about the resources Microsoft provides?" Do you seriously believe you can't find those elsewhere? You can obtain all the training you want from excellent Learning Center partners. There are now businesses that have built themselves to provide you with the technical resources you may not yet have on your own team.

What I'm saying, ultimately, is that Microsoft doesn't build cars and your IT practice is not a car dealership. You don't need to align with Microsoft formally. Doctors don't align with Pfizer or other pharmaceuticals to be able to prescribe their medications when necessary.

If you don't like the new MCPP, refuse to join it. Become a non-transacting partner. Take a look at the partner programs finally emerging from Google, Amazon and others. More customers use Android than Windows. More customers run SAP than Dynamics. Microsoft is not the top dog in any segment of software other than perhaps Office, and it hasn't been for years. Use and propose Microsoft products to your customers, but let someone else sell the licenses and be the master of your own ship.

Posted by Howard M. Cohen on March 29, 2022