18 months on, Microsoft talks up its revamped channel strategy

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An update on that update

Microsoft has embarked on a new channel strategy, which it claims provides its partners with more incentives and assistance.

After a long period of remaining the same, the channel programme was updated 18 months ago. According to the company it will now focus on “driving the Microsoft partner network and implementing changes including incentives.”

The company puts a huge emphasis on this part of its business, describing it as the “greatest asset we have” and accounting for 95 percent of its revenue.

However, fear of disrupting the channel held the company back from updating its offerings until recently.

Janet Gibbons, director of partner strategy and programme, told ChannelBiz UK: “The channel programme went through a change around 18 months ago after a long time of remaining stationary.The main reason we didn’t change it sooner was because we didn’t want to disrupt the channel or change consistency. However, through channel feedback we decided that it was the right time and the right thing to do.

“There is now a better way for partners to show their talents and for customers to get what they require.”

And the new programme also means more transparency for customers. “Previously partners were given two types of certification: Gold Certified and Microsoft certified.” Ms Gibbons said. “However, once they had achieved gold status they had it forever, even if the company changed.”

She said Microsoft had now added a new layer to the programme, which it calls “Competencies.”

Partners can choose from either a Gold or Silver Competency and from an area they specialise in, for example ISV.

Microsoft currently offers 29 of these including its most recently added small business option.

However, Ms Gibbons explained it was quality over quantity.

“We advise that our partners don’t collect these Competencies as badges, instead they should choose where they put their business,” she said.

“Gold status is awarded to companies who pass hard Microsoft exams in their chosen areas and this in turn shows their commitment to Microsoft. By taking on this commitment we reward our partners with incentives such as more software licenses for the business. We also give them a named contact who they can call with any problems.

“This was something highlighted by our partners as a key need, however we haven’t got the resources to give every single partner one of these.”

And this new strategy could act to keep channel partners on their toes. “These Competencies differ from the previous static certifications,” Ms Gibbons said. “If a partner doesn’t keep up with exams or loses an employee who had a Competency then they don’t hold onto their Gold certification.”

Microsoft says it is making more changes to help its partners, aiming to invest in educating around 90,000 partners this fiscal year.

There are also new tools added to the mix.

This includes the Microsoft Partner Network, a global framework that lets partners engage in online resources. Microsoft says there are a number of these that are free but if partners take out a subscription they get free use of software, which “is a good incentive”. “The more of the software they use the better the knowledge and the better position they are in to sell it to their customers, ” according to Gibbons.

The company has also set up the Pinpoint web tool, which is claimed to let partners create a profile with their achievements, accreditations and specialised areas.

“What we do through this is link customers with specific needs to the best suited partner and also give local partners to them,” added Ms Gibbons.

Incentives have had a revamp, too. Last year, it launched the Solution Incentive Programme. “We’ve already got incentives that every other vendor offers but we’re different as we’re conscious of providers and any other work our partners undertake,” Ms Gibbons said. 

“For example, if a company previously provided a consultancy service there was no reward. Now if a company registers that it is doing this and gains a licence agreement from the customer as a result we give them a rebate for the first year.”

The areas that the company awards this in are: Management and virtualisation, Desktop Windows 7, App plat/SQL and its new Lync voice software. However, to achieve this partners must be signed to the Gold Competencies, or silver if they are selling Lync.

“This is a great way for the channel to show their commitment to Microsoft and differentiate them from the rest of the market,” Ms Gibbons said.

Unlike many major vendors the company also seems to be taking a positive spin on the economical and technological challenges.

“In terms of challenges it seems that business is picking up a bit,” Ms Gibbons said. “However what we’re seeing is that customers really want to save money with their IT and the products they choose and offered need to really benefit them. For example, when it comes to the cloud can they see someone else managing this? For us, selling cloud software helps this.

“For the channel, cloud is a big change, despite many companies claiming that the channel needs to change their offerings, we believe that a partner must just add value to what they offer,” Gibbons said. “Rarely will a large customer move directly to the cloud, it’s moving everything altogether.”

The company says it also has products that are key to the cloud and will help its channel partners make money by offering them incentives. Office 365 software offers a 12 percent rebate for the first year and six percent after.

“It’s just changing how the channel thinks rather than changing the way they work,” Ms Gibbons said.

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