The enhanced IAF enables solution providers to identify opportunities and educate small and midsize businesses about the benefits of running SBS 2003 R2, Windows Vista and Office 2007 together, according to Microsoft. Some partners have encountered difficulties running Vista with SBS, but Microsoft recently released an update known as "ripcurl" that allows Vista clients to become part of an SBS domain.
Microsoft also plans to release an update to Windows SBS 2003 with SP1 and Windows SBS 2003 R2 customers in early March.
The first IAF toolkit was released in July. The second version, made available in December, offers 12 new tools and an updated tools matrix.
Microsoft last month unveiled the second update that's part of the framework, the Microsoft Business and Technology Assessment Toolkit. The expanded version contains a step-by-step guide that helps partners assess the business and technical needs of small businesses. The updated toolkit contains 11 standard templates and scenario-based templates for messaging and collaboration, desktop deployment and mobility. Partners said the toolkit enabled them to execute SBS deal-close rates of 70 percent to 80 percent.
SBS 2003 R2 was released last summer. The next generation of SBS, code-named Cougar, is in beta testing and won't ship until next year.
Tim Long, owner and technology consultant at TiGra Networks, a South Wales, U.K.-based solution provider, said he worked with Microsoft on testing the new version of the toolkit and is now using it to sell to current and potential SBS customers.
"I have a technical background, and selling does not come easily to me. The toolkit provides a ready-made sales framework that is easy to use, ensures that I ask all the right questions and at the same time encourages the customer to think carefully about the effect of IT on their business, such as the true cost of data loss in the event of a system failure," Long said.
The toolkit helps partners generate more revenue per deal and build relationships with SMBs, said Erik Thorsell, president of Success Computer Consulting, Minneapolis.
"Our experience with the SBS toolkit has been very positive, primarily in that it has disciplined our sales team to take a structured approach to learning about prospects prior to writing a proposal or making recommendations. We have actually incorporated components of the SBS toolkit with our own assessment format," Thorsell said.
"We're finding that first-year revenue per new client, when the assessment is used, is on average over 40 percent higher than with clients where we didn't use it," he added. "Our assessment clients are [also] more likely to sign up for our managed services offering and are more likely to remain long-term clients."
Thorsell and Evolve Technologies CEO David Sobel said the framework helps partners become trusted advisers to SBS customers.
"We go to market with assessments, and we're process driven. I think its really powerful," said Sobel, whose Fairfax, Va.-based solutions firm targets businesses with 100 desktops or fewer. "We talk about being a trusted adviser. This is how you do it. You can take a real disciplined approach this way, and you can do it ad hoc."
Larry Allen, business development manager at NetCom Systems, a Roswell, Ga.-based solution provider, said he loves the toolkit because it gives partners guidance about how to close a deal in a step-by-step or staged fashion.
"You start with the business assessment, move to the technical assessment, on to proposal stage and so on. And for each step, they have materials there to support the stages of the sales process," Allen said. "When the toolkit was released, we started using it immediately. We have a close ratio of over 75 percent using it."