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More than two years after Microsoft launched its Small Business Specialist Community, the vendor says it has seen a steady stream of solution providers come on board. But some partners feel that from a channel standpoint, the program to date has been heavy on form, and light on substance.
Last weekend at the SMB Nation 2007 conference in Redmond, Wash., Microsoft touted the fact that more than 5,000 partners have joined the SBSC program and said licensing sales for SBSC partners is growing four times as fast as that of the vendor's non-SBSC partners.
At the event, Microsoft, which defines small business as companies with 50 or fewer employees, also launched the We've Gotta Guy marketing campaign, which highlights how IT shops often position their technical experts, as a way of emphasizing the specialized skills that SBSC partners bring to the table.
However, some Microsoft partners told CRN the value proposition around SBSC is still murky, and wasn't clarified to any great extent by the recent announcements. Instead of a marketing blitzkrieg, they'd prefer to see Microsoft respond to their concerns about certain features of the SBSC program.
For example, some partners are still fuming over changes Microsoft made earlier this year to its SBSC partner locator tool, which is designed to allow partners to find other small business specialists in their area in order to collaborate on deals.
In the past, Microsoft structured the locator in such a way as to reward partners who were more active in the program -- and who have higher levels of expertise -- with higher rankings in the search results. But in June, Microsoft switched to a geographical emphasis, returning results based on a partner's primary physical zip code, according to solution providers.
"Now, because it's linked to the zip code, if someone searches on primary zip, they won't hit me directly," said Chris Rue, CEO of Black Warrior Technology, a Northport, Ala.-based Small Business Specialist.
"There are a ton of companies that don't do anything in the Microsoft partner program, but are ranked above me in the search results. The fact that Microsoft doesn't rank based on expertise and activity within the program bothers me as a partner," said Rue.
Microsoft says its research in the small business segment has revealed that small businesses prefer to search for other partners based on geographical location, says Eric Ligman, Microsoft's senior manager of community engagement for small business in the U.S.
"Small businesses like working with someone [located] close to them who's competent," said Ligman.
Other partners suggest that barrier to entry for the SBSC program is too low, and are nonplussed by Microsoft's oft-repeated proclamations about the rapid growth of the SBSC community.