Microsoft Aims To Simplify Partner Subsidies

Set to run from Feb. 1 to June 27, Microsoft's 'Big Easy' promotion is backed by up to $10 million in partner subsidy funds, and covers core products and solutions that partners sell to their small- and medium-size customers, including Microsoft Office, SQL Server, Windows Client, and Exchange Server.

In a Jan. 10 Webcast announcing the promotion, Chris Large, group manager for U.S. sales programs at Microsoft, acknowledged that partners have been frustrated over the large number of subsidy offers Microsoft has put forth -- which at one time numbered more than 20.

Customers that make a qualifying purchase in the Big Easy program will receive a check from Microsoft that covers services and hardware purchased from channel partners. And unlike previous partner subsidy programs, multiple redemptions will be allowed.

"The Big Easy is 'one big offer' that covers all the products that channel partners typically sell to SMBs," said Large.

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Microsoft plans to hold a series of Webcasts in the coming weeks to further explain the benefits of the Big Easy program to partners.

One of the main complaints channel partners have with Microsoft's incentive programs is that they're too complex, said Matt Makowicz, president of Endeavor Technologies, a Somerset, N.J.-based solution provider

"You really have to sift through the offers to figure out if it's applicable to you and your customers. Unless you're a managed partner, and you have someone spoon-feeding you that information, that can be hard to figure out," Makowicz said.

As a result, many Microsoft partners haven't been taking advantage of the programs, Makowicz said. "By rolling all [the partner subsidy programs] into one, Microsoft is sending the message that it doesn't matter what kind of partner you are, there is something there for you," said Makowicz.

Mark Crall, president of Charlotte Tech Care Team, a Microsoft Small Business Specialist in Charlotte, N.C., agrees that trying to keep up with Microsoft's subsidy programs has been a complex and time consuming task.

"Putting all the programs in one makes perfect sense. This allows us to sell competitively without having to give up front price discounts or cut our services fees. Microsoft is protecting our services revenue while offering competitive pricing," said Crall.

However, some Microsoft partners pay no attention to subsidy programs because, in their opinion, solution providers' role as trusted advisors trumps issues related to cost.

"Subsidy and incentive programs are not very interesting to me," said David Schrag, president of Schrag Inc., a Brighton, Mass.-based Small Business Specialist. "I recommend, or don't recommend, products based on how well they help my clients achieve their objectives in the long run, not whether they or I can get a few hundred dollars off the price."