Microsoft Gets Serious About Partner Networking

Unveiled at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in July, the revamped Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) includes a greater focus on community than in the past. As Microsoft devotes more resources to creating and building partner communities, partner-to-partner networking is one area that's receiving particular attention, according to Arnie Mondloch, director of U.S. partner programs at Microsoft.

"We've long recognized huge value in having partners connect with one another," Mondloch said in an interview with "There's a lot of opportunity there, but in the past we've been somewhat fragmented in terms of our engagement with the various communities."

To assist in the partner-to-partner community effort, Microsoft has created a new position within MPN. Tina Hanson, channel development manager at Microsoft, is now overseeing community building in the U.S. and is responsible for engagement with partner organizations such as the International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners (IAMCP) and the Heartland Technology Group.

IAMCP and HTG are examples of Microsoft partner communities that have a high degree of partner-to-partner interaction, and Hanson was brought in at the start of Microsoft's fiscal year in July to help partners navigate MPN resources, Mondloch said.

Sponsored post

Partners have longed for a dedicated Microsoft rep to act as a liaison to help with communications and engage more effectively, says Arlin Sorensen, founder of HTG and CEO of solution provider Heartland Technology Solutions, Harlan, Iowa. "Working with a giant company like Microsoft is challenging," he said. "Microsoft has a lot of resources available, but you have to figure out how to leverage them."

Vendors have spent tons of money on partner community building programs, but VARS haven't used them because they're too hard to figure out. But with Hanson now available to help VARs sort through this complexity, Sorensen expects that partners will take better advantage of the marketing funds and sales tools Microsoft offers. "I think this will allow us to have engagements that actually do drive business in the end," he said.

Microsoft has traditionally tried to push a one-size-fits-all approach with its partner programs, but this time it's taking a narrow and strategic focus, notes Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va.-based Microsoft Gold partner. "In Microsoft's view, every program has to scale so that every partner can do it. And then they're always surprised when it doesn't work out," he said.

By focusing on a smaller group of partners, Microsoft appears to have realized that channel programs don't have to apply to everyone, and that's a more sophisticated approach than they've used in the past, and one that looks like it could bear fruit, Sobel said.