Microsoft Flips The Switch On Revamped Channel Program

The Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) took a big -- and planned -- step forward last week when Microsoft retired all of its old program competencies and launched new ones.

To assist partners in the transition, Microsoft will automatically transition partners' old competencies to the corresponding new ones in MPN, the catchy acronym for the overhauled program Microsoft started talking about at last year's Worldwide Partner Conference.

Julie Bennani, general manager of the Microsoft Partner Network, says partners will retain their existing benefits until they re-enroll under the new competencies.

In October, the next phase of MPN will take effect, and Microsoft will start offering tailored benefits focused specifically on each competency. This includes software as well as sales and marketing assets, Bennani said in a video posted on the MPN Website.

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Also in October, partners that earn a new competency will be able to create a customizable logo that's aligned with Microsoft's new branding and highlights their specific strengths. According to Bennani, this will help partners differentiate themselves to both their customers and to other partners.

In exchange for the MPN benefits, Microsoft is asking partners to get trained on the latest Microsoft products. This requirement is a major change from the past and one that may be challenging for some VARs, given the sheer amount of new stuff that's coming out in what Microsoft is calling the largest product launch wave in its history.

But Microsoft says in order to perform the trusted advisor role effectively, partners will need to step up. "This is a raising of our standards and the bar from the past," Bennani said in the video. "This is a big change for our partners."

To help partners, Microsoft is offering access to betas and early previews of products, as well as training. Microsoft has also launched two new subscription offerings aimed at small and midsize partners: Microsoft Action Pack Solution Provider and Microsoft Action Pack Development and Design.

When partners re-enroll under the new MPN competencies and take certification exams, Microsoft is aware that some of these VARs will be treading new technology ground. To assist partners that don’t pass the exam the first time around, Microsoft is offering Second Shot, a program that lets them take the exam again free of charge until June 30.

Partners that attend WPC this year will be given up to 10 attempts at passing certification exams for new competencies, an offer that's good through the end of October.