Microsoft Partners Working Harder, Paying More For Gold Status

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It's been one year since Microsoft's partner program underwent a major overhaul, including adding more rigorous certification requirements that make it much tougher to become a Gold-level partner. So how is the new Microsoft Partner Network working out?

Most partners say that while meeting the tougher certification standards hasn't been easy, they recognize that the changes make having a "Gold" designation worth much more than in the past.

"I like the changes they've made. Before, every Tom, Dick and Harry was a gold partner," said Jerod Powell, CEO of InfinIT Consulting, a San Jose, Calif.-based solution provider. "I like that it's more elite now."

"It will be a real gold standard," agreed Mary Shaw, business development coordinator at InterKnowlogy, a Carlsbad, Calif.-based software development company and Microsoft partner. "I'm a fan. I think they've done a good job."

But that opinion isn't unanimous. Some worry that the new program favors larger solution providers with more resources to invest in training and certification, while smaller partners might get left behind. Some partners question the value of the program and complain about the added costs.

"The net is more money, less value," said Daniel Duffy, CEO of Valley Network Solutions, a solution provider in Fresno, Calif., talking about the higher costs of getting certified by Microsoft. "I think they've really devalued the program."

After more than a year of planning and preparations Microsoft officially launched its revamped partner program, renamed the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), in November 2010. MPN requires partners to become certified in specific "competencies" or technology areas to achieve Silver or Gold partner status. They also have to meet new customer satisfaction benchmarks and minimum sales targets.

The new certification requirements and the effort needed to achieve them have generated the most controversy among channel partners. To reach MPN Gold level, partners must employ or contract with four unique Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) for a specific competency, such as business intelligence, identity and security, unified communications, and virtualization. Those MCPs cannot be assigned to any other Gold competency. For Silver, 2 MCPs are required, but they can be used for multiple competencies.

To achieve and maintain Gold status, partners have to make significant investments in hiring and/or training sales and technical support personnel. While Microsoft currently offers certification in 28 competencies, according to a Microsoft partner Website, the heightened requirements mean that many partners – especially smaller ones – must focus their resources on just one or two competencies.

"For some partners, it's forced them to prioritize what their core value-proposition is in the market," said Phil Sorgen, Microsoft corporate vice president for the Small and Mid-market Solutions & Partners (SMS&P) business in the U.S., in an interview at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Los Angeles in July. Microsoft is now focusing its marketing efforts to emphasize the value of the Gold-level competencies, he said.

Next: "Gold" Designation Becomes More Exclusive

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