Microsoft Reveals More Partner Designations, AI Opportunity

‘We’re committed to providing differentiated value and innovative solutions to partners and customers,” says Microsoft Chief Partner Officer Nicole Dezen.


Microsoft unveiled more designations available and coming for partners, updates to its commercial marketplace and changes in artificial intelligence as part of its “state of the partner ecosystem” Wednesday.

In April, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft will start billing for GPT-4 in Azure OpenAI Service. Later this year, Microsoft will roll out designations for training services and support services partners, according to the vendor. And in the spring, Microsoft will launch a preview for multiparty private offers in its commercial marketplace.

“Our services-led partners are so core to our strategy,” Nicole Dezen, Microsoft’s chief partner officer and corporate vice president of the Global Partner Solutions organization, told CRN in an interview Wednesday. “They are incredibly important. They can count on the fact that there are so many more opportunities coming ahead. … I’m so grateful for the unique work that they do every single day.”

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Microsoft Launches More Partner Designations

Microsoft has about 400,000 channel partners worldwide, according to CRN’s 2023 Channel Chiefs list.

Dezen said during Wednesday’s event that the vendor is investing more “partner growth and profitability.” For every one dollar of Microsoft revenue, services-lead partners make $7.63 and software partners make $10.11, she said.

She also advocated for partners to explore co-selling opportunities with the vendor. In 2021, Microsoft co-selling partners achieved nearly double the revenue growth of partners that didn’t co-sell with Microsoft. Partners who co-sell with Microsoft grow faster and generate higher margin, she said.

“Now more than ever, partnership with Microsoft is making it possible to grow businesses faster,” she said during the event.

AI A Partner Opportunity

Microsoft’s foray into generative AI is an opportunity for partners and customers to address issues in labor supply, supply chain and security, Dezen said during Wednesday’s event.

ChatGPT in Azure OpenAI Service allows partners to build predictive models, improve decision-making and automate processes, according to the vendor.

Generative pre-trained transformers (GPT) is part of the technology powering generative AI software tools by Microsoft-backed OpenAI, including text-generator ChatGPT and image generator Dall-E.

It is also part of the technology behind AI in Bing and Microsoft 365 Copilot.

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced preview access for GPT-4 in Azure OpenAI Service. On April 1, Microsoft will start billing at the following prices:

*For GPT-4 8k context, the prompt cost is 3 cents per 1,000 tokens

*For GPT-4 8k context, completion is 6 cents per 1,000 tokens

*For GPT-4 32k context, the prompt is 6 cents per 1,000 tokens

*For GPT-4 32k context, completion is 12 cents per 1,000 tokens

“This brings the latest generation of large language models to our Azure partners and customers,” Dezen said Wednesday. “This means that partners can streamline processes, save time and improve overall efficiency so that they can focus on important day-to-day operations.”

More Partner Designations

Microsoft now has 28 technical specializations available for partners as part of the system that replaced long-time gold and silver badges for partners.

Microsoft has expanded its designations to include more options for Microsoft Dynamics 365 business applications partners and independent software vendors (ISVs).

The four new business app specializations are finance, sales, service and supply chain.

New designations are in pilot and should be generally available (GA) in Microsoft’s 2024 fiscal year, which starts in July.

One is a designation for partners who focus on support services for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), Julie Sanford, vice president of go-to-market (GTM) programs and experiences, said during Wednesday’s event.

“We see this as a huge growth area for our partners,” Sanford said. Research firm “Gartner projects that guided support will have a 24 percent compounded annual growth rate through 2025.”

A second upcoming designation is for learning partners who package and provide Microsoft courseware. Since July, Microsoft has seen partners attain 350,000-plus certifications.

New designations for ISV partners include finance, retail, security and marketing and sales. The designations are meant to help ISVs stand out based on industry, use cases and line-of-business imperatives, according to Microsoft. These will launch in Microsoft’s 2024 fiscal year.

Microsoft’s ISV Success program is in public preview in all countries and offers ISVs access to product cloud benefits, demonstration sandbox environments, technical consultations for product development and GTM assistance, Sanford said.

Thousands of ISVs have used these benefits and expanded packages are expected to enter GA during the summer, she said.

Marketplace Changes

The commercial marketplace multiparty private offers Microsoft plans to launch in the spring with limited access will allow partners to add custom payouts and sell to Microsoft customers through the marketplace, according to the vendor.

The goal is to simplify the selling process, according to the vendor. Customers will have the option to spend against their cloud consumption commitment with Azure intellectual property (IP) co-sell eligible products and services.

Partners will also gain the ability to transact containers and virtual machine (VM) software reservations through the commercial marketplace “in the coming months,” according to Microsoft.

Casey McGee, Microsoft’s vice president of global ISV sales, said during Wednesday’s event that “this expedites our partners’ ability to deploy, build, support and track customers’ transactions on Microsoft workloads that qualify for benefits and incentives.”

“Some of the biggest co-sell deals that I’ve ever seen are now being executed through these transactable offers,” McGee said.

In November, Jake Swenson, Microsoft’s vice president of commercial marketplace, told CRN in an interview that multi-party private offers would give system integrators (SIs), distributors and resellers the ability to join a packaged Microsoft transaction in a way “that’s convenient for the customer and that has positive economic terms for everybody involved.’”

When asked about more integration between the Microsoft marketplace and partner portal and using data from the marketplace to better align Microsoft sellers and services-led partners, Swenson said at the time that some of that functionality is possible in the future.

On April 19, Microsoft will hold a virtual Commercial Marketplace Impact Event for diverse and minority-owned partners and ones with “social impact solutions” such as ones focused on accessibility, nonprofits and sustainability. The event aims to educate partners on growing through the commercial marketplace.

The vendor recently introduced the ability for partners to submit diversity and social good business classifications in Partner Center for customers looking for such businesses.

Microsoft Promises It’s Listening To Partners

During Wednesday’s event, Sanford gave an update on the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program (MCPP), now six months into its current iteration.

Microsoft went from 18 silver and 18 gold competencies to six solution partner designations – business applications, modern work, security, infrastructure, digital and app innovation and data and AI.

Sanford that Microsoft is listening to partner feedback as it works on the program.

In November, Microsoft introduced paths in the business apps designation for enterprise and for SMBs to help partners differentiate themselves to the two groups.

In December, Microsoft saw a 76 percent jump in the number of partners qualifying for that designation and an additional 51 percent growth in January, Sanford said.

In November, based on partner feedback, Microsoft updated Partner Center so that partners can connect with the Microsoft field sellers and account team that covers a customer the partner is engaged with.

In February, Microsoft gave distributors including TD Synnex, Ingram Micro, Arrow Electronics and Pax8 greater access “to make targeted investments” with their partner-customers “in areas of technical skilling, new customer acquisition, solution deployment and activation,” she said.

In the summer, Microsoft introduced certifications for partners in 16 countries, including the U.S., to mark themselves as diverse and minority owned. Today, more than 1,500 partner businesses use .those certifications, Sanford said.

“We have received broad partner feedback that the solution partner designations are helping leveling the playing field so that both small and large partners are recognized for the great work they are doing with customers of all sizes,” Sanford said. “It allows them to better align with Microsoft’s go-to-market, and it truly differentiates themselves when customers are evaluating their ability to provide the level of service customers require.”