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Microsoft makes major changes to partner programme

For the first time in a decade and a half, Microsoft is renaming and reconstituting its partner programme, with an emphasis on meeting customer needs

Microsoft has announced major changes to its partner programme for first time in a decade and a half, as it gives its channel more opportunity to promote their areas of expertise to customers.

The shift from the Microsoft Partner Network to the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program will come into effect from the start of October, with the vendor outlining the changes now to give the channel at least six months to prepare.

The vendor is stressing that it will open the door to all partners, and that the certifications and specialisations they have already gained will not be wasted in the new scheme as the channel can use those skills in the fresh system.

There will be two qualifying levels – solutions partner and specialisations/expert – that can be learnt to help stand out from competitors. All partners will be classed as a network member. Those descriptions replace the classic gold and silver approach.

Partners will get the chance to line up behind six designations: data and artificial intelligence (Azure), infrastructure (Azure), digital and app innovation (Azure), business applications, modern work and security.

“Partners have always been at the core of who we are as a company, and that contributes significantly to our commercial success,” said Rodney Clark, corporate vice-president of channel sales, and channel chief at Microsoft.

“Our goal now and always has been to make investments in our partner programme to ensure that partners are in the best position to win and to drive profitable businesses. Most importantly, we’re investing so that partners stay one step ahead of customer expectations.” 

He added that the fundamental reason for the new approach was around changes that happened at a customer level, which meant the old model of vendor via partner dictating the pace of change was not as relevant.

“It’s no longer Microsoft leading our customers on this...journey of innovation and ongoing development. It’s no longer Microsoft and our partners – it’s very much our customers that are directing us based on their emerging needs, and we have all witnessed this over the past couple of years,” he said.

This change meant that users were looking for partners that could deliver the innovation they needed, and Clark said Microsoft had seen that partners across its network that had specialisations were growing twice as far as competitors who lacked them.

The vendor had also identified a further sub-set of partners that were experiencing triple-digit growth, and Clark said he wanted to unlock the secrets of their success.

“They were invested in specialisations, like that group that was growing into x. But they were also doing three other things that I thought were worth noting...specialisation, digital engagement marketplace, peer-to-peer engagement, and most active in co-sell, and they were growing definitively and distinctively at 140%,” he said.

That led to Clark building out an approach that would give the entire channel base an opportunity to enjoy those levels of growth.

He said that the six solution areas covered the ways that customers were buying, and it was important for Microsoft to line them up with areas it was also investing in as a company.

“With this evolution, as we move to the qualifying levels, we are retiring gold and silver. As part of that, we simplified what it means to be a member in our network. We have based membership, which is open to all partners, every single partner type in our ecosystem, and onboards who start their journey with the Microsoft Cloud Partner Programme,” he said.

“Our Microsoft Cloud Partner Programme remains a place for all partners, whether they build and sell services, software solutions or devices,” he added.

Clark pointed out that Microsoft was not only giving partners time to prepare for the changes, but it was going further with its support.

“As part of this evolution, we’re not removing any benefits that partners received today,” he said. “In fact, we’re increasing investment in our programme by more than 25% – a pretty significant investment to make sure that it matches the investments that we’ve made previously.”

The vendor will also provide partners with access to a dashboard that shares details of their position with the specialisations, and how they can get to the 70 points needed to gain the status.

Clark said Microsoft was also prepared to give partners even longer than six months to embrace the fresh approach: “If you think about the approaching renewal dates for many of our partners in our current partner network when partners get to the October timeframe, they’ll have the ability to move into the Microsoft Cloud Partner Programme, or they can extend for another year through the Microsoft Partner Network. So, we are engaging with our ecosystem and giving plenty of time for our partners to understand where and how they should be investing.

“This is the first material change to our programme in more than 15 years. A lot has changed in 15 years. We looked at and said, ‘Hey, it’s time for us to align these investments’, to make sure that not only Microsoft, but our ecosystem, is poised to deliver on that customer value,” Clark concluded.

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