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News Analysis: Certified Partners To Feel the Love in '06

Microsoft investing in phone system to reach out and touch more partners.

Microsoft Certified Partners may find themselves spending as much time on the telephone this year as they did back when they were teenagers.

Microsoft is ramping up a telephone-based program primarily to reach out to partners who haven’t historically had a specific Partner Account Manager (PAM), according analysts at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC who are familiar with Microsoft’s plans. IDC researchers say that even as Microsoft makes plans to contact nearly every Certified and Gold Certified Partner this year, the company has also launched an ambitious effort to boost the numbers of partners in those top two tiers of the Microsoft Partner Program.

Microsoft officials declined to comment on their plans to increase the ranks of their Certified and Gold Certified Partners, saying that they wouldn't discuss the numbers for those elite partner classifications until the partner-requalification process was completed this month.

IDC discussed Microsoft’s plans briefly in a December 2005 report called "Worldwide Software Channel Program 2005 Vendor Profiles" (see "Analysts Applaud Microsoft Partner Program" below). IDC analysts Steve Graham and Paul Edwards say Microsoft will leverage telephone-based PAMs, or telePAMs, to accomplish the strategy, which will be coupled with more intensive lead-generation efforts with those partners.

Analysts Applaud Microsoft Partner Program

When it comes to partnering within a software channel, you’re in a darn good program, according to analysts at IDC.

In the recent report, "Worldwide Software Channel Program 2005 Vendor Profiles," IDC ranked the Microsoft Partner Program as the leader, ahead of IBM, Progress, Oracle, CA, Novell, BEA, Sun and 17 other vendors.

The Framingham, Mass.-based research and analysis firm praised Microsoft for continuing "to deliver on the phased rollout of its completely re-engineered Partner Program that was launched in January 2004. Additional investment is being put toward improving partner infrastructure, including extending and infusing more value into engagement and business planning capabilities."

IDC’s report noted that Microsoft could use improvement in how it structures its competency offerings: "While most competencies are focused on solution areas, some are related to partner types, such as developers and ISVs, which tends to put these partners in mini-programs that are appended to the main partner program," analysts wrote. "This may cause issues with partners that are looking for access and participation in the full complement of available program services while specializing in one or more solution areas." -- S.B.

In July 2005, Microsoft reported that it had about 32,600 top-level partners (28,000 Certified and 4,600 Gold Certified). IDC says the company hopes to grow those two tiers up to a shared total of 50,000 partners.

Meanwhile, PAMs already serve most Gold Certified Partners, as well as some Certified Partners, Edwards says. "What [Microsoft is] talking about doing is expanding [its] capabilities through telePAMs."

While traditional PAMs often visit partner companies in person, telePAMs will interact with the accounts they manage primarily by phone, allowing them to handle a larger number of companies. The idea isn’t new, but current telePAMs don’t typically hold in-depth conversations with partners.

"Where the investment is going to go is trying to do more meaningful contact. It will be more about getting into conversations about the business and strategies, not just about what’s in the funnel this month," says Edwards.

The changes are designed to help Microsoft drive up the number of productive partners, the average number of deals and the size of the average deal, according to IDC.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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