Microsoft Corp. is developing a channel program targeting some of the smallest companies in the SMB (small and midsize business) space.

The vendor is not going into the details of the program at this point, but a spokeswoman said an announcement is planned for Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in July in Minneapolis.

The program will target VARs that sell Microsoft networking and system products, including Small Business Server, to companies with 25 employees or fewer.

There will be a Web component—an online business center with information for VARs and their customers.

Microsoft has been talking about launching such a program since its Worldwide Partner Conference last year in Toronto.

“We call it, for lack of a better name, a ‘Partner Badge for Small Business,’” Orlando Ayala, senior vice president of small and midmarket solutions, said then.

The idea is to certify partners through training and marketing as experts in the small-business market, he said.

Click here to read more about customer dissatisfaction growing with Microsoft’s delayed customer relationship management release cycle.

Targeting small business is one of the most daunting challenges for large vendors, so they turn to channel partners to open inroads into that market space.

Often, however, partners complain that vendors don’t put enough resources into these efforts.

For instance, Glen Scott, president of IPT Northwest, a Microsoft Certified Partner, in Portland, Ore., says Microsoft traditionally does a good job with marketing, but that’s where it ends.

He said he hasn’t seen a Microsoft rep in his building for years.

Still, the situation seems to be improving, now that IPT actually has an assigned rep, which wasn’t always the case.

Scott said he would welcome a small-business program with several elements he considers important.

“We need more of a lead-generation piece focused on resellers that fit into that small-business space, as well as a customer-incentive piece.”

Read more here about Microsoft focusing on its SMB applications strategy.

By customer incentive, Scott says, he would like to see Microsoft do such things as pick up half the cost of the initial visit to a prospective client.

His company insists on a four-hour initial visit when engaging customers to assess their needs. “It’s not huge and it’s not expensive.”

IPT Northwest does a lot of business with Small Business Server.

“The majority of our clients are in the under-50-seat range,” Scott said.