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Microsoft channel executives have their hands full trying to craft
the company’s partner program to cater to a broad spectrum of
constituents, from small ISVs to name-brand OEMs.

It’s no small feat, given the sheer volume of partners in the Redmond,
Wash., software giant’s system: 122,000 in the U.S. and 394,000 worldwide. This year, the company’s channel
executives have worked to improve partner-level communications and
provide more targeted investments and resources. At its July partner
conference, Microsoft plans to unveil a number of initiatives aimed at
helping its partners run their businesses better. One of the goals is
to make sure to identify their different partner types and develop
programs that make sense to their specific business model.

“Our partner program is a big enabler for partners, but a lot of the
language we are using, how we are qualifying partners and how they are
connecting with us are areas we need to focus on,” said Julie Bennani,
general manager of the Microsoft Partner Program in a recent interview
with Channel Insider.

Specifically, Microsoft’s channel program mavens will detail several
areas of focus at the annual Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans in
July, including:

 •    Engaging the echelon of committed Microsoft
partners that drive best-in-class solutions by helping them go to
market more effectively

•    Identifying the broader ecosystem of smaller ISVs,
hosting and reseller partners, especially those focused on new
solutions areas such as search and the Silverlight and Expressions
development space, and provide more business-oriented support and
marketing dollars

•    Creating targeted “landing spots” within the program for different types of partners with different needs

One of the key areas of emphasis is simplification. “We have to make
things easier online, not asking partners to profile themselves four
times,” Bennani acknowledged.

Bennani’s team also is evolving its partner-to-partner strategy as
well, incorporating feedback from partners who say today’s social media
trend is actually a business trend for them. Partners are using social
networking sites and tools to connect with other solution providers and
industry experts to figure out how to run their businesses more
effectively.

To compete well in today’s economic climate, solution providers must
demonstrate how they can help end customers quickly drive revenue and
growth and cut costs. To that end, Microsoft’s program investments this
year will zero in on initiatives that help partners from a business
perspective, including a profitability modeler that helps partners
understand how they can profit from selling CRM Online and Business
Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and new sales resources and tools.

Specifically, Microsoft will be unveiling a targeted demo tool for
partners to use to shorten the sales cycle around solutions built on
Microsoft’s Azure cloud-computing services platform.

“When we think about understanding where we can have impact with our
partners, we have gotten much more precise,” said Bennani, citing
investments the company is making in upskilling partners and providing
them with the business-case acumen to appeal to customers.

Microsoft is also seeking end customer feedback. Starting in October,
the company’s Gold Certified partners will be required to participate
in a formal customer satisfaction program that will be administered by
a third party.