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Following the wrap of Microsoft’s annually Worldwide Partner Conference, the software giant started asking its partners to pass around the link to a new Website for enabling peer-to-peer partnerships. It’s called Microsoft Matchmaker.

The idea behind Matchmaker is relatively simple: Authorized Microsoft partners load their leads into the system to share with select or preferred peers or for distribution by Microsoft to qualified providers of appropriate products and services. As Microsoft writes in the FAQ:

“Matchmaker is a Partner to Partner lead sharing program designed to facilitate the process of creating and passing leads between Microsoft Partners. Ultimately, our goal is to enable you, our MSPP partners, to better represent the breadth and depth of Microsoft’s products, solutions and partner ecosystem to meet your customers’ needs.”

To simulate activity, Microsoft is offering a $250 bounty for qualified Dynamics opportunities pushed through Matchmaker. The buzz among solution providers who’ve looked at the system is relatively positive, except for those in Canada. Matchmaker is only accessible for U.S. Microsoft partners.

Matchmaker isn’t a bad idea, and the concept of stimulating peer-to-peer partnerships isn’t new. IBM started doing speed dating between its partners at its annual conference three years ago, and has been introducing tools through its PartnerWorld portal. Cisco Systems touted the benefits of peer-to-peer relationships at its recent Partner Summit in Boston, but the Cisco program is more focused on enabling management cooperation between partners in different international markets.

Microsoft Matchmaker really isn’t a partnership facilitator, even though some solidified, lasting partnerships may form from it. This is purely a lead capture and distribution system. The entire system is dependent upon solution providers giving up their customers to other companies for fulfillment. Matchmaker doesn’t spearhead the development of true partnerships, in which solution providers merge their reach and resources, collaborate on proposals, and cooperate in deployments.

It’s actually the failing of all the vendor peer-to-peer partnership initiatives. None provides solution providers with the tools, templates and guidance on how to form ongoing partnership relationships with revenue splits, common terms and conditions, and resource planning and utilization tools. In fact, many vendor programs inhibit such relationships by prohibiting what they consider multitier product sales.

Microsoft says solution providers that have existing relationships can load their leads into Matchmaker and use the system to manage lead sharing. As a solution provider, my question would be: “Why do I need Matchmaker if I already have a pre-existing relationship?” By loading leads in Matchmaker, solution providers are giving Microsoft a look into their sales activities.

If you don’t have existing peer relationships, Microsoft partner account managers will review the leads and refer to “appropriate” partners. So, solution providers are basically going to give up their leads to Microsoft to determine where it goes. That requires a fair degree of faith, especially when Microsoft’s FAQ makes no guarantee that it won’t refer a lead to a competitor or take a deal direct.

I believe peer-to-peer partnership and collaboration is essential for the health of the channel. However, such partnerships shouldn’t be relegated to transactional referrals. If I were a solution provider, I would approach Matchmaker and programs like it with a healthy degree of skepticism.