Microsoft: Gold partner changes will better differentiate channel

Microsoft: Gold partner changes will better differentiate channel

New Microsoft Partner Network sees 417 Australian Gold partners investing in customer survey requirements and recognised by competency from October 2010

Microsoft’s new competency and customer survey requirements for Gold partners will provide better differentiation and segmentation for Australian organisations, its local channel director claims.

The Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) was unveiled at the software giant’s global partner conference in July 2009 and represents the biggest refurbishment of its channel engagement strategy in several years. The changes see all general and registered tiers phased out in October in favour of a competency-based structure.

For Gold partners, the biggest requirement is presenting 10 completed customer surveys annually, known as Customer Satisfaction Index (CSAT), in order to retain top-tier status.

Microsoft partner solutions director, George Stavrakakis, said the surveys were a healthy approach to assessing partner performance around the quality of solutions, implementation and customer experience.

The surveys are done by a third-party agency and allow companies to benchmark themselves against one another.

“For those partners with a customer focus, implementing these will be business as usual. For those that have not been as focused, this is a great opportunity to gain an insight and allocate resources around customer satisfaction,” Stavrakakis said. “These surveys are about the customer experience being enhanced to drive quality solutions.

“The local-level feedback we’ve had so far has been positive – it’s a clear differentiation for Gold partners, which is something we’ve constantly been asked for over the years.”

Stavrakakis said 190 of its 417 Gold Australian partners were already signed up and accruing customer surveys in preparation for the official launch of MPN. Existing Gold partners will retain their classification for the first 12 months, after which time Microsoft will evaluate partner qualifications and certify them according to the new model.

CEO of Microsoft Gold partner Unique World, Eddie Geller, approved the use of mandatory CSATs and said the software integrator used Microsoft’s survey tools for a couple of years.

He highlighted the ability to benchmark against local and global partners a way of constantly improving its business.

Geller also saw competencies as a way of further segmenting top-tier partners and rewarding them for their technology and knowledge investment.

“Gold had calibre many years ago but it’s lost its credibility – customers think everyone has Gold these days,” he said. “It’s good to have this reinvented and introduce more segmentation.”

Stavrakakis didn’t expect to see top-tier registration numbers significantly decrease or increase in Australia as a result of the programmatic changes.

“It’s about looking for differentiation… re-engagement at a Gold level has been steady over recent years,” he said. “The smaller partner organisations have also responded positively to MPN because of the simplification aspect. The competencies ensure you don’t have to match up specialisations and competencies and align with customer needs.”

Microsoft’s four new competency-based levels are community, subscriber, competency and advanced competency. Underneath these are 30 competencies to choose from, ranging across infrastructure and productivity through to the newly launched digital home and marketing, and Web development.

To coincide with the program overhaul, Microsoft is ramping up its customer education and awareness efforts.

“We have to make sure it’s not just the partners, but all stakeholders that are clear on the transition plan,” Stavrakakis said.

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