This time last year, I used this blog to address a question I received from a new Microsoft partner who wanted guidance about how to get started. I have pointed a lot of folks to it over the past several months, but it’s a bit ragged around the edges—a lot has happened in technology over the past year, Microsoft has launched several new products, and there have been significant changes in the Microsoft Partner Network itself. So, inspired by a question posted to our U.S. Partner Community group on LinkedIn from Robin Taylor, of RLT Solutions, LLC in Virginia, here is the 2011 version of our recommendations for getting started with the Microsoft Partner Network.
First, if you are new to the Partner Network, welcome! It’s an exciting time to be in the technology industry, and Microsoft has a long history of partnering with companies like yours to serve customers of all sizes, across multiple industries and business types. Now, on with the show—we’ve come up with 6 key activities to get you going.
- Know Your Membership Options. The Microsoft Partner Network was completely refreshed and launched anew on November 1, 2010. On our Prepare for the Network page, we provide a comprehensive overview that can help you start to make decisions about how you want to engage with Microsoft. For example, if your customers are primarily small businesses, consider meeting the requirements to join the Small Business Specialist Community.
- Take Advantage of Low-Cost and No-Cost Partner Training. This is a significant benefit for members of the Partner Network, and in the U.S., we offer an online resource called the Learning Plan Tool, which offers training recommendations aligned to Microsoft products, the new competencies, exams, your role, and business skills. Most of the courses listed are offered at no cost to partners. Use the tool to create your unique learning plan, and you can also create learning plans for your employees.
- Purchase an Action Pack Subscription. Now available in two flavors—Solution Provider (SP) and Development & Design (DD), with benefits that align to those respective skill sets. Each offers internal-use, full-version software and online technical support, and either a TechNet (SP) or MSDN (DD) subscription.
- Understand Microsoft’s Cloud Strategy. I will forgo all weather-related references here, and just say that we are very serious about helping customers of all sizes take advantage of the benefits of cloud computing. That means our partners have to understand how to assess customer business needs with cloud computing in mind, and be prepared to build, sell, and deploy cloud solutions based on Microsoft products and technologies. We recently launched the Cloud Essentials pack and Cloud Accelerate, with benefits for partners who sell & service or who build & develop.
- Generate Demand with Microsoft Pinpoint and Ready-to-Go Marketing. Each month, thousands of customers visit the Microsoft Pinpoint marketplace looking for a trusted technology advisor to help them solve a business pain point. You can generate demand by making sure your solutions are visible to them on Pinpoint and by using our Ready-to-Go Marketing Campaigns, Services, Events, and Web Syndication offerings.
- Connect with Other Microsoft Partners. Well, we do call it the Microsoft Partner Network. In response to Robin’s inquiry on LinkedIn, group members suggested she consider joining her local IAMCP-U.S. chapter. The IAMCP-U.S. and the HTG Peer Groups are popular and active partner organizations. Another member suggestion for Robin was to engage with her local Microsoft office. Our U.S. Regions and Areas offer in-person events as well as monthly partner calls. And social networking sites have opened up lots of opportunities to meet virtually. One of my favorite partner communities to follow on Twitter in particular is the one for SharePoint, which seems to have hit on a nice blend of in-person, local events and activities and use of social media to meet other SharePoint partners and enthusiasts. Last but not least, thousands of Microsoft partners from around the world attend the annual Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (shameless plug: July 10-14 in Los Angeles this year), and the top reason they cite for attending is the opportunity to network with other partners and with Microsoft.
I promised myself I would keep the number of links provided in this post to a minimum. I believe the links above will serve you well now and in the future as a Microsoft partner. I hope this helps those of you new to the Microsoft Partner Network feel more confident about next steps in exploring your opportunities. If you are a more seasoned partner, I hope you also you found something useful here. Maybe you have a recommendation for Robin and other new partners, too?