Microsoft Helps You Pick a Partner

Think it’s time to move to Microsoft’s Small Business Server or some other product from the Redmond, Wash.-based software titan? Having plenty of resellers to choose from isn’t a problem, but having too many can be. How’s a small business to choose?

In a move designed to help small business narrow the field when it comes to Microsoft-certified partners, the company today announced the Small Business Specialist Community. At its Worldwide Partner Conference 2005, which started today in Minneapolis, Microsoft unveiled what it describes as “competency-like designation” as part of the Microsoft Partner Program.

The goal of the program is simple: to help small businesses more quickly and easily identify technology partners best-suited to support them. To test the program with real small businesses, Microsoft ran pilot programs in Denmark and Italy, according to Steve Guggenheimer, vice president of small business for Microsoft’s Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partner Group.

Guggenheimer said that he would like to see the program include about 10,000 small business partners. That may sound like a lot of Small Business Specialists vying for your business, until you consider that Microsoft has about 500,000 partners worldwide.

Microsoft Small Business Specialist logo0
Microsoft partners that pass the test can display the above logo.
“We want to say ‘here are the best partners,’ and build a community around it,” Guggenheimer said. “Partners want to stand out, they want a visual ID.” That small business badge of honor will come in the form of the Microsoft Small Business Specialist logo, which partners can put on their business cards, Web sites, marketing materials and so on.

“With resources like the partner locator tool in the Microsoft Small Business Center site [see Microsoft Gives Small Biz Site a Makeover], we’ll make it much easier for small businesses to identify those partners in Microsoft’s network that are best able to address their specific needs,” Guggenheimer said. “When they search the Small Business Web site, we’ll surface those partners and they will appear higher on the results page.”

Microsoft isn’t just giving away the distinction. To earn the right to call itself a Small Business Specialist, a partner has to pass two tests, Guggenheimer said. The first one measures their knowledge of small business market (i.e., what do small business owners think, what kinds of networks they run and so on). The second is a technical exam on a specific product or service the partner has expertise in. At first, Guggenheimer said, “the technical tests will be available for only Small Business Server and the Windows client for System Builders.” (System Builders are partners that have expertise in building PC and server systems, based on Microsoft technologies, that are customized for small businesses segment.)

In addition to using the Small Business Specialist logo in marketing materials, after qualifying as a Small Business Specialist, partners have access to training specifically designed for the small business market, marketing materials for reuse and special partner promotions. For example, Guggenheimer said, Computer Associates will offer Small Business Specialists a free copy of Business Protection Suites designed for Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003.

Microsoft also announced that it will work with banking institutions, including Chase Merchant Services LLC, to offer credit card processing for the yet-to-be released Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006. Microsoft reports that it plans to offer multiple bank options. For those customers with existing banking relationships, Microsoft announced that it is working with VeriSign to provide a secure online environment to help prevent disruption to their business. Small Business Accounting 2006 is expected to ship this fall.

Earlier this week, Microsoft previewed a small business version of its CRM for customers using Windows Small Business Server 2003 Premium Edition. The new version is designed to offer a simplified installation and an easy migration path from Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager. Microsoft did not release pricing details.

Dan Muse is executive editor of Small Business Channel, EarthWeb’s Networking & Communications Channel and ServerWatch.

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