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More Details on Microsoft Small Business Competency Trickling Out!

Thomas Hansen PhotoBy Harry Brelsford, Founder and Chairman of SMB Nation, Inc. and Regina Ciardiello, Editor of SMB Nation Magazine

Minutes ago we chatted with Thomas Hansen, VP SMB Worldwide, and he shared more details about the forthcoming Small Business competency inside the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN). Readers will recall that the “SB” competency was announced March 1st here, and Hansen said the full program will roll-out in early June 2012 before the main event of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in mid-July in Toronto.

The top takeaways from today’s wide ranging interview are these:

  • Redo. The SB competency is more than two years in the making and is the accumulation of one prior attempt that was postponed when the MPN was launched. Essentially, Microsoft went back to the drawing boards to get it right and it sought worldwide customer feedback to “make it right.” Hansen underscored Microsoft’s commitment to HUGE small business market. Ergo the ongoing investment of time and money into the new SB competency. “We expect the SB competency to be far and away the largest competency in MPN very quickly, he said”
  • BusinessSpeak. “We want the Microsoft Partner to speak the language of the small business itself,” Hansen shared, when he divulged that the SB competency is as much about business understands as technical knowhow. He commented that Microsoft realizes there is often a cultural mismatch when big league IT pros try to integrate into a small business. What Hansen didn’t share was HOW the SB partner will in fact learn to be more business savvy. Hansen promised that information will be more forthcoming at a future date (but known before the June program launch). He added that, so far, the only “negative” feedback he has received from partners was that they wished Microsoft had introduced this program earlier.
  • CloudSpeak. “In for a penny, in for a pound of cloud” was the message we heard regarding the technical emphasis of the SB competency. Legacy on-premise solutions such as Windows Small Business Server weren’t really part of the conversation today. Instead, it was all about Office 365. Interesting but albeit somewhat risky strategy for Microsoft to be all in the for cloud when the channel has expressed revenue reservations about that path. True, the reality is that times are changing fast. Microsoft is hedging partners will get on the cloud train with the SB competency.

Brand merger

Over the next year plus, Microsoft will slow merge the SB competency with the long-standing Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC). Ultimately, the SB competency will prevail, and the beloved SBSC blue badge will go away. Think of it as how FedEx first merged and then ultimately eliminated the Kinko’s brand.

Inducements

For many “small guys,” the SB competency will require elevating up to silver MPN status where there are real membership costs but also real membership benefits. To help with the transition, Microsoft will offer a lower Silver competency admission price between June and the end of 2012. Hansen declined to be more specific or name that price.

Something for Everyone

Hansen also noted during our conversation, that the SB Competency is not just for a specific group of Microsoft partners; It is open to everyone, no matter how large or small they are, or if they are located in a major U.S. city or small local overseas. “Because we are a multi-national company, this is multi-national offering,” Hansen said. “How people engage may vary, but this is available to all partners, and how they choose to apply it is up to them.”

Final thoughts

When we were involved “back in the day” with the creation of the SBSC program, it was often viewed as a partner-level inside the Microsoft Partner program. The SB competency essentially has a different paradigm with it truly being a competency (like Desktop, Hosting, Mobility). I would offer this in closing. Be careful what you asked for. To all those older tired community curmudgeons who complained about the SBSC title, you now have the SB competency. Are you happy yet? 
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