Engaging with customers: building and differentiating your organization

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Every partner in our network is on a unique journey, shaped by dozens of factors including company size, industry, location, level of sophistication, and customer needs. While no partner journey is exactly the same, all partners go through the same general stages of building innovative solutions, taking them to the marketplace, and selling—and understanding all of the resources and options available to you during each stage can make a world of difference. 

This is the third post in a series that takes a deeper look at the factors and available support that can help you navigate the partner journey. The last post explored some of the key resources, considerations and tools that we provide for our partners, and in this post, we’ll look at the programs that can help you establish your organization and differentiate yourself in the marketplace. 

Supporting your journey with enablement resources 

When you become our partner, your membership opens access to a variety of resources—both complimentary and for-purchase, like the Microsoft Action Pack—that can help you build a solution and effectively take it to the marketplace. Because there are so many potential paths for you to take as our partner, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, it’s important to determine the direction you’ll take so you can develop the right skills, solutions, value propositions, and differentiators to stand out to your customers and effectively meet their needs.

Whether you’re just getting started with the Microsoft Partner Network or you’re an established partner looking for additional direction, a great place to start is to take our Partner Transformation Readiness Assessment. As Microsoft senior director Kymber Lowe says, the assessment, “helps partners establish a benchmark for their current cloud capabilities and understand where to focus efforts for training and certification.” It will help determine your skilling level and provide suggested resources and next steps, which can vary from technical training to business development playbooks and resources. Regularly taking the assessment can be an effective way to measure your technical and business proficiencies and map where to grow your organization next.

As you enter the build phase of the partner journey, we help connect you with the right programs and virtual, in person, or modularized training to support the construction of your innovative solution. Once your solution is built, we surface resources to help prepare you to enter the marketplace, differentiate with customers, and scale your business. We’re also working currently to build out sales training that helps your organization prepare to effectively navigate and close sales opportunities. 

Differentiating yourself with membership programs—services partners 

Partners should create a business profile in Partner Center and publish their offer in the Microsoft commercial marketplace. Another way to help build customer attention and engagement is to attain a gold or silver competency. This is done by meeting the requirements and paying the competency fee. Requirements include performance and passing exams and certifications, and you can find the current competency requirements in Partner Center and on the Microsoft partner website.

Competencies are an excellent option to demonstrate your practice in a particular area, measured by customer outcome, technical capabilities, and accreditation. For example, if you’re driving high Azure consumed revenue and you meet the performance requirements for a gold competency, working to pass the certifications and exams to qualify is likely a good investment. If your customer base is consistently asking for accredited partners, that can also be an indicator that a competency is worth pursuing.

Once you’ve attained a gold competency, you can unlock even greater differentiation by meeting the rigorous requirements, including a third-party audit, that demonstrate your proven technical capabilities and attaining an advanced specialization or joining the Azure Expert Managed Services Provider program (MSP):

  • Earning an advanced specialization strengthens and distinguishes your practice in specific technical areas with high customer demand. They are available for a variety of skills across Microsoft Azure, Business Applications, Modern Work, and Security. 
  • The Azure Expert MSP program recognizes an exclusive set of highly experienced managed service partners who have met rigorous requirements demonstrating their proven expertise providing managed services across the end-to-end cloud lifecycle at scale by evaluating their people, process, and tools. You distinguish your organization’s sustainable, repeatable, and efficient managed services across the full cloud lifecycle, allowing your customers to focus on their business priorities. 

Advanced specializations and the Azure Expert MSP program make it easier for customers and Microsoft sellers to identify the partners that are best qualified to meet their individual needs. Partners can also actively promote their specialized expertise—for example, Microsoft partner Hanu has done an excellent job of weaving its Azure Expert MSP designation into case studies and other content, highlighting its capabilities alongside customer outcomes to drive results. 

Differentiating yourself with membership programs—ISVs/app builders 

While competencies and advanced specializations are available primarily to services partners, there are a variety of additional resources and programs tailored for partners that are independent software vendors (ISV).  

ISVs have shared that they choose to partner with Microsoft because we bring innovation, capacity, and customers to the partnership. We’re continually investing in the Microsoft Cloud and our business platform to drive growth. To accomplish this, we provide technical resources to support ISVs as we develop IP solutions together, creating customer value and differentiated solutions across our cloud platforms. 

Strong ISVs build momentum on top of Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft Power Apps. We also offer global support to help our partners enter new markets—without the overhead—and to drive incremental growth. Our programs for ISVs include: 

  • Business Applications support that accelerates the growth and overall success of ISVs building modern, cloud-based line of business (LOB) apps with Dynamics 365 and PowerApps that focus on customers to help you grow your business. We shared earlier this year, that our connect program has experienced tremendous momentum with more than 670 ISVs with 1,500-plus certified applications, representing more than 130 percent year-over-year growth for apps that are part of the program and listed in the AppSource marketplace. 
  • Programming that encourages collaborative co-selling between Microsoft sellers and our IP solution partners to extend your reach, expand deals, and accelerate wins. It increases our sellers’ visibility into Azure IP solutions to generate new co-sell opportunities with partners. It also incentivizes sellers to leverage partners’ industry expertise through their IP solutions to expedite customer’s digital transformation.  
  • Rewards that support you at your specific stage of growth, beginning with awareness activities to help you secure your first customers. As you progress through our commercial marketplace, you unlock additional benefits that are designed to help you convert customers and close deals. 

There are so many powerful programs, resources, and tools available to you as our partner. By understanding what you have access to, when to utilize it, and how to set yourself up for an optimal experience, you can arm your organization with everything you need to thrive now and in the future. And as you become more successful, your wins contribute to the overall success of the Microsoft Partner Network as a whole. 

The enablement and differentiation resources provided for partners can give your organization a serious edge over competitors. While taking full advantage requires an investment of time and resources, doing so can help set your organization up for increased success—both now and in the long run. Keep in mind that many of these resources are customized to your organization, and even your role, so it’s important to review what’s specifically available to you. By understanding the various options and support you have at each stage, you can maximize your experience as you progress through the partner journey. 

I want to thank you for your continued partnership, and I encourage you to check back in a couple of weeks for the final post in our partner journey series. 

Read part one, "Choose your own journey with the Microsoft Partner Network," of our blog series.

Read part two, "Utilize key resources to support your partner journey," of our blog series.