At 5nine Software, our business is Microsoft: the security and management software we develop is only for their products. Since our launch in 2009, we’ve utilized Microsoft’s resources and support to grow our company, and we are now the leading solutions provider for Hyper-V with over 75,000 users – all Microsoft customers. We know Microsoft can be difficult to navigate, especially for newcomers, but discovering and leveraging MPN resources was really key to our growth and success.
I want to encourage my fellow partners – and those considering partnering with Microsoft – to look into these resources for a couple of reasons: First, the more partners who use them and provide feedback, the more refined and better the tools get. Second, the better informed and equipped the partner community is, the better partners we’ll all be for each other and for our customers. We think that’s worth taking the time to write a blog and spread the news.
So, with that in mind, here’s how we leveraged some of the key tools MPN provides to take our business to the next level:

 
MSDN Subscription

 
As our business grew and began offering more services, we needed to hire developers, write new code, and test it in simulated environments. This required software and user licenses for Visual Studio and our target platforms. With the MPN-provided MSDN subscriptions, we had full license keys for most Microsoft products, reducing our upfront licensing costs, and enabling us to do more, faster.
If you are a startup like we were, check out the Microsoft BizSpark program where you can get additional MSDN subscriptions and other benefits, such as free Microsoft Azure credits.
Technical Support Calls
5nine’s business involves testing our datacenter security and management software against some complicated configurations. Fortunately, when we had challenges deploying or managing software, Microsoft’s experts were available for free to assist. With help, we were able to get our new test lab running, and that made it possible for us to speed up our product development lifecycle, improve quality, and get to market sooner, with a superior product.
Sales Training
One of the biggest challenges we faced as a small and growing company was training our sales team to sell new products. While the MPN generally can’t directly tell organizations how to monetize from their solution, it does provide training for sales teams. We learned about different sales tools and channels, Microsoft’s most important initiatives, how to build relationships with national sales teams, how to collaborate with partners, and more.
Microsoft offers a lot of training content, so I recommend taking the training as a team. Discuss priorities, assess the different tools, and help each other understand Microsoft’s lingo, which can be challenging for those new to the ecosystem.
Customer Feedback
Product validation is an important part of development, but it often gets overlooked by smaller organizations as they are busy growing. We wanted to achieve competencies, however, and to do that, we needed to collect direct or anonymous feedback from several customers. This MPN requirement was actually a great forcing function – it prompted us to speak with our customers, do quality checks, and begin to build those critical partner-customer relationships. We’ve used this feedback to improve our solution and even create a few case studies.
Microsoft Competencies
We knew the advantages having competencies would bring us, so we aimed for the Silver Datacenter competency and achieved it earlier this year. It really pays to have the recognition in different technical specialties, so we recommend partners try to get this as quickly as possible. The Silver level is usually achievable with just a couple of technical experts on your team, and having it gives you access to even more benefits, like additional MSDN subscriptions or access to different feedback and reporting channels.
Since we achieved our competency, we’ve been invited to participate in more partner engagements. We also use the competency logo in our marketing material to add credibility to the 5nine brand.
Conference Opportunities
As our organization has grown, we’ve been able to meet potential customers by sponsoring, exhibiting, and presenting at conferences. The Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), the Cloud Hosting Summit, and TechReady, Microsoft’s internal training conference, are all great platforms to show off solutions and expertise. By participating in several events, we have found new customers, developed our relationships with partners, and met with Microsoft’s leaders to discuss our business strategy.
Becoming a sponsor and exhibiting may be too expensive for small companies, but occasionally partners are offered joint sponsorship opportunities. This happened to the Enterprise Cloud Alliance during the most recent WPC, where about a dozen of the ISVs had kiosks at the event, organized by the enterprise partner team. I spoke with one of those partners who only has a few employees, and they said they appreciated this way to get exposure and the support from Microsoft without having to support a full booth in the expo area.
Gaining a speaking spot can be particularly challenging, as it requires that you be a leading technical expert, spend a lot of money as an upper-tier sponsor, or be invited to present in a partner-only session. This last option is of course only available to MPN partners that are selected by the Microsoft organizers. We have proactively worked with our partner contacts at Microsoft to make them aware of the value that our solutions bring, so that they consider us when featuring an ISV, and we have presented at a few internal and external conferences.
Any organization that is developing a Microsoft-based business should consider joining the Microsoft Partner Network. Leveraging MPN resources really helped 5nine reduce expenditures, improve our product, enhance our sales channels, and build our brand. If you are already a partner, please share on Facebook how the MPN has helped you.
Best of luck growing as a fellow MPN partner!
Symon Perriman