Microsoft Certified Partner: What does Gold mean to you?

Microsoft restructured the partner accreditation program over two years ago. The aim was to make it easier for potential customers to rank partners and to “re-calibrate” as Gold had become so easily obtainable it had become devalued. Whilst I am generally in favour of the new program and agree that it addresses many of the short-comings of the old scheme; it is a shame that Microsoft has failed to ensure it has been correctly deployed by partners and failed to educate the market as to what the new levels mean.

So what was wrong with the old system? Quite simply it was suited to the “classic” partner channel of IT distributors who were box shifting rather than providing added value services. It was a measure of Microsoft’s appreciation for revenue generated rather than a service standard mark for potential clients. As the nature of Microsoft products have grown to include a service element, customers expected the Gold standard to be a meaningful endorsement of service and although the old scheme required proof of product knowledge this does not necessarily relate to service or support competency, understanding theory not being proof of practical competency!

So what’s wrong with the new system? Nothing really. Microsoft has worked hard to recognise and measure service, particularly for those involved with business solutions such as offered by the Dynamics partners. We need to show technical knowledge; product feature knowledge; understanding of the implementation methodology and prove customer satisfaction.

So what’s my problem? Threefold:
• I’m annoyed that Microsoft has made little attempt to educate the market about what the new standards mean
• It seems there is nothing to stop partners from continuing to use the old logos, promoting themselves as Gold when they’re not
• Potential customers continue to be lazy, taking a badge on face value without question

Point by point: regarding the first, just Google (or Bing) something along the lines of “what does Microsoft gold partner mean?” You won’t find a public Microsoft site that provides answers (curiously you will find a site that states the partner is Gold on one page, shows the old Gold logo but on closer inspection of the site, is actually silver; case in point for #2!).

Why would a partner mislead that they are Gold when they’re not? It is simple to check, search for the company on Microsoft Pinpoint and it will show the competencies and levels. But in many ways I can understand why a company might mislead and it loops back to the first point. As Microsoft has failed to educate the market, Silver partners are left feeling like second class citizens. Several times in the past few months I’ve heard customers state they will only deal with Gold partners (great for us!) but should that be right?

Do any of us really understand the standard marks we use to make decisions on? I confess it is only recently I realised that I was underestimating the standards of 2 star hotels as I hadn’t understood that no matter how luxurious the rooms, if a hotel is only serving breakfast for one and a half hours a day, they can never achieve higher than 2 stars (this explains the shocking 4 star “mystery hotel” I ended up in recently!).

What’s wrong with a Silver Partner? I would argue that it depends on the size of the organisation. If they are fewer than ten people it is very difficult to attain Gold but it still shows commitment to the product / service involved and the passing of some stringent examinations and assessments. A small company might well suit you. If the partner’s team for the competency is greater than say fifteen, you would wonder why they have not attained Gold and so should ask that question (perhaps they aren’t as committed to that particular area of their business as you would like?).

Why isn’t Microsoft promoting Silver? This, I suspect, is the dilemma for Microsoft. Microsoft wants to encourage partner growth and needs to acknowledge the investment that partners make in attaining Gold; however, Microsoft needs to have more Silver than Gold partners otherwise they’re back to square one where Gold is devalued (apologies to certified partners, also good enough in some areas, not in the ERP or CRM competencies though which is where my focus tends to be).

So what should potential customers do? Due diligence! Check partners on Microsoft Pinpoint and ask the partners about the competencies they hold. Greater understanding will enable customers to align their needs to the types and levels of Microsoft partner, Gold or Silver, whatever suits you.