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Microsoft is ditching its generic customer-directed Silver and Gold designations for its more than 400,000 partners — the technology companies that sell and support its products and services — in favor of a stricter certification process that categorizes them into six areas of main sales. In the past, Microsoft said partners contributed 95% of its commercial revenue.

Under the new Microsoft Cloud Partner Program, first announced in March and officially launched on Monday, these resellers, systems integrators, managed service providers, device partners and independent software vendors, or ISVs, must now Achieve a minimum “Partner Capability” score to earn Solution Partner designations in Azure Data and Artificial Intelligence, Azure Infrastructure, Azure Digital Innovation and Applications, Security , “modern work” and business applications. Microsoft Solution Partners can also earn specializations and expert program status that recognize their expertise and experience in specific technical scenarios within each solution area.

“What I think is unique about the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program is that it gives customers complete clarity about which partner has the designations, the specializations that perfectly match their needs for the unique cloud solutions that they’re looking for or the transformation that they’re trying to go after,” Dezen said. “It’s like a clear roadmap, so to speak.

A 12-year Microsoft veteran, Dezen most recently served as vice president of device partner sales. She spoke to Protocol last week ahead of Monday’s announcement.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Why are these changes better for Microsoft partners?

We’re ending our MPN legacy [Microsoft Partner Network] and the Silver and Gold competency programs, and we’re replacing them with these six streamlined solution partner designations that really align so well with the solution areas that make up the Microsoft Cloud. This means for partners that they can differentiate themselves in a very competitive market for customers.

It’s a really important time to show our partners that we’re evolving…as the market evolves, and we’re introducing new capabilities to our programs that allow partners to focus on their own innovation, leverage our investments in R&D and helping customers. The program makes it very easy for partners to understand what they need to do to activate all the resources that we only provide to partners, whether it’s our R&D investments, our scale and our market or innovation.

Partners can connect through skills, incentives, [or] investments to make sure they get the most out of what I think is Microsoft’s unique differentiation, which is our technology stack plus the combination of how we go to market, which is our market’s strength commercial combined with our 35,000 [Microsoft field] sellers.

What was the reaction of the partners?

We have spent the last six months talking to partners, listening to their comments, answering their questions. I’m really optimistic that the partners are excited about what we’re doing. They are delighted with [timing] of that. They see that the portfolio of assets we bring together with a trusted platform, services, products and investments for them is so aligned with how customers actually buy products. And it’s aligned with how Microsoft sells, so it’s an accelerator for partners.

What percentage of partners decided to join the new program rather than renewing their old status for one year?

We don’t disclose specific numbers, but what I will say is that partners have the option to start getting designations immediately. And for partners who aren’t quite ready – first of all, we’re leveraging resources to help partners make this switch – but they can continue to enjoy their skill benefits uninterrupted throughout their annual mandate. They can even renew these benefits after the retirement of Silver and Gold badges.

When Microsoft announced the new program in March, it said preliminary capability scores for partners would be available then and they had to score at least 70 points out of 100 to earn a designation. What percentage of partners needed Microsoft’s help to reach 70 points?

Each partner is at a different place on their journey. Through our Partner Center, we offer far-reaching guidance that tells partners exactly how they can improve their score in the different categories: Performance, Skills, and Customer Success. Partners can begin earning these designations immediately. Some partners are on the right track.

Partners remain our partners, regardless of their designation, and so we will always look for ways to support our partners through all the developments that occur at home and in the market. I recognize that sometimes change is difficult for people, so we will meet partners where they are. But I really believe that this program is what’s going to differentiate the partners, and so it’s in our best interests, in the best interests of our partners, and frankly, in the best interests of the customers, for the partners to lean in and do this work with us.

The economy has plummeted since Microsoft announced the changes that take effect today. Has consideration been given to partners likely to encounter economic difficulties?

I actually think now is a better time than ever. It’s a tough market, there’s no doubt about it, but customers need help. They need help to digitally transform, and it’s in their economic interest to do so. We empower our partners with the skills, resources, assets and partnership to enable them to show customers how they can run their business more profitably digitally.

I recognize that sometimes change is difficult for people, so we will meet partners where they are.

Can you talk about upcoming changes with industry designations for ISVs?

There are actually two immediate investments we make around ISV Success, which is the pathway for ISVs within the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program, and then industry designations. These will be available later this year. They will differentiate solutions based on demonstrated performance with customers, technical maturity, and customer success. The top three sectors are healthcare, retail and financial services. It is designed to help these ISVs differentiate their solutions both by industry-specific scenarios as well as broader technology and industry capabilities.

Can you give an overview of everything that will come after these changes?

The way to think about it is that the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program is designed for every partner. We want to invite every partner to participate. So the things you might expect to see in the future are more design capabilities for partners like device partners, mixed reality partners, learning partners, success partners. More specific capabilities will be rolled out as we progress through the program.

What common issues or challenges have partners communicated to you?

Partners decide how quickly they can scale and modernize their business. This is at the heart of the discussions we constantly have with our partners: how can we help them? How can we help them earn more money? How can we help them run successful and profitable businesses to help their own employees?

we just published [Microsoft-commissioned research] from IDC. It’s a great illustration of how partners who invest with Microsoft see distinct business value and growth. There are really two things that jumped out at me. One was that partners who engage deeply with Microsoft see faster growth and higher margins. Partners who have invested in all six areas of our solutions are expected to increase revenue by 47% this year. The second is co-selling and marketing with us. Research has shown that the most successful partners we have engage across the variety of go-to-market resources with us. These are partners who develop differentiated, value-added approaches for customers that align with Microsoft’s strategy.

Partners who have invested in all six areas of our solutions are expected to increase revenue by 47% this year.

Are there any emerging technology areas you would like to see more partners invest in?

I would like to see more partners in all of our solution areas. The party is open. Some things are very timely: certainly security, data and AI. These are very hot and relevant topics for customers right now, and so it’s at the heart of the conversations we have with our partners.

Will you be involved in trying to bring more female-led partners into the program and promote greater diversity overall?

I have a huge responsibility to be a strong voice for diversity and representation in the ecosystem. Anything we can do to help more diverse types of partners get into our programs, build their own business with Microsoft, and then help customers, to me, that’s not just a business win, it’s a personal victory.

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