Microsoft is introducing 11 new competencies for partner certification as part of the biggest changes to its channel strategy for 10 years.
The scheme, due to launch in January next year, will roll out over a 15-month period, and will rate skills, customer satisfaction and influence on customers. It will also take sales and technical certifications into consideration.
At its Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans the vendor said partners will be offered better-tailored benefits to help with business development, communication and marketing, as well as increased product support and training.
About 95 per cent of Microsoft's revenue is driven through partners, and for every dollar of Microsoft revenue VARs can earn $7 in services.
The 11 competencies, which will be introduced in the second half of next year, include network infrastructure, business intelligence, security, learning solutions, and licence and software asset management.
To receive Gold Partner status, resellers must specialise in one or more areas.
Allison Watson, vice-president of the worldwide partner group at Microsoft, said: "This will allow more accurate matches between the leads and tighter alignment between your business and the Microsoft marketing engine."
As well as exams, resellers can earn points towards their Gold certification through industry knowledge, customer satisfaction and sales. This means smaller resellers have a better chance of achieving Gold status.
Microsoft currently has 2,000 certified partners and 150 gold partners in the UK. Eric Gales, partner group channel sales manager at Microsoft, said some would lose their status.
"The old certification scheme was pretty unsophisticated," he said. "We are moving the bar [for qualification] up over time and some partners will disappear. But because it's more sophisticated, people that haven't participated before will want to."
Gartner Research vice-president Mika Yamamoto Krammer said: "The new scheme represents a lot of progress because it looks at the small guy who might have a great customer set and great capabilities.
"Passing tests and selling boxes is easy to measure, but these intangibles aren't."
Hela Giddings, managing director of VAR Erudite Systems, said: "It sounds really good because it recognises customer satisfaction. It's key for small resellers who haven't been recognised because they haven't got the revenues."
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