Can you believe it? The end of SBSC and a shift away from the SMB market


Since the very inception of the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community many years ago and for every year since then, it has been my absolute pleasure to work with all of the Partners dedicated to serving the needs of the SMB segment and help communicate the efforts Microsoft is making around the SMB market.  During this time, there have been people that, with each passing year, will ask or make statements along the lines of, “Microsoft is moving away from the SMB market,” or “Microsoft is killing off the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community.” 

For those of you that have followed me for awhile, you know that one of the commitments I have made to you is that I will always strive to bring you the RIGHT answers to the questions you have.  With this commitment comes the understanding that if I am going to bring you the RIGHT answers, that almost guarantees that at some point, I am going to bring you an answer that you do not like; however, it will be the right answer.  For some of you, today is that day.

The fate of SBSC has been signed, sealed, and is now being delivered.  The answer to, “Can you believe it?  The end of SBSC and a shift away from the SMB market,” is: “No, don’t believe anyone that tells you that!”  The Microsoft SBSC designation is absolutely living on and Microsoft’s commitment to the SMB Market, and the Partners around the world that serve this market, is as strong as ever, if not stronger! 

We’ve worked diligently to ensure that we have solid opportunities for our SMB focused Partners to partner with Microsoft, no matter their size.  (Sorry competitors, this is the RIGHT answer to the question, even though you may not like it)  I wanted to be sure to bring the RIGHT answer to these questions to you, to ensure you had them and there is no misunderstanding or thoughts that we hid it in a footnote somewhere.

UPDATE: (5/6/2010): Not only is SBSC staying, it is now THE Small Business designation in the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN)

With the announcement of the new Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), we explained how some things would be changing as we move into the new program and recently, we launched several MPN webcasts to describe more about the Microsoft Partner network as well as conducting a live Q&A session online.  One of the items you may have heard in there is an expansion in focus on the SMB market for our Partners through the introduction of two new Competencies and two new Advanced Competencies for Partners focusing on the SMB market.  Now, Partners focusing on serving the SMB market around the world can partner with Microsoft in even more ways and at more levels, for those that choose to:

Speaking of SBSC, have you joined the SBSC Facebook site yet?  Also, keep an eye out because soon we will be posting the registration information for an upcoming webcast we will be conducting with even more news on MPN for SMB Partners

Here are the answers to some questions we have been seeing/hearing, as well as others we thought you might have:

1. Since the Small Business Specialist Community is continuing, does that mean that the Small Business Specialist logo is staying too?

  • Yes, as an active member in the Small Business Specialist Community you may continue to use the current Small Business Specialist logo (a.k.a. the blue badge), to strengthen customer recognition and your ongoing partnership with Microsoft. We will continue to evolve the visual branding where necessary to ensure it aligns with the overall MPN branding that your customers know and trust. Our commitment to you is that we will provide you with 1 year notice if any changes are implemented in the future.

2. To obtain the Microsoft Small Business Specialist designation, the requirements remain the same:

3. To obtain the Midmarket Solution Provider Competency:

  • Complete your MPN profile
  • Must employ or contract with at least 2 MCPs who have each passed one of the qualifying exams. Exams vary by competency.
  • Pass the competency-specific Sales & Marketing Assessment, and the general Volume License Assessment.
  • Need 3 unique Customer Referrals
  • Competency Membership Fee
  • Refer to the Value of Earning a Microsoft Competency Guide for Midmarket Solution Provider competency requirement details and for a list qualifying exams.

4. To obtain the Midmarket Solution Provider Advanced Competency:

  • Complete your MPN profile
  • 4 MCPs with advanced credentials (credential requirements vary by competency)
  • Pass the competency-specific Sales & Marketing Assessment, and the general Volume License Assessment.
  • 5 unique Customer Referrals
  • Participate in Customer Satisfaction Index (CSAT)
  • Advanced competency Membership Fee
  • Refer to the Value of Earning a Microsoft Competency Guide for Midmarket Solution Provider competency requirement details and for a list qualifying exams.

5. Customer References have not been a requirement for me in the past. What resources are available to help me do/prepare for this requirement if I want to try to attain either competency?

6. Will the Small Business Specialist designation change, as a result of the introduction of the Small Business Solution Provider Competency and Midmarket Solution Provider Competency?

7.  Can I use more than one logo?

  • Yes. The Microsoft Partner Network logos help your customers identify your areas of expertise. You are permitted and encouraged to use all logos that you are qualified for. The Small Business Specialist logo may be used in conjunction with (multiple) competency and advanced competency logos.

8. If I’m an active member in the Small Business Specialist Community today, do I automatically qualify for the Small Business Solution Provider Competency when it’s launched?

  • No – you will not automatically qualify at the competency level. If you wish to go for the additional benefits that a competency or advanced competency offers you will need to meet the requirements outlined for that particular competency.
  • Since the Small Business Specialist Community will continue on as a community within MPN, you will automatically be carried forward with your Small Business Specialist status as are they are today as long you continue to meet the requirements and your credentials are up to date.

9. I have already taken a Sales & Marketing Assessment to become Small Business Specialist. Does that suffice to gain the competency as well?

  • Starting in October 2010, we will introduce new Sales & Marketing Assessments for both the Small Business Specialist Community and for the individual competencies as well. The Small Business Specialist Community and the Small Business Solution Provider competency will share the same assessment; Midmarket Solution Provider will have its own unique sales and marketing assessment.

10. Can I be an active member in the Small Business Specialist Community and also hold a Small Business (or another) competency at the same time?

  • Yes. We encourage you go after the credentials that will best demonstrate what you can offer your small-to-midsize business customers. You can be in the Small Business Specialist Community in addition to being in a competency or multiple competencies.
  • Competency guidelines also allow partners to hold multiple competencies, however individuals qualifying for advanced competencies will only count towards one Advanced competency for a partner organization. Please refer to The Value of Earning a Microsoft Competency guide for more details on earning multiple competencies.

11. When will these competencies be available for me to join?

12. Do I need to update my skills to remain in the Small Business Specialist Community? For example, I have completed the MPC requirement by passing the Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 (SBS) exam. Do I need to pass to SBS 2008 exam to meet the criteria for the community?

  • Yes, your small-to-midsize (SMB) customers desire technology providers that have current skills and proven expertise. You will need to meet the current requirements for the designation, competency or advanced competency you’d like to obtain each year. 

13. If the Small Business Specialist Community remains, why would I want to attain a Small Business or Midmarket Solution Provider competency?

  • As you expand your skill set and increase your commitment to Microsoft, your benefits and opportunities grow exponentially as well – increased Internal-Use software benefits, increased support services, marketplace prioritization, channel incentives, competency specific logos, training, and more! Refer to The Value of Earning a Microsoft Competency guide for sample benefits and what they can mean for you.

14. What are the fees for the Small Business and Midmarket Solution Provider Competencies and Advanced Competencies?

  • Same pricing as other competencies – Approximately $2,000 USD annually for a competency and $4,000 USD annually for an advanced competency. 

I hope this puts to rest any of the speculation out there that you may encounter around, “What’s happening to SBSC in the new MPN?” and if Microsoft is committed to the SMB market.  Let me assure you we are and that SBSC continues to be a key component of our efforts together.  I look forward to seeing all of the Microsoft SBSC Partners at WPC this year!

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Thank you and have a wonderful day,

Eric LigmanFollow me on TWITTER clip_image001and RSS clip_image002
Global Partner Experience Lead
Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group
This posting is provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confers no rights

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Comments (5)

  1. Boon Tee says:

    Hi Eric,

    I clicked on the link to go to the Facebook page, and was greeted by the profile for Andrea Kursun Russell.

  2. Hi Eric,

    Thanks for an excellent post around Microsoft’s commitment to SBSC partners. Very reassuring to hear the badge is staying and the designation continues.

    With regard to the pricing for competencies for UK partners can I assume that we will still be charged in UK pounds and do you know what those charges are?

    Kind regards


  3. mssmallbiz says:

    @ Boon – Hmmmm…  That’s interesting.  Andrea is the manager of the page; however, it should take you directly to the SBSC page, not hers.  It’s working for me and others have told me the same.  Can you give it another try?

  4. Andy Trish says:

    I have to again praise Eric for supplying the information that the SMB partners wanted to hear. but….

    I’ll start off Eric by saying the decision to keep the designation and requirements for the one man band including the logo must have caused a lot of arguements and discussions within Microsoft but has been one of the best decisions made by the MPN team.  It is exactly what our community needed and wanted.  In the end will be really good for Microsoft because it is where you have all of the people who will grow and promote your products, I.T. has to start somewhere. A lot of our community leaders are one man (or woman) bands and are experts in their field.

    At this point is where the but comes in.  

    I know a lot of thought has gone in to the MPN model for SBSC, I have myself been involved in some of those discussions but the outcome is certainly different to what I expected they would be and not what I as a partner fully approve of.

    For a start it’s very nearly May and the final decisions have only just been delivered to the partner base despite being announced at WPC last July.

    It’s going to take a bit of time for partners to digest what it means to them and work on what business model is best for them but I’m concerned if the partner base is only just being told what’s happening then how are customers going to understand the value of which partner to work with?  Ask any customer, do they know what Advanced Competency is, or even a competent partner?  

    The naming is not good. As a customer should I work with a competent partner or a one man band who isn’t competent? (if you get my drift)

    3 levels within SBSC is in my opinion going to be even harder to define the benefits of each level but again agree that it needed to be that way to create the model we all wanted.

    Competent at $2000, that is converted in UK pounds £1500 when for the last 5 years I have paid £1050, an increase of £450.  fair enough, inflation, times change, we all want to get good value and better benefits so most will be willing to pay the fee. It is after all the same benefits and requirements near enough to what Certified Partners get now with a price increase.

    Advanced Competency.  Here is my biggest bugbear Eric. I admit it I say it as it is and hopefully will be respected for standing by my opinions despite sometimes being too "honest".

    $2000 for something Gold Partners currently get for free is one hell of an increase.  I am a Gold partner. As stated earlier I paid £1050 last year to be Gold, get 100 licences for my company of 23 staff (77 wasted licences I can’t use outside my company) and the added benefits associated with Gold. Now to get the same benefits as I had last year I will need to pay £3000 and increase of £1950, how is that fair?

    Looking at the benefits, they haven’t really been thought out for the SMB space. It’s pretty much more licences. A free resource from Microsoft except the Partner is really paying.

    My company, 23 staff, I meet all the requirements to obtain the SMB or Mid Market Advanced competencies when they are released in Oct so have already put in the work and achieved the levels required to be the advanced experts some of our customers are looking for, but if I don’t pay the fee I won’t get the recognition….  An expert with nowhere to go.  A fee (large fee I add) that for the last 5 years I was never asked for.

    But what do I get if I do pay the fee?

    Well as Competent I already get enough licences to cover my whole organisation, as Advanced I get 75 more that I don’t need and can’t use.

    I’m a Gold Partner and lucky enough to be managed, now I have to pay the fee to be managed (even though that isn’t actually promised even then)

    So here I am, it’s very nearly May, my customers have no clue what competent or advanced competent are so the MPN has no value to them.  I am being asked to pay nearly 3 times what I’ve paid for the last 5 years for the same benefits I had before and I’m being told that 90% of Microsoft staff are going to be focusing on the cloud based solutions that strip away every ounce of the profitability my company makes.  so that’s my but Eric.

    Great decision on SBSC, but.

    I entirely agree the Gold Partner level was too easy to get and was devalued. Rather than make that harder Microsoft have simply made it more expensive and added the need for a couple more people to be qualified in each company. I can’t believe it took so long to decide to put the fees up for what is essntially a very similiar program with a different name.

    That’s my 2 penny worth and sorry if it upsets anyone, it was meant to be constructive and honest.

  5. Boon Tee says:

    I just did it and got the same page again.