Some additional information, a Q&A, on the Microsoft Partner Network Small Business Competency

Last week I put up the What are the requirements to earn the Microsoft Partner Network Small Business Competency? post here on the blog to bring you more information about what the actual requirements are to attain the Microsoft Partner Network Small Business Competency when it launches in June. There has been a lot of great feedback I have received since then through a variety of communications methods, as well as some questions and inquiries about a few items people were looking for some more clarity on. To help answer and address these questions, plus a few others that people may not have asked yet, I thought I would put up this sort of Q&A post regarding several things with the upcoming Microsoft Partner Network Small Business Competency.

Question: Right now you have the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC). What does the Small Business competency mean for SBSC now and moving forward?

  • Answer: The current Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC) program will continue to exist and support SBSC partners for a 12 month grace period after the Small Business competency launch. During this grace period, both the Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC) and the Small Business competency will reside side-by-side, and SBSC partners will continue to benefit from the SBSC program and branding. After the grace period, the Small Business Specialist Community will transform into a Microsoft Partner Network partner-to-partner community. There will be no requirements to join the community and the current SBSC benefits will go away as well. In other words, the Small Business competency will be the Microsoft Partner Network offering for Small Business starting 12 months after its launch.

Question: What happens to the SBSC “blue badge” once the Small Business Competency launches? Can we still use it as an SBSC?

  • Answer: During the 12-month grace period, both the Small Business competency brand and the SBSC brand will be active brands that can be used. After the grace period, the Small Business competency will become the only Microsoft small business partner brand. What this means is, you can continue to utilize the current SBSC “blue badge” for the 12 month grace period after the Small Business competency launch, but not after that. Partners that value the SBSC “blue badge” are advised to join the Small Business competency now, to take advantage of deeper engagement with Microsoft, to build on the credibility of Microsoft brand recognition, to receive rich benefits to help grow their business, and to be able to access and utilize the Small Business competency branding moving forward.

Question: If the SBSC benefits and “blue badge” are going away 12 months after the launch of the Small Business competency, does that mean that Action Pack is being discontinued as well?

  • Answer: The Microsoft Action Pack Subscription Program (MAPS) is a completely separate program from the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC). While it is a current requirement for partners to enroll in MAPs in order to join SBSC, it is not exclusive to SBSC. Action Pack existed before SBSC was launched and there are many Microsoft Action Pack subscribers today who are not part of SBSC. The SBSC benefits and “blue badge” going away 12 months after the launch of the Small Business competency does not mean that Action Pack is being discontinued. You can see more information about what Action Pack is here.

Question: If I am a Small Business Specialist (SBSC) today, why should I consider the Small Business competency?

  • Answer: The Small Business competency helps partners differentiate their expertise in the market, like other Microsoft Partner Network competencies, and capitalize on the growing demand for cloud solutions built on innovative Microsoft technologies, while enabling partners to pull through on-premise revenue. In addition, the Small Business competency brings with it a core set of benefits designed to help you run and grow your business as a Microsoft partner focused on Small Business. It also provides a consistent experience for customers and partners as it leverages the Gold and Silver competency branding to drive customer recognition. The new Microsoft Small Business competency also enables partners who are looking to expand, to target larger seat opportunities, as cloud services scale easily and open new revenue opportunities with larger customers.

Question: So what happens to the Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC) benefits we’re currently getting once the Small Business competency launches?

  • Answer: For partners who are part of the Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC), the current benefits will not change during the 12-month grace period after the Small Business competency launch. These benefits currently include: use of the Microsoft SBSC “blue badge”, listing on Microsoft Pinpoint, and access to technical forums (special 4-hour SLA). After the grace period, the SBSC program requirements and benefits will be discontinued and the program will transform into a partner-to-partner community.

Question: After the Small Business competency launches, can partners still join SBSC?

  • Answer: Yes, partners will still be able to join SBSC during the 12 month grace period; however, we encourage partners to join the Small Business competency instead of the SBSC program, since that will be our main Microsoft Partner Network program to address the SMB market. Plus, as noted above, the SBSC program and benefits will be retiring after the 12 month grace period, so you will no longer be able to utilize these items after that time.

Question: Why do partners need to fulfill additional requirements for earning the Small Business competency?

  • Answer: As with any Microsoft Partner Network competency, training and certifying staff on the latest products and technologies—from a technical and a sales and marketing perspective—provides a competitive advantage and helps partners offer their customers the most relevant solutions in market. To assist partners in attaining their competencies, the Microsoft Partner Network offers learning paths to help partners prepare for the required competency exams. When partners earn the Small Business competency, they will have access to additional training resources to help them get up to speed with the latest cloud technologies.

Question: Why a Small Business Competency? Is there really a market there to go after?

  • Answer: The small business segment represents 98% of all business entities worldwide and is the engine for economic growth and employment in each country. It represents a $94 BILLION market opportunity for our partners, as these customers will benefit the most from economies of scale that cloud services will provide to their business. Based on these numbers, yes, we believe Small Business offers a HUGE opportunity for partners.

Question: Do we also need to subscribe to Action Pack, like we have to for SBSC, to earn the Small Business competency in addition to paying the competency fee?

  • Answer: No, you do not need to also subscribe to Action Pack to earn the Small Business competency. I have the requirements for the Small Business competency included in the What are the requirements to earn the Microsoft Partner Network Small Business Competency? post, so I would suggest taking a look at the requirements list there. Also, partners with a competency are not allowed to subscribe to Action Pack since they already receive their partner benefits through their competency, so not only is it not a requirement, you can’t subscribe to Action Pack as a Small Business competency partner.

Question: If we want to get started down the path to earning the Small Business competency now, what should we do?

Question: $1,850 for the Silver Small Business competency? Where did you come up with that figure?

  • Answer: As noted in my previous posts and again here in this one, with the launch of the Small Business competency, Small Business now becomes a full competency offering, just like the other Microsoft Partner Network competencies. The $1,850* silver competency fee figure is the standard silver competency fee in the Microsoft Partner Network, and the same fee you would pay to achieve other silver competencies in the Microsoft Partner Network. (*Actual fees vary by geography. The $1,850 used here is based on the current U.S. silver competency fee)

Question: If we are a Microsoft partner already and have another gold or silver competency, do we need to pay the $1,850* Silver Small Business competency fee again to get the Silver Small Business competency?

  • Answer: The Small Business competency in the Microsoft Partner Network works the same way from a fee perspective as the other competencies. Partners must pay the silver competency fee or gold competency fee one time, per year—no matter how many competencies they have attained. If a partner attains a gold competency after first attaining a silver competency, then the partner pays only the difference between the two membership fees, unless the partner is within the 90-day renewal period, in which case the full membership fee is due. Because of this, if you already have a silver or gold competency in the Microsoft Partner Network, are not within your 90-day renewal period, and achieve all of the requirements for the Small Business competency after it launches, then no, you do not need to pay the competency fee again to earn the Silver Small Business competency. (*Actual fees vary by geography. The $1,850 used here is based on the current U.S. silver competency fee)

Question: In reading the requirements for the Silver Small Business competency in your What are the requirements to earn the Microsoft Partner Network Small Business Competency? post, it appears that a single person partner organization could accomplish those requirements and earn the Silver Small Business competency without requiring a second person. Am I reading that correctly?

  • Answer: Yes, you are reading that correctly. As mentioned several times, we have spent the past year talking with many, many partners (including many SBSCs and the SBSC PALs) about the Small Business competency. One piece of feedback we received about the Small Business competency was, if it is to be the evolution of SBSC, it should be available to all existing SBSC partners, including SBSCs of all employee sizes. We heard the feedback, and as such, we designed the requirements for the Silver Small Business competency to be achievable by all SBSCs, including a single person partner company, and not require two separate individuals for the silver competency. Please note though that the in the requirements for the Gold Small Business competency, it does require two people.

Question: What are the benefits of the Microsoft Partner Network Small Business competency?

Question: Why is “cloud” and Office 365 a requirement for the Small Business competency instead of just an option?

  • Answer: The cloud opportunity represents one of the biggest opportunities in the SMB segment, not only today, but also moving forward. SMB customers will be able to rely on the service without having to manage it. As with all competencies in the Microsoft Partner Network, they are designed to help prepare our partners be successful not only for the opportunities of today, but also for the opportunities of tomorrow. Office 365 is required to help ensure our partners are able to have the cloud conversation with new and existing customers today,and as the cloud opportunity continues to mature. Also, to help ensure they are best able to seize this opportunity and be successful in helping their customers adopt cloud technologies, such as Office365.

    For the Silver Small Business competency, we swapped the initial required Office365 training (Deploying Office365) with the optional one (Administering Office65) to better align with our program goals. So now only Administering Office 365  is required. The second exam can be either Windows 7, Windows Small Business Server (SBS) or Office365, so partners can choose to focus on an on-premise solution or cloud solution for their second exam, depending on which they feel is best for their business.

I hope the information above helps clear up some of the questions you have either asked already or that you may be thinking of asking. I must say that it is fantastic to see all of the excitement and interest around the Small Business competency and as we continue to approach the launch of the competency, I have no doubt it will continue to build even more! Speaking of excitement, I wonder who the first Small Business competency partner will be in the U.S., or the U.K, or India, or Japan, or Mexico, or Canada, or Brazil, or Germany, or France, or… Well, you get the idea. Think you will be first? Smile

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Eric LigmanFollow me on TWITTER, LinkedIn, and RSS and see “What I’m thinking
Director, Worldwide Partner Experience
Microsoft Corporation
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Comments (18)

  1. Susan says:

    Do you guys understand what this will do for your small business partners that install small business solutions?  This is not to you because I know in my heart that you understand the impact of this decision.  But to someone higher up that decided this, they need to understand that this is chilling.   I hope whomever that person is really understands what they've just done.  There's no taking this back now.  The message that just has been sent is clear.

  2. Angry SBSC says:

    I was told this is what we asked for? Really? I honestly didn't think we were that stupid?

  3. mssmallbiz says:

    @ Angry SBSC – This move to a Small Business Competency came after a long period of evaluating options, talking with partners, gathering input and feedback from the community, (including the SBSC PALs, which you can see a picture of that meeting here: and much more. I would love to hear more about what part of the introduction of the Small Business competency you do not care for.

  4. Nat says:

    I would have liked to see the removal of the requirements for O365. From what I have read the O365 exams are more enterprise focused so that could be an issue.

    I can understand why Microsoft has done this though.

    But its frustrating having to learn a product that you don't use (largely because of poor bandwidth available for many of our customers).

    The SB competency is the only one I know of that I will need to complete an exam that has no value to my business.

  5. Rolf Niedhorn says:

    I hope, Eric, that you won´t "kill" MAPS as a low entry level for new shops in MPN, as SBS-competency is more "exclusive".

    So, after making up my mind and after comparing the goods and the bads of that step, I will reach out for that new competency as it is a very good differentiation in today´s market (as log as you stay with 1 MCP in silver).

    It´s hard for smaller shops to pay the standard competency fee (I hope that you will adjust that till June), but o.k., that will probabely wipe out the wannabe´s in the market.


  6. mssmallbiz says:

    @ Rolf – The Action Pack question is actually included in the FAQ above. I think you will like the answer.

  7. Howard Coates says:

    Microsoft obviously don't want the small business partner any more. Why would anyone have to learn to administer a product that is not economical to sell as a partner?  Please think again Microsoft!

  8. Peter P says:

    I'm just a two-man operation—me being the owner and IT technician or MCP, the other just a sales rep.  My small business can't afford $1,850 per year.  Not to mention I alone have to take three exams now because I'm not ready yet to hire some that already has.  Come on, Eric, how can Microsoft do this to the SBSC?  You seem to be avoiding the fee issue.

  9. Juan José de León says:

    I see a good opportunity for one man shows to strike the Silver Competency with this Small Business Competency

  10. @Eric and MS. It's very frustrating building a business around Microsoft solutions,  then  to have Microsoft compete with us and as evident make us waste more money just so they can make more money out of us (we spend over 4k on branding with the SBS logo). Honestly it’s time for us to start looking at others (Google, Apple and VMware) certification and move away from Microsoft, because it’s very clear that they don't give a stick about us.

    I've been a MS devotee and Certified Candidate since 1998, but more importantly, I've spend and waste more money on certifications and trying to fix the mess MS keeps making. After all, the success of SBS product (every product for that matter) have been successful thanks to and  because of US the Small Business Specialist, who seem to always find the issues and fixed them for MS and now MS is going to take that away from us after we made MS more RICH>>. Give me a break.

    LISTEN:::::: MS or whomever decided to make this change. YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT US TOO, why not provide this as a FREE for SBSC…. Very disappointed and beyond frustrated….

  11. mssmallbiz says:

    @ Howard: Actually, quite the contrary. As noted in the Q&A above, we specifically established the requirements of the Small Business comepentency to enable all partners who want to participate to be able to, regardless of size. This also means that all current SBSC partners can qualify and receive many more benefits through the Small Business competency (I have the benefits included in my post here: If you saw Jon Roskill's post earlier, not only do we want Small Business partners, given the number of SBSCs we have today, he said "I have no doubt the Small Business competency will be our most sought after competency." See his post here:

  12. mssmallbiz says:

    @ Peter – Thanks for the feedback. Believe me, I am not avoiding the fee piece here. In fact, I specifically brought it up in the Q&A above. Yes, the fee is more for the competency than the current designation, but the benefits are much higher with the competency. I have the benefits included in my post here: Just a few of the additional benefits with the competency include: Eligibility for unlimited presales technical advisory services, Partner advisory hours, Internal Use Rights (on-premise and cloud), TechNet for Microsoft Competency Partners licenses, Windows Phone Discount Program eligibility, Unlimited phone support (for critical issues), 5 incidents of phone support (for noncritical issues), Microsoft Visual Studio Premium with MSDN subscriptions, and more.

  13. mssmallbiz says:

    @ Juan – Thanks for the feedback and I completely agree!

  14. mssmallbiz says:

    @ Libis – I am missing where you are getting the position of Microsoft taking SBS away from SBSCs. If you look at the requirements for the Small Business competency, one of the requirements you can use is the same SBS exam that you could have used to qualify for SBSC. In addition, if you look at the benefits included, we have several benefits aligned directly to SBS, including: access to Windows Small Business Server 2011 Power Start Workshops, Windows Small Business Server 2011 Momentum Workshops, and more. If you do focus on SBS and want to continue to focus on SBS, the Small Business Competency provides you the resources and opportunities to do just that.

    Please help me understand how the Small Business Competency does not enable partners focused on SBS.

    Thank you

  15. rarthur says:

    Not sure if my previous post registered, so will try again signed in

    I am currently a SBSC and have a new active Action Pack Subscription with full media. It cost more than $300 here in Australia. I hear you about the fact Action pack is not required and actually not permitted if you become a Silver Partner with Microsoft Partner Network Small Business Competency. My concern is, will my current Action pack and the delivery of new media cease to exist as well if I become this Silver partner within the current Action Pack subscription time frame. I will not be impressed to have wasted those $$$'s. So may delay any thought of converting to a Silver partner program?

  16. mssmallbiz says:

    @ Rod – Your Action Pack subscription remains in effect throughout the 12 month period for which you signed up for; however, you will be unable to renew it afterwards as the competency benefits will be how you will receive your internal use software rights moving forward.

    You can also see this in in the FAQ at:…/action-pack-software-licensing-benefits-faq.aspx

    Q: How will my software benefits be affected if my organization upgrades from an Action Pack subscription to a Microsoft competency?

    A: Partners with an active Microsoft Action Pack Solution Provider or Microsoft Action Pack Development and Design subscription who earn silver or gold competencies are not required to uninstall the software and product keys provided to them as part of their subscription and reinstall by using the software and product keys provided to them for the Microsoft competency they have attained. After the Action Pack subscription ends, your organization can continue to use Action Pack bits or keys, together with the new bits or keys obtained through the earned Microsoft competency, to achieve the total license grant entitlement. (You will no longer be entitled to the licenses granted through Action Pack after the subscription expires.) Note: There can be functionality differences between the keys provided by each program.

  17. mssmallbiz says:

    As a quick update, I will be sharing the latest information on the upcoming launch of the Microsoft Partner Network Small Business competency this Friday, June 15th, here on the blog. I will put up a new post which will include the information, so please be sure to keep an eye out for it on Friday.

  18. I see the value of a Small Business Competency and I feel there are many SBSC partners who are either already Silver/Gold partners or just SBSC partners wanting to show their higher certifications and likely stronger capabilities. I look at the cost of these programs on a per month basis instead of an annual basis and see benefits I can use that to me are worth more than the $155 monthly cost.

    I also see value in continuing the existing SBSC program:

    • The branding is well known by our customer base (I would show both SBS and Competency)

    • It is important to keep the likely large percentage of SBSC only partners part of the community

    I do have a concern with the Silver Small Business Competency, the benefits are subpar as compared to the core benefits…/core-benefits.aspx. Why 15 instead of 25 internal-use software licenses? Why the lack Unlimited phone support (for critical issues)? Why zero instead of 5 incidents of phone support (for noncritical issues)? And perhaps more importantly, why are the Silver Cloud Accelerate partners getting full core benefits when it is not even a competency?