Getting Focused On the Customer
As the ASP market matures, software vendors recognize that application service provision is seen as a leap of faith that requires strong sales capabilities that ASPs either do not fully understand or have trouble executing to. ASPs have been slow to build partner programs to address this gap, and vendors are only now recognizing the need to develop loyalty programs to reward partners for selling software. And because many companies who adopt the use of the ASP Model are willing to go with multiple ASPs, vendors need to be sure that they have strong and diverse portfolios for early adopters.
Microsoft initially rolled out the Gold Certified Partner designation to recognize high-end partner expertise in the key solution areas of ecommerce, enterprise systems, hosting, and support. Gold Partners are perceived to have valuable competency and market presence and are rewarded with access to important Microsoft resources, such as business development, priority lead referrals, and other joint marketing and sales opportunities. The new designation makes it easier to use "Certified Partner" as a baseline for competence in Microsoft technology, and Gold as a solutions expertise differentiator. This certification effort is squarely positioned against Sun's extensive SunTone program, which has the momentum in this marketplace today.
From the outset, Microsoft has said it will target leading ASPs worldwide and deliver certification at the service level, rather than designating companies as overall ASP partners. Each of the three ASP partners achieved certification for the delivery of specific services: USi is certified for Hosted Exchange, E-Commerce, and Application Hosting; ManagedOps.com is certified for Application Hosting; and Qwest is certified for Hosted Exchange.
Each Gold ASP has to be certified in each of the solution areas it will offer, which means that USi, for example, comes out of the gate with three certifications. Because the ASP has to pay the consultants' time and other expenses for these certifications, it is an expensive designation that needs to be backed by a serious sales and marketing commitment, both from the partner and from Microsoft. (At least one of the Gold Certified ASPs had a team of people who were dedicated to the certification process for several months.)