ISV Paths to Success with Microsoft

I’ve found ISVs follow two mains paths to success with Microsoft, which path is right for you depends on what your goals are for your relationship with MS. In this post I’ll provide an overview of the two paths, the results each path is best suited to deliver, and the goals those results typically fulfill for ISVs.

Early Adopter Programs (EAP)

Most MS product releases involve ISV partners throughout the release cycle.

Two Paths To Success

The signs of this are most easily seen at product launch, when ISV partner companies are included in the “partner logo slide”, their executives are quoted in the MS launch press release, etc. You’ll see a smaller, earlier version of these same signs when the beta or Community Preview release happens. These are some of the visible benefits MS offers to induce ISVs to make early investments to support new MS product releases.

The real value of EAPs to ISVs comes from less visible activities – things like early access to product builds, and direct interaction with the MS product team.

The elite players at the sport of EAP, a handful of ISVs with deep expertise and deep relationships with the MS product team, are engaged at the very beginning of the MS release cycle, before MS has finalized which features and APIs will be included in that release. Those partners’ expert input has a significant influence on MS’ final decisions on which features and APIs are cut, and which will ship.

EAPs are invitation-only, and have a limited number of slots for ISVs, typically just a couple dozen companies. The EAP agreement specifies the actions you commit to take, and the benefits MS commits to provide; it is sometimes possible to negotiate changes to requirements and benefits.

You would choose the EAP path if your goal is to drive your own product innovation and establish (or maintain) market leadership, through early access to new product releases; or to build technical relationships with the program managers, developers and architects of the MS product team, and use that to influence future MS product releases.

The EAP path can sometimes open the door to MS field engagement that increase sales of your product, but usually it does not.

Microsoft Partner Network (MPN)

You’ve probably seen ISVs identified as a “Microsoft Partner with the Gold ISV Competency”, which simply means that partner has completed the requirements specified by MPN for the ISV competency. Nothing mysterious, just a checklist of tasks to complete. MPN is open to anyone, but program details vary somewhat by region/country. (Note that “Gold Certified Partner” was the terminology from the earlier Microsoft Partner Program; both MPP and the “Gold Certified Partner” terminology were replaced in late 2010.)

I’ll focus on the ISV competency and its benefits, but be aware that MPN identifies many other competencies as well.

MPN describes its benefits in terms of the business cycle: (Source: Microsoft Partner Network Guide, July 2012)

  • Plan: Enter new markets with early access to the latest technologies
  • Enable: Strengthen staff expertise with online business and technical training
  • Create Demand: Access marketing campaigns, guidance, and support along with online customer directories
  • Sell: Increase sales and cash flow with Microsoft customer financing and partner channel incentives
  • Service: Improve customer response times with technical presales and advisory services
  • Retain: Get insights on customer satisfaction and loyalty with survey solutions

Clearly MPN’s focus is on marketing and sales, generating customer leads, and growing your business. ISVs will also find valuable technical enablement benefits including “Visual Studio Premium with MSDN” subscriptions, Partner Advisory Services hours, and others.

Like most large-scale “programs” delivering benefits to hundreds of thousands of members, there are sharp lines drawn around the defined requirements and benefits – if a benefit to Silver ISV (shorthand for a MS partner that has earned the ISV competency at the Silver level) is “5 Visual Studio Premium with MSDN”, you won’t get them unless you’ve earned Silver, and attempts to negotiate for 6 licenses will fail.

You would choose the MPN path if your goal is to leverage MPN’s marketing and sales benefits, and engage with the MS field. The MPN path can sometimes open the door to MS product team relationships, but usually it does not.

EAP and MPN – One of Each, Please

It is perfectly reasonable to pursue both paths, simultaneously or in whatever sequence you choose. The worlds of MPN and product team EAPs rarely overlap, so what you do with one group will likely be completely unknown to the other, unless you tell them yourself.

In subsequent posts, I’ll provide more information about each path, including deep dives into how to maximize the results you get from each.

This post is part of my “ISV Paths to Success” series:

  • ISV Paths to Success with Microsoft (this post)
  • ISV Paths to Success – Early Adoption Programs
  • Deep Dive for ISVs – Early Adoption Programs
  • ISV Paths to Success – Microsoft Partner Network
  • Deep Dive for ISVs – Microsoft Partner Network
  • You Have Questions, I (May) Have Answers

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