Maximize your IT consultancy's Microsoft relationship

If your IT consultancy forges a relationship with Microsoft, there are eight important tenents you should keep in mind.


IT consultancies must establish healthy relationships with key vendors; unfortunately, there's more to the dance than just letting hardware or software sales representatives occasionally take you to lunch. Consultancies share responsibility for forging vibrant vendor relationships, and an IT shop's Microsoft relationship sits at the pinnacle of importance. Microsoft, after all, dominates the server and desktop operating system market, as well as the office productivity suite space.

You can maximize your IT consultancy's relationship with Microsoft by following these tenets:

Register as a partner

Many IT consultants fail to even register as a Microsoft partner. By registering with Microsoft, IT firms begin the process of improving their relationships with the software manufacturer.

Subscribe to software services

Microsoft offers consultants a wide range of software subscription services. From the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription (which provides registered members with low-cost, internal-use, full version software across a line of Microsoft technologies) to Microsoft Developer Network subscriptions (which provide developers with everything from pre-release products to mainline software platforms), consultants receive cost-efficient access to an incredible range of not-for-resale operating systems, applications, and other products that prove critical to testing, development, and training.

Develop core competencies

Some consultancies struggle at developing core competencies. Microsoft's Partner Program portal lists more than a dozen competencies. Better yet, Microsoft's partner site lists recommendations for achieving success within those competencies. Among the solution areas Microsoft maintains are business intelligence, data management, hosting, information worker, networking infrastructure, hardware, and security.

However, organizations can only tap these tools to drive their efforts if they log on to the partner portal, review the track recommendations, and pursue the recommended steps. Make sure you don't make the mistake of registering as a partner, reviewing the site, and then failing to follow up or take advantage of the available resources.

Attend training events

Microsoft regularly conducts training events that cover a variety of topics. Consultancies should make it a priority for staff to attend these events as part of a larger, integrated training strategy. More important, when attending these events, employees should introduce themselves to the Microsoft staff managing and presenting the event. If the consultancy staff has questions or needs assistance, Microsoft staff can share their expertise or pass along their queries to the appropriate Microsoft contact.

Pursue certifications

One of the best ways to develop expertise and forge stronger ties with any vendor is to participate within its certification program. Microsoft is no exception. Microsoft's Partner Program awards Partner Points to organizations that earn certifications. Partnership levels increase as partners obtain points, growing from Registered Member status to Certified Partner and ultimately Gold Certified Partner status. As additional levels are achieved, consultancies receive access to additional tools, resources, and marketing materials to further drive growth.

Leverage marketing and sales materials

Partners benefit from Microsoft's considerable marketing talent. Microsoft's Partner Program makes available a number of sales ads, brochures, cost benefit studies, and numerous other professionally prepared materials to assist pre-sales, sales, and deployment and installation efforts. But only the partners who take the time and initiative to obtain, access, and utilize these materials benefit.

Participate within community efforts

Microsoft maintains a wealth of community efforts. From business networking to technical support forums, its online forums (including TechNet) are among the most vibrant and beneficial on the Web. Partner Labs is available for consultants seeking to participate in beta testing efforts. Get involved and stay involved.

Call for help

When all else fails, leverage Microsoft's partner initiative to contact a knowledgeable agent or even Microsoft's technical representatives. Depending upon partner status, consultancies can contact technical specialists by telephone, online, or via email for technical, design, and deployment support. Community-powered break-fix support is also available, but only to those partners who leverage the opportunity by taking the time to actively participate.

Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!


Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I haven't registered as an MS partner, have you? I used to be an MSDN Universal subscriber, but I've gone for almost two years without renewing. Looks like I'll have to buy pack in at the Premium level, though -- I need to get Visual Studio 2010 and Windows 7/Server 2008 RC2. It's the best deal available for that combo, but it's still a lot of money for software that doesn't measure up to other options you could get for free. Nevertheless, their market dominance means I have to play the game, in order to serve my clients.

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

Everyone expects a 'tradesman' to have his own tools. Even just ONE billable day at your normal rate would just about cover it -- no? Heck, pass a couple of extra exams, get an MCT and they throw in the subscription for the $100/year (or so) annual renewal fee. Not a big deal if having such tools can multiply efficiency and/or attractiveness in the market.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

What bothers me is that I have to go out and buy a $700 hammer when I already have a perfectly good hammer at my disposal -- just because the customer says I have to use a different brand of hammer that costs more and doesn't work as well. Yes, it's easily paid for -- but try telling that to your contractor when you start dictating what hammer he should use.

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

As an 'employee', the company is responsible for providing you everything you need to work. Desk, chair, phone, internet connection, computer, software, the whole lot. You use what they give you, do what you are told, do it how you are told -- and like it. (Or quit.) As a contractor, you make at least TWICE the money, but are expected to provide your own stuff. You also have the CHOICE of whether or not you want to take the contract or do the work. If the client is a Microsoft shop -- you have the CHOICE of whether you want to play Microsoft or simply not take the contract. Something very 'standard' like Visual Studio and the rest of the stuff you'd get through MSDN or Technet is EASY (and relatively cheap). Certainly, I'd never hire anyone claiming to be an MS-oriented contract developer who didn't at least have that. The ONLY time I'd move on that would be if the company was using something bizarre or non-standard. In that case, I'd include in the contract that they should provide that tool for the duration of the contract. From the company point of view -- they don't WANT people to come in with weird, non-standard, bizarre, non-supported, non-standard tools and insist they use them. (I learned that lesson the hard way ONCE when I got burned as a result of a contractor I hired insisting on using Alpha Four rather than Access.) I have no respect whatsoever for consultants whose first move on coming in is to spit on company standards, tell everyone they are doing things wrong and/or are idiots. (And the WORST -- is to have them using incompatible, non-standard tools.) That's a sure ticket to the nearest door. The most important thing about being a contractor is to remember who PAYS. The customer isn't always right, but they certainly do have the right to get what they pay for the way they want it -- regardless.

Editor's Picks