As Microsoft’s Pre-Sales Technical Support program enters its second year, the company has begun providing its resellers with advice on how to be more competitive when they’re pursuing contracts.

Launched in early 2004, the partner program provides gold and certified-level partners with unlimited

access to phone-based pre-sales service. In its first year, partners were able to access technical support, business advice and trouble-shooting.

However, support professionals will now be able to provide resellers with advice as they write bid proposals.

“”If a partner goes in and has some kind of business problem they’re trying to solve for a customer, and they know the customer’s going one of two ways, we can help build the story for that partner,”” said Darren Bibby, partner development manager for Microsoft Canada.

“”In the end, it helps partners close deals faster, it helps close deals that they may not have gotten without the help. We’ve heard of quite a few stories about that. And it gives them the confidence to get involved in bigger and more profitable deals,”” Bibby said.

John Air, project manager for Toronto-based Success Partners Business Solutions Inc., credits the program in general for helping his company secure a contract with a high-profile Canadian media company. He said the customer had a concern about the remote connectivity for Citrix with Microsoft Great Plains. Air didn’t have the answer to the question, but Microsoft did.

“”We went up against some pretty big companies; Oracle and PeopleSoft,”” Air said. “”(The customer) had some questions around functionality – and a technical question. I actually put three questions to pre-sales technical support and they got back to me within 24 hours.””

Air said he was skeptical about the program when it was first launched last year because other vendors have similar support programs, but they haven’t always provided him with the answers he looked for.

“”The front line is usually more junior people. For whatever the reason, they either just don’t have the experience or the training,”” Air said. “”It just means that you’ve got an answer that just doesn’t quite make sense or someone just doesn’t understand the problem or the issue. That wasn’t the case here. They (Microsoft) understood exactly what we wanted to do.””

According to Microsoft, the majority of agents have the MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) designation. Uncertified agents must become certified within a year. For certain tracks, such as Microsoft Business Solutions, support professionals must complete a six-month training program.

As part of the program, North American partners are serviced by agents in the U.S., India and Canada. There are 25 agents in Canada, including some bilingual ones to serve partners in Quebec.

The Pre-sales Technical Support program is part of Microsoft’s US$1.7-billion worldwide partner program.

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