Microsoft adds incentives to small-business program

Microsoft has given small and mid-sized business customers more ways to earn cash to buy software through partners by updating its Big Easy program.

Microsoft has given small and mid-sized business customers more ways to earn cash to buy its software through partners by adding new products and product groups to its Big Easy program.

Last week, Microsoft unveiled Big Easy 2.0, an update to a program originally launched in February. Through the program, small businesses purchasing certain products through authorized specialist partners get between 10 percent to 22 percent of money back that they can use to buy other services from those partners. Microsoft to date has invested about US$13 million in the program.

In Big Easy 2.0, small-business customers now can purchase licenses for Microsoft's SQL Server database without having to also buy the company's Enterprise Assurance (EA) maintenance program that includes free updates to software. Customers have complained about EA in the past because if there are not significant updates to products they use over the three-year time period of the contract, they don't feel EA is worth the investment.

Microsoft also has broken out its Forefront security products into their own group in the program update. Customers receive more subsidies if they buy products from more groups through the program's four-level tiering system, said Michael Moore, a senior channel marketing manager at Microsoft. By breaking out the Forefront products instead of including it under the Exchange product group -- as it was in Big Easy 1.0 -- it gives customers the opportunity to get more money back from Microsoft, he said.

On the other hand, Microsoft merged what previously were two product groups -- Windows System Center Essentials and System Center Configuration Manager -- in Big Easy 2.0, he said. However, this was at the request of partners who wanted more clarity about Microsoft's systems-management offerings, Moore said.

Microsoft also has added products to the list of those for which subsidies are available. In addition to the current list, Windows Essential Business Server and Windows Server Data Center Edition are now covered under the program. However, Essential Business Server won't be available until November, Moore said.

A comprehensive list of products covered in the program and a calculator to estimate the amount of subsidies a small business can receive is available on Microsoft's Big Easy Web site.

The calculator is particularly helpful because while Microsoft tried to keep the program simple, Microsoft's volume-licensing -- on which the program is based -- is complicated and therefore subsidies can be difficult to calculate, Moore acknowledged.

Dean Edouarde, president of Microsoft consulting partner Apex Data in Los Angeles, said he was skeptical that the Big Easy program would be better than any other customer-incentive program vendors offer partners when he first heard about it. "I was like, 'Oh yeah, great, another incentive program," he said.

However, he said the simplicity of the program -- which requires only that customers sign up on a Web site without even purchasing anything to join -- has made the program "the best incentive program" he's used.

"All you do is tell customers to go to the Big Easy site and sign up, and every time you sell software, it will build up an incentive," Edouarde said. Eventually, Microsoft "will send a check to that customer from you" that can be used to buy more products and services from the partner, he said.

Edouarde added that among his company's 40 small and mid-sized customers, all but one are using the program. He said that customers have even called him to buy new products so they could get more incentives through the program before Microsoft's most recent fiscal period ended on June 30. Customers calling the company to buy products instead of the company calling on them is unusual behavior, Edouarde noted.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

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