Posted by Sharon Collins, Microsoft Partner Network Manager and Competency Lead, U.S. Partner Team.

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Each month in the U.S. partner newsletter, Sharon Collins, U.S. Microsoft Partner Network Manager and Competency Lead, delivers a message to silver and gold competency partners about maintaining and maximizing their competency investment. Our new Competency blog series continues that conversation, and also helps partners working to achieve their first competency.

clip_image001The “Competency Attainment” view on Virtual Partner Concierge links you directly to the latest competency-specific information and resources.

In honor of the Microsoft Certification 20th Anniversary, this post’s focus is on Microsoft Partner Network membership benefits that help you increase the expertise of your company to develop, sell, deploy, and support solutions based on Microsoft products and technologies. In increasing sales and technical expertise, you may also meet competency requirements and have an opportunity to add to your Microsoft practice, too. Many of the training courses recommended through the tools I’ve listed below are no-cost or low-cost options, or let you utilize your Partner Advisory Hours benefit.

Three Ways to Quickly Find Relevant Training

1. The Microsoft U.S. Learning Plan Tool organizes on-demand courses by Microsoft product, competency, exam, and role. Build a custom plan, email a packaged plan, or export a plan to Excel, and track your progress against it. Many of the Learning Plan Tool packages have been recently refreshed, and you’ll now find training packages for Windows 8, Microsoft SQL Server 2012, and Windows Server 2012.

2. Partner Exam Academy helps you prepare for the Microsoft certification exams needed to meet competency requirements. There are currently eight competencies covered, with more coming soon: Business Intelligence; Communications; CRM; Data Platform; Desktop (featuring the new Exam 70-681 requirement); Management and Virtualization; Messaging; and Portals and Collaboration. More competencies will be covered soon.

3. Practice Accelerators offer a comprehensive set of reusable tools and best practices around a specific Microsoft product or technology. During a Practice Accelerator, which typically is scheduled for four hours daily over four consecutive days and delivered through Microsoft Live Meeting by Microsoft experts, you receive materials that include things like templates for what a standard engagement might look like, customizable architecture documents to leave with customers, and pre-deployment recommendations. Upon registration for a Practice Accelerator, 10 partner advisory hours are deducted from your company’s account. Current offerings cover Business Intelligence; Exchange Server; Lync Server; Office 365; SharePoint; Optimized Desktop; and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.

How to Stay Informed About Training Opportunities

  • imageThe new U.S. partner portal is designed to make finding relevant content and resources easier. By clicking on the Training category at the top of the page, as in the screenshot at right, you’ll get a short menu of pages that offer training-related information organized around specific topics, like “Get certified” and “Training promotions.”
  • Your local Microsoft team and office often play host to in-person and virtual training. We publish a list of upcoming local partner activities to each of the Regional pages on the partner portal:
  • Each month, the U.S. Partner Learning team publishes the U.S. Partner Hot Sheet, a six-week outlook of upcoming live in-person and virtual training opportunities organized by both topic/product and date, and lets you plan ahead.
  • Follow the U.S. Partner Learning team through their blog and on Twitter.

I hope you'll take advantage of these low-cost and no-cost options for training offered by Microsoft to build technical and sales skills as well as your business.