Microsoft Partner of the Year Winners Announced

Congratulations to all the Microsoft 2019 Partner of the Year Award finalists and winners. These partners have delivered meaningful business results while differentiating themselves within the Microsoft partner ecosystem.

I’m excited to share that Competegy placed 3 Finalists this year (Competegy has helped partners win 10 Microsoft Partner of the Year awards to date).


Winning partners will be recognized at Microsoft Inspire (July 14-18 in Las Vegas). Inspire is a great opportunity to learn about Microsoft’s product and channel strategy, engage Microsoft partner teams, and accelerate your channel. Once again, there is an overlap day with Microsoft’s internal kickoff (“Microsoft Ready”).

The Inspire networking tool should go live next week. Everyone who has opted-in will be able to schedule meetings (and book meeting tables). Use the Inspire connect tool to facilitate new channel partner connections, renew existing partner relationships, and reconnect with Microsoft stakeholders. See the Maximize Microsoft Inspire article for tips on getting the most out of the event.

Maximize Microsoft Inspire

Microsoft Inspire will be held July 14-18, 2019 in Las Vegas. Inspire is a great opportunity to learn about Microsoft’s product and channel strategy, engage Microsoft partner sales teams, and advance your own channel development objectives.

Inspire is also the forum where Microsoft recognizes its most productive partners with awards. Winning a Microsoft Partner of the Year award provides credibility for customer, channel, and Microsoft engagement. Over 2,900 award entries were submitted this year (Competegy clients have won 10 Microsoft Partner of the Year awards).

I’ve attended 12 Inspire/WPC events and have always found them to be the most productive days of the year. Inspire will take you far if you prepare using the suggestions below.

Define Event Objectives

Inspire provides a host of learning and networking opportunities including keynotes, product and marketing sessions, evening receptions, regional lounges, side meetings, scheduled networking, and exhibits. Most valuable of these is the capability to set up 1 on 1 meetings with other attendees. In general, prioritize side meetings because most of the session content is available afterwards.

Recruit New Partners

There are over 40 half-hour meeting slots available and a scheduling tool (MyInspire) to locate and organize meetings with prospective partners (SIs historically represent the largest group of partners attending). If you wish to recruit new partners at Inspire, I recommend the following preparation steps:

  1. Define your target partner criteria based on the MyInspire parameters (including Microsoft competencies, company size, geography, and company type).
  2. Develop your partner prospecting pitch (including projected partner revenue). Consider a short term offer to motivate new partners.
  3. Research potential partners by mining the MyInspire networking tool and correlating with LinkedIn.
  4. Leverage the MyInspire tool to identify individuals to meet, secure meeting space (over 100 tables are provided), and propose meeting times. Contact partners outside of the MyInspire tool if you don’t get a response (MyInspire meeting messages are sometimes lost or ignored).
  5. Document key points during your onsite meeting and follow-up promptly with viable partner prospects after the event.

Exhibiting at Inspire is best if you sell to other partners. If your intent is to partner with other companies, focus your efforts on scheduling MyInspire side meetings.

See the Channel Development Best Practices whitepaper for insight on recruiting channel partners.

Refresh Marketing Plans with Existing Partners

Microsoft budgets and priorities reset July 1 (Microsoft’s new fiscal year) so Inspire is the perfect time to engage partners in context of those Microsoft directives. Meet with your existing partners at Inspire to discuss co-marketing plans and sales-coordination.

  1. Understand your own partner co-marketing objectives, budget, and campaign intentions.
  2. Identify your existing partners attending Inspire (using the MyInspire tool).
  3. Schedule onsite partner meetings to define CYH2 marketing plans.
  4. Understand Microsoft partner strategy and incentives as articulated in Inspire keynotes and sessions.
  5. Meet with partners to outline joint marketing plans.

Grow Microsoft Co-Sell Relationships

Over 4,000 Microsoft employees attend Inspire. Microsoft enterprise sales teams don’t attend Inspire itself so focus your efforts on meeting Microsoft partner roles including Enterprise Channel Managers, Industry Sales Executives, Marketing Managers, and your Partner Development Manager. Seek side meetings with product group speakers that align with your solution. If you are a managed partner, request Microsoft senior executive meetings via your partner manager (those nominations are due before June 1).

Prepare for Microsoft meetings as follows:

  1. Create pithy talking points summarizing your Microsoft fiscal year accomplishments (in context of Microsoft priorities) as well as what you want to achieve in the year to come. Your partner award nomination should be a useful input.
  2. Research relevant Microsoft attendees and schedule side meetings using MyInspire.
  3. Kick off preliminary go-to-market planning (Microsoft budgets won’t be finalized yet).
  4. Seek out and participate in side events including roundtables, meetings, meetups, and parties. Your partner manager can help identify relevant opportunities.
  5. Document meaningful conversations and follow-up.

See the Co-Selling with Microsoft Best Practices and 10 Tips for Partnering with Microsoft whitepapers for insight on maximizing your Microsoft alliance.

Learn About Microsoft Product and Channel Strategy

Use the MyInspire session catalog to determine top priority sessions to attend. Attend only sessions essential to your business (keynotes and select breakouts). Most content is available afterwards as files and/or video, so prioritize onsite meetings and set aside time to review content afterwards.

Engage presenters after their session if they are important to your business. Also look for opportunities to network with Microsoft attendees at side events. There are excellent contacts to be made everywhere at Inspire.

See the Inspire 2018 ISV Insights for key takeaways from last year’s partner conference. See the Microsoft Acronyms for Partners to decode Microsoft jargon.

About MyInspire

Unfortunately, many Microsoft attendees do not opt-in for MyInspire (they need to reserve time for their managed partners and sessions). Request Microsoft meetings well in advance through existing relationships and set meeting requests in Outlook (vs. relying on the MyInspire tool alone). The MyInspire networking app is published mid-June.

Save visits to the Expo for any meetings that fall through. The exhibitor area is typically nearby and serves as good filler for those inevitable schedule gaps.

For both Microsoft and partner meetings, have a defined “offer” in mind that encourages action. Follow-up promptly afterwards where there is partnering potential, summarizing common interests and next steps.

Next Steps

Competegy provides an Inspire Concierge Service for partner recruiting and evangelism at Inspire. Learn more about partnering with Microsoft via the Competegy ISV Strategy Blog and reach out to Larry Gregory to discuss how to optimize your Microsoft managed partner relationship.

 

Microsoft 2018 Partner of the Year Award Winners

See the full list of Microsoft 2018 Partner of the Year Award finalists and winners at the Inspire website – including 3 Competegy clients. In total, Competegy clients have won 10 Microsoft Partner of the Year awards!

Winning partners will be recognized at Microsoft Inspire (July 15-19 in Las Vegas). Inspire is a great opportunity to learn about Microsoft’s product and channel strategy, engage Microsoft partner teams, and advance your own channel development objectives. This year there is overlap with Microsoft’s internal kickoff (“Microsoft Ready”), affording the additional opportunity to connect with Microsoft account teams.

The Inspire networking tool is slated to go live June 13. Everyone who has opted-in will be able to schedule meetings (with assigned meeting tables). The Inspire directory is the only effective tool Microsoft provides for partner-to-partner search (since Pinpoint was deprecated years ago), so use Inspire to identify new channel partners and renew existing partner relationships (in addition to your Microsoft meetings).

I’ll update my Maximize Microsoft Inspire article once the new networking tool goes live. Note that I’m offering my “Inspire Concierge Service” again this year, which helps companies maximize their value from Inspire.

10 Tips to Winning a Microsoft Partner Award

Receiving an award from Microsoft can serve as a valuable marketing tool: awards help attract new customer prospects, provide sales credibility, trigger new partnerships, and facilitate Microsoft sales collaboration.

Microsoft Partner Award

Microsoft has the largest software partner ecosystem.  They receive thousands of submissions for the partner awards, with winners recognized at the Inspire conference in July.

As a former partner award judge (and author of numerous successful award nominations), I offer the following helpful tips to improve your chances of winning:

  1. Understand the process
  2. Meet the criteria
  3. Follow the rules
  4. Answer the questions concisely
  5. Quantify your results
  6. Tell customer stories
  7. Write like a journalist
  8. Take Microsoft’s perspective
  9. Don’t wait until the last minute
  10. Leverage your nomination to evangelize Microsoft

A detailed explanation of these steps and the keys to writing a successful nomination are included in this whitepaper.

Complete the following form to access the document:

Innovation and Digital Transformation

In my early days at Microsoft, we used the term “Digital Nervous System to refer to the agility a superior IT environment provided for responding to customer needs and reacting to competitive threats. That was in the 90s, so IT infrastructure at the time centered on networking and email (yes, the wheel and fire were already invented).

I’ve worked with several innovation consulting companies over the years (e.g., Doblin, Desai). Their innovation models apply to the digital transformation journey many companies are now undertaking, helping identify the forms of innovation that support digital transformation.

Product Capabilities

Most people think of product when it comes to innovation. In the age of cloud computing, product innovation occurs in a less disruptive way. New capabilities must be valuable enough to sustain customer value, but not change so much as to incite consideration of and defection to competitors. Disruptive, “bet the business” product innovations are no longer required after the initial SaaS offering is delivered. Instead, it is better to innovate without introducing breaking changes. Focus major innovations on product extensions and adjacent areas instead (see Product Ecosystem).

Business Model

Subscription pricing delivers the gift that keeps on giving: recurring revenue. Steady growth with recurring revenues and high customer retention rates yields better company predictability and therefore higher valuations.

Product Ecosystem

The broader opportunity is to bundle products and services such that the combination generates more customer value that the individual offerings alone. This worked for Microsoft Office in the 90s (anyone remember Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, and Harvard Graphics?) and applies to SaaS partnerships today. SaaS solutions are deployed quickly, and integration with other systems is exceptionally fast. Multiple SaaS solutions can even be deployed in parallel. Distributors have taken steps toward providing marketplaces for cloud products, but the innovation opportunity remains to aggregate a portfolio of related cloud solutions to target common industry scenarios. For example, where is the A-to-Z startup manufacturing company SaaS suite (beyond ERP)? Instead of innovating through just your own products, think about complementary applications and services that could enable holistic, customer-centric solutions. That is the line of business platform of the future.

Organization

Organization changes are necessary as ISVs transition to SaaS products. Salespeople will gravitate toward a bigger ticket perpetual license unless commission structures incent them for subscription licensing. It is sometimes easier to create a parallel sales organization with compensation models that account for lower, recurring revenues rather than force fit a traditional sales organization that is used to a higher touch/higher cost customer selling process. Note there are development-related organizational improvements (e.g., scrub, agile, low code platforms) that are covered elsewhere.

Support Systems

Providing too much or the wrong kind of support can eat up SaaS profits. Understand and implement the “minimum viable support” requirements for your products. Consider innovative approaches to support (e.g., AI/knowledgebase-driven customer service bots that escalate to human support) that can keep customers satisfied while keeping costs low. In addition, invest in post-sales support that accelerates adoption. These “customer success teams” should enable adoption of cloud solutions at existing customers to maximize usage and secure the recurring revenue stream.

Marketing

Opportunities exist to innovate through marketing including branding, social media, and lead nurturing. Traditional ISVs must adjust to SaaS marketing, developing more online qualification and transaction capability and relying less on direct sales involvement.

Digital Transformation is about leveraging the power of software and cloud economics to revolutionize business models, solutions delivered, and markets served. Software companies can innovate in ways beyond product development to affect their own digital transformation and better enable their customers’ digital transformation journey.

Holiday Shopping for Microsoft Partners

If you have an interest in developing new channel partners in 2018, now is an excellent time to prepare by adding Microsoft Partners to your holiday shopping list!Microsoft provides an attendee directory for the Inspire partner conference each July. Over 14,000 people profile themselves in the Inspire networking directory. These profiles include valuable information for partner recruiting purposes including Microsoft Competency, geography, and partner type. This makes it easy to locate partners with common interests.

For example, an ISV with a solution that enables migration to Office 365 may appeal to systems integrators delivering Modern Workplace projects. In this case, the ISV would look for SI partners with a Cloud Productivity competency. The fact that the SI sent people to the Inspire event implies they are a committed Microsoft partner, and Inspire attendees are more likely to be open to a partnering discussion since they opted-in to the partner networking tool.

Unfortunately, the Inspire networking directory is slated to be taken down around the end of the year. All that valuable partner information will be gone until Inspire 2018 (Las Vegas in July), when a new batch of attendees profile themselves.

Microsoft used to provide a web directory (“Pinpoint”) to facilitate this partner-to-partner engagement but that unfortunately is no longer available. The modern equivalent is the Solution Provider Search which only lists CSP partners and provides dismal search capabilities (for example, you can’t search by Microsoft Competencies). There are 3rd party partner directories, but because they aren’t from Microsoft they don’t elicit self-profiling by most of the Microsoft partner ecosystem.

If partner recruiting is an H1 2018 priority, conduct your search now using the Inspire networking directory. In this way, you’ll have relevant partner prospects to pursue in the new year. Note that only attendees of Inspire 2017 have access to the networking directory.

Performing the search is one step in the partner recruiting journey. Other key elements include defining a compelling partner proposition (including a financial model), eliciting partnership discussions, and supporting partners for onboarding and sales development. See the Channel Development Best Practices whitepaper for additional partner recruiting insights.

Happy Hunting and Happy Holidays!

Channel Development Best Practices

The purpose of channel development is to grow sales through partners. This can be to expand sales in current markets or break into new territories or segments. In this paper, we’ll share best practices in channel partner strategy, the process for recruiting new partners, as well as tips for activating existing partners.

Channel Strategy 101

Complete the following form to access the Channel Development and Recruiting document:

Channel Strategy 101

Recruiting channel partners helps reach new markets and expand sales but what kinds of partners are the right fit for you as an enterprise software provider?

Strategic Alliances Assessment

VARs

Your first reaction might to be to seek out an IT reseller. These are typically large businesses and you’ll be fighting for attention versus established vendors with a larger “share of wallet” and therefore garner most of the VAR attention. It is possible to break in and establish a meaningful partnership but your solution needs to be a clear, financially meaningful complement to their existing solutions to avoid becoming “catalog fodder”.

ISVs

Other software vendors may represent attractive partnership if you add value to their offering. ISVs (particularly cloud, ERP, and CRM vendors) are familiar with partnership and define partner programs designed to be as “self-serve” as possible. If you are comfortable providing the required product integration and are okay not having a “strategic” partner relationship out of the gate, this can be a worthwhile effort. Co-selling is typically through vendor marketplaces and co-marketing consists of directory listings and co-branded materials (the software vendor wants you to carry their product messaging with your customer message).

SIs

IT Systems Integrators (SIs) are typically familiar with partnering with software providers and are increasingly moving toward providing their own repeatable, cloud hosted solutions based on project IP and ISV solutions. Shifting from 100% integrator to cloud Managed Service Providers affords a higher margin and recurring revenues.
To be considered for partnership, your solution must align with their functional expertise and services offerings. They won’t change their business to accommodate a shiny new technology.
The partnering process is more ad-hoc with SIs. They have less formalized partner programs and partner agreements are negotiated one-off. Co-selling with SIs requires more account management and support, particularly to get the first couple clients. Co-marketing takes the form of traditional outbound marketing campaigns.

Management Consultants and Agencies

Management Consultants (plus agencies, accountants, and other professional services firms) are typically uncomfortable with reselling software due to their need to appear objective and unbiased to clients. Your software solution must be relevant to their core consulting services to break through that objection. Ideally your solution is technology they can leverage during client engagements and then hand off as a deliverable (enabling the consultant to deliver the ISV solution in context of the engagement). Focus initial co-selling on testing interest with existing clients on a limited scale and keep your joint marketing expectations low.

Conclusions

The complexity (required customization) and industry-specific nature (general purpose vs. specialized use case) of your product will determine which of the above partner types will be most attractive. If you are breaking into a new territory, I recommend starting with small to medium-sized firms (who are more nimble). Create solid channel strategy and a polished partner value proposition before beginning your recruiting process. Approach the effort in phases so you can learn and adjust based on the receptivity of each target partner community.

Related articles:

Expanding To International Markets

While international markets represent an attractive revenue opportunity, pursuing a direct sales strategy isn’t always feasible or prudent. Often, the better path is to identify complementary partners in-market that have an affinity to your product and motivation to achieve mutual success.

Aussie Photo Credit: Chris Birmele

Aussie Photo Credit: Chris Birmele

Define Partner Strategy and Ideal Partner Profile

Define your strategy including which territories to target and the type of partners you want to recruit. ISVs typically pursue partners that can resell their products and deliver enabling services around them, including systems integrators, management consultants, and sometimes more vertically-specific services firms (depending on the nature of your solution).

Develop a profile of your ideal partner. Include industry specialization, certifications/competencies, company size, types of customers they serve, and other characteristics that indicate a good fit. Review examples of companies that match the profile to rank their attractiveness, refining your target partner profile along the way.

Hone Your Messaging

Now that you have a good sense of what the ideal partner looks like, refine your messaging to express both your customer value and partner value. Tighten your pitch so when you have a “first contact” call with a partner prospect, you can quickly resolve whether there is mutual partnership potential: your messaging should resonate with the prospect and their business should align with your ideal partner profile.

Be specific about reselling commission and services potential from typical projects. If the projected revenue isn’t material to the partner, they ultimately won’t invest in learning and marketing your product. If the projected revenue is too big for the partner, they are probably targeting a smaller customer size than your product is meant to address.

Partner Outreach and Assessment

After you have your messaging and target profiles, start data mining. Use search tools and directories to identify companies that match your target partner characteristics. You’ll learn along the way, so adapt the search criteria mid-stream as appropriate. Ultimately, you’ll need to look at a couple hundred company profiles to come up with a target list of 50+ candidates. Through successive outreach, you can usually develop 2-3 that will serve as productive partners, so treat it as a numbers game and be hyper-efficient in qualifying prospects as in or out.

Your first contact calls should convey company stability, customer affinity, and product differentiation. Don’t try to provide a product demo or other depth product info in that first meeting but do convey what the future state is by partnering. Represent a typical deal in terms of reseller and services revenue, including what a run rate of multiple projects looks like in year 2. Partners want material results and this is the opportunity to test for whether your solution will be meaningful to them.

Demo and Letter of Intent

If there is mutual interest in proceeding after the first contact call, propose a product demo where additional partner stakeholders can determine applicability for the partner’s client segment. Strive to make the demo relevant to the prospective partner’s industry and specialization. You want the partner to walk away excited by the potential and interested in advancing to a Letter of Intent. The Letter of Intent is meant to avoid the friction of a formal contract, but define enough detail (reseller terms, training, support, marketing expectations) to enable pursuing the first couple customers.

Enable Early Success

It is imperative to show success in the first few months. Get started right away by assessing clients already managed by the partner and support the sales cycle so you both get an early win. The partner should demonstrate solid sales development skills before you expose them to net new prospects. Once you have confidence, use marketing leads (from your webinars, industry events, and website) to spark additional opportunities for them. Remember, your goal is for them to nurture opportunities directly so focus on partner enablement and knowledge transfer while making it clear they own market development ongoing.

Related Posts

Microsoft WPC 2015 – ISV Insights

The Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference is an intense few days of sessions, side meetings, and networking. With proper preparation, it is a highly productive way to 1) understand Microsoft strategy & incentives, 2) nurture existing partnerships, and 3) explore new partner relationships. Attendees who registered for WPC Connect can access the whopping 301 sessions of content from https://connect.digitalwpc.com. Note that the keynotes are only available as videos from DigitalWPC.

WPC2015

Microsoft WPC 2015 Themes

Satya Nadella (Microsoft CEO) set the stage on the first day keynote, describing the high-level priorities for the year to come as: 1) reinvent productivity and business process, 2) build the intelligent cloud platform, and 3) create more personal computing. Office 365, Microsoft Azure, and Windows 10 bubble up as top Microsoft priorities.

There was more sizzle to the keynotes this year with an eye-popping HoloLens demo as well as compelling demos of Windows 10 and Cortana Analytics Suite (voice navigation with Power BI). Cortana will be a key feature of Windows 10 and Microsoft committed to delivering Windows 10-powered Lumia phones.

What is a “Modern Partner”?

Microsoft paid special attention to the profitability of cloud partners, with multiple breakout sessions describing how delivering cloud services and solutions improves partner company valuation. “Modern partners” where referenced as those with >50% of their business from cloud offerings. Four business models were represented, with increasing profitability as they align with cloud delivery:

  1. Product (Traditional ISVs) – tough to get more than 20% in reseller margin and ISVs themselves facing competition from more nimble cloud ISVs
  2. Project Services (SIs) – have higher margin structure (on the order of 35%) but there’s a hard limit to growth based on employee availability
  3. Managed Services (MSPs) – structurally you can achieve a higher level of gross margin (closer to 45%)
  4. Packaged IP (Cloud ISV) – achieve even higher profit scale because developing once and selling multiple times results in low incremental/variable cost

Program Updates

Microsoft has expanded the Cloud Solution Provider program (for MSPs) to include Azure, CRM Online, and Enterprise Mobility Suite (in addition to Office 365). This will address SMB well, but Enterprise Agreements (from LSPs) are the more likely Microsoft cloud purchase option for enterprise organizations. As an ISV, you’ll have more SIs interested in cloud/Managed Service Provider licensing given Microsoft’s incentives.

Office 365 gets a new enterprise SKU (E5) which will include cloud PBX, analytics, Power BI, and advanced security. If you provide Office 365-integrated products, this represents another wave of sell-in by Microsoft resellers (and an expanded market for your offerings).

Product News

In product news, SharePoint gets new life with SharePoint 2016, Azure gets an IoT Suite, and Cortana Analytics Suite makes a play for voice-navigated Power BI. HoloLens will blow your mind, and Windows 10 will be more familiar and broadly accepted than Windows 8.

With Windows 10 being provided to most users for free and delivered as a service, app builder ISVs will have a more consistent platform to target (using the “universal Windows platform”). Microsoft expects to have 1 billion devices running Windows 10 by 2018. This broad penetration should reduce ISV development and support costs as you won’t have to test and support as many Windows platforms.

ISV Business Development

Microsoft is boosting its go-to-market support for Cloud ISVs and increasing cloud incentives across partner types. Microsoft programmatic marketing and enablement support for ISVs continues into FY16 while sales support for managed ISVs is still getting worked out (roughly entails drawing from a pool of business development managers via the assigned Partner Business Evangelist).

Key Takeaway

Time is running out for traditional ISVs. Microsoft is in year 6 or 7 of shifting its ecosystem to the cloud and has gotten sophisticated in explaining how its cloud offerings translate as financial value to partners. While cloud consumption cost and marketplace transaction fees need to be carefully weighed, the inevitability of cloud as a preferred IT platform is upon us. Leverage the profitability guidance and marketing support from Microsoft to make the transition as smooth as possible and tap into services partners that are seeking to grow from traditional consulting services into managed service providers through third partner ISV products.

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