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:
- Define your target partner criteria based on the MyInspire parameters (including Microsoft competencies, company size, geography, and company type).
- Develop your partner prospecting pitch (including projected partner revenue). Consider a short term offer to motivate new partners.
- Research potential partners by mining the MyInspire networking tool and correlating with LinkedIn.
- 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).
- 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.
- Understand your own partner co-marketing objectives, budget, and campaign intentions.
- Identify your existing partners attending Inspire (using the MyInspire tool).
- Schedule onsite partner meetings to define CYH2 marketing plans.
- Understand Microsoft partner strategy and incentives as articulated in Inspire keynotes and sessions.
- 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:
- 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.
- Research relevant Microsoft attendees and schedule side meetings using MyInspire.
- Kick off preliminary go-to-market planning (Microsoft budgets won’t be finalized yet).
- Seek out and participate in side events including roundtables, meetings, meetups, and parties. Your partner manager can help identify relevant opportunities.
- 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.
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.
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.