What’s New for Microsoft 2018 Partner of the Year Awards

Microsoft recognizes top performing partners at their annual partner conference (Inspire). Winning a Microsoft Partner Award can help attract new customer prospects, provide sales credibility, trigger new partnerships, and facilitate Microsoft sales collaboration.

The 2018 Microsoft Partner of the Year award tool officially opens for nominations March 13, 2018. The deadline for all entries is April 17, 2018.

While the process of submitting nominations is similar as past years, the award categories have changed significantly. The awards are no longer focused on each Microsoft Competency. Instead, most award categories are aligned with Microsoft Solution Areas (Applications & Infrastructure, Business Applications, Data & AI, Modern Workplace) and industry scenarios (with retail and financial services industries notably missing). There are also country awards and a handful of other global awards that don’t fit neatly into the solution or industry areas.

If you are a “co-sell ready” ISV or have a Microsoft cloud competency, you are eligible for most of the awards. There are only a couple that are limited to SIs (e.g., App Innovation, Microsoft 365 Powered Devices). This reflects Microsoft encouragement of all partners to build repeatable IP.

You can find detailed award writing recommendations in the 10 Tips to Winning a Microsoft Partner Award download.

Over 2,800 nominations were received last year, so competition is stiff. Competegy clients have won 8 Microsoft Partner of the Year awards (including 2 of the current 2017 winners). If you want to improve your chances of winning an award this year, request a meeting to determine your potential.

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.

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Executing a Partner Co-Sell Campaign

Selling with partners enables customer exposure, generates qualified leads for sales pursuit, and supports company revenue objectives. The challenge with such campaigns is to ensure the results warrant the time and effort to coordinate across partner organizations. This article shares best practice learning from executing co-selling campaigns.

Target Outcome

The desired result is to not only to drive customer awareness, but also to identify “sales qualified leads”. This is beyond the typical marketing function of attracting prospects and generating “marketing qualified leads”.

Partner Scenarios

The partner you wish to co-sell with must have a vested interest in your sales success. This could be a tandem partner who relies on your capabilities to successfully reach their target market. For example, a complementary software product that unlocks the enterprise suitability for an otherwise mid-market software product or an industry-specific enhancement that enables a broader product to penetrate a vertical niche. The partner could be a platform player (e.g., Microsoft) that wants partners to pull through their underlying technology (cloud services) and is willing to invest sales effort to penetrate a market segment (e.g., line of business solutions) they can’t directly address themselves.

Get Commitment

Once you’ve determined there is sales and strategic alignment for executing a co-sell campaign, the next critical step is getting support from the partner’s sales managers. Salespeople don’t naturally work with partners without a framework that provides compensation (quota credit or spiff) and motivation (sales managers). You’ll need a project manager to own coordination across the partners and to keep salespeople moving forward with prospecting and lead qualification.

You’ll find some salespeople resist partner co-selling. It can be more complex and takes people out of their comfort zone of selling only their own products. If you have the chance, test for receptivity among individual sellers so you’re working with willing participants. Position the co-sell initiative as “doing leading edge work” as well as an opportunity for success beyond the standard sales role.

Note that platform partners have a hard time selling outside of IT. If you represent a line of business software solution, align with industry-specific sales teams instead of general account teams. The natural inclination to sell IT-centric software and services usually supersedes the solution selling intentions of platform partner sellers.

Create a Co-Sell Guide

Develop a co-sell training kit to educate partner sellers and management. This should include the following:

  • A definition of the sales process including which partner owns which step and when sales handoff should occur. This handoff should happen after both a decision maker and an active initiative are identified.
  • An overview of each partner and their contribution to the completed solution. This helps the team understand why partnership is valuable from an implementation perspective.
  • A financial model of a typical deal including the benefits to the customer and for both partners. Sales management and sellers need to understand the revenue motivations for partnering.
  • Targeting criteria including geography, industry, workload, customer segment, and typical decision maker titles. This helps reduce the ambiguity of who the teams are targeting and defines the scenario for qualified opportunities.
  • Email templates with pithy messaging and customer references. Creating approved messaging reduces sales team inertia.
  • A sample call script or qualification guide for sales conversations. Reduce sales team fear and reluctance to engage customer conversations by modeling those conversations.
  • A target list of accounts to pursue. Identify net new prospects that align with the qualification criteria.

These materials can take time to pull together, but the process forces you to address important qualification issues and results in a guide that helps execute the co-selling effort.

Maintain Momentum

Educate the sales teams on these materials and set milestone expectations for sales actions (e.g., 20 emails and 4 customer conversations per week). Activity expectations will depend on other intitiatives the sellers are juggling.

Host regular meetings to capture insights from the sales teams and address additional sales support needs. Be sure to recognize individual successes in context of the broader group, including achieving milestones along the way to the final sale.


Contact Competegy to discuss how you can create or improve your own co-sell campaign efforts.

Microsoft Co-Sell Update

This week marks the 6 year anniversary for Competegy! Highlights include 8 Microsoft Partner of the Year awards, 2 Tech Company to Watch awards, and a diverse mix of clients. Competegy was also recently accepted as a Microsoft vendor.

Partnering with Microsoft

Microsoft has taken longer than usual to get the co-sell wheels moving this fiscal year, but they are rolling now! There were significant organizational changes including restructuring the US districts into 8 regions, adding industry headcount, and implementing the One Commercial Partner model. At last partner marketing budgets are defined and people have found their seat. Let the co-selling begin!

Meanwhile, the Microsoft event machine has been at full steam. In July, we had Microsoft Inspire (formerly WPC), Microsoft Ready (formerly MGX), and the US Public Sector Kickoff (ISU). Ignite (formerly TechEd) and Envision conferences were in September, along with a series of ISV Co-Sell days throughout the US.

Last month, Microsoft held their US internal sales kickoff (Digital Transformation Academy). This replaced the individual US district kickoffs from the past. At the event, they reinforced their new Challenger Sales Model and everyone has come back, ready to drive business.

The Challenger Sales Model

It behooves partners to understand the Challenger Sales Model so you can be positioned in context of Microsoft sales messaging, particularly in context of their Solution Map scenarios. In addition, the model is good sales methodology for your own internal use.

In essence, the Challenger Sales Model is about knowing enough about the customer and their industry to relate to them at an emotional level, bringing insight that challenges their assumptions and leads them to a conclusion that aligns with your solution. The key elements are as follows:

  1. Know the customer’s business well enough to relate to their challenges
  2. Bring a new perspective on a problem they are likely to have
  3. Support your position with data (e.g., the financial implications of inaction)
  4. Personalize the impact of the issue so that the customer feels it
  5. Paint the vision of a better way (skewed to your capabilities)
  6. Explain how your solution is the superior match for their needs

Golden Circle

A related sales messaging technique I find compelling is Simon Sinek’s golden circle TED talk from 2009. In it, he explains leading with “why” you offer solutions is more compelling than the traditional “what” and “how” approach most companies deliver. For example, it is more compelling for Microsoft to lead with a Digital Transformation message to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more” than to explain how new features of Office 365 will make your teams more productive.

How might your own product/service positioning change if you led with “why”?

Actions for Managed Partners

If you are a Managed Co-Sell partner, you should have received marketing funding/resources by now. Put those funds to work over the next 4-5 months (Microsoft gets uncomfortable with calendar year Q2 campaigns because they need to have funds fully spent before the end of their fiscal year).

Evangelize your company to Microsoft so they know to co-sell with you. Ensure you are properly profiled in the OCP Catalog and have a productive Partner Sales Connect leads triage process. Lastly, tap into Microsoft account and industry team knowledge to shorten your sales cycle and gain visibility into new opportunities.

Microsoft FY18 Partner Strategy

At the Microsoft Inspire partner conference, Microsoft announced major improvements to how they support partners for the year ahead (FY18). This article summarizes their new partner strategy and the opportunity for managed partners to tap into Microsoft co-sell resources.

Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner (OCP) organization is meant to simplify the partner experience with Microsoft and align incentives with Microsoft sales teams. The framework for partner support is “Build-With”, “Go-To-Market”, and “Sell-With”. This framework applies to ISV, Systems Integrator, Managed Service Provider, and Reseller (channels) partner types.

Overarching customer themes remain the same as FY17: Empower Employees, Engage Customers, Optimize Operations, and Transform Products. These are addressed through 4 main Microsoft workloads: Modern Workplace, Business Applications, Applications & Infrastructure, and Data & AI. Microsoft FY18 scorecard items include the following:

  • Azure Consumed Revenue (ACR)
  • Azure Customer Adds (ADA)
  • Dynamics 365 Customer Adds + Revenue
  • SQL Server + Azure Data Services Revenue
  • Office 365 Commercial Paid Subscribers
  • Office 365 Active Commercial Usage
  • SPE (Microsoft 365) E5 Commercial Subscribers
  • Windows 10 Enterprise Deployment


Microsoft is implementing a major change in the sales organization structure. The former EPG and SMSP (CAM, CTM, SMB) segmentation no longer applies. Instead there will be Enterprise and Small Medium Corporate (SMC). Historically, the break point for EPG coverage was ~1,000 employees. Employee count will no longer be the criteria for Enterprise account coverage.

The Microsoft Account List will be redefined to incorporate cloud potential: expect this list to be finalized in August. SMC coverage will be provided by tele-coverage teams, shifting field sales resources away from the upper mid-market coverage in favor of more 1:1 management of enterprise accounts.

In the US, there will be East and West regions (vs. East/Central/West in FY17) and 8 districts within those regions (vs. 14 US geographic districts in FY17). This means some territories will merge. While the organizational blueprint has been defined, it will take a few weeks for Microsoft staff to understand their new roles and objectives.

Microsoft is also returning to a strong industry focus (particularly for financial services, manufacturing, retail, education, healthcare, and government). Top partners will be represented in “solution maps” which Microsoft field sellers will use to prioritize which partners to lead with. Note that to qualify for a solution map, partners will need to commit to getting listed in AppSource or the Azure Marketplace.

Enterprise sales teams will continue to have Account Team (ATU) and Specialist Teams (STU), plus a new Customer Success Unit (CSU). Sales teams will not have quota for new Azure contract sales (unlike FY17) and will continue to have quota for Azure Consumed Revenue (ACR). As a rule of thumb, each field seller is expected to drive an incremental $1M in Azure revenue in FY18.

Co-Sell Ready ISV sales will result in ACR quota offset for Microsoft sellers, similar to H2FY17. This ISV incentive resulted in $1B in Microsoft retired quota in H2FY17. New for FY18, partner sales of Office 365 will apply to Microsoft field sales Office 365 quota objectives.

Note: I’ve updated the Microsoft Acronyms for Partners to include the new role and organizational acronyms.

Partner Resources

Microsoft is investing in partner co-sell incentives and headcount (including 600 channel managers worldwide). Partner teams are organized around the “Build-With”, “Go-To-Market”, and “Sell-With” framework. Co-Sell partners will have access to a Partner Development Manager (+ supporting Partner Technical Strategists) for Build-With support. Partner Marketing Managers (+ supporting Partner Channel Marketing Manager) in the Go-To-Market team will manage co-marketing resources. Sell-With is supported by Enterprise Channel Managers. The SMC customer segment will be served by Territory Channel Managers. Note that channel managers are assigned to customers, not dedicated to specific partners.

To qualify for co-sell engagement, partners will have to maintain a Gold Microsoft Partner Network Competency and have a Partner Seller (P-Seller) on staff (in addition to exceeding Azure consumption criteria which will be built-in to the Competency requirements). Azure Marketplace or AppSource listing is preferred but not required.

Sellers will be able to rate partner co-sell execution based on sales and implementation performance. This will keep accountability on Microsoft partners to execute well on the Partner Connect/deal registration management as well as solution delivery.

Product Announcements

This year’s partner conference was relatively light on product announcements. The key news was Microsoft 365 which merges Office 365, Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility & Security capabilities into 1 subscription-licensed suite. Available in both Enterprise and Business (SMB) versions, it will generate monthly recurring revenue streams for Microsoft and its partners.

Steps to take in July/August

Microsoft was able to communicate enough of the planned changes for the Microsoft employees to intelligently engage partners at Inspire. Microsoft staff will gain deeper insight into OCP implementation and their specific roles/objectives at Microsoft Ready, Microsoft’s Public Sector kickoff (ISU), and District Kickoffs (in July/August). Managed partners should maximize their alignment and exposure as Microsoft sales teams initiate account planning activities (in August). Actions to take in July/August:

  1. Assert your relevance to Microsoft industry stakeholders to stake your claim on the appropriate industry solution maps
  2. Increase your awareness with regional Microsoft teams
  3. Map your leads/opportunities to strategic accounts in the Enterprise segment
  4. Summarize your Microsoft FY18 scorecard alignment and co-sell capabilities in time for the Microsoft account planning cycle


What’s New for Microsoft 2017 Partner of the Year Awards

Every year Microsoft recognizes partners delivering innovative customer solutions at their annual partner conference (formerly the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, now Microsoft Inspire).

The award nomination tool is now open for submissions and all entries must be received by April 6, 2017.

This year there are a few changes to the available award categories. New additions include:

  • Global ISV Alliance: reserved for a WW DX-managed ISV that leverages cutting edge Azure technology.
  • Cloud Apps: recognizes an SI partner that has designed, developed, and deployed Azure apps for Enterprise customers. Cloud Platform and Application Integration competencies are required.
  • Customer Experience: recognizes a partner who demonstrates an exceptional ability to manage customer demand and exceed expectations. A PowerPoint presentation and customer references are required.
  • Mobile App Development: recognizes a partner who has delivered mobile solutions based on Xamarin. Application Development or DevOps competency (or participation in the Xamarin Partner Program) is required.

A number of award categories were removed, some reflecting Microsoft’s retirement of competencies that don’t focus on cloud or mobility:

  • Volume Licensing
  • Software Asset Management
  • OEM
  • Hosting
  • Microsoft Azure Certified for Hybrid Cloud
  • Microsoft Azure Certified ISV Solution
  • Dynamics Industry
  • Modern Marketing

The nomination process is similar to last year. See the 10 Tips to Winning a Partner Award for proven best practices in writing a winning award nomination!

Microsoft Co-Sell Opportunity for Partners

If you’ve been paying attention to Microsoft, you know that cloud (Azure and Office 365) is their top priority. They’ve been communicating the shift to cloud computing for years and providing incentives to transition their partner ecosystem to leverage and sell Microsoft cloud offerings.


What’s New

This year, Microsoft is taking another bold step by encouraging internal sales teams to actively sell with cloud partners. This encouragement is backed by real incentives (including cash awards and quota relief) so it works (unlike altruism-based attempts in the past).

This Microsoft co-sell opportunity applies across partner types, but I’ll focus on ISVs — this is the ISV Strategy Blog after all. 🙂

Managed ISVs

Historically ISVs were either “managed” or not. Being managed enabled access to a partner account manager (such as a “Partner Business Evangelist”) and often came with marketing and development incentive dollars.

Co-Sell Ready

This year there is further managed partner distinction based on the amount of Azure consumed over the trailing 12 months. If you reach the threshold, you can be designated a Co-Sell Ready partner (or better yet, Co-Sell Recommended). This means you can be discovered by Microsoft field sellers and receive leads.

If you are a managed ISV, you’ve undoubtedly been notified of this opportunity. The key is to create a compelling profile in the internal Application Catalog and execute well with the lead sharing tool (including coordinating across sales teams).

Call to Action

These systems are already in place and partners are receiving leads, but take action now to ensure you’re lined up to receive additional leads when Microsoft field incentives go live in January.

Unmanaged Partners

P.S. Even if you aren’t a managed partner, Microsoft still offers light marketing support if you align with Microsoft’s cloud mission. The go-to-market concierge desk provides social media mentions, press release quote support, and other marketing benefits. Ask your local Microsoft contact and they can connect you to the GTM team for consideration.

Microsoft Marketplace Insights

Microsoft’s Azure Marketplace currently features over 1,000 VM solutions from over 360 partners. Microsoft AppSource features over 200 solutions from 100 partners. This article addresses the value of being listed in the Azure Marketplace, the associated challenges, the current composition of marketplace offerings, and comparison with Microsoft’s AppSource marketplace.

Microsoft Marketplace
Partner Value

Customer access is the primary partner motivation for getting listed in the Azure Marketplace. Enterprise customers with Azure contracts are encouraged by Microsoft to leverage Marketplace solutions. People with an Azure account can peruse the available offerings and download applications to run against their own Azure services contract. This is the preferred approach by Microsoft field sellers and is referred to as Bring Your Own License (BYOL).

Customers can also locate applications and services (including developer services, web applications, and data services) to run on the partner’s Azure instances. This catalog helps improve discovery by IT professionals at enterprise customers.

There is also a set of authentication solutions (using Azure Active Directory) which help with single sign-on authentication across cloud applications. These serve as a useful utility to existing apps but won’t drive significant customer awareness or trials.

In addition to customer visibility, partners obtain better alignment with Microsoft enterprise sales teams when they publish a VM to the Azure Marketplace. Co-selling with Azure Marketplace ISVs is a top priority for Microsoft in FY17, particularly where partner applications use the existing Azure contract of the customer (as an Azure Marketplace VM).

Microsoft Motivations

Microsoft has successfully sold Azure agreements as part of Enterprise Agreements. Because these Azure agreements reflect a block of pre-paid services, it is imperative not to leave excess unused services on the table at the end of the contract period. Otherwise, the customer will be reluctant to expand their Microsoft cloud consumption at renewal time. For this reason, there is substantial motivation (in the form of seller quota and subsidiary scorecards) to drive utilization of existing Azure contracts.

As a partner, if you deliver solutions that drive intense Azure consumption, you will receive preferred support from Microsoft sales and partner teams.


The act of automating the Azure Marketplace installation process can be a challenge for some ISVs, particularly those that require professional services to tailor their solution for each customer. Installation requires working with Azure Resource Manager templates to script the deployment (and all software dependencies). While sample templates are available, this effort takes away from other ISV development efforts.

While many partners have been listed in the Azure marketplace, some complain the onboarding process lacks structure and transparency. Of particular concern is the lack of visibility as to the status of their submission and the reasons for rejection. Microsoft has a team focused on revising the portal which will provide more clarity on publishing and certification progress (and expected SLA). Expect the first improvements to be seen in Q1 2017.

More importantly, the purpose of listing in the marketplace is to drive sales. However, customer leads (of those that download VMs from the Marketplace) are not shared with partners today. Microsoft is evaluating the amount of information to share, balancing the privacy requirements of the customer and the reporting needs of ISVs. Expect reporting to include customer lead info and high level Azure consumption starting in 2017. This will not only help ISVs follow-up on customer interest but also provide overall consumption reporting to incent collaboration by Microsoft field sales teams (they need to receive credit for working with ISVs in their accounts).

Marketplace Composition

I recently reviewed all of the Azure Marketplace partner offerings. Of the 770 VM solutions, approximately 20% were provided by Bitnami (a company known for scripted application packaging). 70% of the ISVs offer a single Azure Marketplace listing. So for most, the learning curve of ARM template scripting isn’t reusable. However, there is an argument that providing a scripted deployment is a DevOps best practice; for ISVs not “born in the cloud”, the exercise could improve “deployability” of their solutions.

I would categorize the types of VM solutions as: security, storage/data management, DevOps, BI, media management, and open source platforms. There were some interesting industry specific examples (e.g. biotech), but most solutions were infrastructure/platform oriented. This makes sense because IT professionals and developers would have access to the Azure console and therefore know how to make sense of a VM solution from a partner. Note that some of the infrastructure solutions are also listed in the AWS Marketplace.


Microsoft AppSource was introduced at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference this July. AppSource is geared toward business decision makers, not IT. It doesn’t accommodate VM solutions deployed by IT, but rather features SaaS partner solutions. In particular, it enables discovery and trial of line of business SaaS solutions.

AppSource has a limited number of partner listings given its recent debut but If Microsoft puts marketing promotion behind AppSource, it could emerge as a significant value to Microsoft partners. Most of the currently listed solutions integrate with Dynamics with 30% of the 200+ solutions provided by the top 2 partners.


In summary, Azure Marketplace represent a moderate development investment by ISVs and is a good fit for solutions targeting IT within existing Azure enterprise customers. AppSource is a better fit for line of business applications implemented as a SaaS model.

If you would like to learn more about engaging Microsoft as a sales and marketing partner in context of your Azure solution, request an introductory meeting via info@competegy.com.

10 Tips for Partnering with Microsoft

Microsoft partners invest valuable time and money sustaining their Microsoft relationship. Partners that understand how to efficiently access Microsoft sales, marketing, and technical resources can accelerate business growth. Use the following whitepaper (revised for Microsoft’s FY17) to make the most of your Microsoft partnership. It has been revised to include current Microsoft priorities, incentives, campaigns, and co-sell criteria.Partnering with Microsoft

In summary:

  1. Understand Your Partner Potential (using the Competegy ranking criteria)
  2. Determine Scorecard-Driven Motivations
  3. Decode the Organizational Structure
  4. Refine Your Message
  5. Target the Relevant Roles
  6. Engage in Context of Customer Opportunities
  7. Actively Manage the Marketing to Sales Process
  8. Leverage Microsoft Co-Marketing Resources
  9. Publish to Microsoft Marketplaces
  10. Monitor for Competitive Mind Share

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MGX – Microsoft Global Exchange

I had the opportunity to represent a partner at MGX a few weeks ago. MGX is Microsoft’s annual sales and management meeting, where the new fiscal year priorities are communicated to the people on the front lines. Executives rally the troops around a common vision, product groups share their road maps, and top performers are recognized.


I attended MGX as a Microsoft employee for many years (1992-2011) and as a partner twice. Partners are in the path of traffic but aren’t allowed into sessions (unless you score a supporting role as a speaker).

MGX isn’t meant to have a large partner presence (is only offered to managed partners). Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference is always the preceding week and is the better venue for partner planning meetings.

My advice to those considering MGX participation in the future is bring lots of giveaways. You will be competing with product groups that come fully stocked. Also, invest in the MGX badge scanner if building up your Microsoft contact database is a priority.

Hopefully Microsoft will implement a passport-like program in the future to encourage partner engagement and lead sharing by field sellers. Microsoft implemented an excellent system for this at Public Sector ISU (Industry Solutions University) last year.


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