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.


What’s New for Microsoft 2019 Partner of the Year Awards

Winning a Microsoft Partner Award can help attract new customer prospects, add credibility to existing sales efforts, trigger new partnerships within the Microsoft ecosystem, and accelerate Microsoft Co-Sell collaboration.

The Microsoft Partner of the Year award submission tool is now available. The deadline for all entries is April 11, 2019.

The process of submitting nominations is similar as past years (providing an essay that addresses a series of questions). As usual, award categories have seen some additions and eliminations. New awards categories include:

  • Business Applications
    • Dynamics 365 for Marketing
    • PowerApps
  • Industry
    • Financial Services
    • Retail
    • Automotive
  • Intelligent Cloud
    • Mixed Reality
  • Other
    • Alliance Global ISV
    • Diversity and Inclusion

Award categories eliminated this year include:

  • Business Applications Platform
  • Open Source Data & AI
  • Partner Seller Excellence

Last year a couple awards were not eligible for partner nomination, but Microsoft still recognized a winner. It is good to see the Global ISV award back up for open nomination.

Co-Sell Ready ISVs are specifically eligible for all of the award categories except the following:

  • Intelligent Cloud: Application Innovation, Azure Influencer, OSS on Azure
  • Modern Workplace: Intelligent Communications, Modern Desktop, Project and Portfolio Management, Security and Compliance

Nominations are due April 11, award winners are notified in early June, and Microsoft recognizes the winning partners at the annual Inspire partner conference.

Over 2,600 nominations were received from 115 countries last year, so competition is stiff. Competegy clients have won 10 Microsoft Partner of the Year awards (including 3 of the current winners). If you want to improve your chances of winning an award this year, request a meeting to determine your potential.

The full list of 2019 Microsoft Partner of the Year award categories is as follows:

  • Business Applications
    • Dynamics 365 for Customer Service
    • Dynamics 365 for Field Service
    • Dynamics Finance and Operations
    • Dynamics 365 for Marketing
    • Dynamics 365 for Sales
    • Dynamics 365 for Talent
    • Power BI
    • PowerApps
  • Industry Awards
    • Automotive
    • Education
    • Financial Services
    • Government
    • Health
    • Manufacturing & Resources
    • Media & Communications
    • Microsoft CityNext
    • Retail
  • Intelligent Cloud Awards
    • AI and Machine Learning
    • Application Innovation
    • Azure Influencer
    • Data Analytics
    • Data Estate Modernization
    • Datacenter Migration
    • DevOps
    • Internet of Things
    • Mixed Reality
    • OSS on Azure
    • SAP on Azure
  • Modern Workplace Awards
    • Intelligent Communications
    • Modern Desktop
    • Modern Workplace Transformation
    • Project and Portfolio Management
    • Security and Compliance
    • Teamwork
  • Other Awards
    • Alliance Global ISV
    • Diversity and Inclusion
    • Customer Experience
    • Indirect Provider
    • Learning
    • Partner for Social Impact
  • Country Partner of the Year Awards

Microsoft Inspire 2018 ISV Insights

Microsoft recently hosted over 18,000 attendees at the 2018 Inspire partner conference. Inspire was hosted in Las Vegas and featured an overlap day with Microsoft’s internal kickoff (“Microsoft Ready”). As usual, it was a well-executed event with amazing networking and side meeting opportunities. Registration is now open for Inspire 2019 (price goes up $300 July 27) which will again be held in Las Vegas.

Most of the Inspire 2018 session content is available online. I recommend copying the PDFs locally for easy reference and watching relevant sessions you missed from the MyInspire video library.Microsoft Inspire 2018

Last year the recurring message was about digital transformation. That is still an underlying theme, with the enabling approach being articulated as Intelligent Cloud and Intelligent Edge. Microsoft sees IoT and edge computing as enabling tremendous Microsoft and partner revenue potential in the years to come. “Microsoft Hosting” and “Windows Embedded” has come a long way since the 2000s. 🙂


In 2012, Microsoft eliminated the ISV Competency and directed ISV partners to the Application Development Competency. I’m pleased to see the ISV Competency has returned for FY19. Note that Microsoft is requiring AppSource or Azure Marketplace listing as a Competency and co-sell prerequisite going forward. ISV partners should assess the relative value of the ISV Competency as compared to the “cloud competencies” (Cloud Platform, Cloud Productivity, Cloud Business Apps, Cloud CRM), which are eligible for Microsoft incentives.

MPN Competency benefits will be aligned with Microsoft’s 4 solution areas: Modern Workplace, Apps and Infrastructure, Data and AI, and Business Applications. Benefits will be structured as Core, Earned, and Paid (by the partner). Expect these changes to roll out later in 2018.

Advanced Specializations will be introduced for some competencies. They afford a way to differentiate on specific solution areas within a competency.

Microsoft is also creating a new program for ISVs newly entering the Microsoft partner ecosystem (ISV Starter Kit instead of the Action Pack).

Managed ISV Co-Sell

Microsoft had great success with the IP Co-Sell initiative in FY18 so they’ve extended the Microsoft field seller Azure quota offset for co-sell ready partners into FY19. Enterprise Channel Managers remain the primary “sell-with” role for partners.

Microsoft has expanded the co-sell credit program to Dynamics 365 embedded ISVs. The corresponding ISV Cloud Embed program requires publishing to the AppSource catalog, customer references, CSP direct enrollment, and co-sell target commitments.

Microsoft is expanding their industry focus in the Enterprise, with Automotive and Media & Communications getting added to the existing industry priorities (Education, Financial Services, Government, Health, Manufacturing, and Retail). Industry Sales Executives are the primary sell-with role for vertical accounts.

Microsoft will continue to invest in co-marketing and proof of concept (ECIF) funding. Submit a Go-To-Market plan to request co-marketing funds before they are fully allocated. ECIF funding is dependent upon the Azure pull-through potential (it generally requires a 20:1 return).

Top actions post-Inspire include defining your GTM and Territory Partner Plan, engage ISV Co-Sell Days, and potentially participate in Digital Transformation Academy.

See the updated Microsoft Acronyms document, revised based on the new terms used at Inspire 2018.

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.

Complete the following form to access the document:

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.

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:

Partner Program Strategy: Going Beyond Channel Sales

Partner programs typically focus on reseller channel operations including sales and marketing collateral, product training, and sales incentives. As companies grow, they expand their scale and leverage of “indirect partners”. Creating a recruiting engine that attracts and cultivates an army of influencers requires partner marketing. We can learn from Microsoft’s successful community development tactic: Channel 9.


Channel 9 Guy

Channel 9 was formed in 2004 to provide greater transparency to developers and encourage them to engage in dialog with Microsoft (the name was derived from United Airlines’ practice of broadcasting cockpit dialog on channel 9 of the airplane audio system). The site hosted videos, blogs, and other content that appealed to those developing solutions on the Microsoft platform. It effectively served as an outbound marketing channel to attract and sustain relationships with the developer community.

Channel 9 also helped tell partner stories (including how they leverage underlying Microsoft technologies).  Partner stories were captured on video at industry events (most recently at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference – where I used the opportunity to summarize Competegy’s Partner Mapping software).

Partner Marketing Video

Partner Mapping Summary

Today there are numerous online communities (e.g., social networks) enabling this kind of mass dialog, but many companies don’t engage their partner network in this way. Familiarity encourages adoption and Net Promoter Score positive sentiment. How are you engaging developers/partners en masse to encourage integration and referrals for your products?

How does this relate to partner program strategy?

Once you have triggered interest from a potential partner, you need to land them in a program and nurture them as they build their business and revenue relevance to you. A well-conceived, tiered partner program encourages partners to initiate and grow their commitment over time.

Mature companies can lose track of partner program ROI over time and miss opportunities to use their partner community asset to drive company growth. Partner Mapping enables companies to use their partner program more strategically (beyond typical channel sales promotions) and generate new company revenue from both reselling and indirect partners.

In summary, you need to reach partners (via solutions like Channel 9 and social networks), educate them (through self-serve product training), activate them (by securing their commitment in via partner programs), and enable them to sell (through self-service sales & marketing materials). See the Partner Strategy Framework for a more detailed walk-through of Developer Ecosystem and Breadth Partner strategies.

P.S. About the Channel 9 Guy

One small partner marketing example is the Channel 9 Guy. He symbolizes communications with the community (note the wireless headset). I planted a Channel 9 Guy in a geocache 5 years ago. He has traveled over 3,200 miles since then, carried from cache to cache by complete strangers.  How are you activating your partners to carry your message?

Marketing Strategy Impact Model

Companies often struggle with measuring the impact of their marketing strategy and tactics.  While the sales organization has orders and revenue as directly-measurable outcomes, marketing works in context of indirect metrics such as impressions, visitors, leads, and attendees.  A Marketing Strategy Impact Model enables you to determine the most productive marketing channels and the overall investment needed to drive company revenue goals.  You can then maximize marketing ROI by prioritizing those marketing tactics that most efficiently enable sales results.

Marketing strategy includes:

  1. attracting prospect interest (outbound marketing),
  2. maturing prospect consideration for your offerings (lead nurturing), and
  3. delivering sales enablement resources that demonstrate capability (providing customer credibility).
Marketing Funnel

Marketing Funnel

Marketing Strategy Approach

The outcome that can be targeted and measured across outbound marketing and lead nurturing is a “lead”. This is usually defined as obtaining opt-in personal information that can be used for sales & marketing follow-up (e.g., a web visitor volunteering their information to access a particular download).

The first step is to model your outbound marketing and lead nurturing tactics (e.g., online ads, social media posts, events, etc.) as well as the corresponding leads typically generated. In addition, assess the effort (labor) and cost associated with each marketing activity. This enables weighing relative productivity across different marketing tactics.

Next, define your revenue model including allocation of sales targets across distinct products that marketing needs to support. You can then derive the corresponding leads that would need to be generated (considering your typical lead to sales close rate) as well as the corresponding effort and cost. You will need to iterate to zero in on an accurate model, but it is a relatively straightforward spreadsheet exercise.


The Marketing Strategy Impact Model approach yields relative costs of lead generation (by marketing tactic) as well as a sense of the scale and marketing mix required to yield the desired revenue outcome. Sharpen up your spreadsheet skills and gather your marketing data to generate your own Marketing Strategy Impact Model. The end result enables marketing leaders to take a more proactive, data-driven approach to representing their strategy and impact on the company. Note: this type of quantitative analysis is also core to Competegy’s Partner Mapping tool (for partner ecosystem capacity planning).

Discussion Topics

  • Have you modeled how your marketing activities directly impact company revenue?
  • Do you feel confident about the relative ROI of your marketing tactics?
  • Are sales teams aware of the marketing’s lead qualification efforts and engaging highly qualified leads appropriately?
  • Would outside perspective add clarity to your marketing optimization efforts?


Top 10 ISV Strategy Articles

As we start the New Year, I thought I’d highlight the top 10 ISV Strategy Blog articles from 2013.  Here they are, organized by Alliance Management, Partner Strategy, Partnering with Microsoft, and Cloud Computing.

Top 10 ISV Strategy Articles

Alliance Management – I spend most of my time helping companies develop and get the most out of their partner alliances.  These articles describe how to plan, assess, prioritize, and recruit key partners.

1. Strategic Alliances Assessment
2. Capacity Planning
3. Go-To-Market Solution Maps
4. Recruiting Technology Partners

Partner Strategy – In 2013, I built a software tool to supplement my Partner Strategy consulting work.  This tool (Partner Mapping) provides a framework for valuing a company’s partner ecosystem, plan for new partner recruiting needs, and prioritize managed partners.  It also triggered the 2013 Tech Company to Watch recognition by the Connecticut Technology Council.

5. Announcing… Partner Mapping
6. Partner Mapping Insights

Partnering with Microsoft – Having spent so many years leading Microsoft partner teams as well as managing Microsoft alliances on behalf of partners, I’ve developed a solid understanding of how to efficiently engage Microsoft sales and marketing resources.  Highlights for this year included a productive visit to the Redmond campus and attending the Worldwide Partner Conference.

7. Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference Key Themes
8. 10 Tips to Winning a Microsoft Partner Award

Cloud Computing – My top LinkedIn endorsement is for Cloud Computing (which is interesting since I have never held a technical cloud role).  However, I have managed numerous people and projects for driving cloud partner adoption, so that expertise has bubbled to the top in a sort of Wisdom of Crowds effect.

 9.  Cloud Operational Cost Factors
10. Cloud Platform Building Blocks

Far and away my most popular download is the Partner Strategy Framework E-Book, followed by the Partner Marketing Evidence Model, 10 Tips for Partnering with Microsoft, and 5 Steps to Implement an Effective Cloud Partner Strategy.

It has been a personally and professionally rewarding year.  I hope your 2014 is as well!

1 2 3