What’s New for Inspire Networking

Microsoft has released the “MyInspire Connections tool” which allows you connect with existing partners, potential partners, and Microsoft staff at the upcoming Inspire partner conference. This article summarizes what is new in the tool and how to use it effectively.

Microsoft’s partner conference is very efficient for organizing onsite meetings, saving travel costs and providing opportunities to connect with people you may not have a chance to meet otherwise.

As part of the conference, Microsoft provides the MyInspire Connections tool to identify attendees who have opted-in for networking. Over 10K attendees are visible now and a couple thousand more will appear in the coming weeks. You can search by name, company or a variety of attributes from attendee profiles including competencies (not verified by Microsoft), industry focus, business type, and customer segment.You identify people you want to meet, have a table assigned (or specify your own location), and the recipient will receive an email that they can accept (or ignore). Once accepted, a meeting request will be placed on your calendar. Note: the description you use in your invitation will appear in the body of the meeting request.

There are 41 half-hour spots available to book meetings Monday through Wednesday, plus 4 slots during the Welcome Reception on Sunday. The networking area isn’t available on Thursday (the departure day). Networking tables are conveniently located in the Mandalay Bay convention center. Meetings not accepted within 2 weeks get deleted (so tables are freed up for other meetings).

Microsoft’s internal sales kickoff meeting (Microsoft Ready) overlaps with Inspire this year. Microsoft staff who have opted into the MyInspire Connections tool will be available to meet Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday afternoon (although Wednesday afternoon is the most likely time they will be available). You’ll be able to meet partner roles throughout the conference so focus your Wednesday time on account and specialist team connections. This year, Microsoft employees are a separate search filter, allowing you to distinguish between partner, corporate, and field employees.

Messages can now include hyperlinks and Windows 10 emoticons (press Windows key and period key). However, the number of sent messages is limited (20 messages every 24 hours once they fix a bug). This limit is meant to deter spam and encourage wider use.

Unfortunately, messages and invitations still look like spam in email because all line breaks are stripped out. Craft your message carefully so it is compelling when all jammed together. This is a known bug and may get fixed.

Searching by business type was easier last year (ISV, Reseller, MSP, etc.). This year, there is a lot more choices (over 60). Understand the taxonomy hierarchy by reviewing your own user profile so you search by the exact partner type you are looking for (e.g., “Systems Integration” instead of “Services”).

Two critical search criteria were removed this year: Country and Company size. For example, if you are looking for a mid-sized services partner in Canada, you’ve got over 4,000 people to review. Microsoft is working to add Country back as a search filter (should be resolved this week) and I’ve requested Company Size return as well.

In sum, there are a few bugs but with less than 4 weeks until the conference now is the time to start organizing your Inspire meetings. If you have a large partner recruiting effort, stage your messages over several days (due to the message send limitations). Note that Competegy provides an “Inspire Concierge Service” which helps companies recruit partners and maximize their Microsoft connections at Inspire.

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.

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:

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.

Charleston Offsite

I took a page from Brad Feld (Venture Capitalist) and decided to work offsite in another city for a couple weeks this month. I’ve never been to Charleston so my wife (also a consultant) and I packed up the car along with our little terrier (not a consultant) and ventured south from Connecticut to the land of excellent food, scenic views, and unique history.

I approached it as kind of “Microsoft think week” with daily “offsite topics”, meeting with local high tech contacts, and studying books by Tim Ferris. I managed to stay on top of client commitments while enjoying some strategic thinking.

The SaaS Threat to Systems Integrators

Microsoft has encouraged its SI community to embrace cloud products, citing higher profitability and company valuations generated by including “repeatable IP” alongside SI service offerings. This intuitively makes sense: smoothing your revenue volatility makes for a more predictable and therefore more valuable business. I previously translated the Microsoft message simply as “sell more Office 365”.

I met with the former head of Microsoft Consulting Services while in Charleston. He asked about several SIs that I happened to have reached out to recently as part of my ISV-SI matchmaking service. He was surprised they were still thriving given the shift to Software as a Service. When SaaS solutions are adopted there is configuration, but little to no customization. The customer trend toward SaaS solutions means SIs have less deployment work to do and have to find new business areas to drive growth. Cloud computing will disrupt systems integration consulting firms over the next 5-10 years because customers will require less customization and deployment.

I typically engage SIs (on behalf of ISVs), making the case for expanding their services into an adjacent practice area. I reference the financial benefits of reselling software but commissions are typically small relative to services revenue. The impact of SaaS provides a new lens to the SI recruitment challenge and ISVs should augment their SI partnering proposition accordingly.

Microsoft Inspire 2018 Update

The schedule is published for Inspire 2018, Microsoft’s annual partner conference in Las Vegas (July 15-19). The price for Inspire goes up $300 on March 1, so register now if you plan on attending. This year Microsoft’s internal sales kickoff event (Microsoft Ready) will overlap the partner conference, affording an opportunity to engage Microsoft teams where previously you had to sponsor and travel to Microsoft Ready separately

Stay tuned for the announcement of the Microsoft Partner Award nominations later this month. The final submissions will be due early April.

 

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.

Co-Selling with Microsoft Best Practices – 2018

Microsoft rolled out significant new co-sell incentives in January 2017 and followed-up with a substantial “One Commercial Partner” reorganization mid-2017. These changes align Microsoft internal sales incentives with those partners driving significant Microsoft cloud revenue.

This whitepaper reviews the resources and best practices to effectively leveraging Microsoft’s ISV co-sell resources in 2018. In particular, it addresses how to achieve co-sell status, grow your awareness within Microsoft, and engage productive co-marketing and co-selling initiatives.

Complete the following form to access this document:

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!

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.

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