Competitive Strategy for Software Companies

Getting the Most Out of Microsoft WPC

Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference (July 10-14 in Toronto) is a great opportunity to learn about Microsoft’s product and channel strategy as well as advance your own partnering objectives.  Get the most out of all WPC has to offer through the following suggestions.

What do you want to accomplish?

WPC provides a host of sessions as well as a networking tool (WPC Connect) to facilitate side meetings. I personally prioritize side meetings and seeing exhibitors because most of the content is available afterwards.  With that said, develop a plan for maximizing your precious WPC time to include the activities that best match your goals.

Getting the Most Out of Microsoft WPC

Recruit new partners

There are 42 half-hour meeting slots available and a scheduling tool (WPC Connect) to locate and organize meetings with prospective partners. SIs historically represent about 1/3 of WPC Connect participants, followed by VARs and then ISVs. If you wish to recruit new partners at WPC, I recommend the following preparation steps:

  1. Define target partner criteria based on competencies, company size, geography, and company type. Include industry and solution segment keywords if conducting and in-depth search.
  2. Develop your partner pitch including projected partner revenue and the partnership “offer”.
  3. Research potential partners by data mining WPC Connect, LinkedIn and other directories for prospects.
  4. Contact partner stakeholders at target companies in advance of WPC to determine initial interest (WPC Connect invitations are often lost/ignored). Prioritize your WPC meetings for opted-in prospects.
  5. Leverage WPC Connect to identify attendees and secure meeting space.
  6. Document key points and follow-up promptly with qualified partners.

Consider sponsoring or exhibiting at WPC if you sell to partners. Otherwise, focus your partner recruitment efforts on the WPC Connect meetings.

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

Kickoff H2 co-marketing with existing partners

Microsoft budgets and priorities reset July 1 so WPC is the perfect time to engage partners in context of those Microsoft directives. Meet with your existing partners at WPC to discuss co-marketing plans and sales-coordination.

  1. Define internal partner co-marketing objectives
  2. Identify existing partners attending WPC
  3. Engage partners at WPC to explore marketing alignment in context of Microsoft FY17 strategy and incentives
  4. Document co-marketing objectives and follow-up

See the Partner Marketing Evidence Model to amplify your marketing impact through partners

Grow the Microsoft alliance relationship

Over 1,000 Microsoft employees attend WPC. You won’t find many Microsoft enterprise sales teams attending WPC so focus your efforts on meeting field partner roles (Partner Business Evangelists, Partner Sales Executives, Partner Account Managers, and Marketing Managers) and product group speakers (meet Microsoft customer teams by exhibiting at MGX).

  1. Create pithy talking points of your FY16 accomplishments (in context of Microsoft priorities) and what you want to achieve with Microsoft in FY17.
  2. Microsoft will have determined FY17 managed partners before WPC, so kick off partner planning at WPC in context of whatever partner status you’ve attained by then.
  3. Research relevant Microsoft attendees and schedule side meetings using WPC Connect
  4. Seek out and participate in side events including roundtables, meetings, meetups, and parties. Your Partner Manager can help identify these opportunities.
  5. Document meaningful conversations and follow-up. Note that Microsoft has internal training and vacations later in July so don’t expect material progress until August/September.

See the 10 Tips for Partnering with Microsoft whitepaper for insight on maximizing your Microsoft alliance.

Get educated on Microsoft product and channel strategy

Use the WPC session scheduler to determine top priority sessions to attend (as well as alternates in case the content or presenter doesn’t meet your expectations). Attend only sessions essential to your business (keynotes and select breakouts). Most content is available afterwards so prioritize onsite meetings and catch up on the content afterwards.

Engage presenters after their talks 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 WPC.

See the Top Takeaways from Microsoft WPC 2015 for insight on last year’s WPC themes.

About the WPC Connect tool

WPC Connect is a good tool for identifying relevant attendees and scheduling meetings. Overachievers book 30+ meetings using the WPC Connect tool.

Note that many Microsoft execs do not register in WPC Connect. Request such meetings through your Partner Sales Executive early.

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

After WPC

Promptly follow-up on your meetings (summarizing common interests and next steps).

  1. Determine how you’ll shift your development, sales, and marketing priorities based on what you learned from Microsoft.
  2. Debrief your team afterwards summarizing insights and key themes.
  3. Follow-up with partner and Microsoft contacts to convert WPC discussions into action.

Next Steps

Learn more about partnering with Microsoft via the Competegy ISV Strategy Blog and join the Microsoft ISV LinkedIn Group to discuss cloud, mobile and channel development strategy.

How to Create a Messaging Framework

Messaging frameworks are a useful tool for rationalizing your strategy across product/service lines and bringing clarity to staff who need to sell those solutions. The process of developing a messaging framework is helpful for decoding how solution teams think of the business, identifying how customers express their need for those solutions, and aligning your messaging with those customer needs.

The result enable executives to better understand how your different solutions interrelate and provides a practical tool for salespeople to cross-sell products/services based on interrelated customer needs.

This article defines the elements of a messaging framework and provides a practical example (in Excel). If you don’t have the bandwidth to create a messaging framework yourself, Competegy can gather the data and develop a taxonomy that represents customer needs across your offerings.


Solution Categories and Solution Pillars

If you have multiple, distinct solution categories, start by identifying the solution categories (e.g., Collaboration) as well as the underpinning solution pillars (e.g., Office 365 Productivity, Enterprise Content Management). Each solution category make up separate tabs on a spreadsheet which enables you to cross-reference across solution pillars later.

Pithy Summary and Elevator Pitch

Create succinct messaging to represent each solution category. Keep the pithy summary to less than 25 works and the elevator pitch to less than 100 words.

Solution Pillar

Define the solution description, top feature areas, and customer decision makers for each solution pillar. List the customer needs that your solution addresses along with the qualifying questions that would uncover those needs. This step is critical for sales teams to be able to uncover customer opportunities.

Customer Need Statements

Go further by capturing the “statements a customer would make that indicates a need for the solution pillar”. For example, a customer might say “I want to reduce my operating costs for email management”. This would be an indicator that they have a need for Office 365 email services. Capture lots of these customer statements as they will be helpful for the analysis step (below).

Next Milestone

After identifying the decision maker’s needs that your solutions address, you’ll want to direct the prospect toward a logical next step (e.g., an assessment) that can advance their interest. Target something more substantial than a follow-up meeting.

Related Solutions

If you have multiple solution categories, you’ll likely find customers with a need for one area will often have related needs in other solutions you offer (particularly if you are an SI, VAR, or large ISV). Identify those linkages by explicitly cross-referencing related solution pillars in other solution categories.

Customer Statement Analysis

At this point you’ve got the basis for a solid messaging framework but you can generate more insight by taking all the customer need statements and identifying common categories across those needs. For example, “I want to reduce operating costs for email management” can be simplified as “cost reduction”. Identify other solution pillars that also enable cost reduction.

The resulting analysis helps salespeople map the customer pain across all the solutions that you offer to address that pain. A pivot table is useful for navigating these results but you may wish to implement the findings as a visualization tool, web page, or digital cheat sheet.

Practical Example

Following is an Excel spreadsheet that you can use as the basis for your own messaging framework. Each solution category (e.g., productivity, cloud solutions, etc.) should be profiled as a unique tab with solution pillars represented as columns on each sheet (the sample is in context of simple Competegy services). After building out your tabs (solution categories), add a master table that aggregates all your customer needs to get the big picture of how your solution pillars are interrelated from a customer perspective.

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10 Tips to Winning a Microsoft Partner Award

It is that time of year again: the countdown to Microsoft WPC where new strategy is shared with the channel and top performing partners are recognized. The Microsoft Partner award nomination tool is now available and submissions are accepted until April 7, 2016.


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 field sales engagement.

Microsoft has the largest software partner ecosystem.  They receive thousands of submissions for the partner awards, with winners recognized at their annual Worldwide Partner Conference in July. That’s a lot of competition!

As a former partner award judge (and enabler of 4 Partner of the Year award wins), 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 the award writing process to invigorate your Microsoft partner relationship.
  11. BONUS TIP: Pursue subsidiary awards

I’ve provided a detailed explanation of these steps as a free download.

Download "10 Tips to Winning a Microsoft Partner Award" as a PDF by completing the following form:

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Partner Strategy Framework

Cloud and software providers have the enviable opportunity to become a platform on which others build. Despite this potential, most software companies think narrowly about scaling through partners, focusing on resellers and strategic alliances. Platform-minded companies take a broader approach toward partners, developing a community of partners to drive long-term growth.

It takes significant resources and focused execution to design and manage a successful platform partner ecosystem. This whitepaper provides a framework for companies to maximize the value of upstream cloud and platform vendors, strategic alliances, program-managed partners, and the developer community. The objective is to grow revenue by establishing a loyal partner ecosystem (such as those enjoyed by Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, and others)..

Partner Strategy Framework


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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 tips to make the most of your Microsoft partnership.

Microsoft WPC 2014


The "10 Tips to Partnering with Microsoft" helps Microsoft partners understand how best to engage Microsoft's partnering resources and go-to-market channels.

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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

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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


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”.


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).


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.


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.

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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 Note that the keynotes are only available as videos from DigitalWPC.


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.

Microsoft Partner Scorecard

Are you getting the most from your Microsoft partnership?  Following is a checklist to score your Microsoft partnership productivity.

Microsoft partnering resources replenish July 1 (for the new fiscal year), so rate in context of your activities since June of last year. For partner scorecard areas you don’t rate as well, consider where better alignment with Microsoft can yield material revenue results and adjust accordingly.Microsoft Partner ScorecardNote: this scorecard is designed for ISVs selling to enterprise customers (not B2C or SMB-targeted solutions).





Strategic Alliance

Managed Partner Status Unmanaged Tele-Managed Managed
DX BDM Assignment None Unnamed Identified
MPN Competency Status None 1 Gold Multiple Gold
Attend Worldwide Partner Conference No Yes, >10 meetings Yes, 10+ meetings
Invited to ISU/District Kickoffs No 1 Event Multiple Events
MSFT Advisory Council Participation None Invited Active Participant
MSFT-Internal Webcast (e.g. Academy) None 1 Event Multiple Events

Marketing Resources

MSFT Marketing Funds Received 0 <$10K $10K+
MSFT Sponsors Your Events None 1 Event Multiple Events
MSFT Integration at Industry Events None <3 Events 3+ Events
Joint Events – Customer Facing None <5 Events 5+ Events
You Sponsor MSFT Industry Events None <3 Events 3+ Events
Case Study Written by MSFT None 1 Published Multiple Published
Social Networking/Advertising Support None Single channel Multiple channels
Online video None Video you promote Video MSFT promotes
Joint Events – Partner Facing None <3 Events 3+ Events

Sales Collaboration

Customer Campaign Led by MSFT None 1 Geo Multiple geos
Customer Campaign Supported by MSFT None 1 Geo Multiple geos
Sell-To MSFT Reference Win None Can Reference Reference + Marketing
EPG Account Team Support None <5 AE/TS engaged 5+ AE/TS engaged
SSP/PSE Sales Support None Yes, <5 engaged Yes, 5+ engaged

Product and Customer Support

Development (BIF) Funds Received None <$25K $25K+
Microsoft Consulting Support No Recommended Supported
Pre-Sales Technical Support None <3 Customers 3+ Customers

How did you score?

If you scored over 70 you’re in good shape. You are probably a managed ISV tapping into of much of what Microsoft has to offer.  Add a weighting column to represent relative value and focus on high value activities that you aren’t taking full advantage of.

If you didn’t score as well, you may not align with Microsoft’s top priorities (cloud and mobile) or perhaps aren’t investing enough in alliance management and marketing.  Consider which activities represent the highest ROI and pursue those more aggressively.

Contact Competegy if you would like a formatted version of the Microsoft Partner Scorecard.

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