Microsoft Inspire (formerly the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference) will be held July 9-13, 2017 in Washington, D.C. 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. The Microsoft Partner of the Year awards provide credibility for customer, channel, and Microsoft engagement and garners over 2,800 award entries from 115 countries. I’m thrilled to share that 2 Competegy clients won Partner of the Year awards this year: PROS (Global Commercial ISV award) and ICONICS (Application Development award). Competegy clients have won a total of 6 Microsoft Partner of the Year awards over the past 6 years!
I’ve attended 11 Inspire/WPC events and have always found them to be the most productive days of the year. Maximize your Inspire results through 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 the expo hall. 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 (49 if you include the Sunday arrival day) and a scheduling tool (MyInspire) to locate and organize meetings with prospective partners. About half of the 16,000 attendees opt-in to this networking tool. SIs historically represent the largest group of partners attending. If you wish to recruit new partners at Inspire, I recommend the following preparation steps:
- Define your target partner criteria (including Microsoft competencies, company size, geography, and company type).
- Develop your partner pitch including projected partner revenue. Consider a short term offer to motivate new partners (that expires 90 days after Inspire).
- Research potential partners by mining the MyInspire networking tool and correlating with LinkedIn profiles as needed.
- Leverage the MyInspire tool to identify attendees, 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/ignored).
- Document key points during your onsite meeting and follow-up promptly with viable partner prospects after the event.
Exhibiting at Inspire is best if you sell to other partners. If your intent is to partner with other companies, focus your efforts on scheduling the right 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 so Inspire is the perfect time to engage partners in context of those Microsoft directives. Meet with your existing partners at Inspire to discuss co-marketing plans and sales-coordination.
- Understand your own partner co-marketing objectives, budget, and campaigns.
- Identify your existing partners attending Inspire (using the MyInspire tool).
- Schedule onsite partner meetings to define H2 marketing plans.
- Understand Microsoft FY18 strategy and incentives as articulated in Inspire keynotes and sessions.
- Meet with partners to document joint marketing plans.
Grow Microsoft Co-Sell Relationships
Over 4,000 Microsoft employees attend Inspire. Microsoft enterprise sales teams don’t attend so focus your efforts on meeting Microsoft partner enablement roles including Partner Sales Executives, Industry Sales Executives, Partner Business Evangelists, and Marketing Managers. Seek side meetings product group speakers that align with your solution. If you are a managed partner, request Microsoft senior executive meetings via your PSE or GTM Lead.
Prepare for Microsoft meetings as follows:
- Create pithy talking points for your Microsoft FY17 accomplishments (in context of Microsoft priorities) as well as what you want to achieve with Microsoft in FY18.
- Research relevant Microsoft attendees and schedule side meetings using MyInspire.
- Microsoft should have determined FY17 managed partners before Inspire, so kick off go-to-market planning with your PSE/GTM Lead at Inspire, in context of whatever partner status you’ve attained by then.
- Seek out and participate in side events including roundtables, meetings, meetups, and parties. Your PSE, PBE, or GTM Lead can help identify these opportunities (the ISV and NSP Kickoff meeting and the US EPG Partner Meeting are particularly useful).
- Document meaningful conversations and follow-up. Note that Microsoft has internal training (Microsoft Ready, Microsoft ISU) and vacations in July so don’t expect material progress until August/September.
Learn About Microsoft Product and Channel Strategy
Use the MyInspire session catalog to determine top priority sessions to attend (as well as alternates in case the content or presenter isn’t compelling). Attend only sessions essential to your business (keynotes and select breakouts). Most content is available afterwards as PowerPoint files and video, so prioritize onsite meetings and diligently review the 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.
Seek to book 30+ meetings with the MyInspire networking app (available June 7). Leverage the delegation feature if you aren’t detail oriented or don’t have the time to manage your schedule yourself.
Unfortunately, many Microsoft attendees do not opt-in for MyInspire (they need to reserve time for their high-priority partners). Request those Microsoft meetings well in advance through existing relationships.
Save visits to the Expo for those meetings that fall through. The exhibitor area is typically nearby and serves as good filler for those inevitable schedule gaps.
For both Microsoft and partner meetings, have a defined “offer” in mind that encourages action. Follow-up promptly afterwards where there is partnering potential, summarizing common interests and next steps.
Competegy provides partner search, meeting management, and evangelism services at Microsoft Inspire. 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.