Competitive Strategy for Software Companies

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

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

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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AWS Summit 2016

I had the opportunity to attend the AWS Summit in NYC this week. Boasting 10,000 registrations, this was much larger than the last AWS event I attended.


The structure was 1 day of free access to the keynote (by Dr. Werner Vogels, Amazon CTO), product sessions, and the partner expo (there was also a paid pre-day for training bootcamps). Renting out the Jacob Javits Center and providing lunch to so many unpaid attendees represents a significant investment by Amazon. The event targeted technical decision makers with most of the topics focused on new cloud services (see related product announcements). Amazon is hosting similar events in other cities.

Amazon boasts over 1 million active users per month, an $11 billion annual run rate, and 58% year over year growth. There are similarities with Microsoft’s vision including the Digital Transformation customer imperative and shifting to microservices to facilitate cloud scale. I liked Amazon’s messaging on “eliminating waste” (anything that doesn’t benefit customers) vs. Microsoft’s partner emphasis on increasing consumption.

My purpose for attending AWS Summit was to understand AWS messaging and see how partners in both ecosystems (with Amazon and Azure marketplace offerings) view customer opportunity and channel potential. Partners I spoke to (even those with Azure marketplace offerings) believe Amazon is the cloud incumbent and a safer bet, particularly those providing value-add cloud operations services. Amazon is the IaaS leader with designs on PaaS with Microsoft has focused primarily on PaaS infrastructure and catching up on IaaS.

There appears to be a thriving value-add community around AWS as a platform whereas Microsoft hasn’t published as many APIs and/or wants to retain more control over the core cloud services. From my perspective, Microsoft’s ISV priority is on enabling higher level applications to run on top of Azure (vs. growing operations and infrastructure ISVs).

There remain a lot of similarities between the partner motion at Amazon and Microsoft but when it comes to enterprise selling, Microsoft still has an advantage with superior enterprise presence and renewed focus this year on co-selling with partners. In addition, the partner to partner initiatives at AWS are still a long way away from Microsoft’s partner ecosystem maturity. Amazon is missing an opportunity by not enabling these ISV-SI-VAR partner connections: repeatable customer solutions will drive cloud service utilization at scale.

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.


Top Takeaways from Microsoft WPC 2016

I recently returned from a familiar 2 week tour: Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference (Microsoft WPC) and Microsoft Global Exchange (MGX). This was my 10th WPC (and 21st MGX)!

WPC remains the most productive event of the year. I was managing 5 company calendars this year so it required some juggling. I didn’t get to the 280+ sessions at WPC onsite, but did review most of the content afterwards.

Worldwide Partner Conference

Consistent Vision

Microsoft is great at attaching product objectives to a customer-ready vision and cascading that down to team objectives and campaigns. As was the case last year, the 3 overarching “ambitions” are:

  • Build the intelligent cloud platform
  • Create more personal computing
  • Reinvent productivity & business processes

4 customer scenarios are affiliated with these pillars:

  • Engage your customers
  • Empower your employees
  • Optimize your operations
  • Transform your Products

Consider aligning your messaging with these themes to better integrate with Microsoft’s marketing engine for the year to come.

Microsoft FY17 Priorities

Microsoft sales and marketing objectives align with the 3 company ambitions. Consider which objectives explicitly align with ISVs:

  • Build the Intelligent Cloud encompasses Azure consumption, Enterprise Mobility Suite, SQL Server, Microsoft hybrid cloud technologies, and co-selling with marketplace ISVs.
  • Create More Personal Computing is less about software partners, dealing with Windows 10 deployment OEM/Surface sales.
  • Reinvent Productivity and Business Processes is focused on Office 365 and Dynamics 365 and relevant if you provide migration or other Office 365 enabling technologies.

ISV Sales Resources

Microsoft’s field operating model (EPG, Public Sector, SMSP, DX, M&O) hasn’t changed but ISV co-selling resources have increased, including ISV-aligned Partner Sales Executives (PSE) and Cloud Solution Architects (CSA). This year, ISVs with a co-sell status will receive explicit leads from field sellers. ISVs must have a VM solution in the Azure Marketplace and have significant Microsoft cloud pull-through to participate.

Microsoft AppSource is a new directory targeting business users. AppSource enables trial of Azure SaaS solutions (not IaaS VMs as in the case of Azure Marketplace). Unlike Azure Marketplace, Office Store, and Windows Store, the ISV actually receives the customer lead information from AppSource trials.

Enterprise Sales Alignment

Microsoft enterprise sales teams are measured on both new cloud contracts and consuming existing customer cloud contracts. Therefore, they are motivated to work with ISVs that help consume Azure resources from enterprise agreements (or drive net new Office 365 usage). High Potential (Hipo) accounts (enterprise customers representing the greatest Azure consumption potential) will have Cloud Solution Architect and Principal Solution Specialist (PSS) resources allocated to them. These are good stakeholders for Azure ISVs to know.

Interestingly, the DX organization (where ISVs are managed within Microsoft) is motivated to drive ISV SaaS solutions (because it is easier to measure their direct Azure consumption). This doesn’t match up with the field sales motivation to use VM IaaS solutions in Azure Marketplace. Note however, there is a manual “dual credit” solution to recognize ISV Azure SaaS solutions that are sold into the enterprise.

US Changes

In the US, 2 more districts (MidAmerica out of St. Louis and Financial Services in New York) have been carved out, making 15 US EPG districts total. This means new ATU and STU teams are spinning up in those areas. Other industry roles are coming back to the US market including manufacturing and retail. An additional 2 Microsoft Technology Center locations are being brought online (San Francisco and Seattle) but will be directed by the product groups, not the sales organization this year.

Where to focus

If you are a committed Microsoft ISV, take the following steps to effectively partner with Microsoft in FY17:

  • Understand Microsoft priorities and sales incentives
  • Map your solutions to their priorities and quantify your value-add (particularly in terms of Azure consumption and/or Office 365 pull-through)
  • Engage the right Microsoft stakeholders with the right message (pithy and targeted)
  • Leverage SI/VAR partners to scale your selling efforts (Microsoft doesn’t want to overwhelm your capacity to execute)

In sum, you’ll want to demonstrate how you’re driving net new Azure, Office 365, or Dynamics 365 adoption to attract meaningful Microsoft co-selling and co-marketing support. Ensure your alliance management efforts are closely aligned with your sales and channel teams so leads are pursued efficiently (and you maintain preferred partner status with Microsoft).

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.

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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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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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