Microsoft Partner of the Year Winners Announced

Congratulations to all the Microsoft 2019 Partner of the Year Award finalists and winners. These partners have delivered meaningful business results while differentiating themselves within the Microsoft partner ecosystem.

I’m excited to share that Competegy placed 3 Finalists this year (Competegy has helped partners win 10 Microsoft Partner of the Year awards to date).

Winning partners will be recognized at Microsoft Inspire (July 14-18 in Las Vegas). Inspire is a great opportunity to learn about Microsoft’s product and channel strategy, engage Microsoft partner teams, and accelerate your channel. Once again, there is an overlap day with Microsoft’s internal kickoff (“Microsoft Ready”).

The Inspire networking tool should go live next week. Everyone who has opted-in will be able to schedule meetings (and book meeting tables). Use the Inspire connect tool to facilitate new channel partner connections, renew existing partner relationships, and reconnect with Microsoft stakeholders. See the Maximize Microsoft Inspire article for tips on getting the most out of the event.

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

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.

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:

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.


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!

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

Complete the following form to access the Channel Development and Recruiting document:

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