Bag More Prospects with Pinpoint Accuracy

Partner marketing expert Barb Levisay offers tips for getting the most out of Microsoft's free partner directory.

What if you had the opportunity to market your applications and services to 100,000 prospects each month? Sounds good, but you've heard it before. You spent hours filling out your solution profile according to the guidelines and then traded multiple e-mails with the Microsoft Pinpoint team through the approval process.

And you've gotten ... zip. A couple of views, a couple of solicitations from outsourcers but no qualified inquiries -- let alone real leads. Every month, those 100,000 prospects paying a visit to the Microsoft Pinpoint Partner Portal and the new Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace are ignoring you. It's time to change that.

First, a little background on Pinpoint. It's the official Microsoft customer-facing partner directory, and the software giant seems committed to investing in the underlying technology and to reaching out to partners and customers to build robust marketplaces.

Microsoft launched the online marketplace as a public beta in July 2008 and Pinpoint became a full release in 2009. The marketplace was designed to replace Solution Finder and other disparate partner directories that had been created by various Microsoft business groups in support of individual products.

Stand in the prospect's shoes. He has a problem and is searching the Internet for help with that problem.

Barb Levisay, Owner, Marketing for Partners

While any directory runs a risk of leaving your solution listing stranded in an Internet island with no traffic, there's been strong evidence that Microsoft remains committed to Pinpoint as a framework for partner listings.

Recently, the company launched the beta of the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace to challenge the AppExchange marketplace. The new Dynamics Marketplace is powered by Pinpoint, and listings created for one directory populate the other when appropriate.

Similarly, a Windows Azure Marketplace to support the Windows Azure release in 2010 is also built on Pinpoint. Both of those marketplaces are described as betas for now, and are only the first of several product marketplaces Microsoft plans to roll out on the Pinpoint search engines.

Current partner participation levels are respectable, but not overwhelming. A recent search for all solutions in Pinpoint returned more than 7,600 listings, which represents steady growth over the 4,000 solutions that appeared in late 2008. Those numbers reflect the differentiation the marketplace can still offer to proactive partners, considering that Microsoft claims more than 640,000 partners worldwide. For partners with Dynamics or Windows Azure solutions to offer, it's even more of a greenfield. As of last month, there were only 260 listings in the Dynamics Marketplace and 29 listings in the Windows Azure Marketplace.

Targeted e-mail marketing, search-engine optimization and other methods should certainly be your priority for attracting new customers, but Pinpoint is worth a little time.

"In the scope of things, it's not going to be your primary lead generator; it may not generate you any leads, but it might," says M.H. "Mac" McIntosh, a marketing consultant based in Rhode Island. "But it's free, it just takes a little bit of time, and you may get some leads out of it. It's one of those things that I would block out a working lunch to go in and fill out the profile and update it and make sure that you're in there. I would also mark in Outlook to go back in 90 days and see what I would change."

Get to the Top of the List
Visit one of the Microsoft business product sites and you'll notice a significant increase in partner visibility. Most business solution sites now include "Find a Partner" navigation bars that open an embedded search pane with a list of Pinpoint Partners that support the product. For example, the Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Partner Finder page delivers 376 results for Pinpoint Partners that "Work with Office & SharePoint 2010."

Your first reaction is probably, "How can I get my company to the top of the list for searches on my competencies?" (There's a short answer -- but we'll come back to that a later.) The more important question for a smart Pinpoint strategy is: "Which list will help us connect with the prospects searching for what we sell?"

There doesn't seem to be anything more difficult for most partners than defining limits of what they sell. But with Pinpoint -- as with most marketing -- if you try to be all things to all people you'll be lost in the crowd. This message may sound like Microsoft talking, but it's true. You must narrow your focus to make Pinpoint work in your favor.

Be the Prospect
To help tighten up your focus, think about which customers are the absolute best fit for your app or services. List common factors of those customers like industry, geography, title and business problem solved to define your target audience. Then, be the prospect.

Stand in the prospect's shoes. He has a problem and is searching the Internet for help with that problem. He doesn't really care that you "offer comprehensive solutions delivered by experienced professionals." He does care if you can train his team on Office 2010 or build a content management system for his international offices.

Browse Pinpoint by your focus categories, just as your prospects do. See what your competitors are doing. Then build your listing using each line to entice the prospect to click on your company:

Apps+Services Listings title: Make it descriptive and specific. Instead of "Cloud Services" use "Microsoft Office 365 Cloud Migration Service."

Ratings: This is the short answer for getting to the top of the list. Partners with the most customer reviews rise to the top. Reviews can be associated at the company, the application or services level, so pay attention to which level will work in your favor for each listing. Make it easy for your customer and include the link with your request for a review.

40 words to tell your story: Pinpoint search results preview the first 35 to 40 words of the company, application or service listing. Make those first words count for your prospect. Tell him how you'll solve his problem in layman's terms -- ditch the jargon and self-aggrandizement.

"Customer ratings help prospects build confidence in the company," says Aaron Smith, channel marketing associate with Azox Inc. of Plymouth, Mich. With nine Pinpoint application listings supported by 12 reviews, Azox averages 100 page views per day. "Pinpoint, as a Microsoft-sponsored site, definitely raises our credibility as well as visibility with prospects we would not otherwise have reached," Smith says.

Build Your Relationship
So now you've made the first level of connection as the prospect clicks on your search listing to find out more. Remember to keep text short, to the point and in layman's terms, using the page to show him how you will solve his problem.

Make contact easy and friendly: While researching this article, I called the Pinpoint phone number for about 10 partners to get a taste of what prospects can expect. I'm confident that for most prospects, being dumped into a sales mailbox after listening "carefully because the options have changed" does not get the sales process started on the right foot. Be your prospect -- call your listed number and live the experience. Same with e-mail.

Show off: Now that you have his attention, show off those great screenshots of your killer app. With more than a dozen link options in the Pinpoint set up, you can offer content like a white paper or technical-specifications document to help the prospect build confidence in your expertise, products and services.

Make research easy: Your prospect is doing research to solve a problem. Keep in mind that five mislabeled links that all go to the homepage of your Web site do not add value or endear you to the prospect. Each link should lead to a landing page on your Web site that specifically addresses the listed solution. If a link dumps a prospect onto a general page where he has to search for the promised content, he's likely to hit the back button a few times and move on to another provider.

Landing pages can help you close the deal: Creating landing pages on your Web site specifically for Pinpoint inquiries gives you the flexibility to make special offers to motivate the prospect to call or purchase. With trial downloads and high-value offers, you can capture prospect data for further follow up. Landing pages will also help you measure Web site visits generated from Pinpoint.

Monitor the Results and Refine
You don't need to be a marketing genius to use the Pinpoint "My Dashboard" and "Analytics" to make your listings better. Check in regularly to see which listings are attracting the most interest. What searches are your visitors using to get to those listings? Are they visiting your listing page, but not contacting you?

Refine your listings to respond to results and don't be afraid to ask prospects what content helped them decide to contact you. As you turn those prospects into customers, don't forget to ask them to review your application or services.

Focus for Success
"Pinpoint is all about focusing on a niche," says John Gilham, principal of Agile IT in San Diego. Agile IT's 51 customer reviews land them on Pinpoint's Top Rated Companies list and the company's 25-plus Apps+Services Listings, including Microsoft Office 365 Migration Services, draw up to 60 visitors per month. "The trend is up, and while we haven't closed as many deals directly from Pinpoint as we would like, we believe the potential is tremendous," Gilham says.

If you're going to bag more of those 100,000 visitors hunting for a solution, focus on your target and sharpen up those listings.