5 Content Ideas for Partners To Differentiate Services

Partner Web sites are chock full of whitepapers, e-books and blog posts devoted to the value of implementing technology solutions.

But as technology solutions become a commodity, it is more important for partners to develop content that will differentiate their services. Taglines and Web pages claiming industry expertise aren't enough to convince prospects that you truly are an expert in the services they need.

Traditionally, case studies have been the vehicle to validate expertise. While there is still a place for case studies, they are time-consuming and slow, requiring interviews and approval cycles that can take forever. There are other, easier ways you can shine the spotlight on your skills instead of the technology.

The first step in developing services-focused content is to stand in your customers' shoes to come up with specific topics that will be of interest. Get the consulting team together to brainstorm, developing a list of common questions customers ask. Focus on the business benefits and outcomes -- what are the changes that customers want you to help them with? What are the problems that your customers have in common?

Service-Focused Topic Ideas
Making the switch to service-focused topics means writing about the outcomes that you help customers achieve. Instead of "Build the Multichannel Experience with Dynamics CRM," use "Create Experiences that Customers Share." In place of "Connect Employees with SharePoint," use "Foster Innovation for Remote Teams." Rather than "Mobile Solutions for Teams on the Go," use "Stop Wasting 50 Percent of Your Employees' Time."

If you are focused on an industry, the titles of blog posts on the industry's association Web sites are likely to give you some good ideas. For horizontal topics, the articles in general-interest business magazines, like Inc and Forbes are a great source of inspiration.

Planning-Focused Topics
Want to be viewed as a resource to help your customers align their strategic plans with technology? Write or create videos about the value of strategic planning. Topics could include:

  • "Five Steps To Prepare for New HIPPA Regulations"
  • "The Risk of Business Failure: How Poor Planning Opens the Door for Ransomware"
  • "A Strategic Approach to Customer Service: Adapt to Changing Expectations"

What better way to demonstrate your expertise than to have someone else talk about it? Include your customers in an event about strategic planning for business, asking them to talk about the value you add to their annual planning sessions. An event titled "Becoming a Digital Business" could include multiple customers sharing how you have helped one aspect of their business. For a topic like "Supporting the Next-Generation Worker," you could invite other businesses or partners to cover multiple aspects of dealing with millennials in the workplace.

Partner Profile Infographic
Quantifiable attributes are another way to demonstrate your expertise, which is the perfect fodder for an infographic. Data points could include:

  • Percent of customers by industry
  • Years and type of employee experience
  • Number of users you support
  • Number and types of awards earned over the years
  • Customer satisfaction statistics
  • Average call-back or ticket-resolution times

Employee Profiles
Profile your employees to feature them on the Web site or through a series in your newsletter. Put a human face to the services that you offer, including the educational background, professional experience and hobbies of your employees. You never know when one of those details will connect with a reader.

Nothing is more powerful than real people honestly telling their story. Your employees, on the front lines working with customers, can be your most valuable marketing resource. With a simple video camera and a little editing, you can post a compelling "How We Turn Customers into Raving Fans" video on your Web site.

It is becoming harder and harder to differentiate your services, especially in the cloud world. Whether it's industry knowledge, functional expertise or strategic business consulting, prospects today expect you to do more to prove your skills than just taglines and Web pages. Get creative and turn your content upside down to focus on services first and technology second.

How are you differentiating your services? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 15, 20160 comments

Measure Twice, Blog Once: Partner Fine-Tunes Web Content with Benchmarking

For partners with limited marketing resources, there's not a lot of room for trial and error. Most partners don't have the bandwidth to create a library of blog posts or whitepapers, hoping they will appeal to prospects.

A new digital benchmarking tool is giving Microsoft partners data to help them monitor and focus their efforts on the most effective content and marketing activities.

Like most partners, ISAAC Intelligence Ltd. tries to take an objective approach to developing content -- which is much harder than it seems. Partners look at technology from a completely different perspective than prospects and customers. Passionate about the potential of the solutions, partners want to evangelize the business improvements they can bring to their customers. As a result, partner Web sites often reflect the passion but not the practical application of solutions.

And those Web sites don't deliver the expected leads because prospects and customers are trying to solve a problem. To connect with those potential buyers as they search the Web to learn about solutions, partners need to offer content that addresses specific business challenges.

A SharePoint and Office 365 partner, ISAAC is changing their approach to content creation. "What we're trying to do is simplify the use of technology. We're trying to have a conversation not about the technology but about the outcome," said Jason Yeomans, ISAAC managing director.

"We need to connect with the managing directors around the world who are sitting there looking at the business going, 'Why on Earth is it so difficult? Why can't I just get information to flow from one part of my business to another part of my business? Why does it always get stuck? Why are customers always complaining about this department not knowing what that department's doing?'"

Which is where the digital benchmarking tool, Maya, designed by Fifty Five and Five in association with Microsoft, is helping.

"The great thing with Maya is that we can benchmark ourselves at all points. It's that independent view that we all wish we had years ago," said Yeomans. "We may try a curve ball and do something quite different and then a couple of months down the road see where we are. We'll know for sure if it's worked. We'll know for sure if it's created better or worse engagement."

Maya is easy to use and it's free. Yes, free. After entering your company's Web site into Maya, the tool produces a detailed report on how well you're doing across all the most important digital marketing metrics and provides advice for improvement. Tracking your metrics over time, you can monitor progress and objectively evaluate your digital progress.

"The nice thing about Maya is we can integrate every piece of activity we do. Newsletters, social media, direct mail, ad hoc direct mail, Web site content, blogs -- we can start to have a coherent message right across the board," Yeomans said. "Whereas before, I would come up with an idea and write something, so we'd come out very much from my point of view. It's very difficult to gauge traction that way. Occasionally we'd get a lead from the Web site and say, 'Wow, that could've worked,' but we don't know for sure, whereas now we'll know for sure and be able to hone in."

In addition to the Maya tool, ISAAC has found working with a marketing partner who specializes in serving the Microsoft channel to be advantageous. While there are many services that can write blog posts or provide marketing advice, a firm that can provide perspective on the application of the technology has been valuable.

"Working with Fifty Five and Five, we'll tell them about something that a customer has said or explain a specific problem that is replicable across many organizations. We'll give them a direction or angle that we have in mind," said Yeomans. "They'll write something for us, come back, we'll edit and, before we know where we are, we've got a nice piece of content that can be added to the Web site, pushed out on social media and create some talking points."

Yeomans added, "It avoids that introspection where you come up with something but you might not quite have the right angle on it. By bouncing it off somebody who's external to the organization, you get a different view. I love that. I think that's the best way to test if you've got something that's got legs or not."

Every partner finds it difficult to achieve the right balance in marketing content. It's far more fun to evangelize for technology you are passionate about than to address the practical concerns of everyday business operations. With the Maya tool, Fifty Five and Five is providing partners with an objective way to evaluate the effectiveness of the content they create. As a free tool, it's a no-brainer to get you started improving your digital presence. 

How are you improving your content effectiveness? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 01, 20160 comments

Proactive Partner Marketing Builds Customer Lifetime Value 

Building long-term customer relationships is nothing new to Microsoft partners, but cloud-based services do change the nature of interactions with clients.

The fifth book of Microsoft's Modern Partner Series, "Deliver Customer Lifetime Value," examines the importance of fine-tuning your operations and service offerings with a long-term perspective. To support that transformation, you should develop a Customer Lifetime Value marketing program that engages your entire organization to proactively strengthen relationships.  

The cloud doesn't change the basic tenets of good customer service or the role of partners in educating clients about new technology. What the cloud does change is the nature of interactions between your employees and your customers. Services are more likely to be delivered remotely, with less face-time through training, implementation and ongoing support. You can help your employees make the extra effort to proactively engage with customers by providing resources, training and programs.

Education Inside and Outside Your Organization
Equip your employees with knowledge and tools to tell clients about additional services that you offer.

  • In addition to sending your newsletter and marketing campaigns to your outside contact list, send them to your employees so they know what customers are seeing.

  • Hold regular meetings or Yammer discussions to promote customer engagement stories. Use specific examples of how an employee identified and solved a customer challenge.

  • Maintain a "hotline" so employees can get instant answers about additional services when they identify an opportunity with a customer.

Take a Strategic Approach to Your Customer Base
Segment your customer base to identify those companies with the most potential to use additional services.   

  • Give your consultants and technical folks the opportunity to contribute their knowledge to identify high-potential customers. They may have heard about acquisition or expansion plans during their interactions with clients.

  • Consider adding a Customer Success Manager position to your organization. That person's role should include annual on-site strategy sessions with top clients.

  • If you have a regional practice, plan events that will appeal to all your clients to increase face-to-face interactions.

Tap into the Strengths of Your Employees
Building Customer Lifetime Value should be part of the corporate culture and each one of your employees should play a role. Tap into their interests and expertise to identify how they can best contribute and provide resources that makes engagement easier.

  • Develop a content library that includes presentations, e-books and articles so employees can easily follow up with educational material when a customer expresses interest in a topic.

  • Encourage employees with deep expertise or interest in specific technologies to start or participate in special-interest meetups.

  • Train all of your employees to be more active listeners when they are dealing with clients.

Stand in Your Customers' Shoes
As an ongoing practice, spend time objectively evaluating how easy it is for your customers to work with you.

  • Is it easy to find a contact number and e-mail on your Web site? Is there a differentiation between a sales contact and a support contact?

  • Continually improve your customer-response process with automated rating requests and randomly following up with customers to ask how the process could have been better.

  • Call your office and listen to the options of your automated answering system. Is it easy to understand what to do? Does it route you quickly? Can you get to a real person?

As the relationships between cloud customers and partners change -- with less time working side by side -- your employees need to make the extra effort to proactively engage. You can't expect employees to change their habits without guidance and support. Invest the time to implement the programs and develop the resources that will give your employees confidence in taking that extra step.

How are you strengthening relationships with customers? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on November 17, 20160 comments

Trump and Tech: What His Presidency Means for the Channel

Donald Trump's poll-beating election as the 45th president of the United States is likely to bring changes in tech and business policy with ramifications that specifically impact Microsoft partners.

What those changes will be is hard to pinpoint. Trump hasn't staked out a position on many high-profile tech and business issues. And the few that he has commented on from the campaign trail, on Twitter and in the policy sections of his Web site have regularly conflicted with one another or changed during the campaign. Still, these glimpses of policy could provide some clues.

Technology Workers
There may be changes in store for the H-1B visa program that currently represents an important source of skilled tech workers for the tech industry. Trump's last stated position on H1B in the March Republican debate suggested that that the program would end. Trump is quoted as saying, "I know the H-1B very well. We shouldn't have it. It's very, very bad for workers. It's unfair to our workers and we should end it."

Trump has very strong opinions about offshore outsourcing. In his 2011 book "Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again," Trump advocates a 20% tax on those companies that outsource jobs overseas. If policies are implemented to penalize tech firms dependent on offshore development resources, those costs will either have to be absorbed or business models adjusted.

As part of Trump's Vision for Education, the president-elect promises "the opportunity to attend a two or four-year college, or to pursue a trade or a skill set through vocational and technical education will be easier to access, pay for, and finish." As the tech industry's need for trained employees continues to increase, more accessible technical education for young people could be welcome.

According to the Trump campaign Web site, the Trump plan will lower the business tax rate from 35% to 15% and eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax. Additionally, the plan "eliminates most corporate tax expenditures except for the Research and Development credit." There is no further clarification, so the net on corporate taxes is quite fuzzy.
For the many sole proprietors, independent consultants, contractors and S-Corp owners in the channel, the personal tax law changes are of more interest. Proposed tax brackets and rates for married filers would change to:

  • Less than $75,000: 12%
  • More than $75,000 but less than $225,000: 25%
  • More than $225,000: 33%

The standard deduction for joint filers would increase to $30,000, from $12,600, and the standard deduction for single filers would be $15,000. The personal exemptions would be eliminated as would the head-of-household filing status.

Health Care
The Affordable Care Act has been an important topic throughout the Trump campaign. As a symbol of the outgoing administration, its replacement is likely to be one of the first initiatives of the new administration. What that replacement would actually look like is unclear, but key provisions of the healthcare policies proposed on the Trump campaign Web site include:

  • "Completely repeal Obamacare."
  • "Modify existing law that inhibits the sale of health insurance across state lines. ... By allowing full competition in this market, insurance costs will go down and consumer satisfaction will go up."
  • "Allow individuals to fully deduct health insurance premium payments from their tax returns under the current tax system. ... As we allow the free market to provide insurance coverage opportunities to companies and individuals, we must also make sure that no one slips through the cracks simply because they cannot afford insurance."
  • "Allow individuals to use Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Contributions into HSAs should be tax-free and should be allowed to accumulate."

For the U.S.-based Microsoft partner channel made up of small businesses and independent contractors, increases in health insurance coverage costs over the past decade have been a burden. The challenge for Republicans will be to come up and pass an alternative that controls costs without eliminating key benefits, like requiring coverage for preexisting conditions. Until those details are worked out, we may see a pause in the number of consultants leaving the security of employment to go out on their own.

Technology Policies
Other tech issues that affect technology companies, including net neutrality and patent reform, have gotten little or no attention from Trump during the campaign. In June, Recode summarized the tech policies of both candidates.

There have been a few breaks in the silence. This past February, Trump called on Apple to give the FBI encryption information to access the iPhone of the San Bernardino, Calif. shooters. "Apple ought to give the security for that phone, OK?" Trump said at a rally in February. "What I think you ought to do is boycott Apple until such time as they give that security number. How do you like that? I just thought of it. Boycott Apple!"

When President Obama asked the FCC to classify the Internet as a public utility, paving the way for net neutrality, Trump responded through a Tweet, "Obama's attack on the Internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media."

Trust in Big Data
The landslide loser in Tuesday's election has to be Big Data. How could so many smart people, with so much data, be so wrong? From the respected prognosticator Nate Silver to the election day data experiment Votecaster, analysts were giving Clinton from about a 65 percent chance to a higher than 90 percent chance of winning until just hours before she lost. The credibility of data analytics has taken a serious hit.

As an industry, we are making big bets that businesses believe the future lies in the collection of more data and the application of algorithms to help them make better decisions. The failure of the predictions will give them pause. Partners should be prepared for business owners who say, "How do I know the business intelligence you are proposing is going to do a better job at predicting outcomes than the whole election snafu?"

Posted by Barb Levisay on November 10, 20160 comments

5 Ideas for Partners To Start Marketing Dynamics 365

With the Tuesday release of Microsoft Dynamics 365, as well as PowerApps and Flow, partner marketers may be feeling a bit overwhelmed right now.

Microsoft has promised to provide through-partner marketing materials soon, but partners should act now to show customers they are in front of the new products. Fortunately, there is no shortage of information partners can tap to create educational marketing materials to explain the impact and benefits of Dynamics 365.

Just sorting through the massive amount of information Microsoft has released to partners on Dynamics 365 is daunting. There's no doubt that your customers are feeling the same way, which is where you can really bring value through clear, simplified messaging. As a first step, separate your customers into groups who are likely to have common interests -- people with sales titles in one group, IT contacts in another, accountants in another, et cetera. 

For each of those subgroups, you'll be doing them a huge favor by filtering information about the changes coming with Dynamics 365. You don't need to send information about PowerApps to sales contacts, but anyone in IT will be very interested. Give descriptive titles to your marketing materials to help people find and focus on what is important to them.

Sources of information for Dynamics 365 abound, but there are a few links and posts that are particularly suited to support customer education, including:

5 Ways To Get Started Educating Your Customers
Use the resources above and your knowledge of your customers to create documents that have your brand and reflect your personality. Don't be afraid to admit there are challenges. It's OK to say, "This is all a bit confusing and we are going to help you sort through the complexity." You are your customers' advocate -- remind them of it.

Some ideas to get you started on your Dynamics 365 marketing journey:

  • FAQs: For each of the customer interest groups you have identified, create a short Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document. You can use PowerPoint to create an e-book format with graphics and text combined.

  • Demos: Have your consulting team create a series of short videos that walk through specific scenarios that apply to your target group's interests. Keep the videos short (three to five minutes) and focused on solving a specific business problem.

  • Customer Profiles: Ask a couple of your best customers to share their experiences using Dynamics 365. Interview members of their team once every two weeks and write a blog post with their observations. Include their photographs to give them reason to share the post with their friends and associates.

  • Community Connection Events: Start planning on-site seminars to introduce customers and prospects to Dynamics 365 and answer their questions in person. Consider asking the customers you have profiled to do a short presentation or even do the demo. If you don't have an ERP competency, ask a Dynamics ERP partner to support the event. It could be the start of a productive partnership.

  • Combine Words and Graphics: The combination of functions in the Enterprise and Business versions of Dynamics 365 is unfamiliar to your customers. They will be confused at first. Use some of the diagrams that Microsoft has built or create your own, but use graphics to help explain the Dynamics 365 ecosystem.  

It's an exciting time to be a marketer in the Microsoft partner channel. The hard part is knowing where to start and how to filter the big announcements into bite-sized pieces for your customers. The time is now to get in front of those customers and show them you are in lock-step with Microsoft. Help them see the vision and prepare them for change.

How are you preparing to market Dynamics 365? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge. 

Posted by Barb Levisay on November 02, 20160 comments

Microsoft Community Connections: 'You Don't Know What You're Missing'

When it comes to marketing these days, content and inbound get all the attention. While those are definitely important aspects of your marketing strategy, they shouldn't replace meeting face-to-face with customers and prospects.

For one partner, Microsoft Community Connections (MCC) has helped it build a significant flow of leads and a larger presence in local, state and national organizations.

In 2010, Prism Technologies Group, a Texas-based Gold partner, started engaging with MCC to help it spread the word about the cloud and Office 365. "We have found working with MCC and the [Microsoft] stores here in San Antonio and in Dallas helped us engage with businesses," said Bryan Guinn, CEO of Prism. "We found it to be a good collaboration, where Prism Technologies Group focuses on the services side and the stores capture some of that hardware-type services and solutions."

Over the past couple of years, Prism has had a number of big successes with MCC-assisted events. When the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) held its annual conference in San Antonio, Prism worked with MCC to host multiple sessions. The educational sessions focused on how attendees could improve productivity, increase collaboration and better reach out to their customers. Prism then followed up with an event at the store.

"That was a big one, and led into a store event afterwards that was a day-long event focused on women in the workplace," said Guinn. "Since that program, the organization has invited me and others from our company to speak at several of their local events. It's been a very good relationship."

Working with the San Antonio Area Foundation, which supports local nonprofit organizations of all sizes in and around the greater San Antonio area, Prism has hosted events as part of the annual IT Summit.

"Unfortunately, many nonprofits don't know about the discounts they can receive through different procurement mechanisms. So you see them often spending more on technology solutions than they need to," explained Guinn. "Through the MCC team and the store, once again, we sponsor a one-day event. We bring in 30 to 40 unique nonprofits and walk them through several different aspects of technology to help educate them. Those have always been really great events."

Holding more than 30 events annually leveraging the MCC content and resources, Prism finds value participating in a wide range of venues. It works with Chambers of Commerce across Texas, including the statewide Texas Chamber of Commerce Association. But the company is not above a good barbecue.

"The funniest one of all was in Goldthwaite, Texas. They have an annual goat cook-off and barbecue competition," said Guinn. "In partnership with the store and the MCC team, we went out for a day, setting up a booth. We talked about the more rugged-type devices that would be applicable to farmers and ranchers and that type of environment -- displaying those devices and having conversations with them. We did some drawings and giveaways and actually did some barbecue judging. It was a lot of fun. We had a good time, got some good exposure."

For many partners, the idea of pulling off one, let alone 30, events is daunting. According to Guinn, it's all about repeatability.

"Once you've done as many as we have, you kind of figure out a good, quick model," said Guinn. "We can quickly set up an event, do good content delivery and get some meaningful value out of it -- both for the people who attend and for us, from a lead-referral perspective. We've built that repeatable IP around the events. We know which ones work, which ones don't, what days work best, what times work best. We've done enough so now we can just kind of crank through them."

For those partners concerned with poor attendance as they work through the event learning curve, Guinn says not to get discouraged. "You're probably going to have events that you don't get as many people as you would like. But sometimes those turn into the best events," said Guinn. "We had one a few weeks ago that we spun up very quickly. We had about 18 people register and six show up, but those six people ended up having extremely in-depth, engaged conversations with us."

For every event, Prism sees additional benefits from exposure to potential prospects -- even if they don't attend. An active presence in the community reflects commitment and gets noticed.

In terms of the MCC resources, Prism leans heavily on its content, personalizing it with its own messaging. Since the retirement of MCC's event registration tool, Prism uses Meetup for their announcements, registration and promotion. Meetup makes social media sharing easy, which has become more important to registration. Approximately 20 percent of registrations for Prism events come through social media today.

Over all, Guinn attributes about 20 percent to 30 percent of Prism's new business to events. To duplicate the success of Prism's event marketing, Guinn strongly recommends getting started with MCC.

"Take advantage of the resources available through MCC," he said. "They've got a good support system. They've got good people available to walk you through the process. The content they provide is really what's meaningful to people now and they update that content regularly. You don't know what you're missing out on until you give it a try."

While the online world may be driving much of our work, it's still important to get out of the office and talk to your prospects. Holding events can be a rewarding and even fun way for everyone in your organization to participate in marketing. Fall is a great season for events, so go out to MCC and connect with one of your local business organizations.

How are you connecting with your community? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on September 29, 20160 comments

Microsoft Resources To Fuel Your CSP Marketing: Part 1

For traditional Microsoft partners, participating in the Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program requires a new level of marketing. Most MSPs, Dynamics VARs and system integrators (SIs) have been testing the waters with digital marketing but referrals still bring in the bulk of their projects. But to be successful as a CSP, you need to drive more volume, which means reaching more people with a strong digital presence.

The CSP program also poses a new challenge for Microsoft in how to provide marketing support for unique, partner-defined solutions. Each partner's CSP offering is unique, some focused on tightly defined sub-verticals and niche markets. According to Microsoft, there are currently 3,000 CSP partners in the United States alone. With that many unique solutions, horizontal or even industry-specific campaigns can't provide the coverage that partners need. 

In response, Microsoft's partner marketing enablement is moving to focus on education, rather than just providing pre-packaged campaigns, As the hub for partner marketing education, Marketing SureStep is designed to provide self-help for partners to build their marketing expertise. The site includes sections on content development, customer targeting and results measurement, leading partners to resources based on their level of Novice, Skilled or Expert marketer. It's worthwhile to dig into each of the sections no matter what your familiarity with marketing is to find resources that might fit your situation.

New to SureStep: Online Workshops
Recently added to the SureStep lineup are workshops delivered virtually through Skype and in person during Microsoft's SMB Live events. Workshops are also designed to support different levels of marketing sophistication and teach core digital marketing skills over eight to 16 lessons.

Presentations include step-by-step, real-world marketing examples so partners can put what they learn into immediate practice. To participate in the workshops, partners are asked to commit to set goals, attend, complete and launch marketing campaigns, as well as join office hours to share best practices with other partners.

Some of the topics covered in the workshops include:

  • Build an impactful value proposition to use as a guide for marketing messages and strategy.
  • Understand the customer buying journey.
  • Create a persona to describe ideal target customer.

Marketing SureStep on Yammer
The Yammer Marketing SureStep group provides a forum to connect with the Microsoft marketing team. The group posts announcements for upcoming and recorded Marketing SureStep Office Hours, which provide partners with the opportunity to interact with the Microsoft marketing team and other partners.

Partner Profitability Series
The third eBook in Microsoft's Modern Partner Series, "Modernize Sales and Marketing," provides an excellent high-level perspective of CSP marketing. It's a good document to ask everyone in your organization to read. Digital marketing is far more effective if everyone in the organization supports the effort. From building out your value proposition to writing blogs to social media promotion, your entire team should be engaged in marketing.

Digital marketing is still a new frontier for most partners, especially for traditional partners pursuing the CSP business model. A significant part of the CSP value prop comes through taking advantage of the resources that Microsoft makes available to partners. There is no easy path; digital marketing requires a commitment to learn the best practices and execute them consistently. Over the coming months, we'll talk to a variety of CSP partners about how they are using the Microsoft marketing tools to expand their customer base.  

How are you marketing your CSP offering? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.      

Posted by Barb Levisay on August 10, 20160 comments

Microsoft Partner Taps Team Knowledge for Marketing Success

Every marketer in the channel has experienced the frustration of knowing that they are sitting on a gold mine of rich content, but simply can't bring it to the surface. They know their consulting team holds the real-world knowledge that makes superstar blog posts and downloadable whitepapers. By offering multiple paths to bring that knowledge to the surface, one partner is striking it rich with content marketing.

Ramping up their content marketing over the past 18 months, 10th Magnitude, a gold Microsoft cloud platform partner, provides multiple paths for its consultants to share their deep Azure knowledge.

"We've found success by allowing people to contribute in the way they are most comfortable," said Dorinne Hoss, director of marketing at 10th Magnitude. "Not everyone is a writer, especially technical folks, so we give consultants the option of an interview. We will either write it up as a blog post or we can record it for one of our video series."

A Variety of Video
One of two series, the Manhattans Project videos are informal interviews with consultants on current topics. Consultants don't have to spend a lot of time preparing, but get to share their knowledge on a familiar topic. A second series, Epicenter, repurposes presentations that 10th Magnitude consultants do for the community, like meet-ups and webinars.

The prospect of video may seem expensive to most partners, but 10th Magnitude is fortunate to have the talents of Marketing Manager Michael Gibson. Gibson serves as moderator for the videos and then turns raw video into the finished product. As Gibson demonstrates, professional-looking videos can be created in-house.

One particularly well-received video is a review from Microsoft's Build conference. "We recorded an internal briefing meeting where the consultants who attended Build shared what they learned," said Hoss. "We polished it up and put the video on YouTube. It has gotten thousands of hits."

The Secret to Superstars
Why some videos and blog posts take off and some don't remains a mystery. Like the Build video, Hoss says that sometimes a blog post becomes a superstar, getting high numbers of views for months on end. "We regularly review our content marketing to look at what's working and what's not," said Hoss. "Unfortunately, there's no secret formula and we are a little leery of trying to direct too much. We trust our consultants' instincts. Those topics that they really get excited about are often the ones that turn into superstars."

Unless they have a need for specific content to support a topical campaign, consultants drive the subject matter for content. "Naturally, the consultants want to talk about the projects they are working on," said Hoss, "This year, for example, there has been an explosion of interest in the Internet of Things. We have found that the topics our consultants want to address generally mirror what our clients are thinking about."

Content Promotion Is the Final Piece
Half of the equation for successful content marketing is promotion. 10th Magnitude promotes content through a variety of channels, both organically and paid. "We've spent a lot of time building our social media followers on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook," said Hoss. "We've had some good results with our investments in search advertising on YouTube, Google and Bing."

With bigger pieces of content, like an Azure e-book it created, 10th Magnitude has syndicated on sites like CIO.com with success. "That type of content syndication is not cheap, but it's a good way to get leads from people interested enough to give their information up. Downloading those bigger pieces of content can deliver high-quality leads," said Hoss. "The challenge is finding the right mix of channel and content. It requires making some investments and testing."

At the moment, videos are delivering the best rewards for 10th Magnitude on multiple levels. "While it's not a direct correlation, we know that the videos have done a lot to influence sales," said Hoss. "The videos are good for Microsoft sales reps, as well as our own team. We make sure our Microsoft contacts are aware of the content we are producing so that they can use it, too."

Drawing the knowledge out of your consulting team to build great marketing content is probably the most common challenge for marketers in the channel. They are a direct connection to the topics that are timely and relevant to your prospects and customers. There is no secret to mining those riches other than offering more ways to make it easy and comfortable for your consulting team to share.

How are you building great content? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on July 06, 20160 comments

Marketing Excellence Report for Microsoft Partners Expands Scope

Wouldn't it be helpful to have a list of the Microsoft partners who are doing a great job with inbound marketing? Even better if the list is accompanied by analysis of why their marketing works.

That's exactly what you will get from the Inbound Marketing Excellence Report, which this year evaluated over 25,000 Microsoft partners. In the report, Fifty Five and Five, the London-based marketing agency dedicated to the Microsoft channel, ranks 250 partners and provides analysis for the top 50.

While there is no shortage of marketing research available today, a report specifically focused on Microsoft partners provides unique insight into the practices of businesses who serve similar markets with similar services. Based on the preview copy of the Marketing Excellence Report, partners will reap important insights into the evolving inbound marketing practices of businesses just like their own. The final report is scheduled for release in July during the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) next month. You can pick up a hard copy at the expo or pre-register for a copy here.

The ambitious project expands on last year's review of Office 365 and SharePoint partners to include the broader Microsoft channel. "We extended the report based on the feedback we received. Partners really appreciated the independent report and wanted to see a broader range in the types of partners we reviewed," said Aidan Danaher, marketing manager for Fifty Five and Five. "Ultimately, our aim is to continue the report over the years to provide partners with insight into the trends in the industry. By including partners across business models, we can provide a truer industry snapshot."

Another improvement in this year's report is the inclusion of more prescriptive marketing guidance and step-by-step guides. The Key Findings section provides analysis of overall channel trends and calls out best practices. The description of methodology, including the tools that Fifty Five and Five used for analysis, provides information that partners can put into practice to evaluate their own progress.

The Marketing Excellence Report ranks partners on a scale of 0 to 100, grading their blogging output, Web site and social media activity. In-depth analysis of the reasons the top 10 partners earned their spots offers inspiration partners can use to improve Web site appearance, service descriptions and content delivery. In addition to details on the top 50 partners, a list of the 200 runner-up partners includes their scores, giving each of those partners an objective measure of their marketing efforts.   

Also included in the report are interviews with marketing leaders from cutting-edge partners providing practical guidance for real-world application of inbound practices. The foreword is written by David Meerman Scott, well-known marketing strategist and frequent WPC presenter. The report provides an interesting perspective of the state of Tweeting with a page of stats on Twitter and the Microsoft partner channel.

Fifty Five and Five included a bonus section this year called "The 6 Month Marketing Fitness Plan" to provide specific recommendations to help you move up in the rankings for next year's report. With its practical and achievable guidance, the plan provides step-by-step marketing activities that any partner can implement.

The report can be particularly useful to marketing professionals who need help convincing leadership of the value and effectiveness of specific marketing tactics. "If you face resistance within your company and some of your competitors made the list, you can use the report to start conversations," Danaher said. "The report is independent, so there is no hidden agenda. You can help your team see that other partners are finding success with blogs or social media."

An important takeaway from the report is that most of the tactics reviewed don't come with high price tags. "CEOs often associate marketing with a lot of money," added Danaher. "Blogs and social media don't require big investments. The company can build a lot of value -- and Web site traffic -- just by harnessing the ideas within the organization." Which is a concept that many marketers are challenged to prove to leadership.

The "Top 50 Microsoft Partners: Inbound Marketing Excellence Report" is free and will be available for download after July 11, 2016. Or stop by booth #1718 at the WPC Expo for a print copy. 

How are you improving your inbound marketing activities? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on June 15, 20160 comments

Partners: Encourage Customer Adoption with a CSM

As partners become more dependent on recurring revenue, keeping customers becomes just as important as acquiring them. And in the cloud world, keeping customers is all about adoption.

Which means that you need someone on your team who is dedicated to helping customers realize the value of your solutions all day, every day.

While the role of customer success manager, or CSM, may be new to some types of partners, they have a long history in the Microsoft channel. In the Dynamics world, CSMs (with the acronym more commonly meaning "customer sales managers") have always played a key role in the organization. Yearly renewal of maintenance agreements, continuing education and add-on product sales were an essential part of the relationship with ERP and CRM customers, as well as a substantial revenue stream for the partner. With cloud applications, those same three drivers -- renewals, education and add-on products -- justify the role the CSM.  

The CSM's work kicks in after the initial sale. "The reality is that once the salesperson closes the deal, they need to move on to the next opportunity," said Kimberly Gordon, Microsoft's director of customer reference and advocate program for the United States. "There needs to be initial coordination between the salesperson and the CSM to make sure the deployment is going well. Then the CSM's role becomes very important to nurture a continuing relationship with the customer."

The role of CSM is unique in a technical services organization because it isn't a pure sales role and isn't a technical role. "A CSM serves as the clients' advocate, bringing their perspective to every aspect of the partner's operations," explained Tina Featheringham, client success manager for Pittsburgh-based MSP and Dynamics partner Vertical Solutions. "I am not sales, I am the technical person, but I bring all the pieces together."

"If the customers don't love the products, they won't use them," said Featheringham, who has a long and highly awarded career managing Microsoft customer accounts. "My job is to help them understand and harness the power of the applications."

Featheringham's most effective educational tools are the applications themselves. "While webinars with screenshots are fine, it's not like showing the function in action," she said. "I use Skype for Business for most of my calls. I can share my desktop and show them exactly what I am talking about."

With products that are in a state of continual change, like Office 365, staying ahead of your clients to educate them is no small task. "You have to keep yourself informed and there's no magic fountain," Featheringham said. "These days I get most of my information from following the Microsoft product blogs. And I spend some time every day going through RSS feeds to get the nuggets of information."

One creative way that Featheringham engages with clients is to ask them to keep a list of things they "hate" when they are first using an application. "Nine times out of 10, I can show them that there is a different or better way to do those tasks that they will love."

Staying connected to the technical side of the organization is critically important to success for the CSM. Featheringham works closely with the Vertical Solutions engineers to identify common issues that customers are having or to come up with solutions to special situations. Through their collaboration, a recent call to the help desk for support of an FTP site problem turned into a migration to OneDrive.   

In addition to the daily education of individual users, Featheringham schedules quarterly high-level meetings to make sure clients are realizing the full value of the applications. "We can add more value if we help our clients think proactively about how the software can help achieve their goals," she said. "These conversations go a long way to build our long term relationships. When we understand their business and goals, we can really impact their productivity and growth."   

For partners looking to grow recurring revenue streams, it comes down to math. You have to keep the customers you have while you continue to add new ones. More and more partners are recognizing the importance of dedicating resources to each of those goals separately. Salespeople who are good at acquisition are unlikely to be good at proactive customer nurturing. The CSM's role is to drive adoption of the applications and strengthen the clients' relationship with your organization. When done right, it's an investment that will pay for itself many times over.

How are you driving user adoption and building customer relationships? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on June 01, 20160 comments