Earning a Gold or Silver competency is a significant investment in terms of training, cost and customer references. According to Microsoft, only 5 percent of partners have attained competencies, which puts you in a pretty elite group. But how do you share the value of the achievement with your customers and prospects?
Many partners would like to see Microsoft do more to promote the value of competencies through advertising in the marketplace. Onstage at this year's Worldwide Partner Conference, Andy Vabulas, CEO of I.B.I.S. Inc., surprised Julie Bennani, general manager of the Microsoft Partner Network, with a request for partner competency promotion. Until that effort escalates, use the tools that are available -- and some creativity -- to educate your customers and prospects.
One of those tools is Microsoft's Ready-to-Go marketing site, where there is a campaign with PowerPoint slides, a press release, copy blocks, Web syndication and more to get you started. The Web banner which links to a mini-site looks to be the most valuable tool in the campaign set.
However, the benefit statements included in all the text are not as compelling as they could be. From the press release:
"By attaining a Microsoft <competency/competencies>, we have met extensive technology requirements and demonstrated expertise through rigorous exams, culminating in Microsoft certifications. We have also been recommended by our customers. Our skills, support, and knowledge have been tested and proven by successful implementations in specific technology areas."
Certainly a start, but a bit dry and not very specific. There is plenty more you can do. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Tell the Story on Your Web Site
Whether it's a link on your homepage that leads to a blog post or a dedicated page in About Us, you should get specific about the value of your competency to your prospects and customers. Tell them about the team effort that competency achievement requires through testing, earning client references and sales training. Include a bullet list of the projects included in your customer references.
A mini-case study could convey the human element of earning a competency -- the extra hours your employees put in studying and challenges they overcame while implementing projects.
Partner Profile Infographic
Infographics serve as a single snapshot of information -- a combination of words and numbers. Because your competency is based on quantifiable achievements, sharing the numbers behind the accomplishment will help prospects and customers understand the meaning. Add more data about your business to complete the picture, including:
- Percent of customers by industry
- Years and type of employee experience
- Types of projects (percentage of new implementations versus upgrades)
- Number and types of awards earned over the years
- Customer satisfaction statistics
- Number of events and participants held each year
Use the infographic to share a complete partner profile with Microsoft team members as well as prospects. Post the infographic on your Web site, refer to it in blog posts and print it for your sales team to give to prospects.
Let Employees Do the Talking with Video
Nothing is more powerful than real people honestly telling their story. Your employees -- the ones who studied to pass the test, delivered the projects and closed the sales -- are your most valuable marketing resource. With a simple video camera and a little editing, you can post a compelling "What Our Microsoft Competency Means" video on your Web site.
One approach would be to ask each employee, "What do you think the Business Intelligence competency means to our customers?" Their candid answers will likely tell a convincing story about the many aspects of your dedication to customers.
Shine the Light
You've made the investment to earn your competency, so get every bit of value you can. Your customers don't yet understand the exclusivity of your achievement. Shine a light on the accomplishment to educate your customers and prospects.
How are you shining the light on your competency? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on September 20, 2012 at 11:57 AM1 comments
Wouldn't it be great if you could keep the content on your Web site current...without having to do anything? Microsoft's Ready-to-Go (RtG) marketing site offers dynamic, customer-facing, syndicated Web site content that will keep your site fresh without constant attention.
RtG's Web syndication gives you access to banners, microsites and interactive content that is embedded in your Web site. It's simple, covers a wide variety of solutions and is free. What's not to love about this service?
Banners and Microsites
The RtG clickable banners click through to a microsite that you customize with your company and contact information. With a link back to your Web site, the viewer won't feel like they are leaving your Web site -- simply visiting an additional page. The microsite is maintained and updated by Microsoft with fresh content and videos.
Mike Brogan, marketing manager for InfinIT Consulting, has had great success with the RtG resources, earning an Aspire award from Microsoft. "I really like the Web site syndication," Brogan said. "I can copy a snippet of code, paste it onto my Web site page, and boom, I have a banner. A visitor can click it and get a lot of rich content about Office 365 or Intune."
There are dozens of topics for banners and microsites, including both product- and business value-focused messaging. From Dynamics to Office 365 to Cloud to industry-vertical messaging, every partner can find something to use. In answer to partners asking for ways to educate and promote competencies, there is a banner and microsite featuring the value of Gold and Silver competencies.
Rotating, Clickable Banners
With the banner gadget, you can give your Web site a dynamic feel with rotating banners. You set up the combination of banners that fits your business to stream live content that can include a cost calculator, live chat or a rolling RSS feed. You can choose different sizes for the banner to take up as much or as little real estate on your Web site as you want.
Some of the banners and microsites include a click-to-chat button that allows visitors to conduct an online chat with a knowledgeable Microsoft representative. According to the RtG site, reps are trained to qualify opportunities to 20 percent using solution selling methodology.
When adding live chat banners to your site, the code generated includes your partner account information so that the operator knows the prospect came through your Web site.
"We use the click-to-chat banner on our Intune microsite," Brogan said. "When a prospect clicks on the 'chat now' button it takes them to a Microsoft chat operator. It is staffed 24/7 by Microsoft-trained resources that can either demo or direct the prospect back to us. We find live chat to be a powerful way to have the initial conversation with prospects."
Microsoft's RtG Web syndication makes it much easier for partners to keep sites fresh -- and the depth of content continues to grow. If you are not using syndication yet, check it out soon. It's well worth your time.
Are you using RtG or other forms of syndication on your Web site? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on September 13, 2012 at 11:57 AM1 comments
The event management engine on Microsoft's Ready-to-Go (RtG) partner marketing site has been completely revamped and updated. In the past, many partners avoided managing events through RtG's Click to Attend because the service required registrants to have a Windows Live ID. That requirement is gone, so it's time for partners to take another look.
Ease Your Way into Events
Whether you are new to holding events or an experienced master of ceremonies, RtG has resources that will help your next event be more successful. You can create an event directly from an existing RtG campaign or use your own materials. Many partners start with campaign materials as a base and customize with their own messaging.
"We hold a lot of events and manage them through the Click to Attend," says Elle Vollerthum, VP of marketing for Enabling Technologies, a Gold Unified Communications partner. "I will use the campaign materials from Ready-to-Go and tweak them to fit our specific message. Our messaging is very targeted. For example, our current campaign is CRM integration with Lync."
Like many partner marketers, Vollerthum is a one-person marketing department and appreciates the time-saving resources on RtG. The recent improvements to the RtG site, including the events update, have made the site much easier to navigate and use.
"The new interface makes it much easier to find what you need. You can look for things in different ways with multiple search options," added Vollerthum.
Telemarketing Services Extend Event Returns
In addition to the campaign materials, Vollerthum used RtG telemarketing services to maximize returns from past events.
"Over the last five years we've been doing unified communications events. I engaged an RtG telemarketing firm to call and reengage with all past registrants, since we knew they were interested in the subject," Vollerthum said. "We received about 15 solid leads and about five project engagements from that campaign."
Check Out RtG for Your Next Event
If you haven't used the new, improved Click to Attend event registration or RtG campaign materials, it's worth the time to check it out. RtG helps partners with limited time and resources turn out professional marketing campaigns.
Are you using RtG materials in a creative way? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on September 06, 2012 at 11:57 AM0 comments
If you are considering adding Dynamics CRM or ERP to your solution lineup, there are two partner events being held in September that could get you up to speed quickly. eXtremeCRM 2012 has an impressive roster of industry leaders and Microsoft Dynamics CRM experts slated for Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 in Las Vegas. And The Partner Event, popular with the Dynamics ERP crowd, is being held in Fargo, N.D. on Sept. 9 to 11.
For those partners interested in participating in the exceptional growth of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, eXtremeCRM provides the opportunity to hear from Microsoft leadership and practicing partners in one place. Tracks for leadership, sales, consultants and developers offer sessions for those dipping their toes in the CRM waters, as well as deep dives with the experts.
Paul Greenberg, noted author and CRM expert, is slated to open the conference with insights on the direction of the industry, specifically in terms of social CRM. Microsoft CRM product and leadership teams are well represented and expected to share highly anticipated updates on the Dynamics CRM product roadmap. An executive-only program scheduled during the event gives business leaders exclusive access to the keynote speakers and Microsoft directors.
"We have something for everyone," noted Christy Spokely, chief executive officer for eXtreme LLC. "Microsoft will be announcing the latest on the CRM roadmap, giving partners insight into product strategy hot off the press. It's also a great opportunity for newer CRM partners to learn from those who have deep experience with Dynamics CRM deployment."
With a full roster of sponsors, the eXtremeCRM Expo will offer partners a good opportunity to connect with the ISVs that round out Microsoft's Dynamics CRM solution set. For those focused on vertical approaches, industry solutions will be showcased in multiple sessions.
The Partner Event
Focused on sales, marketing and leadership best practices across the Dynamics product line, The Partner Event offers three days of workshops for Dynamics practitioners. The opening session features Errol Schoenfish, director of product management at Microsoft, covering the Microsoft Dynamics ERP product roadmap, future releases and Microsoft's vision for the cloud.
Marketing track workshops promise practical advice on tactics including content marketing, video marketing, blogging and more. The Leadership track addresses the cloud, hiring and management challenges that partner owners are currently facing. For the sales attendee, sessions cover topics from cloud to close.
A 'Dynamic' September
For both current and future Dynamics partners, each of these events offers your team a chance to develop expertise and best practices. Learning from industry experts and hearing the experiences of other partners in one location presents a unique opportunity to improve your Dynamics practice.
Planning to attend? Let us know why. Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on August 29, 2012 at 11:57 AM2 comments
"Marketing is Dead" is the headline of a Harvard Business Review article that has sparked controversy and attracted outraged responses from marketing gurus across the country. Author Bill Lee asserts that traditional marketing, like advertising and public relations, has been replaced with "peer-based, community-oriented marketing." Seems like that pretty well sums up the marketing strategy most Microsoft partners have had in place for years.
Leading the Marketing Revolution
While Lee's intended audience is corporate marketing leaders rather than small businesses, his message has interesting implications for partners. Buyer behavior has matured from advertising-induced response to self-directed product research. Purchase decisions are based on information from trusted sources instead of the claims of advertisers.
Since most partners are small organizations without formal marketing teams, they have always had to depend on demonstrating expertise and building personal relationships to win business. Referrals are the life blood of new business for partners -- and always have been.
Even Lee's example of effective community-oriented marketing comes from the channel and Microsoft's MVP program. Calling out the success of Mr. Excel, whose Web site gets more visitors than the Microsoft Excel Web page on some days, Lee recognizes the value of subject matter experts sharing their knowledge directly with customers.
Who knew that Microsoft partners were leading a marketing revolution? Well done!
While partners are clearly ahead of the game in practice, there are still lessons from Lee's observations. Communities are vital to building a larger pool of prospects. Microsoft has an excellent program to help partners engage with their local community.
Community Connections matches business organizations with partners to promote educational programs about Microsoft technology. The opportunity to get in front of your local business community as an expert representing Microsoft is huge. Take advantage of it.
Because of the nature of the technology business, explaining the value of products and services through whitepapers and webinars (now known as "content") is old hat for partners. Not that building content is easy -- it takes time away from billable work or family. But content, from blogs to whitepapers, demonstrates your expertise and makes your Web site an educational destination.
The explosion of content on the Web presents challenges and opportunities. Challenge in standing out from the crowd, which you can overcome with consistency and quality, and opportunity in the variety of content vehicles. Find a medium that you enjoy and keep doing it.
Setting the Pace
It's wonderful to recognize that partners have been setting the pace in marketing for years. "Peer-based, community-oriented marketing" comes naturally (and authentically) to Microsoft partners. It's great to know that is what prospects are looking for.
How are you reaching your prospect community? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on August 23, 2012 at 11:57 AM0 comments
As the release of Windows 8 approaches, now is the time to get in front of your customers as the go-to partner. Every new release presents partners with the opportunity to educate customers and prospects, building credibility as an expert. This year is a bonanza for Microsoft partners.
Lead, Don't Follow
Many partners wait until after a new version is released to start the conversation with customers, either because they assume customers aren't interested until release or to distance themselves from risk of a flop. This is a lost opportunity to lead.
Those partners who initiate the conversations early establish their commitment to help customers make educated decisions about new version adoption. Customers are thinking about the future. Partners should be leading the way.
Get Marketing Started
While Microsoft's corporate marketing is ramping up, you can insert yourself as the guiding expert with educational marketing campaigns. As with all marketing, choose the tactics that you are most comfortable with and will execute well.
- Blog posts and newsletter articles about Windows 8 should add your interpretation of the value of new features. Help your customer envision the impact on their business.
- E-mail campaigns for Windows 8 should include strong calls to action (ideas below).
- In-person events are very powerful for building your stature as an expert. The Community Connections program helps you connect to local professional organizations. If you have a Microsoft store in your town, book it for your event.
- Webinars are easy to schedule and promote to your in-house list.
In every communication, remind your prospects of the value you can add through services. Focus on the value: What will that customer save by working with you?
Resources To Help
Microsoft has some great resources to help you get started on the Ready-to-Go Marketing Site. The Sneak Peek at Windows 8 campaign has a variety of tools, including:
- The RTG presentations for SMB and Enterprise customers can do double duty. Use them as presentations for your event, but also repurpose some of the content for a quick e-book call to action.
- Videos posted to your Web site can serve as good calls to action in your blog posts and e-mails.
- The Windows 8 Release Preview is a great document, but it's mighty long. Breaking it up into pieces as calls to action for a nurture campaign could be more effective.
If you want some help with topics and insights that you can share with customers through your Web site and blog posts, use the Microsoft customer-facing sites for inspiration. A few places to look:
for Every Type of Partner
This is obviously a great time for Learning and SI partners, but no matter what kind of partner you are there is opportunity to take advantage of the Windows 8 release. ISVs who sell through the channel can write articles for their partners' newsletters and blogs. Dynamics partners can offer strategic planning to customers -- partnering with an SI could open more doors for both.
You Are the Expert
Your customers look to you for advice on the technology they use to grow their business. Build their trust and your importance to their business by getting in front of Windows 8.
How are you educating your customers on Windows 8? Please tell me about it so we can share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on August 16, 2012 at 11:57 AM0 comments
It's tough to be patient. You're making regular posts to your blog covering topics that you are sure your target audience will find interesting. But the hits just aren't coming. Here are a few ideas to help build traffic.
If you are not already sending out a newsletter to your clients and prospects, this is the quickest, most effective way to boost readership. Your blog posts can make for a very powerful newsletter with minimal effort.
Using one of the e-mail marketing automation tools like Constant Contact or MailChimp you can create an attractive e-mail newsletter. Include the headline and a brief summary of several blog posts -- each linking to the full article. Send out that newsletter every month to remind your prospects that your blog is a great place to get information.
Post to LinkedIn
You and your employees can share links to your blog posts with an update on LinkedIn. While you don't want to inundate your LinkedIn connections, if they share your interests they may pass the link on to their connections, as well. Make sure to click the blue "Attach" button to include the link with the update.
Participate in Online Communities
Find out where your target market congregates online and join them. Whether that is the local Chamber of Commerce Facebook page or an industry professional site, your potential customers are talking to each other and asking questions. Listen to the conversation and suggest your blog posts when they add value.
Find Blogging Partners
You probably work with multiple partners who deliver complementary services in your region or vertical. Whether they are ISVs, Dynamics or training partners, if they serve the same target audience, why not join forces? Either a group blog or guest blogging on each other's sites can build cross-traffic and expand readership.
Include the headline of your latest blog post and the link in your company's signature line. If each employee includes that link, you are expanding your reach with every e-mail.
Don't give up. Blogs are a great way to build traffic to your Web site through search and establish your reputation as an expert. Results don't come overnight, but they will come if you stick with it.
Do you have a clever way to promote your blog? Post a comment below, or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on August 09, 2012 at 11:57 AM0 comments
Content is the name of the game in marketing today. You want to build relationships with prospects and customers by delivering information that they can use to make decisions about their business. When you supply that information, you help prospects gain confidence in your knowledge as the expert.
While many partners look to Microsoft to build content for them, there are partners making the commitment to create their own. We found just a few examples that may inspire you to take a more active approach.
A 'Fun' Whitepaper
The historic standard for the IT industry, whitepapers are a very effective call to action but they should be written for the modern reader. Your whitepaper should be scanable and engaging -- not a 30-page technical document that only a CIO could love.
The CRM Software Blog, a group blog for Dynamics partners, recently released a whitepaper with a different approach. "24 Wildly Creative Ways Companies Use Microsoft Dynamics CRM" offers real-life examples of how Dynamics CRM can improve their business. Using an infographic to promote the whitepaper combined the power of multiple forms of content to build results.
"The response to the "24 Wildly Creative Ways" whitepaper has been overwhelming, with over 800 downloads in 60 days," said Anya Ciecierski, ERP/CRM Software Blog co-founder. "I think the fun, engaging, easy-to-read style with real-life examples made it very appealing to prospects. I am confident we will continue to receive leads from this content for a long time."
The Infographic Explosion
An infographic is the graphical depiction of information, taking the form of everything from top-10 lists to complex statistical information. Partners (and Microsoft) are just starting to use infographics, which are a great way to give a high-level introduction to any subject.
Loryan Strant, a Microsoft MVP and founder of Australia-based Paradyne, posted an infographic explaining the value of a Microsoft partner for an Office 365 implementation. "Why Customers need Office 365 Partners" is a great example of content that helps deliver a valuable message creatively.
Screencasts with Context
Partners have been posting screencasts, which show solution functionality in action, for some time. Long and rambling screencasts are tough to endure, but with some editing a screencast can tell a very compelling story.
An excellent example of a meaningful screencast is "5 Ways to Improve Your Sales Process" produced by Zero2Ten, an Atlanta-based CRM partner. A short, simple presentation at the beginning of the screencast puts the demo in context for the prospect. The fast-moving demonstration is engaging and educational.
Variety in Videos
While all screencasts are videos, not all videos are screencasts. The variety of business videos is expanding -- they are becoming easier to make and more effective in search rankings. From customer testimonials to motion graphics, videos give partners an easy way to provide compelling content.
One partner using several types of videos to appeal to a wide range of prospects is Austin-based Catapult Systems. They have created a clever Office 365 graphic video but also use customer testimonials to validate their expertise. Short, to-the-point and professionally done, these videos are an excellent model for partners to follow.
Have you created great content that is delivering leads? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on August 02, 2012 at 11:57 AM1 comments
Over the past several months, we have been following "Dave" and his evaluation team as they reviewed business management solutions to support the growth of their specialty industrial machinery company. With about 200 employees in seven North American locations, the Microsoft-centric organization has plans for growth that include multinational expansion.
Choosing the Best-of-Breed Vertical
In Part 4, I described the evaluation team's review of a vertical solution that serves the equipment dealer and rental industry. A "best-of- breed" solution, the custom-built application uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Infor to deliver an end-to-end solution. The Web site and marketing approach is 100 percent focused on the dealership and rental industry vertical.
After a day-long demonstration and a proposal from the vendor, the evaluation team was interested enough to follow up with a reference account site visit. That visit, with a much larger global company in a similar but non-competitive market, went very well.
Dave described the meeting with the reference account project manager: "The project manager told us that even though it's a higher cost option, it's a lower risk option. The vendor knows the business, they understand how it works."
Implementation and the Final Decision
As Dave's company's evaluation process has progressed, one of the biggest concerns in finding the best solution is establishment of better data governance. Governance, the processes to ensure that data is accurate and complete, is the foundation of the system's value -- no matter what choice is made.
Since output of the system is only as good as the users make it, a new system must support business processes that will be readily adopted and maintained. Workarounds, and subsequent data loss, will resurface if the system is too hard to use.
That subject was a key part of the discussions with the reference account. "The whole idea of building better processes was a big part of the vendor's implementation approach," Dave noted. "They are not just implementing what you're doing today on a different software package. They spend a lot of time on your processes."
Dave added, "The ringing endorsement was that the reference company was able to come out of the recession growing at a substantial rate without adding headcount. They have seen real productivity gains."
The evaluation team believes in this vertical solution strongly enough to place a deposit with the vendor as they complete due diligence. Between now and mid-August, the team will work to determine if the return on cost of capital justifies the investment -- for a final decision.
Lessons Learned: Align Your Message to Your Delivery
As this real-life example demonstrates, the value of the services that your implementation team delivers is what wins deals. The visit to the reference site confirmed what Dave's team had been told by the vendor sales team. No surprises, just validation.
Your company's messaging should be built on the verifiable outcomes that customers have experienced. Content that helps prospects understand the practical value of your services will be much more compelling than a generic description of your methodology. As we move to a cloud-based application world, service value becomes even more important to fully explain.
Talk to your implementation team to get their help with:
- Case studies that focus not just on ROI but on the improvements in process.
- Getting specific with benefits of implementations to post on your Web site's services page. Bullet-list specific problems that your team overcame to improve productivity.
- Content for a report or whitepaper like, "20 Process Changes that Save Companies Money."
How does your implementation team help marketing build messaging and content? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.
More from This Series:
Posted by Barb Levisay on July 26, 2012 at 11:57 AM0 comments
Congratulations! You have earned recognition from Microsoft for your contribution to sales or service excellence. Receiving the award at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in front of your peers is exhilarating and gratifying. Well done.
Once you have written the press release, posted a LinkedIn announcement and added a line to your e-mail signature, what's next? Here are a few more ideas to help you get the most value from the hard work that won you the recognition.
1. Host an Award Party
The majority of the people on your team aren't able to attend WPC to experience the excitement of the event and winning the award. You can build the same enthusiasm in the office with an award party of your own. Celebrate the contribution that your team made to earning the recognition. Hold an award ceremony to call out and appreciate special contributors.
2. Write About the Meaning, Not Just the Award
While it's great to announce the win on LinkedIn and Twitter, those posts move down the page and are forgotten quickly. There are reasons that you won the award. Microsoft recognized that you are doing something differently -- better -- than other partners. There is a story there.
Writing the story behind the award is far more interesting to people than a self-serving announcement. Write about the people on your team who worked long hours to solve a customer problem or the sales person who made one more call to get a meeting with a prospect. Explain the relationship with Microsoft that makes the partnership valuable to you and your customers.
Once you have the story written, there are a number of ways that you can use it, including:
- A blog post, or better yet, break it into a series focusing on one aspect of the story in each post.
- An article for your customer and prospect newsletters.
- A "success story" presented through a three- to four-page PowerPoint, turned into a PDF and posted to your Web site.
- Post on your Web site's "About Us" page to explain the meaning behind the listed awards.
Keep in mind that the audience you most want to impress are prospects and existing customers. Visitors to your Web site are looking for reasons to do business with you. The award story provides third-party validation that you excel at what you do.
3. Share the Process
Your leadership team may be the only ones who understand the process of earning recognition from Microsoft. Explain it to the rest of the team.
An internal presentation to your entire team to explain the relationships with customers, and Microsoft that led to earning the award may spark new ideas. Even the programmer in the deepest depths of the back office may be able to contribute to more honors if she understands what is important to your partners.
4. Local or Industry Press
Sending out a press release about the award through the regular distribution channels may miss your most important audiences. The local paper, chamber of commerce and professional organizations serving your industry are where your prospects get their news. They are the ones you want to tell.
The best way to get the attention of the reporters and the leaders serving your target markets is to send them a personal note. Explain the importance of the award and the reasons that you won. Offer to speak at the next meeting about the value of business partnerships.
Don't assume that your Microsoft contacts are aware you won the award. Send out a separate announcement to your Microsoft contacts, crediting those who helped you succeed (they like recognition too). Invite them to your award party and celebrate their contributions.
How are you making the most of your latest award? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on July 19, 2012 at 11:57 AM0 comments