Want Referrals? Optimize Your Microsoft Partner Center Profile

Last week at the Microsoft Inspire conference, partners learned more about how Microsoft's Partner Center referral engine is evolving and how to optimize their business profiles. Fed from Microsoft's extensive Web presence, Partner Center is where customers, other partners and Microsoft employees -- including Microsoft's ramped-up inside sales team -- find you.

Now is the time for your Partner Center profile to go to the top of your marketing to-do list.

While Microsoft's sites like AppSource and Azure Marketplace are the sites to promote your solutions, Partner Center is the place where you make the case for your organization. Similar to a personal LinkedIn profile, your Partner Center profile should succinctly and clearly describe your organization's expertise and credentials. The profile is intended to provide a snapshot of your organization and present the opportunity for prospects to dig deeper if they like what they see.

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While optimizing your Partner Center profile is important to help customers find you, helping Microsoft employees find you may be just as important. It appears the recent reorg of partner experience will put more SMB opportunities into the Partner Center referral engine, managed by Microsoft's inside sales and support teams. In many cases, the choice of which partner(s) to send an opportunity will be based on the Partner Center profiles.

An important caution for partners is not to try to be all things to all people in your profile. Focus on the industries, services and solutions where you truly excel. Your goal should be to attract opportunities and referrals (from inside sales) that you can close. 

"The concept is all about matching," said Gary Bird, principal program manager at Microsoft. "To get the best results from their profile, partners should be authentic and precise with keywords and descriptions."

The algorithms behind the Partner Center -- including search, endorsements and profile options -- will continue to evolve. "As we see what is interesting to customers, we will expose more and more ways for them to find and get to know partners," said Bird.

Two recently added features include Microsoft Endorsements and the option to connect to your LinkedIn Company Page. "Endorsements are generated by Microsoft algorithms," said Bird. "We are in the beginning state of applying machine learning that will get more intelligent. The intent is that customers would like to know that Microsoft recognizes the partner expertise."

Partners cannot directly affect endorsements, but one would expect competencies and opportunity successes to be factored in. Which is another reason to focus on core strengths in your description and keywords.

The LinkedIn connection allows prospects to easily visit your company page to see if they have any shared contacts and view your activity level on Microsoft's recently acquired social property. Obviously, your LinkedIn company page should also have a top spot on your marketing to-do list.

To help partners improve results from Partner Center, Search and Referral Analytics provides feedback on pageviews, keywords, click-throughs and more. By monitoring and adjusting, you can continuously refine your profile to deliver more opportunities.  

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Refreshingly, Microsoft seems to be taking an agile approach to create a Partner Center referral engine that will serve customers, partners and Microsoft well. While the initial profile options are spartan, they provide a clean starting place for prospects to find out more. Building on machine learning, Microsoft will add functionality through customer behaviors and partner results.

For partners, this is an entry-level opportunity to create/update your ideal profile and closely monitor results.

How are you optimizing your Partner Center Profile? Send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on July 20, 20170 comments

6 Tips for Compelling Proposals that Prospects Want To Sign

When it comes to marketing content, the early stages of the customer journey seem to get all the attention, whereas proposals -- one of the most important documents in the buying process -- are left to the sales and technical teams to piece together at the last minute. Customers notice.

A hastily built proposal can undo all the hard work of your marketing and sales team to build a professional image. To maintain the momentum of your sales process, proposal templates should be carefully crafted to embody the very best of the business.

Know Your Audience
Technology service proposals are no longer the sole domain of IT teams. Your proposal will likely be reviewed by a number of people, including business and technical decision makers. Just like the rest of your marketing and sales content, proposals should focus on business issues. Explain, in plain terms, how your services are going to benefit each of the business units you expect to serve.

Start with the Benefits
When your prospects have arrived at the proposal stage, they are making a benefits-versus-costs decision. Focus on the benefits, getting as specific as possible. The proposal is an opportunity to demonstrate how much you know about their business and the challenges you can help them solve.

Provide proof points, like case studies. And be prepared to back up your claims if the prospect wants to speak to a current customer. Identify customers who are willing to speak to prospects about the value of your services.

No Big Surprises
The proposal should confirm conversations with sales and technical people, not deliver any new information. If there are issues the prospect has expressed concern about, those should be hashed out before the proposal is presented.

Make It Easy To Scan
Just like any other content, keep your messaging simple and make it easy for the reader to scan. Use subheads and bulleted lists to create an easy-to-read document. Checklists can be very helpful in proposals to spell out the laundry list of services you will deliver. 

Use Graphics
Whenever possible, simplify concepts with graphics. Keep your audience in mind -- business decision makers aren't likely to be interested in a network diagram but they might appreciate a diagram of the support ticket resolution process. Put technical diagrams in the appendix as much as possible.

Pay Attention to the Details
A hastily thrown together proposal with poor formatting or grammatical errors does not instill confidence. Spend the time to create proposal templates that look professional. The marketing, sales and technical teams should collaborate to create pieces of templates that can be assembled quickly and still look polished. 

A proposal should be a document the salesperson delivers to the prospect with pride. Reflecting the professionalism of your company, proposals can be a powerful tool to get your customer relationships off on the right footing.

What do you include in your proposals? Add send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on June 29, 20170 comments

7 Ways Microsoft CSPs Can Build Credibility in Vertical Markets 

Microsoft's Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program is fast becoming the standard business model for partners.

Ready or not, as adviser fees disappear, Microsoft partners need to ramp up their CSP packaged service offerings to maintain profitability. For those partners ready to focus on a specific industry, there are steps you can take to quickly build your presence in the market.

The first step is to narrow your market to the most specific segment in an industry. Most partners really struggle with this part. The idea of turning potential deals away in favor of focusing on a small segment of the market is too much of a risk in their minds.

As much as some partners would like them to be, "Distribution" or "Manufacturing" or "Health Care" are not really verticals. You need to take it down a couple of notches. Use the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) listings to help you narrow down to industry segments. Hoovers Industry Reports will help you group together industry segments that share the same challenges. 

Remember that focusing on one market doesn't mean abandoning all others, but without real immersion in the industry, it's hard to be taken as a serious player.

Once you have defined your vertical space and clearly outlined the benefits that you bring to the market, build your messaging around the pains of the industry and the benefits that you deliver. With the foundations of your messaging done, create an industry engagement plan. Share the commitment across the team, assigning different people to build their place in the industry.   

  1. Follow industry experts. Learn all you can through the thought leaders already established in the industry. Follow them on Twitter to learn the hashtags they use and the events they attend.

  2. Update your Partner Center listing. List your packaged services on your Microsoft Partner Center referral site profile (and any other vendor listing sites). In addition to a descriptive listing, add a downloadable solution overview and use cases.

  3. Build a microsite. Build an industry-specific microsite that stands alone but links to your main Web site. The microsite allows you to deliver a very targeted message without alienating your horizontal market.

  4. Use LinkedIn groups. Learn more about the challenges your prospects face by joining LinkedIn groups serving your industry. Join groups that appeal to different roles in your target companies to build your breadth of knowledge. Post when you can help solve a problem, but don't make sales pitches.

  5. Attend a tradeshow. Tradeshows are critically important to building personal relationships within an industry. Look for opportunities to contribute -- like speaking and sponsorships -- to build your credibility. If you have a booth, follow up with every visitor with a personal e-mail or phone call. Follow-through is just as important as the initial contact.  

  6. Sponsor educational events. Create your own, or work with existing event organizers to participate in educational events serving the industry. Either in-person (if you serve a metro area) or virtual educational events will establish your place as a champion of the industry. Become a connector within the industry.

  7. Build press relationships. Identify and follow the journalists and bloggers who cover your market. With an understanding of the types of stories they write, pitch an idea or offer to be a source when they write about a specific topic.

The CSP program was specifically designed to help partners serve vertical markets. And while industry specialization is new to most partners, it's not as difficult or confining as it may appear. With a clear plan and consistent execution, you may be surprised at how quickly you can build your presence as an industry leader.

How are you building your presence in a vertical market? Send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on June 08, 20170 comments

It's Time for a Seismic Shift in Partner Value Propositions

Businesses need partners for different reasons than they did in the past. Partner implementation services are being marginalized through vendor promises of simpler technology experiences in the cloud. Customers no longer see partners as an essential part of the implementation of new applications -- they can click the button themselves.

But what comes next -- the challenges of using those applications to improve business productivity and solve operational problems -- is where customers need help. Partners need to convince customers they can deliver.

Regardless of whether it is true, businesses are being bombarded with marketing messages suggesting that the cloud eliminates the headaches of technology. The value propositions of software vendors make it seem so simple. Google claims, "All you need to do your best work, together in one package that works seamlessly from your computer, phone or tablet." Microsoft says, "Run your small business better with Office 365. Work anytime, anywhere, with the latest Office 2016 apps and extra OneDrive cloud storage. Plus it's always up to date, and your data is protected with world-class security." And, "QuickBooks makes online accounting easy."

All of these statements plant the idea that software today is easy. With hardware a thing of the past, businesses don't think they need a technology provider. Just buy the licenses and go. Every Microsoft partner has war stories of the customers who did just that and now have cloud-based inefficient and disconnected business management applications.  

It's Time To Get Specific
If customers don't know why they still need partners, you need to tell them. Since technology is no longer the lead, customers need to know you can help them apply the software to solve business problems.  Building a value proposition for today's market is all about specialization. In the new reality for Microsoft partners, value propositions must focus on the specific business benefits your services bring to customers.

As with all marketing, the first step has to be a clear definition of which customers you are going to serve. Choosing the solution for your target market can take two potential paths: vertical and functional. Understand the business challenges that your target market faces and define a set of solutions and services that will address them.

Building the value proposition that will actually mean something to your prospects needs to answer the following questions:

  • Who you are addressing? Identify who you are speaking to by role or function.

  • What problem are you solving? In specific terms, describe the challenge that your target audience is facing.

  • How does your solution solve the problem? List the benefits that your solution will deliver.

  • What validates your claim? Provide some evidence, like how many clients you have worked with or years in business.

Commonly, value propositions include a couple of sentences and three bullet points. You don't have to be wed to one version of the value proposition. Take different approaches to find messaging to work in different situations. For example:

  • Summary value proposition: Create an overall statement to describe how you solve the top challenges for your clients.

  • Value propositions by challenge: Identify a number of your customers' top challenges and describe how your solution addresses each one.

  • Value propositions by role: Focus on the specific challenges of each business decision maker you work with. The CEO, CFO and IT director each have unique daily challenges.

As you work on different approaches, you will likely see some patterns that help you hone in on the most important points. Developing a great value proposition isn't easy. It takes work and time.

Business decision makers are being told they can turn on software to transform their business. You know that is not the case -- you've seen the results. With a clear understanding of your customer and the problem you can solve for them, you can make the case for the value you can add to their business. As customer perspectives change, your marketing and messaging need to change with them.

How are you adjusting your messaging to connect with cloud customers? Send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on May 25, 20170 comments

Microsoft Delivers Trove of Marketing Resources for Partners

Fueling the marketing engine with fresh ideas and new content is a never-ending challenge for every small business. Fortunately for partners, Microsoft has gotten the message and is delivering high-quality, practical marketing assets to help.

The resources supporting Microsoft's Digital Transformation campaign continue to grow and have become a gold mine of marketing content for partners.

Coming up with a single campaign that unifies the messaging in support of the broad range of solutions partners is a challenge in itself, and Microsoft has done an impressive job with the Digital Transformation. The campaign addresses business problems common to every organization and sets out compelling value propositions. Products and solutions are in the background -- right where they should be.

To get started figuring out which resources you can put to work, download the Digital Transformation Campaign Partner Playbook. The decks walks you through the assets, which are aligned with the four pillars of the campaign:

  • Engage you customers.
  • Empower your employees.
  • Optimize your operations.
  • Transform your products.

Each of the pillars comes with an "Internal Primer," apparently the digitally transformed name for a battlecard. Internal Primers are designed to help your team understand and put into words the business problems that your solutions can solve for clients. While that sounds like a simple concept, it has always been a challenge for tech-oriented employees to articulate business value to customers. The Primers can help everyone in your organization, not just sales and marketing, to think -- and speak -- about technology from the customer's perspective.

Vertical and SMB Primers and Messaging Frameworks continue to be added to the pool of campaign assets. Currently, there are marketing resources for manufacturing, professional services, financial services, government, retail and health care. These documents will be especially helpful for Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) partners developing their own solution marketing messages. Tap these documents for foundational messaging, adding the specific value that your solutions and services deliver.  

Campaign materials supporting each of the pillars include e-mails, presentation decks, brochures and social messaging -- all customizable. Messaging and assets from each of the pillars can be mixed and matched to align with your unique service lines. With all the pieces you need to execute campaigns with professional polish, you can get these rolling quickly.   

A Source of Inspiration
In addition to helping you get some quick campaigns out the door, the Digital Transformation resources also provide rich fodder to build additional content for your marketing. Applying a little creativity, every one of these resources includes material you can use to build deeper content that speaks to your value proposition. For example:

  • Use the Conversation Starter questions included in each Internal Primer as the basis of a series of blog posts.

  • Combine the statistics from the pitch decks with the Solution Points from a Primer to create an infographic.

  • With a little expansion and imagination, the content from each Internal Primer could be turned into an e-book.

Over the past few years, Microsoft's through-partner marketing has improved dramatically. The Digital Transformation campaign is another step in the right direction. The messaging is business-problem-focused and benefit -- not solution -- focused. There is valuable content for every partner in these resources. Just the fuel you need to get that marketing campaign revved up and out the door.

How are you using Microsoft's Digital Transformation marketing resources? Send me a message and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 20, 20170 comments

Partners: Does Your Marketing Pass the 'WIIFM' Test?

It's a harsh reality, but your customers and prospects really don't care about your business. They don't care about the awesome award you just earned or how excited you are about the new release.

On the other hand, they might care about how your services can help their own business. Your marketing -- and all communications -- should address your customers' interests, not yours. That's where the "What's In It for Me?" (or WIIFM) test helps you look at every message from the customers' perspective.

The WIIFM test is especially important for Microsoft partners. The people who work for partners are technology enthusiasts. Everyone in this industry is passionate in their belief that technology can bring enormous benefits to customers. It's easy to get wrapped up in the hype of Microsoft and the partner community, and think that everyone should be just as excited about the potential business impact of the latest solution release or new service offering as we are.

They aren't.

The WIIFM test helps you step back and think about your marketing messages and communications from the perspective of people who are not immersed in tech.

The WIIFM Foundation
Your WIIFM test only needs to include a couple of questions, but first you need to establish the foundation of your messaging.

  • Define your target audience. What are the businesses, and who are the people within those organizations, that you want to attract as customers? You can't communicate effectively when you try to be everything to everyone. You may serve several different target markets and you should have specific definitions for each of those target markets. 

  • What are the top challenges of the target audience? For each of your markets, you should have a list of the top pains and challenges those businesses face. Ideally, you should develop both a business-level and a role-based list of challenges and pains.

  • What opportunities could you help your target audience take advantage of? The value of your services doesn't always involve solving customer pain. You may offer services that help businesses uncover or capitalize on new opportunities. Caution on this one: When you see a new feature or solution that you know your client will "love," temper the excitement and consider the real business value you can show.

Apply the WIIFM Test Before You Hit Send
Armed with your foundation, you can apply the WIIFM test to your blogs, newsletters, Web text and all of your marketing materials. Even before you hit send on an e-mail, ask these simple questions: 

  • If I were the customer, would I give a hoot about this information?

  • If I were the customer, would this information help me solve a problem or would it help me uncover new opportunity?

If you can honestly answer yes to both, the message passes the WIIFM test.

In today's world, every person in your organization is a marketer. You want your employees to be freely engaging with customers. You can help them improve their communications skills by guiding and reminding them of the WIIFM test. Every one of your employees should be familiar with the WIIFM questions and answers to keep them thinking about your business from your customers' perspective.

How do you promote effective communication with customers? Send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 06, 20170 comments

13 Marketing Ideas To Help Partners Build Customer Lifetime Value

The cloud changes the nature of both transactions and interactions between Microsoft partners and customers. Incremental revenue means customer retention is critical to long-term profits. At the same time, the automation of cloud applications means there is less personal interaction between customers and employees.

To address both issues, partners need to take a more active approach in keeping communications lines open and maintaining relationships.

Keeping the lines of communication open doesn't require a big investment of money, but it definitely requires an ongoing investment of time. Sporadic communication doesn't show commitment. Communication and marketing plans designed to build customer relationships should be formally scheduled and consistently executed.

To achieve that consistency, you need programs that your teams will get behind. Marketing in today's world is a team sport. As you consider the ideas below, think in terms of how they fit the skills and interests of your team. What activities will your consulting and marketing teams follow through on consistently?   

  1. Expand your support portal. Take your support portal a step further, making it a central hub of information and a place where customers can interact with your employees. The portal should have a modern look and feel -- not like a 1990s Web page -- to show your customers you care about their experience.

  2. Create Yammer groups. Use Yammer groups to build an active community of customers and employees. Take the initiative to reach out to customers often with conversations to get them in the habit of looking to the group for answers.

  3. Segment your audience. The more you can fine tune your message to customer interests, the more likely they are to pay attention. Profile your customer base, looking for similarities in industry, number of employees, location and other characteristics. Create special interest groups on Yammer or create multiple versions of your newsletter to provide targeted information to each audience.

  4. Hold a regular in-person event. If you work primarily with local companies, sponsor a monthly happy hour or a quarterly CIO dinner.

  5. Advocate for your customers. Ask customers to speak at your events, providing them with exposure to a local audience.

  6. Send a handwritten note to one customer every week. Taking the time to write a personal note thanking a customer is more valuable than ever before. It's a powerful tactic that takes very little time.

  7. Tell stories about your customers. Use case studies to showcase how your best customers are reaping the benefits of working with you. Be creative and don't get bogged down with writing long case studies. Conduct interviews and post the questions and answers, or capture the interview on video and post to the customer portal.

  8. Introduce new customers. When you add a new customer, ask them if you can post a story about their business.

  9. Test your current systems. All your marketing efforts are for naught if customers get frustrated trying to solve a problem or ask a question. Test every entry point into your company to make sure that your customers won't hit any dead ends or frustrating loops.

  10. Reward your customers. Everyone loves a special deal. Delight your customers with a coupon for services or a free training session. Let them know that their business is just as important to you as attracting new customers.

  11. Have fun. The services you deliver are serious business, but that doesn't mean your communications should be lifeless. Think outside the box, try some creative approaches and add some lightness to your customers' day.

  12. Be your customers' "inside" connection to Microsoft. As their partner, your customers should think of you first when they have a Microsoft-related question. Be ready. Since the amount of information coming out of Microsoft is overwhelming, share the load. Assign specific topics to employees, whose job is to stay current with all things related. With a "go-to" list of employees who know the answer (or know where to find it quickly) you can become the trusted source for all things Microsoft.  

  13. Hire a customer lifetime advocate. As your book of recurring revenue grows, retaining those clients is as important as marketing for new ones. There comes a time when your business will need someone devoted to executing programs that keep customers happy and connected. 

Of course, the most important ingredient in retaining customers is providing high-quality, relevant services. For guidance on delivering and measuring customer relationships, Part 5 of Microsoft's Cloud Partner Profitability Series, "Deliver Customer Lifetime Value," is a great resource. And, as you plan out your service strategies, include ongoing communication and marketing as a critical component.

How are you building loyalty with your customer base? Send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 22, 20170 comments

9 Steps To Ramp Up Your CSP Solution Marketing

Based on the 20,000 and counting partners participating in Microsoft's Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program, a swelling number of packaged service offerings are vying for your prospects' attentions. While we know the market for cloud services is also growing, partners need to rev up the marketing engine to stay competitive.

Now that you've got your CSP solution(s) defined and set up, it's time to get out in front of the crowd with well-planned, consistently executed marketing. The list below provides a 10,000-foot view of the steps to ramp up your marketing efforts. Microsoft offers a number of worthwhile programs and groups to help train and support your marketing team through all of these steps. Through the Marketing SureStep Group and product-specific groups on the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) Yammer, the opportunity to learn through direct interaction with Microsoft and other partner marketers is priceless, so take advantage.

1. Define the Target Market for Your CSP Solution
As with all marketing, the first step in any successful marketing effort is to clearly define your target market. Step back to look at the target market for your CSP solution -- separate from the rest of your business. Identify the industry/role/function of the people who will benefit most from the solution set. The more precisely you can focus your message to appeal to an industry/role/function, the more likely your content will be found by prospective buyers.

2. Create a List of the Pains Your Solution Addresses
Clearly lay out the problems your CSP offering solves for the target audience. As you work on this list, key words and phrases will emerge to use in your social and online marketing campaigns.

3. Create a Clear Value Proposition
Your value proposition is just that: the value you will deliver to help your target audience improve their business or solve their problem. Write a paragraph -- one high-level sentence and three or four bullets -- that clearly, succinctly describes the pains solved and benefits provided by your solution. If you want to go one step further, go deeper on each bullet and outline the pains and the benefits of the solution.

Consider naming your offerings. A name makes it easier for customers to understand that it is a "set" of services.

4. Create Content that Educates Prospects
Your content should guide the prospect as they progress through the buying process. Using your value proposition as the guide for topics, help your prospects understand their problem and how you can help them solve it. Include a call to action to close out all your content. Always suggest the next step you'd like your prospect to take.

Develop an achievable plan for your content. From blog posts to webinars to white papers, there is no right or wrong on the type of content. The important thing is choosing a form that you will consistently create.

5. Build Out the Content on Your Web Site
Take an objective look at your Web site. It needs to look modern or your message won't make it past a seven-second view-and-click-away. Set up a separate page/section for your CSP offering. Use your value proposition as a guide for your navigation and content.

6. Update Social Media Sites and Pertinent Directories
Update all of your social media profiles, including your LinkedIn company page, with messaging about your solution set(s). Update, and keep current, your Partner Central profile and search out other vendor directories and marketplaces. As you have done research on your market, you have likely found industry or professional organization sites that serve your target prospects. Look for opportunities on those sites to get listed or contribute content, like blog posts.  

7. Create Marketing Campaigns
Marketing campaigns can be any combination of marketing tactics, all focused on promoting the solution set to a specific target market. There is no right or wrong -- just be consistent and follow through. Newsletters, trade shows, seminars, webinars, e-mails, inbound marketing and social media are all viable alternatives and should work together to reinforce a common message.

For both content and marketing campaign materials, build on the Microsoft resources. Over the past few months, assets supporting Microsoft's Digital Transformation messaging have been released. There is a goldmine of content and templates to save you time and money.  

8. Use Your Team and Customers To Spread the Word
Today, everyone is in marketing. Employees should understand the value proposition of your solutions and be ready to talk to customers and business contacts. Your best customers can become advocates for your solution. Look for opportunities to engage the skills and interests of employees and customers in your marketing campaigns.

9. Commit to Schedules To Keep Your Marketing Engine Going
Consistency is the key to marketing results. Most partners are highly challenged to make the unwavering, long-term commitment to marketing that will deliver reliable results. When everyone is busy, marketing is the first casualty. In the world of online marketing, continuous marketing has become even more important.

Well-planned, consistently executed marketing will help your solution stand out in a crowded field. For partners, marketing always seems to be the hardest step in launching new services. However, it's not as mysterious as it seems. Follow these nine steps and you'll build a marketing engine that keeps your sales pipeline full. 

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

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 02, 20170 comments

Use Cases: The Next Generation of Partner Marketing Content

Visit AppSource, Microsoft's business apps marketplace, and you'll see a different type of content supporting some of the listings. Mixed in with the standard brochures and overview decks, use case documents are being employed to illustrate the applications' benefits in real-world situations.

While use cases have a long history in the technology business, they are usually relegated to the discovery and requirements stages of implementations. Undoubtedly, they will be a welcome newcomer in marketing circles. 

This is Wikipedia's definition of use case: "In software and systems engineering, a use case is a list of actions or event steps, typically defining the interactions between a role (known in the Unified Modeling Language as an actor) and a system, to achieve a goal. The actor can be a human or other external system. In systems engineering, use cases are used at a higher level than within software engineering, often representing missions or stakeholder goals."

Eureka! Sounds like the perfect vehicle to translate the functionality of a solution into the business value for decision makers.

One could argue that case studies have served as use cases for marketing efforts up to now. But as many partners find, prospects want to see recent case studies, from their own industry, solving exactly the problem they face -- the list goes on. And since most projects and opportunities are unique, it's often a tall order to come up with just the right case study.

Use cases, which can certainly be based on real case studies, allow partners to take a more generalized approach. Through a use case, partners can combine graphics and text to convey benefits quickly. As all marketers try to find new ways to get the point across quickly -- especially for millennial buyers -- use cases are a great idea.

Examples from AppSource
Two examples from AppSource listings show how partners are taking different approaches to use cases. The AvePoint Citizen Services Use Case Graphic, which you can access here, is a one-page .PDF that presents five scenarios illustrating how AvePoint's solution improves common interactions between citizens and local government. Supporting text lists the benefits of the solution functionality.

[Click on image for larger view.] AvePoint Citizen Services Use Case Graphic

Taking a little different approach, Plexure's use cases, available here, comprise a multi-page .PDF laying out the benefits of the solution in terms of five typical service scenarios. For example, the first page illustrates how the "Intelligent drive-thru" can increase customer purchase decisions.    

[Click on image for larger view.] Plexure use cases - optimizing transactions in the real world

Guidance and Ideas for Use Cases
As more partners include use cases in their marketing efforts, there will surely be an explosion of creative ideas. In building out use cases, apply the standard marketing best practices, including:

  • Understand your audience. Focus on the benefits of the solution or app for your target audience.

  • Don't try to cover too much ground. Keep it simple, focusing on a few specific benefits.

  • Include a call to action. What is the next step you want a prospect to take after reading? Consider setting up a landing page specific to the use case that will offer prospects additional information and next steps. 

And a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Show before and after scenarios. Help prospects recognize their current pain to help them see the full value of the solution benefits.

  • Tell a story. Give your subject a name to personalize the scenario. Make the subject a hero who overcomes adversity with your solution. Have some fun with it.

  • Explain a process. Try applying use cases to more than just an app or solution. Whether it's your add-on services or how a new business process will flow through your customer's business, use cases could help prospects visualize the benefits.

For the growing number of Cloud Solution Providers (CSPs), use cases provide a powerful way to spell out their solution benefits. Focus on your IP, whether that is functional or value-add service, to differentiate your offering from other partners.

Finding the right approach to graphically depict a concept isn't necessarily easy, but well worth the time. As more partners add use cases into their marketing arsenal, we will surely see some amazing creativity. In the never-ending quest to find faster ways to convey a message, the use case has the potential to take the lead in marketing content. 

Have you added use cases to your marketing content? Send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 23, 20170 comments

As Microsoft Transitions from Pinpoint to Partner Center, Marketers Should Tune In

At its 2016 Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), Microsoft announced it would be retiring Pinpoint, the customer-facing partner directory, and replacing it with Partner Center.

Partner Center is now the landing place for customers who visit many Microsoft Web properties and click on a link to "Find a Partner." To make the most of those potential customer connections -- as well connect with other partners and Microsoft employees -- partner marketers should be tuned in to the evolution of Partner Center.

More than just a directory, the Partner Center is the transactional hub for cloud partner-customer relationships. It's Microsoft's one-stop shop to help partners manage the complex transactional relationships with customers -- like multi-channel and multi-partner account assignments. In the long run, the centralization of partner and customer information should benefit everyone involved, but it's going to take some getting used to. And some marketers may have missed the transition.

In terms of referrals, Partner Center is in its early days, but marketers need to be paying attention as the site develops. According to Microsoft, the company is investing in and rebuilding the architecture of the customer-to-partner matching/referral tools. "Microsoft Referrals" will centralize the tools previously known as Pinpoint, C2PC, FastTrack and many others that connect customers with partners.

Managing Marketing Profiles in Partner Center
The fanfare around the Partner Center as referral engine is likely to heat up once the migration of partner accounts from Pinpoint is completed. The transition has created some confusion. While limited profile information for all partners has been migrated to Partner Center, not all partners are able to manage their accounts on the platform. Cloud Solution Providers (CSPs) and some ISV partners manage their profiles in Partner Center, while most non-CSP partners still use the Pinpoint interface to manage their information. The original announcements from Microsoft suggested all partners would be on the Partner Center platform before January 2017, but the process is not yet complete.

"I don't have a final date as it is an iterative process working with partners through the rollout plan," said Niamh Coleman, director of Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) programs in the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group. "It's a journey. We are working hard to bring partners a new and improved referral engine."

Based on my review of the listings currently in Partner Center, most partners have not spent enough (if any) time updating their profiles. The Referrals Partner Deck provides a clear step-by-step guide to explaining the transition process and how to manage your marketing profile through either interface. Collaboration Works, a Dynamics partner marketing firm, wrote a good post with valuable tips on the transition and how to improve your search rankings.

'Microsoft Referrals'
While the transition to the new platform may be a little rocky, it's important that marketers pay attention to what Microsoft refers to as the "Next generation of Microsoft referrals." Microsoft is trying to up its game for customer-to-partner and partner-to-partner referrals. That engine will be driven through the Partner Center which, at this point, is still evolving.       

"The referral engine will identify the most relevant and qualified partners," said Coleman. "We will be connecting customers with partners, as well as connecting partners with one another. Partner Center will be the hub for finding qualified partners."

For many partners, the real value of Pinpoint was making connections with partners and Microsoft employees. Microsoft employees and partners searched Pinpoint to find partners with specific industry or functional expertise. Partner Center is likely to be even more valuable in that regard. Microsoft needs partners to work together so they are motivated to foster P2P connections.

Currently, the Partner Center listings have limited capabilities. There doesn't appear to be any way to attach supporting documents. The customer references that were part of Pinpoint have been discontinued -- probably in response to the difficulty in validating entries.

"Customer references was retired," said Coleman. "The plan is to replace the function with an enhanced service. We'll be keeping partners apprised as we roll out additional functionality."

Coleman promised that there would be much more information at July's Inspire (formerly WPC) conference, along with hands-on help for partners who want to improve their Partner Center marketing profiles. Watch the Inspire session catalog for more information.   

There is clearly a lot going on behind the scenes as the referral engine on Partner Central is rolled out. The first step for marketers is to update your partner profile. Then, monitor communications from Microsoft to stay ahead of the curve and take advantage of early opportunities. It feels like partner marketers should be paying close attention to whatever comes next on Partner Center.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 09, 20170 comments