PartnerPulse Builds Social Platform for Microsoft Partners

What can a group of partners together do better than one partner alone? When the goal is to improve visibility with search engines, the answer is to combine social engagement to move higher in rankings.

Group blogs have helped many partners build rankings through combined efforts. And now, a new Microsoft partner community, PartnerPulse, is providing a central platform for partners to benefit from collective social activity.

A Social Approach
PartnerPulse is a directory aimed at helping customers find and connect with Microsoft partners. Users can browse the directory or search by function or competency. Unique to the site, though, is the focus on social interaction as the primary objective.

"Through conversations with other Microsoft partners, I identified a gap in the market for something different from Pinpoint," said Chris Wright, founder of PartnerPulse. "Pinpoint is becoming a destination for apps. PartnerPulse is focused on interaction between the company and someone else. It's about a conversation, not about apps or selling things or downloads."

Microsoft's Pinpoint is clearly the partner directory powerhouse. Wright's intention is not to compete, but to complement. While PartnerPulse does serve as a partner directory, with profile pages and site search capabilities, the purpose of the site is to facilitate conversations.

"The real power of partner profiles comes from our unique 'Pulse' element. This allows visitors to the site to interact right there on the page -- anyone can post to the Pulse," Wright continued. "It could be a simple comment, a rating, pictures, useful links, news -- you name it. The 'Pulse' is an active conversation dedicated to that partner."

Helping Partners Stay Active
In previous posts , partners have noted that fresh content is the key to success on Pinpoint. Finding the time or dedicating the resources to keep that content fresh is an ongoing challenge. Wright recognizes that the prospect of having another site to keep fresh may be an obstacle for partner adoption.

"Fundamentally, we want to make the site really simple to use. It comes back to making it as easy as possible to update the site without having to go to the site," Wright said. "It makes it easy for the partner and also drives unique content."

As a first step, partners can link their Twitter accounts to automatically update company Pulses. Wright's team is working on additional connections for blog posts and other content to automatically post Pulses to a partner's page. Keeping the Pulse feed active should be the top priority for any PartnerPulse user. According to Wright, Pulses are indexed by search engines while Tweets are not.

Results from Membership
While PartnerPulse has not "formally" launched worldwide, U.K. partners have been using and testing out the value of the site for almost a year. Mark Jones, founder of Collaboris, has already seen results from his company's membership.

"We've been on the site from its beginning," Jones said. "We are already getting traffic from PartnerPulse, which is more than we have gotten from Pinpoint in three years. It has proven itself already."

Jones sees PartnerPulse as way to participate in a community without trying to build one on your own. As more prospects want to interact with service providers online before they make a commitment, PartnerPulse provides a central, safe place to have those conversations.   

"We find that people want to interact. PartnerPulse offers all of the social aspects of Facebook," Jones noted. "As it becomes a more dominant force, customers will go to the PartnerPulse directory and communicate with us. It has great potential."

While Wright plans to formally launch the site sometime after this year's Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, partners can sign up for a free account now. If you are looking for a way to extend you social engagement, PartnerPulse may be a platform worth checking out.    

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

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 25, 20130 comments

Customers Explore Possibilities with Microsoft Experience Centers

What better way to show your customers the value of the latest technology than to allow them to experience firsthand the best that Microsoft has to offer?

Through "day in the life" Microsoft Experience Center (MEC) scenarios, partners help customers imagine what they could accomplish with the newest productivity tools -- many of which they already own.

The Value of the MEC Experience
The two Technology Solution Centers that Micro Strategies, a multi-gold business process and infrastructure partner, set up in its Denville, N.J. and Malvern, Pa. locations provide the perfect setting for MECs. Designed to showcase state-of-the-art technologies from both IBM and Microsoft, the facilities provide customers and prospects with an immersive experience.  

"Every customer has the same kinds of too many e-mails and lack of collaboration," said Ray Scardelli, vice president of sales and marketing for Micro Strategies. "The way we structure a MEC is to give customers a real-world experience with Microsoft technologies. It's not a presentation or a demo."

"When we get them into the session, we ask leading questions," Scardelli explained. "Whether the attendees are CEOs, CIOs or operations folks, they are all using Microsoft productivity tools, but all using different pieces and not to its full potential. We make it fun, but in the end, we show them how powerful the Microsoft solutions can be."

Because the company has two centers, Micro Strategies is able to demonstrate new levels of interactivity between geographically dispersed meetings. "We use the two facilities all the time. We'll have one of our experts in the other facility join the session virtually on a large screen and answer a customer question in real time," Scardelli said. "He'll whiteboard the solution on the smart board and when they are done, he can send the whiteboard session to the customer in an e-mail."

How Do You Get Them in the Door?
With the tight schedules of business people, it's challenging to get customers -- especially a number of executives from one organization -- to invest time into the MEC. Based on its success with MECs, Micro Strategies has made them an organizational priority.    

"In the majority of our marketing efforts, we work in the discussion about MECs," Scardelli noted. "When we talk to customers, we always offer the MEC. Everyone in the organization is well-versed in what the MEC is and what it can do for the customer. It is part of the fabric of our organization."

To help motivate both salespeople and the rest of the organization, Micros Strategies rewards employees through praise and financial incentives to get more customers into the technology centers. Friendly, interoffice competitions motivate employees to aim for the company goal of two scheduled MECs per week. "It's not easy to get customers out, but we work hard at it," Scardelli said.

Scardelli would like to see more tangible action from Microsoft sales teams to drive customers to MECs, noting, "We are doing the marketing and building excitement around MECs, but we feel like we are on our own. LARs are starting to engage more, but from the Microsoft standpoint, we just haven't seen the traction."

Outcomes from MECs
While MEC sessions are run as an educational service to customers with no sales pressure, they build trust and good will. Since the MECs give customers a peak into what they are missing, participating companies often request an assessment to take stock of their current system capabilities.

"During the assessments, we work to show how we can add value and demonstrate to customers that we have the expertise," Scardelli said. "We build trust through our work and the relationship goes from there."

Partner To Extend MECs to Your Customers
While investing in the hardware required to deliver MEC sessions in your own facility may be out of reach, there is an easy solution. Learning partners, with the space and computers already in place, are teaming up with value-added resellers (VARs) and system integrators (SIs) to offer MECs to their combined customer bases. Read more about how that works and then reach out to your local learning partner to get started.

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

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 11, 20130 comments

Microsoft Cloud Champ Partner Shares Secrets of Marketing Success

How does a small regional system integrator (SI) achieve the same designation as Microsoft partners like Dell and CDW in just five short years? Palmetto Technology Group (PTG) based in Greenville, S.C. has made the grade as a Microsoft Tier 3 Cloud Champion and Cloud Accelerate partner with an impressive track record of customer adds. 

Consistent inbound marketing efforts stoke the sales pipeline to keep PTG fueled for continued growth. Over the past two to three years, PTG has enjoyed triple-digit growth riding the adoption of Microsoft's online services.

"Five years ago we started as a regional SI and saw the writing on the wall," said Reed Wilson, owner of PTG, referring to the opportunity in the cloud. "We started with BPOS and now Office 365. Online services represent 60 to 70 percent of the revenue, between Partner of Record fees, implementation and follow-on services."

Earning the designation of Tier 3 Cloud Champion has opened doors for PTG, a challenge for all small partners, within Microsoft. "Being a Cloud Champion shows customers that we are in the top 10 percent of all the Microsoft partners," Wilson said. "But the big value that we get out of it is mindshare inside Microsoft and access to the programmatic benefits, like proof-of-concept and deployment dollars." 

Lead People to the Web Site
So how has PTG gained the momentum to add enough online service customers to earn Microsoft's attention?

"Everything we do is focused on leading people to the website," said Lisa Anderson, owner of Peacock Marketing, a marketing services firm that works very closely with PTG.

The top focus for the PTG marketing efforts is to maintain high placement in search results for common search keywords that prospects are using. "We analyze the Web site data and do extensive SEO research to determine what words are the most popular and how much competition there is for each of those words," Anderson said. "Keyword trends can change drastically within a month. We try to follow the trends and align our marketing around the words."

Additional activities that keep search rankings high include continuous content refreshment on the Web site, regular press releases and social media promotion.

Pinpoint Is No stepchild
Outside of search engine optimization, updating PTG's Microsoft Pinpoint directory listing every month is Anderson's top priority. Pinpoint drives at least 30 percent of the visitors to the PTG Web site, with many converting to leads and opportunities.

"Pinpoint is the red-headed stepchild for partners -- most partners just don't believe in it," Wilson said. "A good 30 percent of our leads are generated directly through Pinpoint and I suspect the actual number is even higher. For example, we got a 2,500-seat opportunity from the other side of the country just last week."

Quality Content
When prospects arrive at PTG's Web site, every variety of content they could want is waiting. Videos -- created by Microsoft, PTG and customers -- are sprinkled throughout the site. Whitepapers on a variety of subjects, graphics, brochures, case studies and a blog all offer education on the current state of IT and cloud solutions.

Interesting to note is the lack of forms on the PTG Web site. Content is open and viewable without prospects having to enter their name and e-mail. "Our approach is that we want the customer to make the right decision and come to us," Wilson said. "If you use forms, you are taking a transactional approach. We take a consultative approach where customers come to us instead of us tracking them down via a form. When they do contact us, they are highly qualified."

Consistent Execution and Refinement
PTG is fueling its growth through consistent inbound marketing that keeps the focus on the needs of the customer. A continual flow of educational content and close monitoring of results keep the leads flowing. The process works and provides a great formula for any partner to follow.

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

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 27, 20132 comments

The Inspiring Backstory of 'Dispute Impossible'

The marketing video posted on the K2 site bears little resemblance to most partner marketing videos. There are no product features, no benefit statements, not even a customer testimonial. The leading images and soundtrack evoke the mundane, and then the video draws you in with some serious attitude. The music is more than intriguing -- and it holds a great story.

"Dispute Impossible," the latest marketing campaign video from K2, aims to connect with people on a different level. Josh Swihart, senior vice president of marketing for K2, a global ISV headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., explains, "We wanted the video to inspire and strike a chord that you can't hit with a product description or value proposition. We weren't trying to manufacture something to generate hits but to connect honestly."

Only days before the campaign was scheduled to launch, the video wasn't where the K2 marketing team wanted it to be. They had worked hard through the holidays ramping up to release a new Web site, with fresh positioning and supporting campaigns, including "Dispute Impossible." They were tired and ready to move on, but the video just wasn't right.

Describing the final review meeting, Swihart says, "We worked through alternatives, different an-gles, alternative messages. It was OK. It wasn't quite right. Then Richard Renno, a K2 senior designer, played a song by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis called 'Ten Thousand Hours' that captured what we were trying to communicate -- as inspiration or to spark an idea. It did."

The song, drawing on Malcolm Gladwell's concept of the time it takes to master a craft, was the finishing piece they needed. They decided to get the rights to use it.

"For Microsoft partners and B2B in general, most of our marketing is boring. We forget we're talking to people who want to be inspired." --Josh Swihart, Senior Vice President of Marketing, K2

Currently, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are the hottest of stars in the rap world, with songs at the top of the Billboard charts. To think that these celebrities, even if someone could get through to them, would allow a software development company to use their song -- with a price tag that K2 could afford -- was highly unlikely. Probably impossible.

"We tried to reach out to them and did get into conversations with a broker, but the price was way out of our range," explains Swihart. Not giving up easily, the team continued to work other angles to connect more directly. They sent an e-mail that finally made its way in front of the rappers just as they were about to perform on the nationally syndicated "Ellen" show.

On Sunday, the day before the planned launch of the "Dispute Impossible" campaign, K2 finalized an agreement for use of "Ten Thousand Hours" with a surprisingly affordable price tag. "We pushed through and disputed everything that was impossible -- on a Sunday," adds Swihart. "They gave us an incredible deal outside the norm, and we're very grateful to them."

The importance of taking the "Dispute Impossible" video to the next level reflects the identity that K2 has crystallized for its 270 employees. "In creating a video, we wanted to embrace our customers and to celebrate our own culture. We work with customers who are challenging the norm," Swihart explains. "People who break the rules and do whatever it takes to achieve the impossible."

Using images of real customers and employees was important to the K2 marketing team, who produced the video in-house. While the video is intended to connect with prospects at a personal level, there's a beautifully designed companion white paper that builds a convincing case for the value of K2's software.

The marketing team plans to continue to build and roll out cross-channel campaigns -- all intended to inspire as well as educate. "Yes, you need to do analytics and, yes, you need to drive the funnel, but there's something more. There's a massive opportunity in our community to be really creative," notes Swihart. "For Microsoft partners and B2B in general, most of our marketing is boring. We forget we're talking to people who want to be inspired.

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 04, 20130 comments

Repurpose, Reuse and Recycle Your Marketing Content

It always starts out strong -- the new content marketing program that will finally tap into the collective knowledge of your company. Everyone is on board. Everyone has a ton of ideas. "Yes. We can commit to an hour a week. No problem. We'll never run out of topics."

And then the newness wears off and enthusiasm dies down. The marketing team needs more content...again.

"I've got too many billable hours this week, I will write twice as much next week."

"Can't we just hire someone to write this stuff?"

It's the marketer's dilemma: The relentless need for content. But don't let those inevitable lulls get you down. Have some fun and challenge yourself to repurpose, reuse and recycle.

Microsoft's Ready-to-Go (RtG) Content Finder is a partner marketer's best friend. While each piece has an intended use, a little creativity makes them go way further. Here are just a few examples:

  • The notes in the RtG PowerPoint decks are generally written in conversational tone, making them excellent for blog post fodder.

  • The graphics in those same decks can provide a foundation for a blog post or an illustration for your whitepaper.

  • Content from several of the business e-mails in the marketing template section could be combined into an e-book. Use PowerPoint as your base -- edit the text and add graphics and a .PDF for an effective call-to-action in your newsletter.

Don't worry that you are offering the same information in a different package. Your prospects want the option to view content in different ways. Give them lots of choices.   

While the technology we promote is always changing, many of the business problems that you solve are no different than they were three years ago. The case study that you have hidden on a deeply buried page of your Web site still speaks to a common business pain. Dust it off and turn it into a blog post.  

The blog posts that your consultants wrote a year ago are likely just as valid now as they were when originally written. Review the older posts and rewrite them with a new twist. Look for graphics on the RtG site that may help to illustrate the point.

There is undoubtedly valuable content wasting away on your internal SharePoint site. From presentation decks to proposals, find the good stuff, polish it up and put it to good use.

  • In most proposals, a solution architect or consultant worked very hard to write a clear description of the solution to a business problem. With a little work on your part, that solution description can be turned into a blog post, or combine a number of them for a powerful e-book.

  • Posting the recording of the full webinar is fine, but what if you edited it down to a few of the best minutes? It shows your prospects that you respect their time and gives you a follow-up call-to-action.

  • Have you created resume sheets for your top consultants? Turn those into an e-book with photographs to show pride in your personnel and build confidence with prospects.     

Content marketing is a commitment to provide valuable information to your prospects. It's not easy, but it doesn't have to be painful. Get creative, have fun with it and keep it going -- even during the dry spells.

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

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 28, 20130 comments

Partner Builds Trust Ahead of Winter Storm Nemo

The natural disasters of the last decade have convinced all business owners, whether they were personally affected or not, the value of disaster preparedness. Most recently, Hurricane Sandy delivered a noteworthy reminder to northeast businesses on the importance of IT infrastructure continuity. As winter storm Nemo, with epic blizzard potential, was approaching anxious customers, one partner made a small gesture with meaningful impact.

Genuine Concern for Customers
eMazzanti Technology and many of its customers are located in Hoboken, N.J., ground zero for Hurricane Sandy's wrath. When the National Weather Service was warning of another potential weather disaster, Carl Mazzanti, eMazzanti's CEO, decided to take a proactive approach to reassure nervous managed service and infrastructure customers. On Thursday, Feb. 7, Mazzanti sent the following message to everyone on his company's e-mail list:

'Winter Storm Nemo Service Advisory
The National Weather Service has issued a Blizzard Warning in effect from 6 am Friday to 1 pm EST Saturday. In anticipation of this storm eMazzanti has taken the proper precautions to ensure that we will continue to seamlessly provide the same superior quality of service.

Although we, at eMazzanti, are hopeful that this winter storm will not be the cause of any business emergency we are fully prepared to support you in the event that there is a need. eMazzanti has taken the steps to verify the integrity of our customers' business continuity. This includes staffing engineers outside of the anticipated region of impact for this storm and verifying customer backups.

We recommend everyone heed the warnings by the National Weather Service and please stay safe through the impending storm. Should you have any questions or concerns, please email or call us. We are here to help.

Far more effective than any sales message could ever be, Mazzanti didn't seize the opportunity to sell backups. The message is simple, reassuring and genuine.

Lessons from Hurricane Sandy
A five-competency network and managed services provider with 19 employees, eMazzanti learned many lessons during Hurricane Sandy. "We became experts during Sandy. In our own office we had three to four inches of water, so we experienced it along with our clients," explained Jennifer Mazzanti, president of eMazzanti. "We have clients in Manhattan, some of whom were without power for weeks.

"Going into this winter storm, we knew what we had to do in terms of being ready. We sent staff out of the area, sandbagged our datacenter and were checking backups in the days leading up to the storm," added Mazzanti. "We realized during Sandy that you need to be up and running as soon as possible. If you are not stable yourself, you can't service your customers well. So before Nemo, we took a lot of extra measures to make sure we were ready."

For most of eMazzanti's customers, the blizzard had little impact on their business, but many appreciated the proactive winter storm e-mail.  "We've received a lot of thank yous," noted Mazzanti. "Customers felt better knowing that we were thinking about them and preparing ahead of the storm."

The Role of Trusted Partner
The goal of most partners is to be a trusted advisor to customers. What better way to earn that trust than to look for and act on opportunities to be proactive? It doesn't require a pending disaster -- anything, from legislation to community events, that affects your customers can be an opportunity for you to provide value.

Are you communicating with your prospects proactively? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.


Posted by Barb Levisay on February 13, 20130 comments

Social Media Fuels Dynamics Partner's Blog Success

Building an effective social media presence takes time -- more time than most partners imagine is realistic for them to take on. Daily blogs, frequent Tweets and consistent activity on LinkedIn sounds like something only a big partner can manage.

One regional Dynamics partner, however, has found a method to handle the work and is reaping the rewards.

Put a System in Place
Marcia Nita Doron is the marketing director (and singular marketing resource) for Altico Advisors, a Dynamics GP, CRM and integration partner. When Doron's boss returned from a partner leadership session last year, he had been convinced that to be effective with social media, Altico needed daily blog posts. When her initial shock wore off, Doron decided to figure how she could make it happen.  

Doron's system includes blocking off every Wednesday to collect content. As a Microsoft Dynamics CRM user working for a professional services company, she is able to write some of the blog posts herself. Next, she visits sites of interest to her target prospects and looks for articles that she can comment on. Through content curation she provides a valuable service in bringing attention to articles that her prospects will find interesting.

To keep the quality of content high, Doron also looks for ways to make it easy for Altico's consultants to share their knowledge. During a company meeting, she asked for their assistance in very specific terms, suggesting four specific topics. "We have developed a culture where all employees contribute blog content," Doron said.  "It really helps develop original content and lends credibility to regular blog posts."

Automate Social Media Feeds
To drive more readers to the blog posts, Doron uses Butterfly Publisher to promote through Twitter and other social outlets like LinkedIn. The service automates the entire process to minimize the time commitment. "That's the easiest part," Doron said. "The hard part is getting the blog post ready. It's five minutes to send it out with the aggregator."

The "hard part" Doron refers to is applying the best practices she has learned over time to improve the effectiveness of blog posts, including:

  • a clever title that includes key words
  • an interesting graphic
  • links to other pages on the Web site

The final step in Doron's process is to send out the weekly newsletter, which she also completes through Butterfly Publisher. The service creates and sends out a newsletter with blog post summaries to Altico's prospect e-mail list.

Increasing the Number of Closed Sales
Results from Doron's initial efforts were immediate. Three days after Doron started with daily posts, the Altico Advisors blog was indexed by Google. That immediate positive outcome was reinforced in the following months as Google analytics reflected an increase from 1,200 to 2,500 average visits per month.

Doron understands that while visits are great, "the whole purpose of this is to increase the number of deals we close that we can directly relate back to marketing." Based on careful lead tracking, 19 of Altico's 46 customer adds in 2012 were initiated via the Web site.

Not Just a Young Person's Game
Doron points out that while she is not a millennial, she has mastered the marketing tactics of the new age. Embracing the journey, she has had to learn to communicate within Twitter's limit of 140 characters and become fluent in new terminology.

Doron believes the factors that have led to her success can be employed by every partner to build an effective social media program, including:

  • Frequency is incredibly important. Blogging once a month is simply not enough.
  • Find relevant material to share with your prospects.
  • Make writing blogs a priority and get buy-in throughout the organization.

As Doron has found, with some discipline and the right tools, even a one-person marketing team can make a social media program work.

How are you keeping your blog fresh? Add a comment below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on January 24, 20133 comments

Marketing Is a Contact Sport

Do your marketers interact directly with your prospects and customers on a regular basis? Do they go out on sales calls and attend project meetings?

To convince prospects that your services bring value, your marketers need to have a clear understanding of the challenges that your customers face. Good marketing requires contact.

An Embarrassing Admission
Fresh college grads and marketers new to the industry can bring valuable knowledge and best practices to your business. They also need a clear understanding of the value that your firm's services bring to clients so that their marketing efforts will resonate with your prospects and customers.

New marketers may be embarrassed to tell you that they don't really know what you do. If they have never been involved in an Exchange migration, ERP implementation or SharePoint rollout, it's tough to imagine what a requirements analysis involves or a project meeting looks like. 

Going out to visit clients may even worry some marketers, since they won't have a specific role other than observer. They may be intimidated by your consultants' knowledge and afraid to ask to join them.   

Build Connections Between Consulting and Marketing
Building bridges between your marketing and consulting teams can go a long way in keeping the messages that you send to prospects consistent with the services you deliver. Support a regular schedule of marketing attendance at customer meetings to foster a more collaborative approach to building business for your firm. 

While it may feel like an expense to take your marketers away from their productive office time, you'll see the rewards in better messaging and campaigns that address real problems.

Your marketing team can even help out the consulting team by testing out new products like Windows 8 and Office 365. What better way for marketing to understand the benefits and challenges of the product and for consulting to get honest, preemptive insight into adoption issues?

A Passion for the Outcomes
Even seasoned marketing professionals, including Microsoft employees, should spend time with clients on a regular basis. Not only does the value of IT services change over time, but the impact that technology makes on our shared customers really is inspiring.

To be a part of the Microsoft partner channel is to have a front-row seat to the practical application of technology in the small, midsize and enterprise businesses that fuel the innovation and growth of this country. You can't tell a great story if you don't feel the passion.

So, do your part. Take a marketer out on a service call or to a project meeting this week. Keep marketing a contact sport. 

How does your marketing team stay engaged with customers? Add a comment below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on January 10, 20130 comments

Partners Get Inside Track with Deployment Planning Services: Part 3

Over the past two weeks, we've seen how partners identify and educate clients who qualify for the Microsoft-funded Deployment Planning Services (DPS) engagements. With the sizable investment required to become certified -- a minimum Gold or Silver competency plus additional testing -- partners can maximize the value with a strategic approach to DPS.

As a tool to build relationships and future service sales with enterprise customers, it's important to thoughtfully align your DPS market approach with your certification roadmap.

Peter Renner, director of Microsoft Professional Services for En Pointe Technologies, a nationwide LAR with a strong emphasis on professional services, worked with the En Pointe marketing team to determine which of the certifications made the most sense for the company to support.

"It's a big investment," Renner said. "We looked at the client base to decide which of the certifications made the most sense. Then we made the training and hiring decisions based on fulfilling those requirements."

Let Customers Dip Their Toes in the Cloud
For those partners who are trying to stand out in the crowd with cloud services, the DPS offerings can provide a low-risk entry point and strategic advantage over competitors. While the Private Cloud (PVDPS) and Public Cloud (AZDPS) engagements help customers transition to the cloud, the Desktop (DDPS) and Lync/Exchange (L&EDPS) give a broad range of customers the opportunity to test out cloud solutions without full commitment. Through DDPS, a proof-of-concept for Office 365 can be rolled out to just one department as a test run. 

"When you are talking with customers on Exchange 2003 or Office 2003, moving to the cloud is a big transitional change for them," Renner noted. "Through the deployment services, they can dip their toe in the cloud by going the hybrid approach. The Lync and Exchange engagement allows you to help the customer test an on-prem, cloud or hybrid approach."

Strengthen Your Pinpoint Listing
An additional way to build the value of your DPS offerings into a strategic or competitive advantage is through the Microsoft Pinpoint directory. Since the customer investment in the planning services is minimal, DPS engagements are a perfect opportunity to ask for a reference. Customer references have a direct effect on search results on Pinpoint -- the more, the better. 

As a part of their Statement of Work, En Pointe DPS customers are asked to respond to a Pinpoint customer survey upon completion of the engagement. With a five-star rating and 126 customer references, En Pointe ranks No. 3 on a "deployment" keyword search of the Pinpoint directory.

Lessons Learned
Through Microsoft funding, the DPS projects lower the customer's risk of testing out both new technologies and new partners. For each of the partners we interviewed, DPS engagements have resulted in "trusted partner" customer relationships that followed with more projects and additional service opportunities.

Lessons that we have learned from these partners who are making the most of DPS services include:  

  • Work with LARs and training partners to identify the volume license customers who have un/under-deployed applications.
  • Educate customers on the value of Software Assurance benefits.
  • There are multiple ways to use DPS engagements to introduce cloud to your customers.
  • Maximize the value from the DPS program with a strategic approach -- from marketing through delivery.

Through the DPS program, Microsoft pays you to advise customers on the deployment of their unused assets. Not only are the engagements a win-win for everyone involved, they are an opportunity for partners to build long-lasting profitable relationships.

How are you using DPS to build your business? Add a comment below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.

More from this Series:

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 19, 20120 comments

Partners Get Inside Track with Deployment Planning Services: Part 2

What better way to build a relationship with a customer than to help them plan how to best use software -- at no cost to them? That's exactly what Microsoft's Software Assurance Planning Services program is designed to do.  

As we covered last week in Part 1, Deployment Planning Services (DPS) engagements are conducted by certified partners who analyze the customer's organizational environment and create comprehensive deployment and implementation plans. Partners are compensated by Microsoft to conduct seven types of technology planning engagements ranging from one to 15 days.

Collaboration with a LAR
LARs clearly have an inside track on finding customers that own the volume license agreements that could earn them deployment service vouchers. Adrian duCille, director of business development at Boston-based Greystone Solutions, partners with SoftwareOne to identify customers that own solutions that may not have been deployed.

"We meet with SoftwareOne regularly to understand who the Enterprise Agreement clients are that could use help in getting the maximum value from the solutions that they already own," duCille said.

duCille, who spent years working for LARs before moving to the services side of the business, advises DPS delivery partners to find the right LAR to work with. "A LAR who is doing a good job for their clients isn't just selling them licensing," duCille noted. "They are connecting them with partners who can implement the licensing that they buy."

Through their established relationship, SoftwareOne reps regularly engage Greystone to help their clients deploy solutions, often through the opportunity to use the DPS Software Assurance benefits. duCille either accompanies SoftwareOne sales reps on client visits or is introduced through e-mail to the client.

Better Results from Combined Effort
In addition to working with a LAR, Greystone collaborates with a training partner, CompuWorks. "We want to bring a total solution to the client," duCille said. "Our shared clients get far more business value when they deploy with effective training."

The partner relationship between SoftwareOne, Greystone and CompuWorks goes beyond individual account management to a combined marketing effort. Recently, the group sponsored a SharePoint- and Office-focused in-person event in Boston. Each partner marketed the event to their own customer/prospect lists and each partner presented a session during the event.

With 84 registrants and over 50 attendees, the event started conversations that will be continued through follow-ups by each of the partners. Both registration questions and evaluation forms were used to collect information about deployment status for the attending companies. Coordination of their post-event activities make sure that each attendee gets the most appropriate follow-up based on their responses and interactions at the event.  

Next week, we'll find out how one partner uses DPS to help customers move to the cloud.

How are you using DPS to build your business? Add a comment below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 13, 20120 comments