Secrets from the Winners' Circle
Want to take home a Microsoft Partner Award? Try this insider advice from past recipients.
- By Polly Traylor
- February 01, 2007
It's that time again.
No, we're not talking about Valentine's Day or the beginning of income
tax season. Instead, it's time to start the application process for the
2007 Microsoft Global Partner Awards.
Whether you're a first-time entrant intimidated by the process or a past
applicant looking to increase your chances of taking home an award, you're
likely to benefit from the insights we've gathered from past winners.
We also offer tips from Pam Salzer, Microsoft's worldwide director of
partner marketing, about what judges will look for this year.
Why bother to apply for a Microsoft Partner Award? Well, for one thing,
winning -- or even being named a finalist -- sets your company apart. In 2005,
judges winnowed an initial field of 2,300 entrants to just 265 winners
and finalists. Considering that Microsoft has hundreds of thousands of
partners worldwide, being part of such an elite group is no small distinction.
Past winners say that they also benefit from promoting their successes
on their Web sites, in their marketing collateral and when meeting with
prospective customers or industry analysts.
Awards can also increase customer loyalty, stimulate repeat business
for the honored product or service and even generate new areas of growth.
And some award winners cite benefits they've gained simply from going
through the application process -- for instance, gaining improved clarity
about their market goals and areas where they hold a competitive advantage.
(For more on the benefits of the awards program, see "And
the Winner Is ...," September 2005.)
Before you decide that your company isn't big enough, powerful enough
or mature enough as a partner to capture Microsoft's attention, listen
to Salzer: "We have had winners that are very small. For one- or
two-person shops, there are awards for them, too." Garry Olah, a
senior director at past winner Citrix Systems Inc. who oversees his company's
global Microsoft relationship, adds this insight: "If you're a new
partner, you have equal chances of winning if you're very targeted with
Following is some time-tested advice for acing the Microsoft Global Partner
Award application process.
1. Start early and choose your categories carefully
Sure, you can slam together a sales proposal at the eleventh hour, but
don't approach the Microsoft Partner Awards the same way and expect to
win. (Besides, how many of those last-minute proposals are actually successful?)
"You can tell who has scrambled at the last minute," Salzer says.
First, consider the award categories, which are announced when the online
application tool goes live, to determine which ones best fit your organization.
You can apply for multiple awards, or you can apply for the same award
several times with different solutions. However, you can only win once
per category. (At press time, Microsoft hadn't released the 2007 details,
but you can review the 2006
results and categories.)
Citrix, a longtime Gold Certified Partner, takes the award program seriously.
Since 2003, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company has either placed
or ranked as a finalist four times; its latest distinction was the 2005
Office System Deployment Partner ofthe Year.
Line of Business: On-demand messaging and collaboration
solutions for small and midsize businesses
Partner Level: Gold Certified
Winning or related solutions for 2006 awards: Hosted
Exchange, Hosted SharePoint, Mobile Messaging, and Archiving
Global Partner Awards: 2006 Sales and Marketing
of Advanced Infrastructure Solutions
Lessons/Insights: "Make sure you have someone who
can take technology responses and articulate them in a
business perspective on the application," advises Jackie
Funk, marketing director. "Also, you need someone who
can chase down the information internally." Other tips
from Funk: Companies with Microsoft Partner Account
Managers (PAMs) should let those contacts know that they've
applied -- there's a chance that plugged-in PAMs may be
able to put in a good word on your behalf.
Because Citrix could qualify for multiple awards (it has won the Global
ISV Partner Award twice, and its solutions support core Microsoft platforms
including Office and Windows Server), the company allows sufficient time
for managers to figure out which ones to target. In 2006, Olah says, Citrix
focused on the Information Worker category to align with the release of
That's a smart strategy, according to Curt Wheadon, global vice president
of operating environments and messaging at South Africa-based Dimension
Data Holdings plc, a triple winner in 2006 (for Advanced Infrastructure
Technology Innovation, Custom Development Smart Client Development and
Global Winning Customer). "Know where Microsoft is making its bets
and what its priorities are, and make sure your submissions are aligned,"
recommends Wheadon, who works out of his company's Bellevue, Wash., office.
Jackie Funk, director of marketing for Herndon, Va.-based Apptix Inc.,
spearheaded her company's first application for the awards last year.
While some partners appreciate the online application, in her view it
wasn't easy to share the multi-section application and its questions with
team members. She spent roughly 20 hours over a few weeks completing the
application, including substantial time studying the criteria. On top
of that came the time-consuming tasks of validating technical answers
with the development team and reviewing business questions with executives.
"It was challenging to get it done," she says, recalling some
tricky scenario questions around customer benefits. "Make sure to
allow time for an internal review." Ultimately, though, the effort
was worth it: Apptix was named 2006 Advanced Infrastructure Solutions
Sales and Marketing Partner of the Year.
Bottom line: The application process can be overwhelming, so
it's never too early to start preparing -- even if you've applied before.
Olah says he started thinking about the 2007 awards in fall 2006.
2. Develop an application strategy
Take the time to think strategically about how your company will apply
for the awards, including how you'll differentiate yourself from the competition.
Treat the application process the same way that you would a project for
a client: Assign a project manager to oversee the effort. This person
should collect information from stakeholders, write or coordinate the
writing of the application, obtain executive reviews and input, and facilitate
the process of getting quotes and other supporting information from customers.
"Don't rely on your technical teams for driving the award submission process,"
warns Wheadon. "Involve them, but have your best marketing people own
the overall submission."
Citrix Systems Inc.
Line of Business: On-demand access infrastructure
Partner Level: Gold Certified
Winning or related solutions for 2006 awards:
Citrix Access Suite,(tm) based on Citrix Presentation
Server(tm) and Microsoft Windows Server(tm)
Global Partner Awards, including finalist placements:
2003 Global ISV of the Year, 2004 Finalist Global ISV
of the Year, 2005 Global ISV of the Year, 2006 Office
System Deployment Partner of the Year
Lessons/Insights: "We weren't upset when we lost
the global ISV award [in 2004], because the business
gets improved by the process," says Garry Olah, senior
director of Citrix's global relationship with Microsoft.
"We have more interaction with our customers and Microsoft
during [the process]. These awards help us analyze our
relationship with Microsoft and where to go and innovate
Citrix has the awards process down to a science. Virtual teams of cross-functional
employees (marketing, sales, product development, engineering) work on
the applications, sometimes repurposing information from past attempts.
Citrix also developed an external Web site designed specifically for the
awards that provides detail about its Microsoft relationship, and included
links to that site throughout its applications.
Toronto-based Gold Certified Partner iMason Inc. hired a public-relations
expert to write its application. That move reflects another entry imperative:
While you need to call upon product developers and engineers to help answer
the technical questions, the final outcome should be a riveting business
story. "Using an outside writer helps you crystallize the message
and provides an outside perspective," says Andrew Steane, director
of marketing with iMason, a finalist for the 2006 Custom Development Solutions
Technology Innovation category and winner of a 2006 regional Customer
Experience award. Too often, partners simply don't provide enough detail
to generate interest and excitement, Salzer says, adding: "Using
PR is a fabulous idea."
Customers can also help you tell your story better. Steane asked the
business customers that iMason featured in the applications -- the city
site Toronto.com and a large Canadian financial institution -- to provide
feedback on the solution's business value, an exercise that he calls extremely
useful. (iMason also won a Microsoft Canada award in 2006 for the Toronto.com
project: the IMPACT Custom Development Solution of the Year.)
C2C Systems Ltd.
Line of Business: Message archiving and management
Partner Level: Gold Certified
Winning or related solutions for 2006 awards: "Archive
One" based on Microsoft Exchange and developed with Microsoft
Visual C++ and MAPI
Global Partner Awards: 2006 Global Customer Experience
Lessons/Insights: "Senior management needs to commit
to the application process," says Dan Langille, manager
of channel programs. "In our case, for example, the project
on which we based our submission was a true team effort
between sales, partner management and product development."
Other advice: "Microsoft likes it if you can show
that you're making their customers happier."
Ultimately, you must determine the best way to highlight your organization's
strengths and package the information. To help solidify its message, Apptix,
which provides hosted Exchange and SharePoint solutions, repeated one
theme -- the scalability and robustness of its service management platform
-- throughout its application. Funk recalls: "I talked about how our platform
infrastructure allowed us to service and support and scale [to] our customer
despite the fact that we were rapidly growing."
3. Use your most compelling customer story
Due to the sheer volume of applicants, Microsoft can't accommodate source
code or screenshots, says Geoff Saunders, project manager for the Global
Partner Awards program. So your best supporting documentation is probably
your best customer story. And while some awards don't require a customer
case, you must still, at minimum, demonstrate quantifiable customer ROI
C2C Systems Ltd., a Gold Certified Partner based in Reading, England,
provides Microsoft Exchange-based e-mail archiving solutions for midsize
and small enterprise customers worldwide. Because of compliance issues
and the growing volume and complexity of corporate messaging, the company's
offerings address a clear customer pain point. C2C won the 2006 Customer
Experience award for the implementation of its "Archive One"
solution for the Tyler Independent School District in Texas, which needed
to quickly show compliance with a rigorous state regulation.
Dan Langille, manager of channel programs for C2C Systems, believes that
time-to-market was a critical factor in his company's award. Counting
from the date of the first contact with its school district, C2C Systems
launched the solution in just two weeks. During that time, the company
even coordinated its efforts with a hardware vendor and systems integrator.
What also worked in C2C's favor, he says, was the partner ecosystem
model of the implementation -- which Microsoft likes to see. But ultimately,
they knew that the school district would be a good reference. "The most
important thing for us [in terms of differentiation] is that the customer
has to be blown away by what we have done," remarks Langille, who works
from an office in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Line of Business: Consulting services, focused
on e-commerce, content and site design, and online community
Partner Level: Gold Certified
Winning or related solutions for 2006 awards: .NET
and Visual Studio 2005-based infrastructure for large
Web community; SharePoint-based policy and procedure library
for financial institutions
Global Partner Awards: 2006 Custom Development
Solutions Technology Innovation finalist, 2006 Regional
(Canada) Customer Experience Winner
Lessons/Insights: "If you're expecting to just
spend a couple of hours [on the application], you're not
giving yourself a chance to win," says Andrew Steane,
director of marketing. Other advice: In the application,
balance information on the role of the Microsoft product
in your solution with the customer perspective.
"We look for a good story, but also a case that goes across several Citrix
and Microsoft products," says Olah. His company's 2006 award was for a
data-centralization project for Beverly Enterprises, a large health care
services provider at which data and IT management was decentralized across
400 locations. Since the implementation of stricter confidentiality and
record-keeping requirements in laws such as the Health Insurance Portability
and Accountability Act [HIPAA] and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, "you can't
have files sitting out on laptops," Olah observes. The Web-based information
access solution, Citrix Access Suite, lowered the company's IT operating
budget by $10 million over five years.
But be careful how you write up your customer story. Partners tend to
talk too much about the products and not enough about the solution or
the customer, Salzer laments. Steane adds this reminder: Don't forget
that the customer story should be more about the customer than your company
and its role.
4. Put on your Microsoft goggles
A successful application will hammer home how your organization and solution
drives Microsoft goals and sales. "Our business has grown significantly
in the last year, so that is important for our credibility plus Microsoft
revenues," Funk explains. Additionally, think about how you can align
with areas that are most important to Microsoft from a competitive or
Because the competition's 350 judges come from many disciplines and geographical
regions, you'll need to showcase how your solution is applicable for customers
in different countries and industries. Some other factors you may wish
to highlight are innovative use of technology and good customer care.
"The early adopters we love to see," Salzer says. Microsoft
craves strong customer stories for case studies, particularly when the
customer is using a new technology. (iMason, for instance, used a beta
version of Visual Studio 2005 in its winning solution for Toronto.com.)
Microsoft provides official criteria for the entries, each of which
is independently reviewed by three judges. Factors considered include
time-to-market, customer productivity and marketplace impact, among others.
Dimension Data Holdings plc
Line of business: Security, operating environments,
storage and contact center technologies; IT consulting
Partner Level: Gold Certified
Winning or related solutions for 2006 awards: Compliance
Management, Dynamic Desktop Deployment (Microsoft Windows
Global Partner Awards: 2006 Advanced Infrastructure
Technology Innovation, Custom Development Smart Client
Development, and Global Winning Customer; 2005 Sales and
Marketing Partner of the Year for Security Solutions
Lessons/Insights: "Customer endorsement is extremely
important," says Curt Wheadon, global vice president,
operating environments and messaging. "The more your clients
become raving fans and are willing to state so, the better."
In developing the criteria, Microsoft tries to not be overly prescriptive,
according to Salzer. That approach might be frustrating for partners trying
to determine exactly what it is that Microsoft wants, but from Redmond's
perspective the end result is a richer set of solutions from which to
choose. "We want the partners to come in without a lot of filters or guidance,"
Salzer says. "We're always delighted to see how much creativity there
is out there."
5. Remember, it's not just about the award
It's good to find one more reason to dust off the old adage: "It's not
about whether you win or lose -- it's how you play the game." Like the
leadership team at the mother ship in Redmond, executives at Microsoft
partner companies are hardwired to compete and win. But if winning is
your only goal, and visions of the award stage dance like sugar plums
in your head, you're missing the point. Going through the application
process itself is a learning experience that can contribute in a meaningful
way to your marketing efforts -- and even to your business strategy.
Steane, of iMason, sums up his take on the process this way: "It
helped force us to do something we should be doing anyway -- documenting
our successes." Too often, team members don't understand the full
value of the submissions, he says, and it's easy for people to lose hope
if the company doesn't win the first, second or third time around. But,
he continues, "it's not constructive to look at it as a one-time
thing or [as if] it's all about winning." (iMason, which has entered
the competition annually since 2004, has won regional awards but not yet
a global one.)
"It's not just about the award process, but the relationship you've
built with Microsoft," adds Olah. "We take pride in being a finalist in
What Makes a Winner?
Following are some criteria and questions that judges consider in selecting Microsoft Partner Award winners:
- Repeatability. Can this solution be deployed multiple times across the partner’s customer base, and adapted to a variety of customers?
Innovation. Did the partner package multiple Microsoft and third-party products in an innovative way (or creatively use a single product) to develop this solution?
Impact in the Marketplace. How big an impact did the partner’s solution have on the end user’s business and in the marketplace?
Improved Customer Productivity. Did the partner’s solution result in a demonstrable increase in efficiency for the end user?
Return on Investment. Did the partner’s use of Microsoft products in this solution result in above-average ROI for both the partner and the end user?
Time to Market. Did the use of Microsoft products by the partner in this solution result in expedient development and delivery of the solution to the end user?
Leverage of Campaigns. Did the partner creatively leverage Microsoft’s Customer Campaigns (formerly Go-to-Market) materials and activities to create and deliver this solution?
Source: Pam Salzer, Microsoft’s worldwide director of partner marketing.