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WPC 2009: Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference Made New

Redmond tweaks flagship partner show for a down economy.

Microsoft opened registration for the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) four weeks early this year, and is moving to make the show relevant to partners who are struggling in a down economy to keep their heads above water and who need 100 percent ROI to justify the trip.

"The adage 'time is money' is one of the big areas where we're focused. We know, obviously, for partners that means a lot. But this year for WPC we're taking it to the nth degree," says Pam Salzer, the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group (WPG) executive responsible for the annual conference.

Registration began March 19 for the conference, which takes place this year in New Orleans July 13-19. "We opened it four weeks early to help partners build business cases to attend," Salzer explains.

Salzer and the WPG team are reshuffling the show in several ways to make it address partners' needs to maximize their time and come away with information and tools that they can turn into new business right away.

Gone, for one thing, is the loosely structured workweek, pre-conference day with special optional sessions. "For partners, a normal workweek starts Monday at 9 a.m.," Salzer says. WPC will be the same, beginning Monday morning, July 13, with what she says will be news-making keynotes from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, COO Kevin Turner and WPG Corporate Vice President Allison Watson. Much of that pre-day content is being pushed to Sunday, July 12.

Microsoft is also bringing in more corporate vice presidents throughout the conference for what it calls "value keynotes"-high-level but segment-specific messages from executives like Simon Witts, corporate vice president of the Enterprise and Partner Group, and Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice president of the OEM Division. "We've been piloting those the last few years. We're going from something like six value keynotes last year to in the 20s this year," Salzer explains.

Throughout the 200 or so regular breakout sessions, the company is encouraging speakers to focus less on the PowerPoint decks and more on interaction with attendees, while leaving more time for questions and answers. There are new tracks, including one for systems integrators and one for the new category of Web marketeers or Web agencies.

Historically, the expo area has been Microsoft-centric, with a few large Microsoft areas and everyone else scattered throughout the hall. This year, Microsoft will group ISVs near relevant Microsoft Business Groups.

"The Information Worker [IW] booth for Office and SharePoint might be an anchor, but all the IW ISVs that want to participate would be around it. It will make it very easy for you to get in the IW business to find solutions to augment your solution or upsell your customers. In the past, you quite honestly stumbled across a few valuable partners if you were lucky," Salzer says.

Opportunities for face-to-face meetings with senior Microsoft executives, either one-on-one or in very small groups, will quadruple at WPC this year, Salzer adds. Last year, Microsoft set up about 250 partner meetings with executives like Watson, Turner, Worldwide Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners Corporate VP Eduardo Rosini and others. This year, Salzer says the company is aiming to arrange about 1,000 of those meetings with vice president-level and higher executives from Microsoft corporate, WPG, U.S. Partner Group and other subsidiaries.

If You're Going

What: Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference
Where: New Orleans
When: July 13-16
Highlights:

  • Keynotes from Steve Ballmer, Kevin Turner, Allison Watson, other executives
  • Opportunities to meet other partners and new ISVs
  • 1-on-1 meeting opportunities with high-level Microsoft executives
  • About 200 breakout sessions
  • Business planning with PAMs

At a broader, rubber-meets-the-road level, Microsoft will also have about 1,500 field employees on-site to conduct business planning sessions with the managed partners in attendance. While costs are being cut throughout Microsoft, the commitment to keep a high ratio of partner account managers and other field executives to partners at the show appears to remain in place. "We're actually putting out an announcement to the field from Kevin Turner's office about how important keeping that ratio high is," Salzer says.

Finally, Microsoft is increasing the number of partners recognized with awards at WPC. The number of worldwide award categories is going up about 20 percent from 46 last year to 58 this year. Award winners once again will go on stage during a keynote session that's recorded for their promotional use, in addition to the standard grip-and-grin award photos with senior executives.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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