Is the Microsoft Pinpoint Directory Working?

Microsoft officials say the Pinpoint infrastructure drove 1 million leads to partners in the last fiscal year. Some partners appreciate and take advantage of the system Microsoft has built, but others find it too much work for too little return.

The numbers are impressive. According to Jon Roskill, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, more than 1 million leads were passed to partners through Microsoft Pinpoint last fiscal year, with even more flowing through this year.

Microsoft Pinpoint is the centralized directory where Microsoft partners can list their services and applications and build company profiles with supporting documents to educate prospects. Microsoft business Web sites from Office 365 to Dynamics steer site visitors who are looking for partner information and support to Pinpoint.

"In our last fiscal year, we passed over a million leads through Pinpoint. It's one of the benefits that I'm hearing a lot from partners. People are seeing real leads pop off of this that they're able to close for business," Roskill says. "So if you don't have your catalog entry, your company and your solution catalog up-to-date in our Pinpoint catalog, you should get up there and do it."

With numbers like that, partners should be clambering to get to the top of every search list in their competencies. Shouldn't they? There seem to be two schools of thought.

Research Delivers Mixed Results
The obvious starting point in writing an article about Microsoft Pinpoint was to visit and experience the site through the eyes of a prospect looking for a solution. To get an understanding of the tactics partners are using to get to the top of the list, I sent an inquiry through the "E-mail this company" function to a few partners under several categories.

While my inquiry was unusual -- asking for an interview to find out how they got to the top -- the response was interesting in itself. The test set was small, but 60 percent of the partners I contacted did not respond back at all. Clearly my inquiry doesn't count for a valid lead, but the results bring up the question of whether partners are paying attention to contacts from Pinpoint at all.

A Shining Example
At the other extreme, within five minutes of sending my inquiry, I received a phone call from Sarah Woodruff, marketing manager for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based C/D/H. Woodruff's close attention to Pinpoint appears to be paying off for the four-gold, eight-silver competency, SharePoint-focused partner whose listing populates the top of a number of searches.

Woodruff's Pinpoint strategy is primarily focused on customer reviews and serves two purposes. While the reviews work to push the company to the top of the Pinpoint lists, C/D/H uses Pinpoint as a central repository for company references supporting the sales process. C/D/H proposals, employee signature lines, newsletters and other marketing messaging include links to drive customers and prospects to Pinpoint to view the reviews.

"In our last fiscal year, we passed over a million leads through Pinpoint ... People are seeing real leads pop off of this that they're able to close for business."

Jon Roskill, Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Partner Group, Microsoft

Noting a significant increase in the number of leads coming in from Pinpoint over the past six months -- doubling since October -- Woodruff believes that the number of reviews and list rankings are the reason.

"We're probably getting about eight [leads] per month now," notes Woodruff. "The quality of the leads, though ... it depends. We typically work with mid- to upper-range clients and quite a few are for smaller IT shops."

C/D/H refers the smaller leads from Pinpoint to its network of smaller partners to ensure that prospects get the help they're looking for. While Woodruff couldn't identify any actual deals closed as a direct result of Pinpoint, C/D/H does have a large Lync deal in the works based on a Pinpoint lead.

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An emphasis on customer reviews helps 12-competency partner C/D/H float to the top in Pinpoint search results.

Woodruff offered a couple of suggestions that could improve the value of Pinpoint for both partners and prospects:

  • Inclusion of deployment planning services such as SharePoint Deployment Planning Services and Desktop Deployment Planning Services.

  • Notification to partners when a new review has been posted.

  • Additional ways, such as newsletters and events, to offer content to Pinpoint visitors.

While there's room for improvement, Woodruff is appreciative of Microsoft's investment in the program. "I feel that it's gaining momentum. We're pleased it's out there," affirms Woodruff. "Pinpoint helps us consolidate the information with Microsoft for a one-shot view for who you are as a partner."

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Pinpoint Stats and Best Practices
Tina Hanson, partner-to-partner lead for the Microsoft U.S. Partner Team, has created a series of presentations -- the Pinpoint Pointers Presentation Series -- with advice to help partners get the most from their listing. In one of the presentations, Hanson shares some of the details that provide deeper insight into viewer behavior (statistics reflect average per month), including:

  • 100,000 business customers visit Pinpoint each month.

  • One in three customers who locate a partner on Pinpoint click on a customer activity.

  • 15,000 customers click on product-type activities each month (demos, installs, screenshots and so on).

  • 7,000 customers are clicking through to partner Web sites.

  • Partners are 10 times more likely to attract a new prospect if they have a complete profile including interaction of key search terms, customer reviews and screenshots, plus links to trials of demos.

  • Customers spend an average of six minutes per visit, viewing three to four pages while on Pinpoint. Based on this data, the clear messages to partners trying to optimize Pinpoint listings include:

  • Get more customer reviews.

  • Include more content within your Pinpoint listing.

  • Give prospects a reason to stay when they click through to your Web site.

"We've found at Microsoft that when partners have a dynamic and complete Pinpoint profile, they're more likely to receive inquiries, and we've created resources to help partners develop their profiles," says Hanson. "It's important to continually update your profile to showcase new capabilities or areas of expertise.

P2P Connections
Pinpoint isn't only for customer-to-partner connections, especially on the specialized marketplaces powered by Pinpoint. Currently, there are Marketplaces for Microsoft Dynamics, Windows Azure, Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft System Center, where customers and partners can find other partners offering specialized solutions. Additional requirements for solution listings on each of these Marketplaces help partners filter and find tested applications.

According to Microsoft, the custom Marketplaces have a higher conversion rate, as traffic to those sites is more qualified -- customers visiting those sites are more likely to engage a partner. Approximately 20 percent of all prospects that Pinpoint generates come from one of the custom Marketplaces.

For Skyline Vertical Solutions (SVS), the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace has delivered a significant number of opportunities since July 2011 when the company met the "Certified for Microsoft Dynamics" (CfMD) requirement to be listed. Henry Hickman, president of SVS, says the company has received 14 serious inquiries through Marketplace for their Dynamics CRM-based Skyline Education Series. Several of those opportunities have come from other partners.

"Marketplace has definitely gotten us visibility within the partner world," Hickman says, "and it has helped us quickly establish credibility with the Microsoft sales teams who are not directly familiar with our solution." Because the Marketplaces require services and applications to meet additional standards through testing -- like the Microsoft Platform Ready or CfMD -- partners and Microsoft team members can recommend the solutions with more confidence.

One of the inquiries SVS received has turned into a large CRM educational implementation opportunity that Hickman continues to support. Dan Holzgen, business development consultant with Michigan-based Echelbarger, Himebaugh, Tamm & Co. P.C. (EHTC), was working on an opportunity needing a CRM solution. "I didn't know about Henry's company until I found them on Pinpoint," Holzgen says. "The solution was the right fit and we've been working the opportunity together. I'm sure we'll have an ongoing relationship."

"I feel that it's gaining momentum. We're pleased it's out there. Pinpoint helps us consolidate the information with Microsoft for a one-shot view for who you are as a partner."

Sarah Woodruff, Marketing Manager, C/D/H

While EHTC hasn't received any leads directly from Pinpoint, Holzgen does turn to Pinpoint and the Marketplace to search for solutions that solve specific client needs. Factors that are important to Holzgen when he's searching include partner longevity and demonstrated expertise.

Broadening the Reach
Nataleigh McIntire, marketing associate for San Jose, Calif.-based ZAG Technical Services, updates the company's Pinpoint listing every couple of weeks, which has gained ZAG a top ranking on multiple search topics. "We receive one to two leads per week from our listing," says McIntire. "Most are for Office 365, but also Exchange and SharePoint."

According to McIntire, about 15 percent of ZAG's Pinpoint leads turn into customers. One Pinpoint lead turned into a 750-seat transition from Google Apps to Office 365, which was undoubtedly appreciated by Microsoft. "Pinpoint definitely helps us broaden our reach without additional cost," McIntire says. "It's a great opportunity from Microsoft."

While the formula behind search results rankings on Pinpoint remains a mystery, McIntire has noted that ZAG moves up the more content she adds to the profile. When posting content, she links to landing pages on the ZAG Web site that offer deeper information very specific to the content topic. Though ZAG doesn't have a formal customer review request program, the number of reviews they have appears to help keep the company high on the list.

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Margaret Johnson, director of marketing for Missouri-based Oakwood Systems Group Inc., is not so enamored with Pinpoint. Of the 29 "leads" delivered through Pinpoint over the past year, Johnson says, "Most of the leads we've gotten are from very tiny operations or home users. And we've seen nothing from Pinpoint since the 19th of October."

It's not surprising that the level of inquiries will vary, but with the Microsoft claim of delivering business leads, some are clearly misplaced. For example, Oakwood received this Pinpoint inquiry: "I'm very embarrassed to admit to this problem but our dog walked over my laptop and somehow rotated the information on my monitor 90 degrees. An unfortunate situation certainly, but not the focus of Oakwood's services offering.

None of the inquiries that Oakwood has received has advanced to a valid prospect or sale. Johnson noted that a significant number of inquiries are from people who want to buy software, which seems to be a common complaint for most partners. From the Pinpoint dashboard, which tracks page views and other metrics for each partner listing, the Oakwood apps and services pages have not attracted any views.

"Since the quality hasn't been good, I haven't invested more time. From the numbers perspective, I can see where Microsoft would think the program is successful, but from here at Oakwood, I don't have the quality that I would expect," Johnson adds. "I feel like I'm in a catch-22. How much time do I put into making our Pinpoint listing great if I'm not going to see quality? Am I going to see quality if I put a lot of effort into it? It's not like we have a lot of extra time around here."

Johnson believes that some tweaks to Pinpoint search could help resolve the disconnect between partner offerings and customer contact. Suggestions include clarification -- in terms that prospects would understand -- of the services and applications that the partner provides, and highlighting the size of company that the partner serves.

Another concern that Johnson expresses centers on the customer review system on Pinpoint. To support its three gold competencies and 13 silver competencies, Oakwood has received a minimum of 54 customer references that are associated with the company's Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) account. (Competency attainment requires a minimum number of customer references -- three for silver, five for gold -- filed directly with Microsoft each year.)

Connecting the competency references to the Pinpoint site would save customers the headache of entering reviews in another place. "Having 54 references instead of five stars would be much more meaningful," Johnson says.

Resting on the Numbers
As Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said, "partners push, push, push us to make us better."

There's no doubt that partners believe Pinpoint is a huge step forward in the connection between Microsoft Web site traffic and partners. The numbers are impressive. But partners are receiving mixed results from Pinpoint and have practical, actionable suggestions to improve the system. Is anyone at Microsoft listening?

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