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Worldview

How To Network the Right Way at Microsoft Inspire

For starters, don't book meetings with strangers through the booking tool unless you absolutely have to.

'Tis the season to pack your bags for Microsoft's annual business-focused conference for partners. It used to be called the Worldwide Partner Conference, but this year it's been renamed to Inspire to fit better with the naming convention of Microsoft's other big conferences.

I first went to the worldwide conference for partners in 2002 when it was called Fusion and took place in Los Angeles. Since then I've visited them all.

The investment in time and money is sizeable, but the returns have been great so my ROI has been terrific, both for my companies and for me personally. I look forward to coming back to Washington, D.C., which is a tremendous venue for this conference. As an alumnus, I've learned a lot and have a thing or two to share about dos and don'ts at the July 9-13 conference.

When I started out in the early years, I made sure to attend as many sessions that I could, and I hunted down the PowerPoint slides for the ones that I missed. I learned a lot about technology, marketing, management and sales, which I took back to my employees, overwhelming them.

As the years went by, I shifted focus gradually away from sessions and content to instead spending time on networking, and that's when my investment took off.

Many attendees coming from outside North America try to live in the same hotel as people from their own geography. They sit together in sessions, have meals together and party together. This might be nice and cozy, but to me it's a less-than-optimal way to spend your time. This conference has always been a great opportunity to meet people from other cultures and geographies. It's a very rare opportunity and a true luxury to have all these successful people for one week in the same building. My advice is that you focus on networking with people who you don't often meet or haven't ever met. By cultivating and nursing a network outside of your immediate geography, you'll be able to more openly share challenges/opportunities in your business, be open to learning what's working and what's not, and build a great network of friends and business partners.

Not sure where to network and how? Well, don't book meetings with strangers through the booking tool unless you have a truly great reason, and just selling your services is not a good enough reason. Instead, try to be at the right places at the right time. Spend a lot of time in the Commons where you'll find the Community Hub and the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners/Women in Technology (IAMCP/WIT) lounge. Lower your guard and start discussions with people you haven't met before and you'll find yourself in wonderful and fruitful conversations.

When it comes to sessions, I highly encourage you to attend all keynotes because that's where you'll learn about strategy from Microsoft's senior leadership. Knowing Microsoft's strategy is paramount for you when evaluating your own strategy. I also encourage you to select a few breakout sessions. This year, in my opinion, the gems are to be found under "Partnering as a Practice" and "Business Leadership."

I suggest you use the Inspire conference to evaluate what you should do next, and by now you know that I love companies that focus on doing one thing only and doing it great, rather than doing several things well. At Inspire, with the right mindset, you'll be able to find out what to do and with whom to partner.

And please don't be a stranger when you see me walking the aisles networking and scouting for new opportunities and investments.

Can't make it to Washington, D.C., for Inspire? Catch RCP's complete conference coverage here.

More Columns by Per Werngren:

About the Author

Per Werngren has held many roles at the worldwide level of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), including chairman and president.