RCP Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.

13 Marketing Ideas To Help Partners Build Customer Lifetime Value

The cloud changes the nature of both transactions and interactions between Microsoft partners and customers. Incremental revenue means customer retention is critical to long-term profits. At the same time, the automation of cloud applications means there is less personal interaction between customers and employees.

To address both issues, partners need to take a more active approach in keeping communications lines open and maintaining relationships.

Keeping the lines of communication open doesn't require a big investment of money, but it definitely requires an ongoing investment of time. Sporadic communication doesn't show commitment. Communication and marketing plans designed to build customer relationships should be formally scheduled and consistently executed.

To achieve that consistency, you need programs that your teams will get behind. Marketing in today's world is a team sport. As you consider the ideas below, think in terms of how they fit the skills and interests of your team. What activities will your consulting and marketing teams follow through on consistently?   

  1. Expand your support portal. Take your support portal a step further, making it a central hub of information and a place where customers can interact with your employees. The portal should have a modern look and feel -- not like a 1990s Web page -- to show your customers you care about their experience.

  2. Create Yammer groups. Use Yammer groups to build an active community of customers and employees. Take the initiative to reach out to customers often with conversations to get them in the habit of looking to the group for answers.

  3. Segment your audience. The more you can fine tune your message to customer interests, the more likely they are to pay attention. Profile your customer base, looking for similarities in industry, number of employees, location and other characteristics. Create special interest groups on Yammer or create multiple versions of your newsletter to provide targeted information to each audience.

  4. Hold a regular in-person event. If you work primarily with local companies, sponsor a monthly happy hour or a quarterly CIO dinner.

  5. Advocate for your customers. Ask customers to speak at your events, providing them with exposure to a local audience.

  6. Send a handwritten note to one customer every week. Taking the time to write a personal note thanking a customer is more valuable than ever before. It's a powerful tactic that takes very little time.

  7. Tell stories about your customers. Use case studies to showcase how your best customers are reaping the benefits of working with you. Be creative and don't get bogged down with writing long case studies. Conduct interviews and post the questions and answers, or capture the interview on video and post to the customer portal.

  8. Introduce new customers. When you add a new customer, ask them if you can post a story about their business.

  9. Test your current systems. All your marketing efforts are for naught if customers get frustrated trying to solve a problem or ask a question. Test every entry point into your company to make sure that your customers won't hit any dead ends or frustrating loops.

  10. Reward your customers. Everyone loves a special deal. Delight your customers with a coupon for services or a free training session. Let them know that their business is just as important to you as attracting new customers.

  11. Have fun. The services you deliver are serious business, but that doesn't mean your communications should be lifeless. Think outside the box, try some creative approaches and add some lightness to your customers' day.

  12. Be your customers' "inside" connection to Microsoft. As their partner, your customers should think of you first when they have a Microsoft-related question. Be ready. Since the amount of information coming out of Microsoft is overwhelming, share the load. Assign specific topics to employees, whose job is to stay current with all things related. With a "go-to" list of employees who know the answer (or know where to find it quickly) you can become the trusted source for all things Microsoft.  

  13. Hire a customer lifetime advocate. As your book of recurring revenue grows, retaining those clients is as important as marketing for new ones. There comes a time when your business will need someone devoted to executing programs that keep customers happy and connected. 

Of course, the most important ingredient in retaining customers is providing high-quality, relevant services. For guidance on delivering and measuring customer relationships, Part 5 of Microsoft's Cloud Partner Profitability Series, "Deliver Customer Lifetime Value," is a great resource. And, as you plan out your service strategies, include ongoing communication and marketing as a critical component.

How are you building loyalty with your customer base? Send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 22, 2017 at 11:15 AM0 comments


9 Steps To Ramp Up Your CSP Solution Marketing

Based on the 20,000 and counting partners participating in Microsoft's Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program, a swelling number of packaged service offerings are vying for your prospects' attentions. While we know the market for cloud services is also growing, partners need to rev up the marketing engine to stay competitive.

Now that you've got your CSP solution(s) defined and set up, it's time to get out in front of the crowd with well-planned, consistently executed marketing. The list below provides a 10,000-foot view of the steps to ramp up your marketing efforts. Microsoft offers a number of worthwhile programs and groups to help train and support your marketing team through all of these steps. Through the Marketing SureStep Group and product-specific groups on the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) Yammer, the opportunity to learn through direct interaction with Microsoft and other partner marketers is priceless, so take advantage.

1. Define the Target Market for Your CSP Solution
As with all marketing, the first step in any successful marketing effort is to clearly define your target market. Step back to look at the target market for your CSP solution -- separate from the rest of your business. Identify the industry/role/function of the people who will benefit most from the solution set. The more precisely you can focus your message to appeal to an industry/role/function, the more likely your content will be found by prospective buyers.

2. Create a List of the Pains Your Solution Addresses
Clearly lay out the problems your CSP offering solves for the target audience. As you work on this list, key words and phrases will emerge to use in your social and online marketing campaigns.

3. Create a Clear Value Proposition
Your value proposition is just that: the value you will deliver to help your target audience improve their business or solve their problem. Write a paragraph -- one high-level sentence and three or four bullets -- that clearly, succinctly describes the pains solved and benefits provided by your solution. If you want to go one step further, go deeper on each bullet and outline the pains and the benefits of the solution.

Consider naming your offerings. A name makes it easier for customers to understand that it is a "set" of services.

4. Create Content that Educates Prospects
Your content should guide the prospect as they progress through the buying process. Using your value proposition as the guide for topics, help your prospects understand their problem and how you can help them solve it. Include a call to action to close out all your content. Always suggest the next step you'd like your prospect to take.

Develop an achievable plan for your content. From blog posts to webinars to white papers, there is no right or wrong on the type of content. The important thing is choosing a form that you will consistently create.

5. Build Out the Content on Your Web Site
Take an objective look at your Web site. It needs to look modern or your message won't make it past a seven-second view-and-click-away. Set up a separate page/section for your CSP offering. Use your value proposition as a guide for your navigation and content.

6. Update Social Media Sites and Pertinent Directories
Update all of your social media profiles, including your LinkedIn company page, with messaging about your solution set(s). Update, and keep current, your Partner Central profile and search out other vendor directories and marketplaces. As you have done research on your market, you have likely found industry or professional organization sites that serve your target prospects. Look for opportunities on those sites to get listed or contribute content, like blog posts.  

7. Create Marketing Campaigns
Marketing campaigns can be any combination of marketing tactics, all focused on promoting the solution set to a specific target market. There is no right or wrong -- just be consistent and follow through. Newsletters, trade shows, seminars, webinars, e-mails, inbound marketing and social media are all viable alternatives and should work together to reinforce a common message.

For both content and marketing campaign materials, build on the Microsoft resources. Over the past few months, assets supporting Microsoft's Digital Transformation messaging have been released. There is a goldmine of content and templates to save you time and money.  

8. Use Your Team and Customers To Spread the Word
Today, everyone is in marketing. Employees should understand the value proposition of your solutions and be ready to talk to customers and business contacts. Your best customers can become advocates for your solution. Look for opportunities to engage the skills and interests of employees and customers in your marketing campaigns.

9. Commit to Schedules To Keep Your Marketing Engine Going
Consistency is the key to marketing results. Most partners are highly challenged to make the unwavering, long-term commitment to marketing that will deliver reliable results. When everyone is busy, marketing is the first casualty. In the world of online marketing, continuous marketing has become even more important.

Well-planned, consistently executed marketing will help your solution stand out in a crowded field. For partners, marketing always seems to be the hardest step in launching new services. However, it's not as mysterious as it seems. Follow these nine steps and you'll build a marketing engine that keeps your sales pipeline full. 

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

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 02, 2017 at 8:07 AM0 comments


Use Cases: The Next Generation of Partner Marketing Content

Visit AppSource, Microsoft's business apps marketplace, and you'll see a different type of content supporting some of the listings. Mixed in with the standard brochures and overview decks, use case documents are being employed to illustrate the applications' benefits in real-world situations.

While use cases have a long history in the technology business, they are usually relegated to the discovery and requirements stages of implementations. Undoubtedly, they will be a welcome newcomer in marketing circles. 

This is Wikipedia's definition of use case: "In software and systems engineering, a use case is a list of actions or event steps, typically defining the interactions between a role (known in the Unified Modeling Language as an actor) and a system, to achieve a goal. The actor can be a human or other external system. In systems engineering, use cases are used at a higher level than within software engineering, often representing missions or stakeholder goals."

Eureka! Sounds like the perfect vehicle to translate the functionality of a solution into the business value for decision makers.

One could argue that case studies have served as use cases for marketing efforts up to now. But as many partners find, prospects want to see recent case studies, from their own industry, solving exactly the problem they face -- the list goes on. And since most projects and opportunities are unique, it's often a tall order to come up with just the right case study.

Use cases, which can certainly be based on real case studies, allow partners to take a more generalized approach. Through a use case, partners can combine graphics and text to convey benefits quickly. As all marketers try to find new ways to get the point across quickly -- especially for millennial buyers -- use cases are a great idea.

Examples from AppSource
Two examples from AppSource listings show how partners are taking different approaches to use cases. The AvePoint Citizen Services Use Case Graphic, which you can access here, is a one-page .PDF that presents five scenarios illustrating how AvePoint's solution improves common interactions between citizens and local government. Supporting text lists the benefits of the solution functionality.

[Click on image for larger view.] AvePoint Citizen Services Use Case Graphic

Taking a little different approach, Plexure's use cases, available here, comprise a multi-page .PDF laying out the benefits of the solution in terms of five typical service scenarios. For example, the first page illustrates how the "Intelligent drive-thru" can increase customer purchase decisions.    

[Click on image for larger view.] Plexure use cases - optimizing transactions in the real world

Guidance and Ideas for Use Cases
As more partners include use cases in their marketing efforts, there will surely be an explosion of creative ideas. In building out use cases, apply the standard marketing best practices, including:

  • Understand your audience. Focus on the benefits of the solution or app for your target audience.

  • Don't try to cover too much ground. Keep it simple, focusing on a few specific benefits.

  • Include a call to action. What is the next step you want a prospect to take after reading? Consider setting up a landing page specific to the use case that will offer prospects additional information and next steps. 

And a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Show before and after scenarios. Help prospects recognize their current pain to help them see the full value of the solution benefits.

  • Tell a story. Give your subject a name to personalize the scenario. Make the subject a hero who overcomes adversity with your solution. Have some fun with it.

  • Explain a process. Try applying use cases to more than just an app or solution. Whether it's your add-on services or how a new business process will flow through your customer's business, use cases could help prospects visualize the benefits.

For the growing number of Cloud Solution Providers (CSPs), use cases provide a powerful way to spell out their solution benefits. Focus on your IP, whether that is functional or value-add service, to differentiate your offering from other partners.

Finding the right approach to graphically depict a concept isn't necessarily easy, but well worth the time. As more partners add use cases into their marketing arsenal, we will surely see some amazing creativity. In the never-ending quest to find faster ways to convey a message, the use case has the potential to take the lead in marketing content. 

Have you added use cases to your marketing content? Send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 23, 2017 at 8:26 AM0 comments


As Microsoft Transitions from Pinpoint to Partner Center, Marketers Should Tune In

At its 2016 Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), Microsoft announced it would be retiring Pinpoint, the customer-facing partner directory, and replacing it with Partner Center.

Partner Center is now the landing place for customers who visit many Microsoft Web properties and click on a link to "Find a Partner." To make the most of those potential customer connections -- as well connect with other partners and Microsoft employees -- partner marketers should be tuned in to the evolution of Partner Center.

More than just a directory, the Partner Center is the transactional hub for cloud partner-customer relationships. It's Microsoft's one-stop shop to help partners manage the complex transactional relationships with customers -- like multi-channel and multi-partner account assignments. In the long run, the centralization of partner and customer information should benefit everyone involved, but it's going to take some getting used to. And some marketers may have missed the transition.

In terms of referrals, Partner Center is in its early days, but marketers need to be paying attention as the site develops. According to Microsoft, the company is investing in and rebuilding the architecture of the customer-to-partner matching/referral tools. "Microsoft Referrals" will centralize the tools previously known as Pinpoint, C2PC, FastTrack and many others that connect customers with partners.

Managing Marketing Profiles in Partner Center
The fanfare around the Partner Center as referral engine is likely to heat up once the migration of partner accounts from Pinpoint is completed. The transition has created some confusion. While limited profile information for all partners has been migrated to Partner Center, not all partners are able to manage their accounts on the platform. Cloud Solution Providers (CSPs) and some ISV partners manage their profiles in Partner Center, while most non-CSP partners still use the Pinpoint interface to manage their information. The original announcements from Microsoft suggested all partners would be on the Partner Center platform before January 2017, but the process is not yet complete.

"I don't have a final date as it is an iterative process working with partners through the rollout plan," said Niamh Coleman, director of Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) programs in the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group. "It's a journey. We are working hard to bring partners a new and improved referral engine."

Based on my review of the listings currently in Partner Center, most partners have not spent enough (if any) time updating their profiles. The Referrals Partner Deck provides a clear step-by-step guide to explaining the transition process and how to manage your marketing profile through either interface. Collaboration Works, a Dynamics partner marketing firm, wrote a good post with valuable tips on the transition and how to improve your search rankings.

'Microsoft Referrals'
While the transition to the new platform may be a little rocky, it's important that marketers pay attention to what Microsoft refers to as the "Next generation of Microsoft referrals." Microsoft is trying to up its game for customer-to-partner and partner-to-partner referrals. That engine will be driven through the Partner Center which, at this point, is still evolving.       

"The referral engine will identify the most relevant and qualified partners," said Coleman. "We will be connecting customers with partners, as well as connecting partners with one another. Partner Center will be the hub for finding qualified partners."

For many partners, the real value of Pinpoint was making connections with partners and Microsoft employees. Microsoft employees and partners searched Pinpoint to find partners with specific industry or functional expertise. Partner Center is likely to be even more valuable in that regard. Microsoft needs partners to work together so they are motivated to foster P2P connections.

Currently, the Partner Center listings have limited capabilities. There doesn't appear to be any way to attach supporting documents. The customer references that were part of Pinpoint have been discontinued -- probably in response to the difficulty in validating entries.

"Customer references was retired," said Coleman. "The plan is to replace the function with an enhanced service. We'll be keeping partners apprised as we roll out additional functionality."

Coleman promised that there would be much more information at July's Inspire (formerly WPC) conference, along with hands-on help for partners who want to improve their Partner Center marketing profiles. Watch the Inspire session catalog for more information.   

There is clearly a lot going on behind the scenes as the referral engine on Partner Central is rolled out. The first step for marketers is to update your partner profile. Then, monitor communications from Microsoft to stay ahead of the curve and take advantage of early opportunities. It feels like partner marketers should be paying close attention to whatever comes next on Partner Center.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 09, 2017 at 9:07 AM0 comments


5 Content Ideas for Partners To Differentiate Services

Partner Web sites are chock full of whitepapers, e-books and blog posts devoted to the value of implementing technology solutions.

But as technology solutions become a commodity, it is more important for partners to develop content that will differentiate their services. Taglines and Web pages claiming industry expertise aren't enough to convince prospects that you truly are an expert in the services they need.

Traditionally, case studies have been the vehicle to validate expertise. While there is still a place for case studies, they are time-consuming and slow, requiring interviews and approval cycles that can take forever. There are other, easier ways you can shine the spotlight on your skills instead of the technology.

The first step in developing services-focused content is to stand in your customers' shoes to come up with specific topics that will be of interest. Get the consulting team together to brainstorm, developing a list of common questions customers ask. Focus on the business benefits and outcomes -- what are the changes that customers want you to help them with? What are the problems that your customers have in common?

Service-Focused Topic Ideas
Making the switch to service-focused topics means writing about the outcomes that you help customers achieve. Instead of "Build the Multichannel Experience with Dynamics CRM," use "Create Experiences that Customers Share." In place of "Connect Employees with SharePoint," use "Foster Innovation for Remote Teams." Rather than "Mobile Solutions for Teams on the Go," use "Stop Wasting 50 Percent of Your Employees' Time."

If you are focused on an industry, the titles of blog posts on the industry's association Web sites are likely to give you some good ideas. For horizontal topics, the articles in general-interest business magazines, like Inc and Forbes are a great source of inspiration.

Planning-Focused Topics
Want to be viewed as a resource to help your customers align their strategic plans with technology? Write or create videos about the value of strategic planning. Topics could include:

  • "Five Steps To Prepare for New HIPPA Regulations"
  • "The Risk of Business Failure: How Poor Planning Opens the Door for Ransomware"
  • "A Strategic Approach to Customer Service: Adapt to Changing Expectations"

Events
What better way to demonstrate your expertise than to have someone else talk about it? Include your customers in an event about strategic planning for business, asking them to talk about the value you add to their annual planning sessions. An event titled "Becoming a Digital Business" could include multiple customers sharing how you have helped one aspect of their business. For a topic like "Supporting the Next-Generation Worker," you could invite other businesses or partners to cover multiple aspects of dealing with millennials in the workplace.

Partner Profile Infographic
Quantifiable attributes are another way to demonstrate your expertise, which is the perfect fodder for an infographic. Data points could include:

  • Percent of customers by industry
  • Years and type of employee experience
  • Number of users you support
  • Number and types of awards earned over the years
  • Customer satisfaction statistics
  • Average call-back or ticket-resolution times

Employee Profiles
Profile your employees to feature them on the Web site or through a series in your newsletter. Put a human face to the services that you offer, including the educational background, professional experience and hobbies of your employees. You never know when one of those details will connect with a reader.

Nothing is more powerful than real people honestly telling their story. Your employees, on the front lines working with customers, can be your most valuable marketing resource. With a simple video camera and a little editing, you can post a compelling "How We Turn Customers into Raving Fans" video on your Web site.

It is becoming harder and harder to differentiate your services, especially in the cloud world. Whether it's industry knowledge, functional expertise or strategic business consulting, prospects today expect you to do more to prove your skills than just taglines and Web pages. Get creative and turn your content upside down to focus on services first and technology second.

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

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 15, 2016 at 8:27 AM0 comments


Measure Twice, Blog Once: Partner Fine-Tunes Web Content with Benchmarking

For partners with limited marketing resources, there's not a lot of room for trial and error. Most partners don't have the bandwidth to create a library of blog posts or whitepapers, hoping they will appeal to prospects.

A new digital benchmarking tool is giving Microsoft partners data to help them monitor and focus their efforts on the most effective content and marketing activities.

Like most partners, ISAAC Intelligence Ltd. tries to take an objective approach to developing content -- which is much harder than it seems. Partners look at technology from a completely different perspective than prospects and customers. Passionate about the potential of the solutions, partners want to evangelize the business improvements they can bring to their customers. As a result, partner Web sites often reflect the passion but not the practical application of solutions.

And those Web sites don't deliver the expected leads because prospects and customers are trying to solve a problem. To connect with those potential buyers as they search the Web to learn about solutions, partners need to offer content that addresses specific business challenges.

A SharePoint and Office 365 partner, ISAAC is changing their approach to content creation. "What we're trying to do is simplify the use of technology. We're trying to have a conversation not about the technology but about the outcome," said Jason Yeomans, ISAAC managing director.

"We need to connect with the managing directors around the world who are sitting there looking at the business going, 'Why on Earth is it so difficult? Why can't I just get information to flow from one part of my business to another part of my business? Why does it always get stuck? Why are customers always complaining about this department not knowing what that department's doing?'"

Which is where the digital benchmarking tool, Maya, designed by Fifty Five and Five in association with Microsoft, is helping.

"The great thing with Maya is that we can benchmark ourselves at all points. It's that independent view that we all wish we had years ago," said Yeomans. "We may try a curve ball and do something quite different and then a couple of months down the road see where we are. We'll know for sure if it's worked. We'll know for sure if it's created better or worse engagement."

Maya is easy to use and it's free. Yes, free. After entering your company's Web site into Maya, the tool produces a detailed report on how well you're doing across all the most important digital marketing metrics and provides advice for improvement. Tracking your metrics over time, you can monitor progress and objectively evaluate your digital progress.

"The nice thing about Maya is we can integrate every piece of activity we do. Newsletters, social media, direct mail, ad hoc direct mail, Web site content, blogs -- we can start to have a coherent message right across the board," Yeomans said. "Whereas before, I would come up with an idea and write something, so we'd come out very much from my point of view. It's very difficult to gauge traction that way. Occasionally we'd get a lead from the Web site and say, 'Wow, that could've worked,' but we don't know for sure, whereas now we'll know for sure and be able to hone in."

In addition to the Maya tool, ISAAC has found working with a marketing partner who specializes in serving the Microsoft channel to be advantageous. While there are many services that can write blog posts or provide marketing advice, a firm that can provide perspective on the application of the technology has been valuable.

"Working with Fifty Five and Five, we'll tell them about something that a customer has said or explain a specific problem that is replicable across many organizations. We'll give them a direction or angle that we have in mind," said Yeomans. "They'll write something for us, come back, we'll edit and, before we know where we are, we've got a nice piece of content that can be added to the Web site, pushed out on social media and create some talking points."

Yeomans added, "It avoids that introspection where you come up with something but you might not quite have the right angle on it. By bouncing it off somebody who's external to the organization, you get a different view. I love that. I think that's the best way to test if you've got something that's got legs or not."

Every partner finds it difficult to achieve the right balance in marketing content. It's far more fun to evangelize for technology you are passionate about than to address the practical concerns of everyday business operations. With the Maya tool, Fifty Five and Five is providing partners with an objective way to evaluate the effectiveness of the content they create. As a free tool, it's a no-brainer to get you started improving your digital presence. 

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

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 01, 2016 at 8:46 AM0 comments


Proactive Partner Marketing Builds Customer Lifetime Value 

Building long-term customer relationships is nothing new to Microsoft partners, but cloud-based services do change the nature of interactions with clients.

The fifth book of Microsoft's Modern Partner Series, "Deliver Customer Lifetime Value," examines the importance of fine-tuning your operations and service offerings with a long-term perspective. To support that transformation, you should develop a Customer Lifetime Value marketing program that engages your entire organization to proactively strengthen relationships.  

The cloud doesn't change the basic tenets of good customer service or the role of partners in educating clients about new technology. What the cloud does change is the nature of interactions between your employees and your customers. Services are more likely to be delivered remotely, with less face-time through training, implementation and ongoing support. You can help your employees make the extra effort to proactively engage with customers by providing resources, training and programs.

Education Inside and Outside Your Organization
Equip your employees with knowledge and tools to tell clients about additional services that you offer.

  • In addition to sending your newsletter and marketing campaigns to your outside contact list, send them to your employees so they know what customers are seeing.

  • Hold regular meetings or Yammer discussions to promote customer engagement stories. Use specific examples of how an employee identified and solved a customer challenge.

  • Maintain a "hotline" so employees can get instant answers about additional services when they identify an opportunity with a customer.

Take a Strategic Approach to Your Customer Base
Segment your customer base to identify those companies with the most potential to use additional services.   

  • Give your consultants and technical folks the opportunity to contribute their knowledge to identify high-potential customers. They may have heard about acquisition or expansion plans during their interactions with clients.

  • Consider adding a Customer Success Manager position to your organization. That person's role should include annual on-site strategy sessions with top clients.

  • If you have a regional practice, plan events that will appeal to all your clients to increase face-to-face interactions.

Tap into the Strengths of Your Employees
Building Customer Lifetime Value should be part of the corporate culture and each one of your employees should play a role. Tap into their interests and expertise to identify how they can best contribute and provide resources that makes engagement easier.

  • Develop a content library that includes presentations, e-books and articles so employees can easily follow up with educational material when a customer expresses interest in a topic.

  • Encourage employees with deep expertise or interest in specific technologies to start or participate in special-interest meetups.

  • Train all of your employees to be more active listeners when they are dealing with clients.

Stand in Your Customers' Shoes
As an ongoing practice, spend time objectively evaluating how easy it is for your customers to work with you.

  • Is it easy to find a contact number and e-mail on your Web site? Is there a differentiation between a sales contact and a support contact?

  • Continually improve your customer-response process with automated rating requests and randomly following up with customers to ask how the process could have been better.

  • Call your office and listen to the options of your automated answering system. Is it easy to understand what to do? Does it route you quickly? Can you get to a real person?

As the relationships between cloud customers and partners change -- with less time working side by side -- your employees need to make the extra effort to proactively engage. You can't expect employees to change their habits without guidance and support. Invest the time to implement the programs and develop the resources that will give your employees confidence in taking that extra step.

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

Posted by Barb Levisay on November 17, 2016 at 7:07 AM0 comments


Trump and Tech: What His Presidency Means for the Channel

Donald Trump's poll-beating election as the 45th president of the United States is likely to bring changes in tech and business policy with ramifications that specifically impact Microsoft partners.

What those changes will be is hard to pinpoint. Trump hasn't staked out a position on many high-profile tech and business issues. And the few that he has commented on from the campaign trail, on Twitter and in the policy sections of his Web site have regularly conflicted with one another or changed during the campaign. Still, these glimpses of policy could provide some clues.

Technology Workers
There may be changes in store for the H-1B visa program that currently represents an important source of skilled tech workers for the tech industry. Trump's last stated position on H1B in the March Republican debate suggested that that the program would end. Trump is quoted as saying, "I know the H-1B very well. We shouldn't have it. It's very, very bad for workers. It's unfair to our workers and we should end it."

Trump has very strong opinions about offshore outsourcing. In his 2011 book "Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again," Trump advocates a 20% tax on those companies that outsource jobs overseas. If policies are implemented to penalize tech firms dependent on offshore development resources, those costs will either have to be absorbed or business models adjusted.

As part of Trump's Vision for Education, the president-elect promises "the opportunity to attend a two or four-year college, or to pursue a trade or a skill set through vocational and technical education will be easier to access, pay for, and finish." As the tech industry's need for trained employees continues to increase, more accessible technical education for young people could be welcome.

Taxes
According to the Trump campaign Web site, the Trump plan will lower the business tax rate from 35% to 15% and eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax. Additionally, the plan "eliminates most corporate tax expenditures except for the Research and Development credit." There is no further clarification, so the net on corporate taxes is quite fuzzy.
For the many sole proprietors, independent consultants, contractors and S-Corp owners in the channel, the personal tax law changes are of more interest. Proposed tax brackets and rates for married filers would change to:

  • Less than $75,000: 12%
  • More than $75,000 but less than $225,000: 25%
  • More than $225,000: 33%

The standard deduction for joint filers would increase to $30,000, from $12,600, and the standard deduction for single filers would be $15,000. The personal exemptions would be eliminated as would the head-of-household filing status.

Health Care
The Affordable Care Act has been an important topic throughout the Trump campaign. As a symbol of the outgoing administration, its replacement is likely to be one of the first initiatives of the new administration. What that replacement would actually look like is unclear, but key provisions of the healthcare policies proposed on the Trump campaign Web site include:

  • "Completely repeal Obamacare."
  • "Modify existing law that inhibits the sale of health insurance across state lines. ... By allowing full competition in this market, insurance costs will go down and consumer satisfaction will go up."
  • "Allow individuals to fully deduct health insurance premium payments from their tax returns under the current tax system. ... As we allow the free market to provide insurance coverage opportunities to companies and individuals, we must also make sure that no one slips through the cracks simply because they cannot afford insurance."
  • "Allow individuals to use Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Contributions into HSAs should be tax-free and should be allowed to accumulate."

For the U.S.-based Microsoft partner channel made up of small businesses and independent contractors, increases in health insurance coverage costs over the past decade have been a burden. The challenge for Republicans will be to come up and pass an alternative that controls costs without eliminating key benefits, like requiring coverage for preexisting conditions. Until those details are worked out, we may see a pause in the number of consultants leaving the security of employment to go out on their own.

Technology Policies
Other tech issues that affect technology companies, including net neutrality and patent reform, have gotten little or no attention from Trump during the campaign. In June, Recode summarized the tech policies of both candidates.

There have been a few breaks in the silence. This past February, Trump called on Apple to give the FBI encryption information to access the iPhone of the San Bernardino, Calif. shooters. "Apple ought to give the security for that phone, OK?" Trump said at a rally in February. "What I think you ought to do is boycott Apple until such time as they give that security number. How do you like that? I just thought of it. Boycott Apple!"

When President Obama asked the FCC to classify the Internet as a public utility, paving the way for net neutrality, Trump responded through a Tweet, "Obama's attack on the Internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media."

Trust in Big Data
The landslide loser in Tuesday's election has to be Big Data. How could so many smart people, with so much data, be so wrong? From the respected prognosticator Nate Silver to the election day data experiment Votecaster, analysts were giving Clinton from about a 65 percent chance to a higher than 90 percent chance of winning until just hours before she lost. The credibility of data analytics has taken a serious hit.

As an industry, we are making big bets that businesses believe the future lies in the collection of more data and the application of algorithms to help them make better decisions. The failure of the predictions will give them pause. Partners should be prepared for business owners who say, "How do I know the business intelligence you are proposing is going to do a better job at predicting outcomes than the whole election snafu?"

Posted by Barb Levisay on November 10, 2016 at 8:27 AM0 comments


5 Ideas for Partners To Start Marketing Dynamics 365

With the Tuesday release of Microsoft Dynamics 365, as well as PowerApps and Flow, partner marketers may be feeling a bit overwhelmed right now.

Microsoft has promised to provide through-partner marketing materials soon, but partners should act now to show customers they are in front of the new products. Fortunately, there is no shortage of information partners can tap to create educational marketing materials to explain the impact and benefits of Dynamics 365.

Just sorting through the massive amount of information Microsoft has released to partners on Dynamics 365 is daunting. There's no doubt that your customers are feeling the same way, which is where you can really bring value through clear, simplified messaging. As a first step, separate your customers into groups who are likely to have common interests -- people with sales titles in one group, IT contacts in another, accountants in another, et cetera. 

For each of those subgroups, you'll be doing them a huge favor by filtering information about the changes coming with Dynamics 365. You don't need to send information about PowerApps to sales contacts, but anyone in IT will be very interested. Give descriptive titles to your marketing materials to help people find and focus on what is important to them.

Sources of information for Dynamics 365 abound, but there are a few links and posts that are particularly suited to support customer education, including:

5 Ways To Get Started Educating Your Customers
Use the resources above and your knowledge of your customers to create documents that have your brand and reflect your personality. Don't be afraid to admit there are challenges. It's OK to say, "This is all a bit confusing and we are going to help you sort through the complexity." You are your customers' advocate -- remind them of it.

Some ideas to get you started on your Dynamics 365 marketing journey:

  • FAQs: For each of the customer interest groups you have identified, create a short Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document. You can use PowerPoint to create an e-book format with graphics and text combined.

  • Demos: Have your consulting team create a series of short videos that walk through specific scenarios that apply to your target group's interests. Keep the videos short (three to five minutes) and focused on solving a specific business problem.

  • Customer Profiles: Ask a couple of your best customers to share their experiences using Dynamics 365. Interview members of their team once every two weeks and write a blog post with their observations. Include their photographs to give them reason to share the post with their friends and associates.

  • Community Connection Events: Start planning on-site seminars to introduce customers and prospects to Dynamics 365 and answer their questions in person. Consider asking the customers you have profiled to do a short presentation or even do the demo. If you don't have an ERP competency, ask a Dynamics ERP partner to support the event. It could be the start of a productive partnership.

  • Combine Words and Graphics: The combination of functions in the Enterprise and Business versions of Dynamics 365 is unfamiliar to your customers. They will be confused at first. Use some of the diagrams that Microsoft has built or create your own, but use graphics to help explain the Dynamics 365 ecosystem.  

It's an exciting time to be a marketer in the Microsoft partner channel. The hard part is knowing where to start and how to filter the big announcements into bite-sized pieces for your customers. The time is now to get in front of those customers and show them you are in lock-step with Microsoft. Help them see the vision and prepare them for change.

How are you preparing to market Dynamics 365? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge. 

Posted by Barb Levisay on November 02, 2016 at 1:05 PM0 comments


Microsoft Community Connections: 'You Don't Know What You're Missing'

When it comes to marketing these days, content and inbound get all the attention. While those are definitely important aspects of your marketing strategy, they shouldn't replace meeting face-to-face with customers and prospects.

For one partner, Microsoft Community Connections (MCC) has helped it build a significant flow of leads and a larger presence in local, state and national organizations.

In 2010, Prism Technologies Group, a Texas-based Gold partner, started engaging with MCC to help it spread the word about the cloud and Office 365. "We have found working with MCC and the [Microsoft] stores here in San Antonio and in Dallas helped us engage with businesses," said Bryan Guinn, CEO of Prism. "We found it to be a good collaboration, where Prism Technologies Group focuses on the services side and the stores capture some of that hardware-type services and solutions."

Over the past couple of years, Prism has had a number of big successes with MCC-assisted events. When the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) held its annual conference in San Antonio, Prism worked with MCC to host multiple sessions. The educational sessions focused on how attendees could improve productivity, increase collaboration and better reach out to their customers. Prism then followed up with an event at the store.

"That was a big one, and led into a store event afterwards that was a day-long event focused on women in the workplace," said Guinn. "Since that program, the organization has invited me and others from our company to speak at several of their local events. It's been a very good relationship."

Working with the San Antonio Area Foundation, which supports local nonprofit organizations of all sizes in and around the greater San Antonio area, Prism has hosted events as part of the annual IT Summit.

"Unfortunately, many nonprofits don't know about the discounts they can receive through different procurement mechanisms. So you see them often spending more on technology solutions than they need to," explained Guinn. "Through the MCC team and the store, once again, we sponsor a one-day event. We bring in 30 to 40 unique nonprofits and walk them through several different aspects of technology to help educate them. Those have always been really great events."

Holding more than 30 events annually leveraging the MCC content and resources, Prism finds value participating in a wide range of venues. It works with Chambers of Commerce across Texas, including the statewide Texas Chamber of Commerce Association. But the company is not above a good barbecue.

"The funniest one of all was in Goldthwaite, Texas. They have an annual goat cook-off and barbecue competition," said Guinn. "In partnership with the store and the MCC team, we went out for a day, setting up a booth. We talked about the more rugged-type devices that would be applicable to farmers and ranchers and that type of environment -- displaying those devices and having conversations with them. We did some drawings and giveaways and actually did some barbecue judging. It was a lot of fun. We had a good time, got some good exposure."

For many partners, the idea of pulling off one, let alone 30, events is daunting. According to Guinn, it's all about repeatability.

"Once you've done as many as we have, you kind of figure out a good, quick model," said Guinn. "We can quickly set up an event, do good content delivery and get some meaningful value out of it -- both for the people who attend and for us, from a lead-referral perspective. We've built that repeatable IP around the events. We know which ones work, which ones don't, what days work best, what times work best. We've done enough so now we can just kind of crank through them."

For those partners concerned with poor attendance as they work through the event learning curve, Guinn says not to get discouraged. "You're probably going to have events that you don't get as many people as you would like. But sometimes those turn into the best events," said Guinn. "We had one a few weeks ago that we spun up very quickly. We had about 18 people register and six show up, but those six people ended up having extremely in-depth, engaged conversations with us."

For every event, Prism sees additional benefits from exposure to potential prospects -- even if they don't attend. An active presence in the community reflects commitment and gets noticed.

In terms of the MCC resources, Prism leans heavily on its content, personalizing it with its own messaging. Since the retirement of MCC's event registration tool, Prism uses Meetup for their announcements, registration and promotion. Meetup makes social media sharing easy, which has become more important to registration. Approximately 20 percent of registrations for Prism events come through social media today.

Over all, Guinn attributes about 20 percent to 30 percent of Prism's new business to events. To duplicate the success of Prism's event marketing, Guinn strongly recommends getting started with MCC.

"Take advantage of the resources available through MCC," he said. "They've got a good support system. They've got good people available to walk you through the process. The content they provide is really what's meaningful to people now and they update that content regularly. You don't know what you're missing out on until you give it a try."

While the online world may be driving much of our work, it's still important to get out of the office and talk to your prospects. Holding events can be a rewarding and even fun way for everyone in your organization to participate in marketing. Fall is a great season for events, so go out to MCC and connect with one of your local business organizations.

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

Posted by Barb Levisay on September 29, 2016 at 7:07 AM0 comments