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Partners Look to the Future of Microsoft Envision

The next Microsoft Envision event is already scheduled to kick off on Feb. 27, 2017 in Los Angeles, Calif. Hopefully, following the advice of partners, Microsoft has already begun planning, building on the strengths and learning from mistakes of the first Envision held in New Orleans earlier this month.

One of the most common observations from both customers and partners about the first Envision was confusion about who should attend the event. Clarifying the roles, along with the corresponding value proposition for each, should be a pretty straightforward exercise for Microsoft. This year's sessions were aimed at business, finance, IT, marketing and sales leaders.

In terms of content, attendees I spoke to approved of the direction of sessions, which focused on industry trends and business challenges. "The key is not to try to serve everyone. Stick to the formula that appeals to executives, not all the bits and bytes of tech talk," said Nils Rasmussen, CEO of Solver, a Silver Sponsor. "The content should be a blend of ideas to be implemented today and tomorrow. Have the vision that is exciting, but at the same time deliver the practical value that they can take home to implement immediately."

Several customers I spoke to agree with Rasmussen's perspective on the importance of attendees bringing practical ideas in addition to visions for the future. "Executives need to be able to justify their time and expense," said Rasmussen. "When attendees come back with specific ideas that bring immediate value to the business, it defends the investment, builds momentum and provides the reason to return."

Providing guidance on products that businesses already own was another topic that was high on customers' lists. Several I spoke to had come with the specific goal of seeing how other companies were using solutions like Dynamics CRM and Power BI. The popular customer panels of Convergence events were missing -- probably the biggest single weakness of Envision content.  

"I like where Envision is headed with decision makers, but those people want specifics on how to leverage their existing investment in whatever products they have purchased," said Linda Rose, CEO and president of RoseASP Inc., a hosting partner. "Sessions I went to were so general that I didn't leave with anything tangible. I was really hoping for more content from people outside of Microsoft, but with the late planning for this conference, I am sure they ran out of time to seek such people out." 

Attracting more customers to next year's Envision is obviously good for everyone involved. To achieve the full potential, Microsoft should actively enlist partner help as it did for Convergence, putting marketing materials -- from blog posts to e-mail invitation templates -- in the hands of partners early to support a grass-roots attendance push.    

Many Dynamics partners invested heavily in promoting Convergence to their customers and then "hosting" them during the event. Special events and personalized experiences for attending customers deepened relationships and drove significant service opportunities for those partners. In contrast, an Envision attendee who participated in a Microsoft customer feedback session reported multiple customers complaining that their partners were more of an impediment than a help in their relationship with Microsoft. Those customers wanted to have a more direct relationship with Microsoft. As disturbing as that perspective is, it's a good reminder that Microsoft is continually challenged to find the right balance in its relationships with partners and customers.

Envision has the potential to provide the connection that business decision makers would like to have with Microsoft. Partners can either be threatened by that or use it to their advantage. With proactive engagement, partners can build the value of Envision for customers and reap the rewards.

For Microsoft and partners alike, planning for Envision 2017 should be underway. The opportunity to meet face to face with customers, guide them in their technology choices and be a part of their business planning is priceless. It deserves our full attention.

How do you plan to use Envision to build customer connections? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.     

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 13, 2016