By Sarah Croxford, Enterprise Channel Manager, Microsoft UK.
I have been asked many a time by partners, "How do I make a success of Microsoft Inspire?" "It's a big investment, how do I justify it?" Having been to several WPC and Microsoft Inspire events I thought I would share some guidance for partners as to how to make the most of their time there. I have been going every other year since 2008 (Houston, New Orleans Los Angeles, Orlando). In 2008, I was 3 months into my tenure at Microsoft, sat in the UK Lounge and met Richard Gibbons - three years later he went onto write this blog and I think this is a great reminder of the fact of how important Inspire can be for many of our partners.
1. Prep it
Start preparing now and prepare early
- What do you want from Inspire? Is it the partnering relationships, engagement with Microsoft, updates and news from MS Execs, knowledge and learning? What will help you to determine the ROI you gain, and some benefits are non-measurable. The partnering piece is here where many companies have found investors, collaborators, new start-ups, innovation offerings some of this is shorter-term and some longer term
- Who is going? There Is a connection tool available once you have registered. Try and engage the individuals now - some people will rarely take a meeting request unless they have heard of you. LinkedIn and Twitter can be helpful for that - following up on articles will help to encourage you to build some links before you go. Book appointments as early as you can as some people will get very booked out
- Get your LinkedIn Profile up to-date - many people will make this the first point to check alongside your website. Updated events & content are key (we come onto messaging in a minute)
2. Prop it
It's all about your proposition. You will meet 100's of people. Each of those will meet the same. You need to make sure your company stands out for the right reason and like touch paper a well-developed proposition that is clearly articulated in 10 second will fly around with "You really must speak to x, they have some exceptional stories, really aligned - have a chat to them".
If you cannot articulate what you do in 10 seconds. They will forget you.
How to create a 10 second value prop
- Differentiate yourself from your competition and be clear about who they are
- Appeal to the emotion of the individual in your statement its either time, money or people
- Know your market - if your expertise is in a vertical use that, if you're a horizontal solution offering make sure you are clear about the markets you play in
- Articulate what you do in one sentence and make sure all the team with you know that's what you do - they are your biggest brand ambassadors ensure they are fully aligned and briefed before attending.
"We deliver secure IOT cloud first solutions for healthcare that provide the insights that will save lives and improve the efficiencies of ambulance workers "
Follow that up with... "and it drives Azure consumption within 2 months, it's an IP Co-Sell qualifier, we are co-seller ready with p-sellers and a fantastic way to penetrate into new customers you should be onto a winner"
As a newer partner, the start up and innovation message is important too. Microsoft people are looking to meet with new partners not always the ones they have always done business with.
Build out strong customer references
- Have a quick ready reckoner on customers you are working with or have delivered in. Have quantifiable information that backs up your solutions.
- Have you got a customer that can tell your story? Will they advocate for you?
- Have you got videos/short podcasts that you can share?
Become a good story-teller
- Make your customer reference a story. People like stories - they can visualise what and how someone went through the pain and solved their challenges and the happy outcome. Most people are positive and want the story with the warm fuzzy feeling at the end.
- A good story will take them through the ups and downs, driving an emotive engagement with the audience. Those emotions don't need to pull at the heart strings but can hit the emotions of a buyer through addressing their challenges around saving cost, investing wisely, improving productivity or helping people to achieve.
3. Pace it
Pace yourself it's a giddy experience for first-timers. When you walk into the conference you get hit by the size of the audience and that everybody in the room is either Microsoft or a partner. It's a phenomenal global ecosystem so take time to savour that moment.
- If travel and time allows, try and get there for a day prior so you can attend any local meet ups and get over your jet lag/travel and to be able to orientate yourself. You can pick up your entry badge so give yourself some time to do that.
- Take some time to recharge - head to the UK lounge for a chill out and to relax amongst others and network there
- They are long days - even the early starts from breakfast to later evening events and you will meet many people
- Keep hydrated - its Vegas. It's also too easy to dose up on loads of fizzy drinks and random snacks
- I personally am always in awe of the huge logistics that go behind the food stations - you don't need to queue too much, and you should be able to find somewhere to sit - working out how they do this and get everyone bused around is phenomenal.
- Take comfortable shoes - and multiple pairs. You will easily do your 10,000 steps every day.
- Take some time to explore the Expo - there are loads of good innovations, partner resources etc and more for a first time its worth trying to get some time to have a look around.
4. People & Networking
- Head to the UK hosted opening event or if you miss that due to flights then go to the UK Lounge. It's the hangout for the entire UK team and many EMEA UK-based teams too.
- The Microsoft UK team are normally in their Union Jack jackets so easy to spot. If you get stuck, don't feel afraid to ask.
- At lunch you can meet a host of people from all round the world as they head to their lunch areas, you could be sat by an Azure Sales Lead for a country or a new business partner. Feel free to introduce yourself and remember your 10 Sec pitch and join them.
- Get onto twitter and follow the UK Microsoft Partner Network Tweets.
5. Prioritise your follow up
- Leverage and share your experiences of what you learned and your experiences on a blog. Not a great writer? Video it. Face for radio? Podcast/Skype recording. Person of few words? Tweet. Either way share your experiences and it's a terrific way to remind Microsoft and partners
- Who did you meet? It's wise to follow up on email at the event and then set a reminder a least five days later to follow up again. Ensure they have your value prop summary, customers references and video props and agreed actions and contacts.
- Share the content internally. Much of the content will be available or live streamed so you can share the core key notes etc with your teams
Sarah Croxford is Enterprise Channel Manager for Health Lead at Microsoft working within the One Commercial Partner group (OCP). Sarah has been working in the partner channel for over 20 years, ten years of which have been at Microsoft in various partner facing roles and is passionate about helping partners to grow and succeed together with Microsoft.