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Splashing the big bucks, our Microsoft Inspire story (part 1 … part 2 when we’re back)

In about a month we’ll be headed off to Washington, D.C. to join the Microsoft partner community at Microsoft’s global partner conference, Inspire. Attending Inspire with something to say was always a goal for us when we set out. We knew we were working in the Microsoft world and the partner conference is the place to build a network around any Microsoft enabled business.

As you can imagine, a conference of this nature is a significant expense. There are conference tickets to be purchased, flights, accommodation, food and Hard Rock souvenir pin badges. (If Jon doesn’t read this post carefully, I’ll try expense the pins … watch this space!) Returning home with a just handful of business cards would be a significant failure. We consulted with former attendees and built out our plan. With about a month to go, we’re doing okay and I thought it might be interesting if we shared some of our thinking.

 

How does Inspire fit into our plans?

At a high-level, we see the life of our business having gone through a few stages so far:

  • Sept ’16 – Jan ’17: Building the first versions of both products
  • Jan ’17 – April ’17: First implementations, lessons and product evolution. Most notably for Seamless, introducing a much more flexible plugin architecture.
  • May ’17 – present: Building broader awareness of the service within our existing professional networks

We’re looking to build on this story and Inspire is a significant inflection point for us to take our pitch more broadly than our existing networks.

 

A clear message

Thousands of Microsoft partners. Thousands of interesting things to learn about. Thousands of relationships to be built. It is obvious that if we’re just “the guys with interesting software who give out cookies” we won’t leave people knowing what to talk to us about. And it is not practical to take boxes of cookies to a conference.

Bearing in mind the audience is Microsoft partners, we decided to focus on our Seamless service. Seamless has something to offer other partners in terms of how it can help them improve their projects. We felt it would be good to distill the message into a few key points.

 

(1) Seamless is an Azure based cloud service that connects business applications
(2) Integrations are quick to deploy because of our library of pre-existing connector plugins (Dynamics, SharePoint, SQL Server, Oracle, Freshdesk, etc.) as well as our ability to build new plugins in a few days (where necessary)
(3) Integrations are flexible because our connector plugins can be extended using .Net skills (which many partners are likely to have in-house)
(4) There is an opportunity for partners to build an ongoing revenue stream as we share the subscription revenue with our delivery partners

 

With a clear message, it makes it easier to focus our activity. We can introduce ourselves and our service with clarity and we can filter potential opportunities in or out as appropriate. That said, I have to say, when we do share the cookies, they are lovely chunky chocolate chip ones. If you’re in the UK, you probably want to have a meeting with us face-to-face, just for the cookies.

 

Supporting material

Conferences are about swag, right?  We all know that. After planning our custom Lego bridge builder sets with Recursyv branding (bridges, integration … of course!) Jon suggested that perhaps carrying those around would be too difficult for him. What a killjoy. Truth be told, we’re not hosting or sponsoring so for us to be raining down swag would be a bit unusual.

Duly chastened, I focused on something that would help people remember our key messages. Our primary ambition was something more interesting than just a business card but appropriate to be given out with a business card. We also needed to bear in mind that (1) people aren’t likely to read detailed information if we print it onto brochures, we should focus on key messages and direct people to our website, (2) we do need to carry this stuff around and (3) people will be bombarded with thousands of things over the various meetings they attend.

The first thing we did was build a Sway presentation specifically targeted at potential Seamless partners. This gives us somewhere to point people and is more interesting than just a website. It also gives us a talking point for when we meet people. And it’s a Microsoft technology which is a nice plus.

With somewhere to point people and some ideas around what we wanted to get made, we burnt a hole through the marketing budget. We’re now waiting for delivery of:

A pair of postcards which focus on integration. We shamelessly echoed the British “Keep calm and” theme. Yeah, it’s been done, but everyone we showed it to smiled so we’re happy with them. Sorry about the image quality, screen snips off the printing company website seemed to be the best I could do!

Keep calm and integrate with Seamless

Keep calm it's only integration

 

Updated business cards with a link to the Sway presentation. We even popped a QR code on there (although the link is also printed on the card, just in case). It’ll be interesting to see the analytics on that QR code.

Inspire business card

 

Some lovely vinyl stickers with our logo.

Recursyv stickers

 

Reaching out

Having blown the marketing budget, we now needed to use the time in DC to meet people and share our message. The conference runs over 4 days and, roughly speaking, has keynote sessions in the morning, presentations & workshops in the afternoon and more social engagements in the evening.

One of the most telling pieces of advice I received was “Go to the keynotes, everyone does and they’re fascinating. Don’t plan to spend all your time in the afternoon sessions, make sure you leave time to meet people.” I looked at the sessions on offer and it wasn’t so easy.

Using the conference builder website, I decided I’d do a first pass (through approx. 580 sessions), choose what I’d find interesting/relevant and then whittle it down a bit. Bish, bash, bosh. Having then found myself septuple booked, whittling became carving with a massive diary carving knife – there’s an idea for an Outlook add-in.

Inspire schedule first pass

First pass at signing up for interesting sessions.

 

A few hours of deliberation after this screenshot, I had a reasonable agenda and it became time to begin reaching out for meetings. The conference website contains listings of all attendees and allows you to reach out to them to request meetings. I updated my own profile to reflect our key messages. Then with a pithy intro line and a link to our Sway presentation, I’ve reached out to fellow partners where I can see a potential opportunity to work together. With initial responses back and the thrill of our first meeting being set up, we think we’re now on the way to making the most of our investment. And if all else fails, my kids love the logo stickers.

Wish us luck.

 

A few thanks are due, firstly to Sean K for mentoring us in making the most of Inspire and to Adrian R for some ideas around marketing materials. Matt Shaw and his partner engagement team at Microsoft in the UK deserve mention – they’ve kept us informed on Yammer, run webinars and generally made it easy for us to get this far.

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