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Microsoft Inspire – a dozen reflections

Although Inspire finished last week, I was lucky enough to take a few days to explore Washington, D.C. While pounding the pavements, I began to think about all we had seen and learnt. Although I will work through my notes in detail (hooray for OneNote), I wanted to share a few initial reflections while they were fresh in mind. They range from thoughts about our own products to how to get the best out of investing in similar conferences.

In no particular order …

  1. Microsoft want it to be easy for partners to engage with Microsoft. The new partner model, is about simplifying relationships with Microsoft to make it easier to build, market and sell. For a small ISV such as ourselves, this is only good news. We cannot yet tell if it will work, but the design ambition supports our business and we’re excited by that.
  2. Microsoft want it to be easy for SMBs to consume Microsoft products. Microsoft 365 is a significant statement of intent. An aspect of our own vision is about making it easy for SMB size customers to access enterprise class tools. In our world, this is about integration (Seamless) and Dynamics 365 (Sales In-a-Box). We’re delighted that there is broader recognition of this thinking.
  3. Verticalise. Verticalise. Verticalise. This is not a new theme but it certainly remains top of mind for Microsoft. As a provider of a horizontal solution (Seamless), this is a challenge for us. One of our actions is to work out how position our Seamless service into a verticalised market offering. Watch this space.
  4. Just chat to people. Everyone is at the conference to talk about Microsoft technologies and you have no idea whether a conversation might become an opportunity. One of our most promising opportunities was born out of a discussion about tourist highlights in D.C.
  5. At such a big event, you need to play to your strengths. We have a confession to make: we didn’t go to the UK Regional Party! Scandalous, I know, but both Jon and I recognised that a party style function was just one that we don’t enjoy and are unlikely to get much out of. Between ourselves, we had some doubts and we needed to convince ourselves that it was okay to play truant, but ultimately we decided there’s no sense moping around where we didn’t want to be. We took the evening to get a good pizza and discuss product ideas in the wake of what we were learning at the conference.
  6. Put time into the exhibition showcase. It can be easy to dismiss it as swag (more on that later) and marketing pamphlets, but we spent a few hours browsing and discussing our technologies with exhibitors. For the time we invested, we learnt about many things we hadn’t seen before and we have a few follow-up conversations to pursue.
  7. Swag 2017 is all about the fidget spinners. I keep on reminding Jon that I didn’t get 22 “free” fidget spinners as I paid a hefty sum to be at the conference. More seriously though, a week later I probably couldn’t name one company that gave me a fidget spinner. Without making an obvious brand message link, it seems (to me) that swag is just a waste of money. And it doesn’t have to that hard, for a fidget spinner it could be as simple as “No need to be distracted when our software is deployed.” That said, my kids are probably expert in the Microsoft ecosystem by now.
  8. Microsoft is an inspiring company. Yes, it sounds like I’ve been drinking the Kool Aid (in four colours, of course) but hear me out. Every major presentation starts with the mission statement and the content is aligned to the mission. There is a line of clarity from how the work we’re doing lines up to the broader mission of the company. More importantly, talk of diversity is more than empty rhetoric when there is evidence of value based behaviours all over the conference site.
  9. Jon and I need to make time to talk about the business. Over the past quarter I feel we’d fallen out of the habit of thinking beyond the next week or two. One of our personal reflections is that we need to be sure to separate our time between strategic considerations for our business and operational work in the coming days and weeks. The time we spent pounding the pavement across D.C. was a good reminder.
  10. Client experience counts. At a 4 day conference for 17 000 people, we had one hiccup (getting into the Verizon Centre for the first keynote where security lines were too long). It felt as if this had been addressed by the next day. Otherwise the whole event ran as smoothly as clockwork. This includes sessions, the expo, moving people between dozens of hotels and two conference sites, connectivity issues, pre-arranged meetings, the conference app, social events, etc. etc. It was impressive to observe and a delight to be part of.
  11. I look better with make-up on. According to the make-up artist at the LinkedIn stand where I had a new profile shot taken, it was to “take the shine off” and “make my hair pop”. Admittedly, the surface area for shine has grown somewhat since the last time I updated my profile pic.
  12. Finally, if you’re going to Inspire in Vegas next year, and we’re certainly aspiring to do so, wear comfy shoes.

 

PS Jon reckons that if had branded “Back to the Future” style hoverboards, we wouldn’t need to worry about the brand message as they’d just be cool. Admittedly, if ¬†we knew were to get those hoverboards, we’d probably be in the business of marketing hoverboards rather than data integrations.

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