It’s now been a week since Satya Nadella’s opening Inspire 2017 keynote. It offered the blueprint for Microsoft’s success in the era of Intelligent Cloud and Intelligent Edge, and was steeped in strong product demos and Partner success stories. When you see and hear Satya live on stage it’s no wonder that Microsoft is undergoing such an amazing commercial transformation.
Here at Splendid Suggestions we have one focus – to help Microsoft Partners drive their business growth via high-performing marketing campaigns with new and existing customers. From our perspective, there were a number of significant Partner marketing implications that came through loud and clear from Satya’s time on stage.
Here are the top 3 key Partner marketing insights we learnt from his keynote:
The uniqueness of Partner solutions going to market is increasing… rapidly
For some time now we’ve seen a shift from product-centric marketing campaigns that focus only on base Microsoft offerings (e.g. Dynamics CRM or Skype for Business), to selling what are truly differentiated solutions with unique Partner IP at their core. Satya’s keynote included several examples that demonstrated this shift: Fridges with computer vision inside them - the data from which links straight to inventory lists and shopping carts, construction sites and hospitals that use Azure cognitive services to ensure workplace safety and patient care, and the optimisation of physical retail spaces (via Australia’s own Lakeba) using AI to ensure that costly floor and shelf space is algorithmically tuned to deliver in-store sales.
To encourage and accelerate this trend, Microsoft continues to make it easier and more cost-effective to develop, distribute and manage solutions / apps that connect devices, sensors and infuse them with AI.
The impact for marketers? It’s great news. We’ve found time and again that communications centred around repeatable, differentiated IP are far more effective than those that are simply re-selling the Microsoft stack, no matter how creatively you package it. Like many I’ve been accused of drinking a little too much of the Microsoft Kool Aid in the past. However if the incredible solutions showcased at this year’s Inspire are indicative of what the Partner boffins might come up with over the next year or two… then re-fill my cup, pronto!
Partner marketing capabilities are embarking on a radical learning curve
Increasingly complex Partner solutions that connect devices, sensors and AI together demand a marketing skillset that far exceeds the atypical communications experts vs. product experts dynamic. To poorly quote Liam Neeson, effective Partner marketing requires those that can say “what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career”. Marketers in our space need to digest, unpack and repack these offerings into formats that current and potential customers are going to understand and care about.
The quality of a Partners marketing communications will now, more than ever, be dependent on the degree of hardcore technical proficiency of the marketers developing it. This is as true for senior strategists as it is for copywriters, researchers, designers and project managers. Do they know how machine learning works? Can they explain the benefits of a graph database? Do they understand how the business solution is deployed and managed? Most importantly, can they articulate how technical features convert into actual business benefits?
The bottom line is that Microsoft are moving faster than ever. Partner marketing efforts will have to be every bit as pacey… so strap on your runners or get left behind!
The void between sales and marketing will continue to shrink
The traditional old-school relationship between marketing and sales was overwhelmingly linear. Marketing teams generated leads, and sales teams worked to close them. Marketing rarely knew whether, why or how their leads ended up buying; sales were generally in the dark as to where their leads came from, how they were ranked and what their “hot button” was. In recent years, quantum advances in Marketing Automation and CRM capability has helped lift the veil between marketing and sales.
What I saw at Inspire 2017 however, with the connection of Microsoft 365, LinkedIn and Dynamics 365, will transform the marketing and sales partnership like never before. The demo of the newly released Microsoft Relationship Sales gave a preview of how Microsoft is starting to leverage their USD $26bn investment in LinkedIn.
In addition to what’s possible in Dynamics now, Microsoft Relationship Sales identifies at risk accounts, how you can expand your network via LinkedIn to nudge the opportunity along and, through Point Drive, share relevant content in LinkedIn and monitor who engages with it. Everything is engineered to leverage your network as effectively as possible and move deals along faster within the Microsoft 365 platform. Only a few short years ago this functionality was consigned to the whiteboard, a monolithic project of such scale that only the bravest of multinationals would even attempt it. Now Microsoft has made it open for businesses of all sizes.
The short story? With the ability to have marketing and sales working in concert, no business lead will get left behind.
About Tim Sands
Tim Sands is Managing Director of Splendid Suggestions, an ad agency that specialises in B2B IT communications. With over a decade of B2B IT experience, Tim has a proven track record of developing communications programs that change the way people think about and purchase technology solutions. An ADMA and Echo award winner, he offers a strong mix of strategy development, creative excellence, and digital project delivery with core specialties of customer acquisition and relationship management.