How Do I Engage With Microsoft?

I caught up with a customer (ISV Partner) this morning to discuss their latest product offering, and they said two things that I hear more often than "Dave, how can such a brilliant man be so lethally handsome!?"

1. You are the first person from Microsoft who has ever visited us! Thanks!

2. How do we engage with Microsoft?

Now, the first statement always elicits two emotions in me, the first is one of humility, because at the end of the day, it is my job to work with our customers, so the fact that they appreciate my visit makes me realize that the relationship between vendor and builder can never be best developed at arms length. The second emotion is disappointment, because it's hard to hear from a customer/partner who has been slogging their guts out for the past 30 years on the Microsoft platform, battling it out in tenders and open markets, contributing so much to Microsoft's success, that they have never needed to see someone from Microsoft, and that no one has ever bothered to drop by.

The second statement has always been a tough one to respond to for me. But I figured today that I would try my best to give everyone who struggles to understand how to fasten a line onto the blubbery meat of Microsoft some inside goss.

The first part of working out how to engage with Microsoft, is to first understand how the commercial entity is structured. Microsoft is broken into two main arms, Corp, and the subs.

Corp, a.k.a Microsoft Corporation, a.k.a Redmond, for all intents and purposes, make all the stuff. They develop the products, design the GTM strategies, align the market visions, sacrifice the chickens, and do the stock dances.

The subs, a.k.a, subsidiaries, are the local (domestic market) sales organizations. Subs, again, for all intents and purposes, do not make anything... they sell! They take what Corp make, and sell it into their domestic markets (in some regions, Corp extends its development arms into those countries, but there is always a sub doing the selling).

So the first thing customers and partners realize when they are located outside of Redmond, Washington, U.S, is that if you're building a product on the Microsoft platform, you're going to struggle to find someone in a sub who is going to be equipped to help you with your development questions, platform questions, etc. Why? It's not that those people don't exist in the sub, but rather, they are focused on other priorities, like selling products and services.

This is where DPE come into the picture. DPE, or Developer and Platform Evangelism, are the unit within Microsoft that live within the subs, who are tasked (amongst other things) with the responsibility to assist non-end customers, such as ISVs and System Integrators, with building and delivering solutions upon and using the Microsoft platform, including products such as SQL Server, BizTalk, SharePoint, and the Dynamics range. Partners also will have Partner Account Managers, or similar "handlers", but these Microsoft'ees provide more a management role around information finding and flow, rather than technical advice.

The other important element of working with Microsoft, is to get on Microsoft's radar, and stay on Microsoft's radar! Microsoft is not a company that will watch your website for new information, then pick up the phone and call you to say, "Wow, saw on your website you've got this latest version that supports Vista, let's go to market!". Microsoft are the kind of company that will be having a conversation with an end-customer, who will say, "I have this problem", and Microsoft will say, "I know this partner that has the perfect solution!". That partner will have been the partner who has been camped outside the reception at Microsoft every day since their product launched, extolling its virtues to everyone from the receptionist to the Branch Manager. The key to working with Microsoft is to make sure you're in the front of everyone's mind, and that your value proposition is just like me, short and sweet! That way, when someone from Microsoft bumps into someone who has a problem that your solution fixes, the connection is effortless, for both Microsoft, the customers, and our partner. If you're relying on us to automagically know what your product does, and who you are, it's not going to work. It's not that Microsoft are arrogant, or too big to care, it's just how it works, so the best thing to do is play ball, and play hard, rather than taking your toys home.

So, in essence, my rules of engagement for Microsoft ISV's and SI's is:

1. Get your GTM market message boiled down, short and sweet

2. Get a line of sight to one Microsoft'ee, then use them to hook you up with two other Microsoft'ees that they know, and keep working that until you are able to shake hands with everyone in your local Microsoft sub

3. Make sure you have a pitch that speaks to many different Microsoft ears! Tailor it to get maximum consciousness and interest!

4. And be tenacious! Be like a little Jack Russell! There is no such thing as "annoying" in Microsoft's vocabulary. Make sure you meet with at least three Microsoft'ees a week, make sure you and your business are front of mind!

It's not hard... just different :)

Anyone else got any good tips for engaging with Microsoft?