The 3 things we learnt about Partner marketing from Satya Nadella’s 2017 MS Inspire keynote

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.

The Splendid Suggestions Tech Industry “Test Drive”

One of the key announcements for Partners at Inspire 2017 has been the launch of the ‘Build-with, Go-To-Market and Sell-with’ strategy. In this new world product-centric and cross-industry marketing efforts will become increasingly irrelevant, as Microsoft instead focuses heavily on industry-specific expertise to power Partner success.

Regardless of whether your offering is purpose-built for a particular industry, or spans across multiple verticals, Microsoft is banking on an important reality in an increasingly competitive space; that going to market with a strong industry lens moves the conversation from technical functionality and features to one around business expertise and customer outcomes.

As a Partner, how do you start to pivot your communications so the message is less about what your offering does, and more about how your deep industry expertise can help solve their specific business problems?

There are many methodologies through which to work through this, and typically it’s no easy process. However, for those looking to make this shift here is an effective technique to allow you to “test drive” your own offering(s) via an industry context:

For.  Only.  Because.


Who you want your target customers to be. This should be specific to your industry of focus, identifying their role in the organisation.


What you do that’s different – that one thing that’s truly unique and can reflect the needs of the target customer (although that one thing could be the sum of several supporting parts).


The core reason for someone to believe your Only claim.


Example 1: Mining


Asset Managers, Facilities Managers and CIO’s of mining organisations who rely on manual processes or legacy systems to govern company assets.


Our asset management and asset tracking software provides 99% data accuracy, enabling the effective management and optimisation of mining assets.


At the core of our unique mining solution is a ubiquitous asset register that provides a “single source of truth” for all mining company assets, regardless of class. Individual assets can be registered in the Asset Register by serial number or barcode, ensuring accurate data and full visibility of maintenance costs, utilisation measurements and operational costs.


Example 2: Legal


Legal and audit professionals who need to legally verify their public disclosure, regulatory monitored, statements.


VDocs is the only fully integrated, simultaneous verification tool that allows the authors of these documents to verify as they go.


VDocs automates the document verification process, which to date, has been a manual time-consuming process, that is widely recognised as imprecise with considerable risk to those responsible for the verification. 

International law firm, King & Wood Mallesons confirms that document verification time reduced by 30% as a result of automation and VDocs. In addition, VDocs was co-developed and trialled by three of Australia’s largest and most reputable legal and audit organisations.



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.

The Splendid Suggestions top 5 marketing sessions at Microsoft Inspire 2017

As I'm constantly trying to explain to my wife in Australia, Microsoft Inspire is no mere junket. Sure, there may some "networking" involved, but it’s too far to go and there's too much to learn to not dive into the world-class sessions on offer.

However as a first-time attendee it can all be very daunting. So many sessions, so much expertise on offer, and as always so little time. To help narrow things down, I asked myself a simple question. Why is Splendid Suggestions going to Microsoft Inspire in 2017..?

As a company we have a single-minded focus - helping Microsoft channel partners drive their business growth by engaging with new and existing customers. So keeping that reason firmly in mind, the MyInspire Session Scheduler uncovered a few gems. Here are my top five:

1.      Accelerating cloud customer acquisition: Adjusting to buyer 2.0

Behavioural economics has been a buzzword in advertising for some time now, as behavioural science paired with “design led” problem-solving sounds like an alluring mix when attempting to nudge someone along the buying cycle. In reality though, it rarely gets beyond the theory, with academics and creative teams struggling to get aligned enough for a campaign to get out the door. However the speaker of this session, Mark Stuyt, is a genuine heavyweight and by combining the latest in neuroscience research with next generation devices, and sharing real life B2B IT implementation stories, well… shut up and take my money..!

Day/Time: Wednesday, 12-July 3:40 PM-4:00 PM
Room/Location: 150B / Level 100
Speaker: Mark Stuyt, Neural Impact Inc. 

2.      50 tips in 50 minutes - smart partner marketing 

Good ideas can come from anywhere… they’re just more likely to come from a panel loaded with industry experts, who are tasked with throwing rapid fire tips at you. In an industry where it’s easy to drown in creative, content and channel options, figuring out what to do can involve troubled waters. Proven tactics that are quick to implement and will provide immediate results are little lifebuoys of marketing gold. The promise of walking away with four or five ideas and a solid list of ‘to dos’ that might just shift the marketing needle will be an hour well spent.

Day/Time: Wednesday, 12-July 2:30 PM-3:30 PM
Room/Location:  207A / Level 200
Speakers: Chris Dunning, TechQuarters; Eric Rabinowitz, Nurture Marketing, LLC; Jeff Hilton, Alliance For Channel Success; Jennifer Tomlinson, Microsoft Corporation

3.      The role of marketing in a transforming company

There are Big Picture Players and then there is Chris Capossela, Chief Marketing Officer of Microsoft. It’s no secret that Microsoft has kicked some serious goals in recent years, with brand perception, product innovation and share price all soaring upwards. While his title is enough to get me along to this session, his first-hand account of the role played by marketing in Microsoft’s stunning “post-Ballmer” transformation should be fascinating.

Day/Time: Tuesday, 11-July 2:30 PM-3:30 PM
Room/Location: 201 / Level 200
Speakers: Chris Capossela, Microsoft

4.      Creating stories that bring home the bacon

There is nothing more powerful than having your customers talk to their peers about how awesome you are. All too often amazing customer stories can be told poorly, or not leveraged as well as they could be. We all work hard to first understand, and then deliver great results against our customers objectives… however creating raving fans out of your customer base is also one of the best things you can do as a marketer. And the reality is that all of us can get better at this. This session was a sell out in Toronto in 2016. I’ll be there this year with bells on.

Day/Time: Monday, 10-July 2:30 PM-3:30 PM
Room/Location: 204BC / Level 200
Speaker: Julie Simpson, ResourceiT Consulting Ltd

5.      Marketing in a SaaS based world: The end of the EA

We’ve been hearing about SaaS and marketing working together like ebony and ivory for what seems like forever. It’s not a new conversation. However for our agency, and for many of our peers, B2B campaigns with a significant ‘as a service’ component have jumped from 50% to more than 80% in the space of 12 months. Subscription modelling isn’t the future, it’s now. This session promises to help us understand the complexities, potential pitfalls and the pros and cons of incorporating SaaS subscriptions into campaigns. It’s a prerequisite for any marketer in the IT B2B landscape.

Day/Time: Tuesday, 11-July 4:00 PM-4:30 PM
Room/Location: Community Hub Theater / The Commons
Speaker: Chris Wright, FiftyFiveandFive; Kevin Conroy


About Tim Sands

Tim Sands is Managing Director of Splendid Suggestions, an ad agency that specialises purely 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 specialities of customer acquisition and relationship management. 

Why "smart" companies have no choice but to support remote employees

Recently, I read a post on an app that facilitates collaborative brainstorm sessions for remote teams. It takes the principles of an in-person Ideo workshop and turns it into something accessible for employees anywhere to contribute. It’s an amazing piece of technology with the buy-in of clients like IBM and Disney.

As the remote workforce grows, many of tech companies are focusing on collaborative tools like cloud, social applications, and advanced conferencing solutions that will drive productivity no matter where employees are based.

At Splendid, we regularly work virtually and make the most of tools like Office 365 to work collaboratively and stay connected. Having previously worked at a traditional organisation that valued having people in the office, I wonder if either is a better way of working. Entrepreneur recently published a post on why "smart" companies are going remote, including reasons such as happier and more productive employees and creating superior long-term business performance.

Regardless of whether going remote is better for business or not, there are some macro trends influencing a shift to remote workers and none of them seem likely to go away.

Millennials desire work-life balance

Once upon a time, there was a generation of people who stayed with one company for decades and was motivated to climb the corporate ladder. Millennials aren't interested in structured hierarchies, but by "communities of mutual interest and passion". Instead of wanting to reach the top at all costs, research found that three out of four Millennials reported that work-life balance drives their career choices. To attract top talent, accommodating a desire for work-life balance through flexibility is essential.

Economic factors

Living close to work has become fiscally challenging for many people. If you live in Sydney, New York, San Francisco – the list goes on – you know what I am talking about.  The result is “super-commuters” who buy homes in more affordable suburbs far from city centres – only to spend hours a day on a train or in a car. For employers, even part-time remote workers save money on overhead, including rent, utilities, office supplies, cleaning, and those old biscuits in the kitchen. On the upper end of the scale, IBM, who has been supporting a remote workforce for years, saved $100 million from allowing 42% of its workforce to work remotely. Now that’s a lot of biscuits.

Tech that keeps getting better and better

More and more, technology is enabling greater productivity from employees. Cloud and collaboration tools like Office 365, Google Docs, Skype for Business, Yammer, and Slack are enabling employees to work together from anywhere on any device. On top of it, applications and hardware, like Skype for Business, Mural, and the Microsoft Surface Hub, are improving the experience not only of meetings, but as collaborative sessions that would have previously only been held face to face. Now companies can increase the value of these sessions by incorporating skill sets, not matter where team members are placed (so long as some attendees aren’t supposed to be asleep at that time in their part of the world).


Whether you’re a proponent or not, companies expanding out across countries has resulted in international colleagues working side by side at all hours of the day. When an employee is expected to be on a call at midnight or answer urgent emails at six in the morning, employers need to extend flexibility in return.

An entire generation of workers. The reality that homes and offices aren’t getting cheaper. Technology that grows exponentially. Businesses tapping into the benefits of extending into international markets. These are undeniable factors, which organisations cannot ignore if they want to stay competitive. The challenge will be how they support a remote and flexible workforce and encourage productivity. 

What are the biggest barriers to cloud adoption?


With compelling reasons to embrace cloud like cost savings and ability or organisations of all sizes to scale efficiently, what could be holding organisations back from cloud adoption? The most recent available ABS research puts adoption of paid cloud computing services by Australian organisations at just 19%. While the trend in cloud adoption would indicate that this number would have grown since this data was collected, it's a far cry from what we'd expect given Australia's reputation for being ahead of the US and some European countries in embracing cloud technology. 

How can cloud service providers and resellers help more organisations to get value from cloud services? 

Education Understanding cloud services is a barrier to adoption: "Insufficient knowledge of cloud computing services" was cited by nearly 23% responders as a factor. While many tech experts take for granted the market's understanding of cloud, there clearly is the opportunity to assist those early in their cloud journey. What's key is not relying heavily on over technical language or use cases, but talking about cloud's contribution to overall business strategy. 

Managing perceptions of cost The "high cost of cloud computing services" was cited by large organisations (200 or more employees) as factor. While smaller organisations have the flexibility to implement cloud solutions relatively easily, large organisations require strategies for implementation that involve migrating from legacy systems and applications. What these companies aren't prepared to spend on moving to the cloud could actually hinder their growth and financial results into the future as more nimble, cloud-enabled competitors come after them.  

Addressing privacy and security concerns Large organisations in particular cite factors around location of data and security as primary barriers to cloud adoption. This is not new news, especially for those looking to target industries that have huge amounts of customer or citizen data; however, it's a critical communication point that, if addressed, can set your offering apart. 

Why are we selling cloud instead of the benefits of cloud?

You may have heard that as many as 86% of Australian businesses have been using cloud for a year or more. The ABS puts the figure much lower – as low as just 37% for businesses larger than 200 people. Just when we thought we had done our job and sold as much cloud as we could in a highly sophisticated market like Australia, it turns out there are more cloud sales to be had. 

So do you want to buy some cloud?  

Does anyone ever just want to buy some cloud? Sure, maybe there are organisations that feel pressured to jump on the cloud bandwagon because that's what every IT company and publication has been talking about for the last seven, eight, or more years.  

Yet, as indicated by search trends, interest actually peaked in Australia some time in 2011. Did people just decide that they couldn't bother with cloud? Well, according to the ABS research, "no factors" was preventing 59% of orgnanisations of all sizes from adopting paid cloud computing. And between 22 and 24% cited insufficient knowledge as a barrier. Perhaps ignorance is bliss and many are happy to continue on as they have before. 

Or have organisations just become more interested in what cloud can do for their business rather than cloud as a buzzword? Here are just a few of the ways businesses are getting value from cloud solutions. 

Ability to scale quickly Access to enterprise level infrastructure and software levels the playing field. It gives small companies the same resources as their largest competitors. Smaller companies who have embraced cloud since the early days have an even greater advantage in that they are not weighed down by burdensome licenses or infrastructure, which prevents many large enterprises from getting the most out of cloud. 

Creating a collaborative working environment Gone are the days of version control issues. Now cross-discipline teams can collaborate together on their work, leveraging all of the benefits of cloud collaboration solutions. From collaborative documents to cloud-based communications applications like Skype, working together has never been easier or as effective. 

Disaster recovery While the cloud is not immune to natural disasters (as AWS recently experienced during some heavy Sydney storms), cloud back up and recovery solutions offer a relatively cost effective solution for organisations of all sizes. 

Supporting a mobile workforce As workplace trends shift towards more employee flexibility (and more demands during what was once time off!), cloud is enabling a mobile workforce to add equivalent value to an organisation to those occupying desks. Cloud solutions allow access to data and applications across devices and locations and facilitate effective communications (again through apps like Skype), increasing employee productivity no matter their location. 

From reducing capex for expensive licenses or infrastructure to lowering the time and resource spent on maintenance, cloud solutions let organisations invest efforts elsewhere – like strategy, sales, or improving their offering to the market. The benefits of cloud to organisations are massive. We need to stop selling the technology and start selling the benefits of the business transformation that cloud enables.