Microsoft's CEO envisions digital transformation empowering businesses & employees to achieve more; CafeX's omnichannel solution for Dynamics 365 will deliver.
At Microsoft Ignite in Orlando, I watched Satya Nadella fire it up on center stage, continuing his quest to lead Microsoft’s cultural and technological transformation. Microsoft is winning and, as a strategic ISV partner on the outside looking in, I can feel the momentum and excitement – it’s palpable!
Satya’s key message is around digital transformation - empowering businesses and their employees to “achieve more.” The key pillars of enabling digital transformation are as follows:
- Delivering business outcomes
- Engaging customers
- Optimizing operations
- Transforming products
I give kudos to Microsoft for ensuring general consistency of messaging at both Envision and Ignite, as all their key presentations were centered around the above four themes.
As I participate in the D365UG / CRMUG event in Nashville this week, it has been exactly a year since Jujhar Singh, corporate vice president for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, announced the strategic partnership with CafeX at the CRMUG Summit in 2016 in Tampa, Florida. CafeX took the plunge as a strategic ISV partner of Microsoft, with the purpose of bringing omnichannel (chat/cobrowse, voice, video & more) capabilities to the Dynamics 365 CRM platform. We didn’t know what to expect, and it has been quite a ride!
Our solution went live about 6 months ago and, fast forward to current day, we have delivered more than 1800 trials from the Azure cloud globally, have engaged more than 150 Dynamics partners and have signed up all types of customers – big and small across the world!
I am incredibly proud of what the CafeX team has accomplished with the help of Microsoft teams to get us to where we are today. Some of you may have seen the press release this week highlighting some of our successes, notably HP and many other customers that have taken the journey with us.
Leading the Microsoft alliance here at CafeX, I wish to share our top 5 lessons learned over the past year – which I wish I knew when we first started building this business. So, if you are a budding ISV or strategic partner of Microsoft, hopefully you will find some of these lessons learned early on to be beneficial.
- Product alignment and the power of “Microsoft” - The Microsoft (M) product house sets the strategy when it comes to which products need to be positioned where and when. Achieving this alignment and endorsement at the product level is fundamental! As I tell my team, we can scream and market our lungs out on how great our product is, but it’s “M” times more effective if this comes directly from Microsoft, whether it’s a keynote or a mention in an internal communication or WIKI. The power of the “M” goes a long way.
- The AppSource is a lead gen engine – but you have to qualify! - Microsoft has been making amazing strides in its online marketplace called AppSource (appsource.com), where ISV and partner applications can not only be profiled but, most importantly, the solutions can be trialed directly at no cost for a 30 day period. There is no commerce built in yet (meaning you can’t buy apps from this site), but it’s still a great way for prospects and partners to search for applications by capability/industry and quickly try out the available solutions. The company (or ISV in our case) gets notified of each trial with lead information passed so that follow up/qualification can be done. We noticed that not having phone numbers tagged with the trial was an issue, as many of the trials had personal/internal email addresses that were not always reachable. Microsoft is working on an update to get this fixed. Close collaboration with the always helpful AppSource team is key. We have been able to provide feedback to the team and this has been a vital connection for us.
- Demos sell: If there is one thing you need to get right, make it dead simple for both Microsoft and partners to demo your solutions. Having a base horizontal demo with some vertical flavors is a great way to go. We had our lessons learned early on but came up with creative ideas, such as an injector for Google Chrome that allows omnichannel engagement to be demonstrated within any website. The injector scrapes the customer website in real time and injects the Live Assist tags to simulate a real world demo experience tailored to each customer…much to their pleasant surprise. This is an area of constant improvement and ongoing focus.
- Partners & the power of the ecosystem: This is the one place that most ISVs get wrong. Most Microsoft Dynamics partners care primarily about one thing – services. They don’t care about licenses or resale of licenses as much (margins being pretty slim in comparison to services). These partners are courted by tens of other ISVs, all with the same request to position their solutions. The key here is to focus on generating enough demand at the customer level so that partners are motivated to sell. It’s a pull model vs a push! Making it easy for partners to sell/demo and explaining how to position and what to ask for is more important than understanding deep details of the product itself.
- Don’t underestimate marketing: In a SaaS world, marketing is the secret weapon. Many companies fail to realize its strategic importance. This is not simply putting glossies out there but involves a well thought out marketing plan to maximize visibility of your company across Microsoft sellers, partners and ultimately customers. It’s also one area where you can be overwhelmed quickly by the sheer volume of events and activities to the point that it becomes too broad and you are spread too thin. There’s so much to say on this topic alone that it warrants a blog on its own. Here are a few of my top pointers:
- Plan ahead for Microsoft events: There are a ton of Microsoft events out there – some Microsoft focused (e.g. sales conferences), partner focused (Inspire), customer focused (Ignite or Envision) and user groups (CRM UG) etc. You need to decide where you want to focus your efforts and which events you want to double down on. It is better to focus on specific ones as opposed to spreading yourself too thin. Location of your exhibit booth is key - events like Inspire or Ignite are like the United Nations conventions, so pick your location wisely.
- Build AR/PR relationships: Influencing key analysts is important and can make a big difference. Identify prominent analyst firms that cover your specific area (Gartner, Forrester, etc.) and relevant analysts within those firms. Set up pre-briefings around any major announcements, but also keep analysts updated on progress and wins/references. Client referrals, speaking engagements, webinars, white papers, magic quadrants, etc. are a direct result of this one important pillar that will contribute immensely to building the top of the funnel with quality leads.
- Invest in blogging, social & Inbound marketing: The fact that you are reading this goes to show the importance of blogging! Invest smartly in digital marketing, including SEO, blogs, social media and online ads. All of this makes a huge difference for inbound lead activity. Don’t forget to measure effectiveness so you can course correct on an ongoing basis.
Getting the first 10 customers was tough. We had to adjust a lot – our messaging, pitch, demos and much more. The next 10 became a tad easier, as we got our pitch & demos down. Our focus then shifted to process and efficiency. Microsoft AppSource was a great lead gen source contributing a ton to the volume of leads coming in but lacks a “click to buy” avenue – which I hear is in the works and will be an amazing addition. We continue to learn and sharpen our go-to-market tools as we continue on this amazing journey with an incredible technology partner like Microsoft.
Hope you enjoyed the blog. I would love to hear your own experiences and see how similar or different yours have been to ours at CafeX. Please drop a comment below, reach me directly at email@example.com or DM me.