My personal post mortem of Microsoft Partner Worldwide Conference (WPC11) in Los Angeles 2011

This was my sixth Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) and probably the most useful and effective that I have experienced so far.  Be warned. This blog entry is pretty long, but it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the event and also reflect how my own behavior has changed during the past 6 WPCs that I have participated in.

WPC first weekend: Golf or Educational Sessions

The WPC usually starts on Sunday by a golf tournament or educational sessions. There are two different golf tournaments: Microsoft Invitational and IAMCP tournament. I participated this year in the former as I have done IAMCP many times before as part of my former leadership roles within IAMCP. The Microsoft invitational took place in the gorgeous Trump National Golf Course in Palos Verdes and I had the opportunity to both sponsor the event and also play with an amazing team consisting of one Microsoft executive and two gentlemen from a partner organization. The day was amazing, the weather collaborated with us and everybody was on a cheery mood. What a great start of the WPC week!

If you are participating in WPC first time, I would highly recommend you take some sessions on Sunday so you get some insights to Microsoft and its ecosystem.

Let me explain why I think this WPC was especially effective to me this year. I will start by framing the case so you can put it in historical perspective.

Historical background to my previous WPC events

My first WPC was in Minneapolis back in 2005 and I only had a few days to get ready to that event as I had mostly visited IBM PartnerWorld events for the past 10 years as leader of a business intelligence software vendor.  I did not have any exposure of what to expect in Minneapolis and I did not have any ideas what kind of behavioral patterns one would face during a WPC event. I do not think I was very effective during Minneapolis as everything was so new and I did not really know what to invest in from a time perspective. My recommendation is to learn from the ones that have experience and I have in fact done a few sessions with Microsoft subs to educate Microsoft partners that want to benefit from WPC.

Throughout the years I became more effective, even in Boston (2006) I did my homework before the conference and had some of idea what I could expect from the conference. The next WPC was held in Denver (2007) within the famous mile high environment and 2008 was time for the hot and steamy Houston Texas, my home state. I remember 2008 to be the first impactful WPC for my company TELLUS as that was the first time when Microsoft really also looked at us for working together on the field.

WPC 2009 was held in New Orleans and that year I was the Worldwide President for IAMCP and this meant that I was part of pre-planning team of WPC whereby the IAMCP leadership team visited the location. I was extremely happy that Microsoft put New Orleans on the map again even if people had fear about whether New Orleans was ready for WPC after the catastrophic hurricane Katharina that devastated New Orleans. I am glad Microsoft was bold and had courage to bring business back to New Orleans! I was honored to be one of the ambassadors that year to promote New Orleans as the place for WPC. The event (WPC09) was a huge success and Microsoft partners loved it gave New Orleans a chance to show that the town was back for conferences.

WPC returned to Washington D.C.  (2010) and I felt now that I had the experience and willpower to do what was needed to be done from a business perspective.  Lots of good things came from the conference that year. The Microsoft partner conference history for me has been an evolution and each year I have become more focused and targeted and this has brought new opportunities and also kept the overall experience very nice. Like in any business, focus and segmentation will bring success and that applies also to conferences such as Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.

Let me be clear, WPC is by far the  most important event in the year for my business as that is when our strategy gets aligned with the one from Microsoft and myself and my team will define the fall season (half year period) based on what we have heard during WPC keynotes. To be frank, we will already start the process pre-WPC as we have an idea where things are going based on the discussions with the Microsoft field teams. The actual WPC event gives us the confirmation that we are on the right track. I work with Microsoft field teams in different parts of the world and the final quarter of their financial year is not only trying to get good results for the ongoing fiscal year, but also to cement plans for the new upcoming fiscal year. One has to understand the business cycle to be able to align with it.

I have always emphasized in my educational sessions to Microsoft partners that one should divide conference execution into three steps: pre-conference, conference itself and then post-analysis. The pre-conference is where you will define your target partner group that you want to meet and you will approach them with a quality message, not with spamming. You will not have time to meet everybody of the 15k participants so you have to ensure that you selfishly select the ones that you want to meet. Once you have set your target, you connect with the target group by using WPC Connect tool to send a request for a meeting. Unfortunately, what you will find out before the conference is that people are not actively registering to the service which leaves you in the dark whether the meeting will take place or not. I had many that never responded and I also had no-shows. That is life and you just have to accept it. What I do not appreciate is the spamming from people that have not done any homework on what we do with the result of misuse of my time and efforts.

WPC is not just for partners, it is also a tremendous place to meet and greet Microsoft people who are there to figure out how to execute on the new financial year that starts first of July each year. If you did not know, 95 percent of Microsoft revenue comes from the partner ecosystem, whereby the importance of partners is huge and WPC is a good place to get the discussion/negotiation going.

The conference for me is about listening to keynotes and having meetings. If you participate WPC and party during the evenings, I would still highly recommend for you to get to the keynotes as that is where you can “smell and taste” from the key executives what is going to happen for the new fiscal year. Some people say that it can be read later from papers and blogs, but I think it is necessary to be there physically as it is the posture and the way things are said that makes a huge difference. This year, I did not have any time for anything else besides the meetings with Microsoft personnel and partners and based on my experience, I think this was also the most successful year for me as I was able to talk to most of the ones that I needed to. Some of the contacts did not have time to come to WPC Connect, so we agreed to meet at the session that they were driving and met after the session. And I am glad that I did as it also shows commitment from my side that I wanted to make an extra effort to accommodate the other person’s schedule.

If you are attending WPC for leisure, I would recommend you do it somewhere else as most of the participants are there for business. I already see some of the readers react negatively to this, but this is really where partner-to-partner connections take place and people want to create their business and pipeline for months to come. During the morning, you will listen to keynotes, during the day you will listen to sessions or have meetings with Microsoft and Microsoft partners and during the evening you party. Partying is in the DNA of WPC and you will have to live with it. I had probably 3 hours of sleep each night, made connections also in the party sessions. I admit that this year I did a couple of mistakes by selecting a venue that was not effective and impactful to us, but one can’t always look at the business but look at other factors as well.

My week started with an interesting panel discussion that was broadcasted live on the first WPC11 day (Monday) with the idea to discuss about the message from the keynote and what the cloud meant for partners. The panel was led by Kat Tillman from Microsoft and four panelists: Kelvin Kirby from Technology Associates International, R “Ray” Wang from Constellation Research (read his blog “A Software Insider’s Point of View”), Mary Jo Foley from ZDnet blog “All about Microsoft” and then myself representing Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and System Integrators (Sis) and cloud transformation. The session was also recorded besides being broadcasted live. You should also check out a pretty interesting site that includes lots of good information from Microsoft community at large.

On the third day (Wednesday) I participated in a social media panel where I had the opportunity to speak about why it is important to understand social media and how that can be used to brand your company specifically if you are a small-business owner. The room was packed with people and I think the discussion was also very interesting with good questions coming from the audience.

My WPC week ended on Friday when I delivered a guest speech for Microsoft Public Sector Educational partners (GEPS @WPC) about Cloud Business Modeling. This was a nice addition to the already successful week at WPC and very happy that I did it.

The week had its toll on me. The weekend after WPC I spent mostly in bed recouping and I think that was a smart move as the week after WPC I have followed up with every contact I made which is part of the post-conference activity. How many contacts have you followed up since WPC? My point here is that it is a tremendous opportunity to be “different” and connect and thank you for the meeting/session that you have had with a person during WPC. You can make an impression of professional courtesy and that can lead to anything going forward.

My sincere suggestion for any Microsoft partner that attends WPC is to divide the conference execution in three phases: pre-conference, conference itself and post-conference.

Let me know if you agree with my approach and if you have another one, I would love to hear from it.

How to be effective at Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC10) – Tools and Methods for a Successful Conference

If you work in the Microsoft ecosystem and want to grow your business, you can’t miss Microsoft Worldwide Conference that is held once a year and is the main event for partner-to-partner networking (p2p). This year the conference is held Washington, D.C. and based on what I have heard, there is going to be a record crowd of partners so if you haven’t signed up, it is time to do that now!

I think it is good time to summarize a few things that I have learned in my participations in large conferences, 10 years of IBM PartnerWorld Conferences as CEO for an ISV, and the last five years in the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference as a CEO for a company that works with Microsoft ISVs around the world.

Social media has really become a foundation for successful conference execution and I think this is going to be the case also with the WPC10 in Washington. There are tremendous amount of good sources for how to be running social media and a conference/event; one very useful one is from David Meerman Scott, the author of multiple interesting books such as World Wide Rave: Creating Triggers that Get Millions of People to Spread Your Ideas and Share Your Stories, The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly, and many more. Another one is Alan Belniak’s blog post of How to Leverage Digital and Social Media at Events/Conferences and this blog entry has to do with PTC/USER World Event 2010 in Florida.

I believe your media for successful social media tools use is going to be based on four things: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and DigitalWPC site that includes everything about the WPC conference including links to Agenda, social networking tool Connect, Social media streams, Videos,  Awards,  Regional, Logistics, as well as list of Expo participants etc.

You can follow things in Twitter using the official hashtag for WPC10 (#WPC10) and that is something that will be used heavily during the conference. The best way to stay tuned is to use desktop Twitter apps such as TweetDeck or Seesmic to follow information streams.

I also expect that  the new and aggressively growing social media tool Foursquare that uses GPS technology to provide even location information of your friends in the conference. I have been using Foursquare for the past 6 months and find it a fascinating application. Foursquare recently closed their second round of funding of $20 Million whereby their valuation is now more than $100 million.

The question that each one of you should have is as follows: how am I going to benefit from this conference and what do I need to do pre-conference, during the conference and post-conference? In my workshops and seminars, I have always wanted to point out that people and businesses unfortunately miss a huge opportunity by not making good preparation for the event. What good does it do for your company if you haven’t defined your objectives for the conference, defined the target group of people that you want to meet and what kind of outcome you expect from the conference?

Top 10 DOs for you to take when you participate in Microsoft WPC conference:

1)      Define the goals why you should attend WPC10 and also the metrics of how to evaluate the outcome of the event.

2)      Define the target group of people that you need to have meetings with and prepare yourself for the meeting with a crisp and clear message that you want to deliver during the 30 minute slot that Digitalwpc Connect gives you.

3)      Once you register to the conference, make sure you also register to Digitalwpc Connect social networking and meeting tool that allows you to book meetings with the target group that you want to meet during the conference. Only book meetings that you think are valuable, both for you and the party that you want to meet.

4)      Build your agenda for the week before you arrive to WPC so you have a rough idea what you need to be doing throughout the week. This also helps you to plan the balance between WPC sessions and the Connect meetings that you will be having throughout the week.

5)      If you want to have regional impact, ensure that you participate in regional events that are always taking place. However, try to avoid “hanging around” with your peers during the week, as you can do that when you get back home. You are at WPC as you want to grow your business and make new connections.

6)      WPC is the most important event for Microsoft where they deliver the message to partners for the next fiscal year and if you want to be aligned with Microsoft, you’d better listen carefully what the keynote speakers have to say. If for example cloud is what is driving Microsoft business for FY11, then you need to see how you can be part of the cloud delivery for FY11.

7)      There are a huge amount of sessions during WPC, so what I typically do is to select the tracks and interest areas that I want to focus on. I did this during PDC09 in Los Angeles and it worked well. I took all sessions in Windows Azure as that was the official launch conference for Windows Azure.

8)      Make sure you spend time in the Expo areas as it will highlight exciting vendors with technologies that you need to know about. If nothing else, you need to make sure you understand where the competition is.

9)      Part of the success of any conference is that you are active during the conference and participate in as much as you can as the week goes by quickly and this is your opportunity to collaborate and get to know Microsoft partners from all parts of world and walks of life. It is not only fascinating, but it is also gives you a perspective to life, career and business opportunities that exist on this planet.

10)   A conference investment without good follow-up is a failed conference in my mind, so any meeting or any people that you have met during WPC and whose business card you have, you need to send a thank you note after the conference. And this has to happen within a month from the conference, not 6 months like many participants do.

 Top 10 things that you should NOT do if you participate in Microsoft WPC conference

1)      You should not ignore the pre-conference preparation.

2)      You should not ignore to opt-in to Digitalwpc Connect social networking tool as that is where people will find you before the conference and during the conference.

3)      You should not ignore the keynotes where Microsoft executives deliver their message for the next fiscal year. I assume it is going to be all about cloud and how partners can play the cloud scenario.

4)      You should not spend all of your time with your colleagues from the same company or country. You will have time to do that when you get back home.

5)      You should not ignore the social events that are taking place during the week. You should not underestimate the power of partner-to-partner networking

6)      You should not drink heavily in the evening if you can’t make it to the conference in the morning.

7)      You should not spend and waste your time in asking for meetings without really knowing who you are meeting. There are too many of those that just spam the Connect tool without a purpose.

8)      You should not ignore the evening preparation for the next day’s objectives.

9)      You should not ignore to make notes about the person you met, either on paper or behind the business card.

10)   You should not leave before Friday as the evening festivity takes place on Thursday night. I have signed clients during the last evening party!

WPC is all about networking and you would be amazed how many participants arrive without their business cards to the conference. Bring hundreds of them, so you can exchange cards whenever you meet somebody. It does not mean that you will be doing business with that person/company, but it gives your company yet another point of contact if you ever need to go back and figure out whom you have met.

I have also met lots of people that companies send out to do business development and some of these development efforts are contained in the hotel room or by spending time in the bar. If your objective is to use this as vacation opportunity, I would suggest that you let the ones that want to do business, do their business. This also concerns the meetings at Connect. If you do not have anything specific to offer or discuss about, do not book meetings as many of us are fully booked with valuable meetings. This is after all the most important event for many of us, including my company.

And finally, check out the welcome message from Allison Watson, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group.

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