REDMOND, Wash. , Jan. 24, 2006 — When Microsoft launched the Microsoft Partner Events (MPE) Web site, located at microsoftpartnerevents.com, the idea was to create a platform of solutions and services that Microsoft’s industry partners could use 24 hours a day as self-service support for their Microsoft-related happenings.
Today the site is used by more than 2,700 partner organizations across the United States to facilitate events as diverse as wine tastings, golf tournaments, harbor cruises, classroom training sessions and banquets, as well as traditional technology briefings held at hotels, conference centers and offices. In less than two years since the site was created, partners have used it to manage more than 6,600 events.
“There was one event that went from one side of Niagara Falls to the other,” says Michael Moore, a program manager with MPE. “We’re consistently amazed by the creativity that partners have shown and the events they’ve produced. Because we keep the definition of ‘event’ kind of neutral, the site can be used in a lot of different ways, and so you see that creativity come out.”
Primarily created as a tool to provide Web-based event registration, e-mail reminders and participant tracking, microsoftpartnerevents.com also provides a content library of more than 50 topics, and helpful articles with advice for partners on marketing their events, presenting event content and driving demand through the recently added Partner Readiness Center.
“The Partner Readiness Center is a new feature designed to help partners plan and execute successful events through a series of trainings on organizing an event, along with templates, timelines, checklists, and other handy tools,” Moore said. “Additional resources help fine-tune soft skills such as marketing, sales and presenting, and show partners how to improve the quality of leads.”
Ready Registration for Partners’ Events
The Partner Readiness Center shows how far the site has come in providing a holistic resource for partner events, but according to Moore, the registration functionality remains the site’s bread and butter.
“In terms of sheer usefulness, Web-based event registration is something that a lot of people take for granted,” Moore says. “It may seem simple, but to build that kind of Web functionality on your own can be an arduous process. We want to make this something that’s quick and easy for our partners. It gives them that professional look and feel that we know they’re looking for, and that their customers expect.”
The sheer usefulness of registration isn’t lost on Rob Lloyd of Microsoft Gold Partner Synergy Business Solutions, Inc. As client relationship manager for the Northwest-based business solutions firm, Lloyd manages an ongoing slate of classroom training programs that covers a tri-state area. At any given time, Lloyd may have 28 classes or more in the works, scheduled up to four months in advance.
“Imagine manually tracking registration for 28 classes,” Lloyd says. “Who’s registered, who’s not, who’s coming, who’s cancelled, who got what reminder. It’s really a great use of technology to be able to automate all of that. When you think of what goes into just one of these classes, there’s more to it than meets the eye, and this site has been very useful in helping to alleviate that pressure.”
Using the site, partners can set up an event for registration using supplied templates or their own custom design in a matter of minutes. Events managed through the site flow through to a customer-facing site, clicktoattend.com, where attendees can register, as well as find new events of interest. Both sites are very simple and easy for partners and customers to use.
“The site is helpful in increasing registration in our classes, because it’s so easy for customers to become a part of it,” Lloyd says. “They don’t have to call or e-mail. They can just click on the ‘register now’ button and enter a little bit of information.”
Once participants register, the site provides a confirmation e-mail, as well as reminder messages a week and two business days prior to the event. According to Moore, this is one critical feature the site employs to help ensure that events are well attended.
“Typical drop off in attendance that we see around this industry is about 50 percent,” Moore said. “So anything that we can do to try and mitigate that and make sure that more people attend once they register, we’ll do.”
Those efforts include the reminder messages, the support provided by the Readiness Center to help partners better market their events, and also a Microsoft Outlook feature that customers can use when they register, which puts the event on their Microsoft Outlook calendar with all of the pertinent details.
Hundreds of Leads Generated
Another frequent user of the site is Debbie Besaw of Interlink, a premier provider of services and solutions based on Microsoft products across the United States. Besaw runs events across six cities, as well as national webcasts on topics that span the entire stack of Microsoft technologies.
In all, Besaw coordinates upwards of 50 events each year through microsoftpartnerevents.com. She estimates that in 2005, these events generated more than 250 leads that created almost US$7 million in potential business. The company’s successful “Impact” technology briefing series runs regularly in Seattle, Denver, Portland and California. With so many events to manage, Besaw says, the MPE site has made her life much easier.
“We certainly run the gamut of events, but prior to the MPE site we had no web-registration capabilities of our own,” she says. “We either did phone-based registration, or worked with someone from Microsoft to set up registration through their internal system.”
According to Besaw, both of those prior methods had critical flaws that were solved by microsoftpartnerevents.com.
“Phone-based registration for a major event is just plain chaotic,” she says. “And using Microsoft’s internal system meant that they could not provide us with specific customer contact information, due to privacy rules imposed by law.”
Facing these challenges, Interlink jumped at the chance to try out the MPE site when it was launched, and for Besaw, the rest is history. “We became a pilot partner when the site came out in 2004, and by the end of that year we had managed four events through the system,” she says. “We hit our first 100-plus registrant webcast in December 2004.”
Reporting Forms for Partners
Another feature that Besaw appreciates is the site’s ability to create a readily available “paper trail” of registrants, complete with contact information. “We love the reporting format,” Besaw says. “It’s easy to view and download lists of registrants that we can then use internally and for post-event follow up.”
Using the site’s post-event management features, Besaw’s organization is able to pull lists of registrants and sort them by who attended and who didn’t. This allows Interlink to tailor their outreach to registrants after the event, offering supplemental materials such as PowerPoint decks to those who were unable to attend.
Another popular feature for Interlink is the site’s support for multi-partner events so that two or more companies can sponsor an event jointly with a unified look and feel. Both company logos display, and representatives from both organizations can log into the site, view registrations and keep tabs on what’s happening.
“In the past we’ve seen scenarios where one company is managing an event, and the other is left in the dark,” Moore says. “We’ve tried to eliminate that by creating this feature where partners can share an event and manage it together.”
Microsoft Across America
The Microsoft Partner Events site is yet another example of Microsoft’s continual commitment to partners under its Microsoft Across America campaign. It empowers partners with information and resources to help drive their success, so that any one partner of any type can extend their market reach, reduce costs, increase profitability, and deliver innovative solutions that help customers realize their full business potential.
The Microsoft Across America campaign also includes Technical Sales for Technical Specialists (TS2) seminars. The Microsoft TS2 offers firsthand information on Microsoft products and technologies, providing partners with unique insights on how they can make the most of their relationship with Microsoft.
A second aspect of the campaign includes “Connections” – events that bring small businesses together to help drive success through resources, information and face time with experts. The Microsoft Partner Events site features registration tools for Connections co-presenting partner slots, in which a local partner can present alongside Microsoft experts on small business solutions.
The final aspect of Microsoft Across America literally brings technology to your doorstep with Microsoft Mobile Event Experience – a fleet of trucks 42 feet (12.8 meters) in length, loaded with Microsoft and partner hardware and software, that are scheduled for appearances at partner events around the United States.
“These trucks are available for qualifying partners to use in their own events,” Moore says. “We manage the process and the setup and registration around those trucks through microsoftpartnerevents.com.”
The trucks are currently available by invitation only, but plans are in the works to spin that feature into the general self-service area, where partners can apply to use the trucks through the site. According to Moore, that change is only the latest of many in the works for this truly effective web service that is constantly listening for feedback on ways to make life easier for Microsoft’s all-important partner community.
“A lot of these are relatively simple sounding features, but if you look at the fact that more than 2,700 Microsoft partner organizations in the United States are using this service, the resources it would take to support all those events for that number of organizations, it’s a huge time and expense saver that we’ve put in place here for the entire industry, and definitely a great benefit for our partners,” Moore says.