Results in the Real World

Results, woman crossing the finish line. Photo from Kaia F.I.T. Sacramento

Results – crossing the finish line

It’s all about results.

That’s what I taught my kids – it’s not about effort or good intentions, what matters in the end is results.

In this post I hold myself accountable for results.

Previously I’ve encouraged you to do some things, but what results have I delivered?

It’s been 2.5 years since I joined Fusion-io, and 9 months since SanDisk acquired Fusion – what real world results with Microsoft have I delivered to my company?

Here’s are my results, the things my company does with Microsoft today.


Early Access to Microsoft Products

  • Early disclosure of vNext features and timelines for the Microsoft products.
  • Opportunity to influence product features and direction.
  • Access to early, frequent partner builds.
  • Collaborative testing of our products with vNext features with the Microsoft product team.
  • Attend regular NDA partner briefings, and network with other participants.

Marketing

  • Whitepapers, jointly developed and co-branded, focused on using our products together.
  • Customer-facing events, jointly developed and presented at Microsoft offices.
  • Joint promotion of those customer-facing events, to Microsoft’s local customers and prospects.
  • TechEd breakout session (not a “partner session”, a real breakout session)
  • Microsoft product launch event participation – resulting in press and analyst coverage, and heightened visibility to Microsoft sales teams.

Microsoft Sales Engagement

  • Leads from joint customer-facing events.
  • Brief EPG account teams on our products.
  • Swap account intelligence – contacts, projects, budgets, etc.
  • Invited by Microsoft account teams to present to their customer contacts.
  • Microsoft tells customers about our products and demo’s them.

Microsoft Investment

  • Microsoft shares the cost of joint event promotion and delivery.
  • Microsoft funding encourages EPG teams to include our products in customer POCs.

Customer Satisfaction

  • Microsoft shows customers how our products will address issues in their IT environment.

Partner-to-Partner Collaboration

  • Introductions by Microsoft to key contacts at other companies they work with for a specific initiative.

This post is about accountability for results – my accountability for my results.

Now let’s talk about your results.

  • Has your work delivered the results with Microsoft that you desire?
  • If not, what are you doing to correct that?

Most partners I talk to haven’t even scratched the surface. But it’s not rocket science. You need to know what’s possible – that’s the point of this post – then set goals that make sense for your situation, and develop a plan for achieving those goals. Develop the ability to identify and exploit the opportunities available to you, working with your evangelist, by attending WPC, and talking to other Microsoft partners who’ve already done what you want to do.

Even if you have no meaningful relationship with Microsoft today, you can fix that. When I started with Fusion-io they had no relationship with Microsoft; they hired me to create a strategic relationship that would impact Fusion’s business results. Before I joined there were some personal connections with the SQL Server product team, and therefore some ability to influence product features; but that’s it.

I’ve benefited from working with exceptional people in the business development teams and others at Fusion-io and SanDisk, people who bring deep expertise in other disciplines. In the beginning, they all had little experience working with MS in these ways, but they learned fast and together we’ve delivered the results I’ve described. Competegy has also contributed to these results, thanks Larry!

Everything I’ve done, you can do – and achieve your own results with Microsoft.

Change is the only Constant in Life

change-ahead(Tap, tap, does this thing still work?) It’s been 18 months since my last post?! Note to self – blog more.

A lot’s happened since my last post. Evolving responsibilities, exciting deliverables, bowling with a tech legend, Steve Wozniak, and recently the news that Fusion-io will be acquired by SanDisk.

I’ve learned a lot about how Independent Hardware Vendors (IHVs) like Fusion interact with Microsoft. Some things are different, like getting device drivers “Certified for Windows Server” and working with the Microsoft Technology Centers (MTCs), others are similar-but-different like using Windows Error Reporting, taking advantage of the amazing array of services available through Microsoft Premier Support for Developers, working with the Windows Server Partner and Customer Ecosystem (PaCE) team, getting Fusion’s enterprise sales teams engaged with their local EPG Application Platform (App Plat) counterparts, etc.

My co-workers on Fusion’s Strategic Business Development team work with other major ISVs, and their experiences have reinforced to me how exceptionally partner-friendly Microsoft is.

  • Participate in the Windows Server early adopter program? No cost.
  • Have a relationship with PaCE, talk about roadmaps and get meetings with Microsoft product teams? No cost.
  • Microsoft quote in your press release? No cost.
  • Participate in a major product launch? No cost.

Shop those “asks” around the other major ISVs and platform vendors, and you’ll experience some serious sticker shock.

(To be clear, “no cost” is my shorthand for “no check payable to Microsoft is required.” There will still be the opportunity cost of peoples’ time, travel cost to attend briefings and developer workshops on Microsoft’s Redmond campus, etc., the same as with other major ISVs.)

I’ve also learned that niche communities like device driver developers don’t get the kind of attention Microsoft is currently giving a Windows Store app developer, by a long shot. There’s a steep and painful learning curve for device driver newbies, with incomplete and contradictory documentation, under-staffed Microsoft teams who take a while to respond to questions, and processes that simply do not work as advertised. Fusion’s Premier Support contract has been a life-saver, many times. Don’t leave home without it. Don’t be fooled by the program’s materials, which imply the program is focused on in-house LOB application development – the program is spot-on for ISV and IHV development of commercial products.

So what’s next in this changing life?

I’m looking forward to Fusion joining SanDisk. The strategic alignment is excellent, each company brings strengths that complement the other, and the SanDisk execs I’ve seen are saying the right things. At least it looks that way in the webcasts, I’ve had no in-person interaction yet since I work remotely from my home-office in Redmond.

The industry prognosticators anticipate a new wave of Microsoft server releases in 2015, if that’s correct and recent release timelines apply, early adoption programs should spin up this summer sometime for Windows Server, SQL Server, etc. All your favorite products with 2012, 2012 R2 and 2013 in their name should see new releases.

Have you kept your favorite evangelist informed of the things you’re working on, and your interest in participating in early adopter programs? (Evangelist, partner manager, etc.) Be proactive, take responsibility for ensuring they know you’re interested, because participating in early adoption programs is the best way to gain mindshare with your Microsoft contacts and leapfrog ahead of your competition.

Some folks prefer to focus on filling a gap in a Microsoft product that has kept customers from buying; hard to argue with that. But what’s the best way to identify a gap you can fill? Participate in an early adopter program 🙂 You can identify the gap early, and get feedback and technical assistance from the Microsoft product team so your product is ready to fill that gap when Microsoft’s new release launches.

Perhaps there’s one more constant in life – the value of participating in Microsoft’s early adoption programs.

My First Post on the Fusion-io Blog

A quick note – my first post on the Fusion-io blog! “VSL Gets Certified for Windows Server 2012“.

The Virtual Storage Layer is software (device drivers) that implements many of the features that differentiate Fusion-io’s ioDrive products from other Flash memory solutions, and getting VSL Certified for Windows Server 2012 is important both in its own right, but also is important to Fusion-io’s OEM partners including HP, IBM, Dell, Cisco, and SuperMicro.

It’s been a fascinating learning experience, burrowing into the details of the IHV programs and processes, and comparing those to the ISV programs and processes I’m familiar with. Always something new to learn about working with Microsoft!

To Be Continued…

Fusion-io logoI’ve started a new job with Fusion-io where I’ll be applying the same techniques I’ve described here. I suspect my blogging will take a back seat for a while as I get up to speed in the new job. I’ll also be learning some new wrinkles since Fusion-io is a hardware company whose primary software deliverable is device drivers, rather than a “pure” software product.

So, for now, this blog is … To Be Continued.

ISV Paths to Success – Early Adopter Programs

Break away from the pack
Source: mycentraljersey.com

Early adopter programs (EAPs) deliver several valuable opportunities that make EAPs an important ISV path to success with Microsoft. You can use EAP participation to:

  • Create and maintain technical and market leadership
  • Drive innovation by building on/exploiting new MS features and technologies
  • Gain visibility with customers, investors, etc. by tapping MS’ marketing machine
  • Gain influence over future MS product releases, APIs, etc.
  • Drive revenue by engaging MS field sales to help sell your product

EAPs are invitation-only and you’re competing with other ISVs for a limited number of slots, sometimes just a couple dozen, so it’s helpful to understand MS’ motivation – why they bother with EAPs in the first place, and what they expect from the ISV partners that participate in EAPs.

Disclaimer: early adopter programs vary widely across MS – the requirements of participants, the benefits offered, what they’re called (EAP, TAP, Metro, First Wave), etc. There are also different programs at different stages in the product release cycle, run by different parts of MS, targeting different numbers and types of partners or customers.

This post focuses on early adopter programs run by the MS product team and the technical evangelists working with that product team, engaging partners 12-24 months before RTM, with participants selected primarily by the product team and evangelists, based on the participants’ proven expertise with that product and related technologies.

Why Microsoft Runs Early Adopter Programs

You’ll often hear MS refer to “a rich partner ecosystem” – that’s MS-speak for the vast array of partners that invest around MS products and deliver additional capabilities, services, etc., that are not available from MS. The richer the ecosystem, the more likely MS will have a partner that can deliver whatever capability a customer wants.

When MS puts out a new product release, they want customers to start buying it right away. Customers, however, are reluctant to deploy a new product release the moment it’s available. They’ve learned they’ll have an easier time if they wait for the first service pack (“SP1”) to fix the most annoying problems in the original release. MS can influence this perception, but they’ll have to ship many rock-solid, bug-free releases before they’ll change this customer belief and behavior.

Customers also delay deploying new releases because they’ve tapped that rich partner ecosystem and become reliant on add-on products from ISV partners that deliver important additional capabilities; and until those add-on products support the new MS release, the customer delays deployment.

This is something MS can control; indirectly. They know which ISVs’ products are widely used and will become “deployment blockers” if they are not updated promptly to support the new MS product release. MS can accelerate when those ISV updates are available through … early adopter programs.

Long experience has proven that when planned and executed correctly, MS EAPs result in a high percentage of participants delivering updates that support the new MS product release, shortly after MS releases it.

Microsoft’s Goals for EAPs

MS has several goals for EAPs:

  • Early support by partners for new MS releases
  • Partners and customers to showcase at various stages in the release cycle
  • Pre-release testing of product features, APIs, documentation, etc.
  • Expert technical feedback prior to RTM

Delivering support by key ISV partners shortly after the new MS product release is the key result MS expects from EAPs, for reasons discussed earlier. A close second place is “customer evidence”, a collection of whitepapers, case studies, video interviews, etc., which showcase the experiences of actual customers using early builds of the new MS product release prior to RTM. This “customer evidence” is widely distributed within MS and, when customers allow, published on the MS product web site.

MS achieves its technical goals – pre-release testing and technical feedback – through direct interaction with the partners participating in the EAP; more on that below.

How ISVs Join an Early Adopter Program

With a limited number of EAP slots available, MS must be selective in which ISVs they invite to participate. Without question, the most important criteria is that you must support the latest release of the MS platform, and take advantage of the MS platform’s features appropriately. If your product supports only a “down-level release” like Windows Vista or Windows XP, or does not use relevant technology, like HTML5 and CSS for browser-based applications, you stand virtually no chance of being selected.

A contact at MS that works with ISVs put it very clearly:

“You can’t just call [MS] up and say – Can you put us on a list so that your biggest and best customers will use us? – without having shown your willingness to get in and build apps on the platform!”

Next, you need to be known to the people who decide which ISVs will be invited. For most ISVs that will be your technical evangelist – if you aren’t working with an evangelist, see my earlier post, Technical Evangelist – An ISV’s Best Friend, and How To Find Yours. You need your evangelist to:

  • Be explicitly aware you want to participate in the EAP
  • Be aware of specific, cool things you’ve done in your product, with the current MS release
  • Understand your company and product messaging
  • Understand your target market, and who some of your key customers are

All of these could be tagged “make it easy for your evangelist to choose you”, since your evangelist will need to know these things to convince the other MS folks involved in choosing ISVs that you should be invited.

The EAP Agreement

Each EAP has some kind of agreement which details the “gives and gets”, what you’re committing to do, and what MS is committing to do. (The agreement and its specific terms are confidential, subject to the terms of your NDA with MS. In this post I’m speaking generally, and carefully abiding by my past NDAs.)

You’ll typically commit to:

  • Develop a version of your product that uses one or more specific features, APIs or technologies from the new MS product release, selected from a list that MS provides.
  • Release that product shortly after the MS product RTMs, typically in the range of 30-90 days after RTM.
  • Travel to MS several times for hands-on technical events specific to the EAP, at your own expense.
  • Promptly install each MS product build you’re provided, test your product on it, and file bug reports for any problems you encounter.
  • Maintain regular communications with your MS contact to provide your feedback on the new MS release, and keep your contact informed of the status of your work (e.g., “green” = on track, “yellow” = some issues but under control, “red” = dead in the water, need help!).
  • Commit sufficient staff to fulfill these commitments.

Think about this from MS’ perspective. MS is inviting you to fill one of a very limited number of slots for ISVs in the EAP; they want to be sure you’re clear about what’s expected of you, and that you’re committed to following through. Despite the best of intentions, stuff happens and sometimes partners cannot fulfill their commitments – new leadership wants to take your company in a different direction, your company is acquired, etc. In situations like that, keep your contact well informed and there’s typically little fallout from failing to fulfill your commitments. Stuff happens.

If you lose interest or simply fail to deliver on your commitments, watch out – although there’s rarely any direct consequence, you probably won’t be invited to another EAP for a long time. You wasted the valuable spot in this EAP and that’s something the MS folks won’t soon forget.

The most effective way MS can ensure your product update is ready near the MS RTM is by having members of the MS product team work with you, face-to-face. When you attend the EAP events at MS, any member of the product team can be brought into the conversation, explain things and/or look at your code, help you overcome any obstacles you encounter, or file a bug report against the MS product on-the-spot. These events go by a variety of names – “dev lab”, “developer kitchen”, etc.

Your presence at these EAP technical events is seen by MS as the primary indicator of your dedication to delivering on your EAP commitments. It will be virtually impossible for you to successfully complete the work you’ve committed to, without attending these events. Failing to attend sends a very strong signal to MS that you’re not serious about your EAP commitments, and that means MS wasted a valuable slot in this EAP.

The MS technical evangelists and product team are expected to report on how you and other EAP partners are progressing, so keep those communication lines open.

MS will typically commit to:

  • Provide training on the new MS product release
  • Provide a series of early builds of the new MS product release
  • Providing a technical contact to work with you
  • Invite you to EAP technical events (the same events you committed to attend)
  • Invite you to participate in various press, publicity and marketing activities

Your technical contact will typically be a technical evangelist or program manager from the product team that’s focused on ISV partners. That contact will review your plans and architecture/implementation, ask for your feedback, pursue resolution of problems you encounter, champion your suggestions for change to the product team, etc.

Some EAP marketing activities may be mandatory, i.e., when you sign the EAP agreement you’re agreeing in advance that your company will participate in specific activities. Providing your company logo for MS to include in the “partner logo slide” is a typical example.

Occasionally MS makes customer evidence a high-priority deliverable from the EAP, and the EAP agreement will require you to commit to cooperate in developing that evidence. This protects MS from reaching the end of the EAP only to discover participants have decided not to cooperate in developing that customer evidence. Note that MS wants to detail your customers’ experience with early builds of the new MS product release, not your experience as an ISV; in which case you’d need to line up one of your customers that’s willing to join the EAP with you, to qualify for an EAP like that.

MS may also list a variety of benefits that you may qualify for but are not guaranteed, e.g., your product may be considered for demonstration during the keynote of the MS product launch event. You’ll be competing with other EAP participants for those benefits, and MS will decide which partner and product will be included; or that no partner product will be demo’d.

For online services like Windows Azure or Office 365, instead of receiving product builds to install yourself, you’ll typically receive credentials that give you access to a private area on the service where MS has deployed early builds of the next service release. Periodicially MS will deploy new builds of the service, which you’ll continue to work with.

What to Expect During the EAP

The focus of the MS early adopter program changes over the course of the EAP. Initially MS is focused on educating you on the features and APIs of the new MS release and best practices for using them (i.e., how MS anticipated you’d use them), answering questions, and providing feedback as you make plans for how your new product release will use those features and APIs.

During development, you’ll run into a wide variety of problems – things that doesn’t work as documented, things that aren’t documented at all, things that are documented but not yet implemented, disconnects between how you intend to use features and how MS thought you’d use them, etc. This is the central experience during an EAP – stuff doesn’t work. Deal with it! If everything worked, the EAP would be over and MS would have ship the product.

MS seeks feedback from EAP participants, and MS values this feedback very highly. Imagine if MS shipped a new product release and ISVs didn’t support it, because it didn’t deliver the features and APIs ISVs needed; that would be a disaster. EAP participants send very smart people to the EAP events, people who set the future direction of their company’s products, and if several of those people don’t like what they see or have recommendations for improvements, that’s taken very seriously by MS product teams. MS counts on EAP participants to validate (or challenge, as appropriate) their product plans and implementation, to ensure MS ships “the right product”.

When MS provides an public preview release, whether called a “Community Technology Preview” intended for developers or a “Community Preview” intended for power users, the EAP team typically invites EAP participants with the most compelling stories to provide quotes for MS press releases (MS will provide quotes for your press releases as well), participate in demos, etc. These are the early stages of “rolling thunder”, the ever-increasing decibel level of marketing activities leading up to the MS release and launch. MS wants to demonstrate to customers and industry pundits that their partners – that’s you! – are onboard with early support for the new MS product release.

As the MS product approaches RTM, the MS product team is increasingly reluctant to make changes, and builds are put into escrow as Release Candidates. RC builds could become the RTM build, if they do not have any “ship-stopper” bugs. As MS cycles through a series of RC builds, you’ll be asked to quickly re-test your product on each RC build, and let your EAP contact know whether your product is ready to ship if that build is named the RTM build. After a few RCs, a build will be Released To Manufacturing (RTM), and for many MS products that milestone will be widely reported across the tech industry.

At RTM, you’ll make a last test pass, fix any of your own “ship-stopper” bugs, and release your product; so the MS RTM marks the beginning of the end for the technical work associated with the EAP.

The marketing team, however, kicks into high gear as RTM approaches – finalizing your own marketing materials, data sheets, case studies, product demos, etc., as well as your participation in MS’ marketing materials, case studies, launch events, press and analyst activities, etc. You may spend several months involved in MS marketing activities, depending on the extent of MS’ efforts around their product release.

This is your best opportunity to get MS to publish case studies, etc., about your customers using your product, and the value your products deliver. Once published on the MS site, these materials typically stay there for years, influencing thousands of potential customers.

After the EAP

EAPs typically end 60-90 days after RTM – there are no more builds, and if you’ve kept up, your product was ready to release with support for the new MS product release shortly after RTM. The EAP marketing activities will run through the MS product launch, and perhaps several weeks or months beyond. YMMV.

But there’s always a “next release”, and the EAP for that release – so finish strong, and set the stage for your participation in the next EAP.

Make sure your EAP contact and technical evangelist – the people who will once again choose which ISVs participate in the next EAP – are aware of specifically how your product uses the new features and APIs from the new MS product release, your interest in participating in the next EAP, and your thoughts on what should be included in the next MS release. Chances are MS did not give you every features and APIs you wished for in the just-RTM’d release, so you’ll likely have some specific suggestions to offer.

Windows 8 just RTM’d, Can I Still Join The EAP?

The EAP for Windows 8 has been closed to new participants for many months, perhaps a year. But there’s always another release coming – MS is already at work on “Windows v.Next”, and the EAP for the next Windows release will typically start 9-12 months after the previous release RTMs. MS is also already working on Windows 8 SP1, and the EAP for that will typicaly start in 3 months or so.

Take the steps described above under How ISVs Join an Early Adopter Program – do the work to qualify for the EAP (e.g., do something interesting with the newly-RTM’d Windows 8), let your evangelist know you’re interested in the EAPs for Windows 8 SP1 and “Windows v.Next”, etc.

Engaging the Microsoft Field

Your work in the EAP and with the MS product team will not automatically lead to opportunities to engage with the MS field (or that would be listed as a benefit MS provides, in the EAP agreement), but that work is a valuable stepping stone to engaging the MS field.

Your evangelist is once again your key contact – he/she can help you prepare materials targeting other evangelists, most of whom work out of MS sales offices around the world. Through these connections you can work to build further engagement with the MS field, but that’s a topic for another post.

Next Steps

In my next post, we’ll take a deep dive into how ISVs can achieve compelling results through EAP participation.

This post is part of my “ISV Paths to Success” series:

  • ISV Paths to Success with Microsoft
  • ISV Paths to Success – Early Adopter Programs (this post)
  • Deep Dive for ISVs – Early Adopter Programs
  • ISV Paths to Success – Microsoft Partner Network
  • Deep Dive for ISVs – Microsoft Partner Network
  • You Have Questions, I (May) Have Answers

ISV Paths to Success with Microsoft

Two Paths To Success

I’ve found ISVs follow two mains paths to success with Microsoft, which path is right for you depends on what your goals are for your relationship with MS. In this post I’ll provide an overview of the two paths, the results each path is best suited to deliver, and the goals those results typically fulfill for ISVs.

Early Adopter Programs (EAP)

Most MS product releases involve ISV partners throughout the release cycle. The signs of this are most easily seen at product launch, when ISV partner companies are included in the “partner logo slide”, their executives are quoted in the MS launch press release, etc. You’ll see a smaller, earlier version of these same signs when the beta or Community Preview release happens. These are some of the visible benefits MS offers to induce ISVs to make early investments to support new MS product releases.

The real value of EAPs to ISVs comes from less visible activities – things like early access to product builds, and direct interaction with the MS product team.

The elite players at the sport of EAP, a handful of ISVs with deep expertise and deep relationships with the MS product team, are engaged at the very beginning of the MS release cycle, before MS has finalized which features and APIs will be included in that release. Those partners’ expert input has a significant influence on MS’ final decisions on which features and APIs are cut, and which will ship.

EAPs are invitation-only, and have a limited number of slots for ISVs, typically just a couple dozen companies. The EAP agreement specifies the actions you commit to take, and the benefits MS commits to provide; it is sometimes possible to negotiate changes to requirements and benefits.

You would choose the EAP path if your goal is to drive your own product innovation and establish (or maintain) market leadership, through early access to new product releases; or to build technical relationships with the program managers, developers and architects of the MS product team, and use that to influence future MS product releases.

The EAP path can sometimes open the door to MS field engagement that increase sales of your product, but usually it does not.

Microsoft Partner Network (MPN)

You’ve probably seen ISVs identified as a “Microsoft Partner with the Gold ISV Competency”, which simply means that partner has completed the requirements specified by MPN for the ISV competency. Nothing mysterious, just a checklist of tasks to complete. MPN is open to anyone, but program details vary somewhat by region/country. (Note that “Gold Certified Partner” was the terminology from the earlier Microsoft Partner Program; both MPP and the “Gold Certified Partner” terminology were replaced in late 2010.)

I’ll focus on the ISV competency and its benefits, but be aware that MPN identifies many other competencies as well.

MPN describes its benefits in terms of the business cycle: (Source: Microsoft Partner Network Guide, July 2012)

  • Plan: Enter new markets with early access to the latest technologies
  • Enable: Strengthen staff expertise with online business and technical training
  • Create Demand: Access marketing campaigns, guidance, and support along with online customer directories
  • Sell: Increase sales and cash flow with Microsoft customer financing and partner channel incentives
  • Service: Improve customer response times with technical presales and advisory services
  • Retain: Get insights on customer satisfaction and loyalty with survey solutions

Clearly MPN’s focus is on marketing and sales, generating customer leads, and growing your business. ISVs will also find valuable technical enablement benefits including “Visual Studio Premium with MSDN” subscriptions, Partner Advisory Services hours, and others.

Like most large-scale “programs” delivering benefits to hundreds of thousands of members, there are sharp lines drawn around the defined requirements and benefits – if a benefit to Silver ISV (shorthand for a MS partner that has earned the ISV competency at the Silver level) is “5 Visual Studio Premium with MSDN”, you won’t get them unless you’ve earned Silver, and attempts to negotiate for 6 licenses will fail.

You would choose the MPN path if your goal is to leverage MPN’s marketing and sales benefits, and engage with the MS field. The MPN path can sometimes open the door to MS product team relationships, but usually it does not.

EAP and MPN – One of Each, Please

It is perfectly reasonable to pursue both paths, simultaneously or in whatever sequence you choose. The worlds of MPN and product team EAPs rarely overlap, so what you do with one group will likely be completely unknown to the other, unless you tell them yourself.

In subsequent posts, I’ll provide more information about each path, including deep dives into how to maximize the results you get from each.

This post is part of my “ISV Paths to Success” series:

  • ISV Paths to Success with Microsoft (this post)
  • ISV Paths to Success – Early Adoption Programs
  • Deep Dive for ISVs – Early Adoption Programs
  • ISV Paths to Success – Microsoft Partner Network
  • Deep Dive for ISVs – Microsoft Partner Network
  • You Have Questions, I (May) Have Answers

Technical Evangelist – An ISV’s Best Friend, and How To Find Yours

One rock climber helping another

Your Technical Evangelist Helps You Get Where You’re Going

Do you know which Microsoft Technical Evangelist your team is working with? If not, or if you aren’t working with a MS evangelist – perish the thought! – you’re missing out on one of the most valuable relationships an ISV can have with MS.

Technical Evangelists are amazing people – they’re talented developers with uncontrollable curiosity who immerse themselves in new technologies long before they ship, exploring technical nooks and crannies before there’s reliable documentation. They work with the MS program managers, developers and testers for their product to develop a deep understanding of how it works, and why the product operates this way instead of that. They write sample code to prove (or disprove) their own understanding of how things work (or don’t).

Then they gather audiences of developers in cities across their region, explain the product they’re working on, write code on-stage to demo early product builds that are very likely to crash, do their best to answer every question that’s thrown at them, and share their passion for their product with their audience. When they’re done, the evangelist jumps on an airplane and does it all again in another city.

Evangelists are also the champions of the developer community within MS – they take the feedback they receive and share it with the MS product team. If developers aren’t understanding something, the evangelist can write sample code or get documentation changed to clarify. If developers find an API would be more useful if it were changed a certain way, the evangelist can make that case to the product team.

Behind the scenes, the central mission of the evangelist is to identify ISVs who can deliver early implementations of their products on a new MS product release, that will motivate other developers to do their own implementations, and do them earlier. Before the MS product releases, evangelists focus on those early adopters and help them deliver compelling product releases; quality, not quantity. After release, evangelists shift focus to drive broad adoption across the ISV community; more is better.

Did I mention that evangelists also nominate partners to participate in high profile demos at events like BUILD and TechEd, to meet with press and analysts, and to become known across the MS product team, and known to other evangelists and the MS field sales teams?

Let’s review, from your perspective as an ISV. Your evangelist will have deep knowledge of the MS product you’re interested in, understanding how that product operates and why. They love to share with you what they know, love it when you ask tough questions that send them back to the product team to get the answer (and learn something new), and helping you ship a great product, at the same time or soon after the new MS product release, is the central objective for their performance review. They also help decide whether it’s you or someone else who basks in the glory of keynote product demos, etc.

If that doesn’t leave you keen to connect with your evangelist, I can’t imagine what it would take!

How do you find your Technical Evangelist?

Most evangelists operate in a specific region, and are affiliated with their region’s MS sales organization. (Don’t worry about that, it’s an organizational/geography thing, not a sales thing.) So one way to find your local developer evangelist is to contact your local sales office and ask who the local evangelist is.

For the US, the Microsoft U. S. Office Locations page exposes the MS sales regions and the office locations within each region. For example, under the Greater Southeast District there’s info on the Alpharetta, GA office. If you’re an ISV based in the Atlanta area, you should contact the Alpharetta office and ask which evangelist you should be working with.

Worldwide, you can visit Microsoft Worldwide, select your country and you’ll see contact info for the country headquarters. Contact them and ask which evangelist you should be working with.

Many MS evangelists and evangelism teams have their own web sites, and the web search “Canada evangelist Microsoft”, for example, turns up the MSDN Canadian Community page which identifies the MS Canada developer evangelists.

Be aware that most MS evangelists are focused on a specific product, perhaps Windows 8 or IE 10, so you’ll want to ask for the evangelist in your area that’s focused on the same products you’re interested in.

Finally, MS has a variety of “xyz evangelist” titles and roles – technical evangelist, developer evangelist, architect evangelist, partner evangelist, etc. – see “Role Descriptions” in the upper-right corner of Meet Your Local Microsoft Evangelists. For ISVs, focus on the Technical Evangelist or Developer Evangelist roles.
(Caution: the list of evangelists on that page is very stale, my quick review showed several evangelists listed who are now in different roles or have left MS, so do not rely on that info!)

TODO: contact your local MS sales office, and ask to be put in touch with the local evangelist focused on the products you’re interested in.

Have you connected with your local evangelist? How has that worked out for you? Let me know in comments.

Silence is Not Golden

Silence is not golden when you’re waiting for a response from your Microsoft contact.

Silence is unnerving – you expect to hear back from your Microsoft contact about your latest question or request, but instead you get silence. Did you do something wrong, ask a forbidden question, or somehow upset your contact?

You’ve encountered an odd bit of MS culture. Microsofties don’t want to say “no”, or admit they cannot help you with your request; instead you get radio silence.

It isn’t actually because the person you’ve contacted “can’t be bothered” – it’s because they know they are not the expert or authority on that specific topic, so they cannot say “yes”.

Somewhere within MS there is an expert or authority who might still say “yes” (if you ever reach them), so the person you’ve contacted also cannot tell you “no”.

Nor can they afford to spend the time to track down the expert (see Stack Ranking Hurts Partners Too).

They can’t say “yes” and they can’t say “no” – with no constructive response possible, Microsofties go radio silent.

Within MS, this response is viewed as a positive, almost helpful in fact. If a Microsoftie tells you “no”, you would likely interpret that as definitive and final, and you might give up and move on. But until the expert or authority has weighed in, “yes” may still be possible.

Radio silence keeps hope alive, which is a good thing, right? But when it’s your request that’s in limbo and you’re awaiting a response, silence definitely is not golden.

To get things moving, see Finding The Right Person.

Finding “The Right Person”

Photo via Detective Gadget

(In Stack Ranking Hurts Partners Too, I explained why “the right person” – the individual or team of people at MS whose objectives align with your needs – keeps themself hard to find, intentionally, and promised guidance on how you can find them anyway.)

A discussion on LinkedIn, “Getting run around – NO answers from Microsoft – any suggestions?”, is about trying to add a client company to the list of partners on a web page affiliated with the Microsoft Health Solutions Group. Situations like this come up frequently when dealing with MS, so I’ll use it as an example for finding “the right person”.

A MS participant in the discussion provided some insights specific to that thread – a change in strategy yielding Caradigm, a joint venture by the MS Health Solutions Group with GE Healthcare – then offered, “If you are still stuck, let me know and I’ll help you personally.”

Who made this offer? A “partner engagement manager” from SMS&P, the organization that runs MS’ local sales offices around the world.

TODO: Contact your local MS sales office and ask to talk to the Developer Evangelist or Partner Account Manager who works with ISVs in your area. Ask about upcoming partner briefings and other local events for ISVs.

Another participant identified two MS people on LinkedIn who worked in relevant MS organizations, and suggested contacting them. LinkedIn is a great tool for finding that kind of information.

Let’s step back a moment and imagine your company already participates in the MS program in question, and is already included in that program’s list of partners. Many partners are keen to publicize that kind of affiliation with MS, typically with a press release that includes a quote from some MS person in a relevant role. So let’s explore the companies already on that list of partners, and see if we can find press releases with MS contacts.

Aristos has a notice of a joint webinar with MS in June 2011, with the “Senior Cloud Director for Microsoft’s Health and Life Sciences Division” participating. LinkedIn shows this person is still with MS, and possibly in that same role.

BioClinica’s press release from June 2012 notes they were co-winners of the 2012 Microsoft Life Science Innovation Award, with a quote from the “national managing director, Life Sciences, Microsoft Corporation”, and LinkedIn shows this person is still in that role.

There are two solid leads, MS people in the right roles to work with the right kind of partners.

Returning to the list of partners, at the bottom of the page I noticed a “Community” heading with links to a couple blogs, Microsoft in Health and HealthBlog. The MS people writing those posts are must have at least a passing interest in the community, and therefore partners, or they wouldn’t be blogging; so each is another solid lead.

One more angle – MS evangelists are about the most valuable people in the world for an ISV to know, because evangelists know everyone and everything that’s going on within MS in their field.

TODO: Identify the evangelists focused on the same products and technologies you are, and get connected.

Let’s search for “evangelist health microsoft”. One of Bing’s first hits is “Evangelist Profiles”. Holy camoley, this page is a gold mine! There are several evangelists with “health” in their titles or write-ups. (Note: this page appears to be somewhat out-of-date, as several evangelistswere blogging about different topics than indicated by their profiles here.)

That’s five different ways to identify MS people in relevant roles (in no particular order):

  1. Start a discussion in a relevant forum
  2. Search LinkedIn for current Microsoft employees using appropriate keywords, in this case, “health”
  3. Find press releases by partners like you with quotes from MS people in relevant roles
  4. Read MS blogs on relevant topics and see who from MS is writing the blog posts
  5. Find and connect with the MS evangelist focused on the same things you are

The MS people you identify may not be themselves “the right person”, but they probably know who “the right person” is, or who would know for sure, and can put you in touch with them.

Stack Ranking Hurts Partners Too

Vanity Fair cover image of Steve Ballmer

Vanity Fair: Microsoft’s Lost Decade

Microsoft’s stack ranking process received some high-visibility attention in Vanity Fair’s article, “Microsoft’s Downfall: Inside the Executive E-mails and Cannibalistic Culture That Felled a Tech Giant”. You’ve probably already read the article, but also check out the knowledgeable commentary by Todd Bishop here and here, and by Mary Jo Foley here. Information is power, the more you know, the better you’ll understand how Microsoft operates (and perhaps why).

The article focuses (likely too much) on the impact stack ranking has had on Microsoft itself, but there’s an unwelcome side effect on partners as well – any time a MS employee spends on activities not on their objectives is time not spent achieving their objectives; and that will cost them come review time.

For partners, that means the only people at MS who are likely to invest time on your behalf, including even acknowledging your request, are those whose objectives include providing that response. Most people at MS will completely ignore your request; they’re laser focused on achieving their objectives (also known as “commitments”).

You need to find “the right person”, whose objectives align with your interests – the time that person spends working with you should fulfill their objectives and improve their performance review.

That’s actually the central challenge in partnering with MS. Do you want to join a technical beta program? Become a Managed ISV partner? Get your product demoed in a TechEd session? Become an MVP? Find the right person.

“Great, so how do I find the right person?” It won’t surprise you that that’s the tricky part.

“The right person” does not want to be found, and takes steps to avoid being found easily. It’s a survival adaptation – consider that there are 640,000 companies in the Microsoft Partner Network, and many additional companies that are not MPN members. A single inquiry from even a tiny fraction of those companies would overwhelm any individual and most teams, making even a quick response like “sorry, I’m not the right person to help with this” too much to handle. That’s why it’s part of MS culture for “the right person” to limit their visibility.

“OK, it’s hard, but I still need to find the right person, and make forward progress on my request.” That warrants its own post, creatively titled, Finding “The Right Person”.