Image of a woman typing on her laptop

Last year our company wrote over 130 award submissions for more than 40 Microsoft partners.

 

Our win ratio (partners who were named as either a winner or a finalist) was 34%.

 

Not bad, considering the contest (at the global level) usually attracts over 3,000 submissions for about 35 awards, with the Canadian equivalent pulling in several hundred submissions across 25 categories.

 

I’m not sharing this information to brag but simply to qualify my credentials.
For those of you who know me, you will know that our small marketing agency concentrates on helping Microsoft partners tell their stories to attract customers along the buying journey. Our culture and philosophy are based on the Zig Ziglar quote, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”

 

Which is why we are always incredibly happy to share our best tips to help partners win awards.
Microsoft has often asked me to share my writing tips with partners. In addition to this blog post, we also have a post with a teaching video embedded on the Microsoft Awards page: “Learn how to create a great entry”. You can use that information along with the tips below to help you.

 

Good luck, and see you in Vegas!

 

Gail

 

Tip #1 – Download the Guide and Build Your Shortlist – 30- to 45-minute task

Most partners never read the full set of award categories. Instead, they read the one or two categories that they THINK apply to them. Don’t miss other golden opportunities – such as the industry categories or the “other” categories (for example, this year Diversity and Inclusion is a new award category).
As you read each category, you MUST pay attention to the “eligibility” requirements and decide yes/no. Are you a Silver Partner and you need to be Gold for the category? Sorry, it’s a no. Even if the questions are tailor made for you, if you aren’t eligible, you won’t win.

 

I recall one partner who desperately believed they were going to win for Application Innovation (one of the most hotly contested categories). They submitted in that category, but we convinced them to also enter the same submission in the Healthcare Industry and Social Impact categories. They won in the Social Impact category, something they had not even considered at the start of the process.

 

If you follow this Tip #1, at the end you will have a short-list of awards that MIGHT be a fit for you.

 

Tip #2 – Daydream for an Hour – 60-minute task

It turns out that my mother’s dire predictions about my future if all I did was stare out the window were incorrect. Daydreaming is a skill.
We run at such a frantic pace in our world that we seldom take time to pause and reflect. Which is a shame, because some of our best and brightest ideas will come to us when we simply slow down, unleash our creative instincts and let ideas bubble to the surface.
After you read through the award guidelines and have identified your short-list of categories, I would encourage you to shut off all your devices and simply reflect on the past year and your relationship with your customers, with Microsoft and with the world. Have a pen and notepad handy. Jot down any ideas that float across your mind – they might not make sense at the time or they might clearly align to your award submission. But simply be open to whatever your mind is suggesting.
As you reflect, you will find that one idea or thought will spark another. At the end of the hour, you will likely have made room for several ideas and have “remembered” highlights of the past 12 months that you had otherwise “forgotten”.

 

Tip #3 – In or Out? Bullet Point Your Answers – 30- to 60-minute task

Now go back through your short-list of awards categories and read them again. Begin to write 2 or 3 bullet points for each question asked. Determine who else in your organization you will need to connect with to get the “full story”. Determine if you can use the same story in more than one category. It is SO much easier to write once and re-use many times than it is to tell different, multiple stories.Be brutally honest. Make sure you are telling your strongest stories. Yes, you HAVE to name your customer in your submission or you will not make it as a winner or as a finalist. No, your customer does not have to be named publicly; however, you will need to let them know that you are doing this and that IF you are a winner, they may have the option of being featured in a Microsoft case study.

 

The customer is always protected. Proper releases will need to be signed between the customer and Microsoft before any information is made public. As an extra customer courtesy, and for your own peace of mine, we recommend including this line in your award submission “A signed release from the customers named in this award submission will need to be completed before any of the information contained in this submission can be made public.”

 

Publicly telling a customer story is always the prerogative of the customer. Even when the customer is aware that you are telling their story in your submission and are excited about the possibility of a case study, if after you win they change their mind and decide they do not want to be featured in a case study, that is their choice. They do not have to be featured.

 

Tip #4 – Gather Social Proof and ROI

You will need proof that what you are saying in your submission is true. Here are some examples of social proof:

• Case study
• Blog
• Article in a newspaper or magazine
• Quote from your Microsoft PSE
• Quote from your customer
• Tweets
• OCP win wires
• Microsoft internal dashboard metrics
• Video of a customer talking about you (30 seconds on an iPhone works great – you can save it as a private video on YouTube so that the link to view is only accessible to the people who have the link – i.e. the Microsoft judges)

 

Even if the submission does not specifically ask for ROI numbers, you need to provide them. (Hint: if the submission asks, “What was the business impact”, that is the same as asking “What ROI metrics can you provide”.) If you don’t have business metrics to include, you absolutely, positively will NOT win. Why? Because somebody else submitting in that category WILL have business metrics and Microsoft is a metrics-driven organization.

 

Tip #5 – Start Writing (All the winners begin with an SFD)

The famous writer (and writing coach) Anne Lamott is well known for her quote about writing a “shitty first draft”. Yes, your first draft will not be what you ultimately submit, but it will get something down on paper and from there you edit, you organize, you rearrange and you highlight.

 

Remember, the Microsoft judges reading your submission all have day jobs. They are judging these awards in their spare time. Some are reading as many as 100 submissions in a single night. You will need to grab their attention if you want to get on their short-list.

 

It is unlikely that your SFD would ever make it to the top of the pile; however, version 12 (or 13 or 14) will tell a story that highlights the business impact, includes quotes from customers, describes your company’s marketing investments, and generally showcases you as a business and technology leader.
We know that what you are doing is innovative and that your customers love what you are doing. We hope these tips will help you tell your story well. From all of us at Mercer-MacKay, we wish you the best of luck this awards season.
Learn how to write a winning Microsoft award submission by joining this online session

 

About Gail Mercer-MacKay
Gail is the CEO of Mercer-MacKay Digital Storytelling, a marketing agency that works with Microsoft partners to create digital marketing assets and demand-generation campaigns. Every year Gail and her team help partners create their Microsoft award submissions. If you would like help with your award submission, you can learn more here.