A couple of people doing a funny silly face

The annual Microsoft Partner Awards competition attracts partners from around the world who vie to be known as “the best of the best” amongst their peers. The competition is fierce. Over 3,000 submissions for approximately 40 categories means you need to submit a spectacular entry to rise to the top.

Being recognized as a winner or finalist is a tremendous honor and includes a congratulatory letter from Microsoft, a trophy, a specialized logo, a press release, VIP treatment at Microsoft Inspire, and more. Beyond that, the recognition raises your profile. Partners tell us that the win drives more revenue with new opportunities, broader relationships, and greater respect across the Microsoft ecosystem and with customers themselves. This is true for both large and small partners.

For the past fourteen years, Mercer-MacKay has been writing Microsoft award submissions, typically crafting over 150 submissions each year. Partners come to them for advice or help editing or writing their submission. Gail Mercer MacKay, Chief Storyteller from Mercer-MacKay Digital Storytelling, has shared the following top 10 mistakes they see every year:

1. It’s a “Me Too” Story – Nothing Unique
If you’ve deployed Office 365 or Dynamics CRM and there is nothing special about your deployment, then it is unlikely that you will make the final cut. Your need to be able to articulate why your deployment of the technology stands out from your peers’. Was it a competitive win? Did you accelerate adoption? Was there a tricky integration that required special knowledge? Have you been able to scale out across an industry due to custom processes? There needs to be something that will help your solution stand out in a crowded field.

2. The Submission is Based on Old Technology
This happens every year. A partner has a terrific story to tell about a customer that loves them. But the technology is older. For example, a retail POS built on SQL Server 2017 or a hospital roll-out on Windows 8.1. Partners will try to gloss over the older technology, but the Microsoft submission process requires a detailed list of the technology used. You just can’t hide.

3. The Solution is Undeployed
The deadline for the partner awards is usually the first week in April. There are partners who try to submit a story for a deal that was signed the end of March. The partner explains what the ROI is supposed to be, or what the benefits are supposed to be. It won’t make the cut. Save it for next year. If you submit a story (and the solution is undeployed) you will be found out. Microsoft will check with local teams and field offices to confirm that your solution has actually been deployed.

4. It’s a Cut-and-Paste of Existing Marketing Materials
“Our Microsoft PSE told us to submit (wink wink) – they said we are a shoe-in.” There are many partners who assume, based on feedback from someone they know at Microsoft, that their solution is so great, they are definitely going to win. While they likely have a great shot, the judging team is ONLY judging on the actual submission itself. A cut-and-paste of corporate marketing materials or some copy from your website will not get you into the winners’ circle. Your marketing materials were written for a customer to read. The reader for your award submission is a Microsoft judge. They are looking for very different information than what you will have on your website or in a product sell-sheet.

5. The Entry is Focused ONLY on the Microsoft Scorecard
Gail has worked with partners who only focus on how many licenses they’ve sold or how much Azure consumption they’ve influenced. Great. But that is about 1/8th of what the judges are looking for. You also need a story. Why did the customer select you? Why Microsoft? How did you transform or change their world? How did you help the customer achieve more than was ever possible before? How did you help Microsoft gain entry into a strategic entry or a strategic account? Relying solely on a great consumption dashboard will not get you the win.

6. Partners Wait Too Long to Get Started
Competition opens late-February and closes around the first or second week of April. This is not a sprint; it is a long-distance endurance race. Expect to spend about 40 hours per submission. You will need to interview multiple people at your company, at Microsoft, and at the customer to uncover the complete story. You cannot write it the weekend before it is due.

7. Partners Ignore the Submission Objectives
Every category opens with a couple of paragraphs about the submission objectives. Many partners ignore that section and go straight to the questions. You need to read the submission objectives. These objectives will guide the judges as they make their decision. Ensure that your story is aligned to these objectives and use them to slant the angle of your story as you answer the questions.

8. Some of the Questions Are Not Answered
Yes. It happens. Every year.

9. Only One or Two People Participate in the Process
Gail’s team always say that Microsoft award submissions are the perfect time to tell the “water cooler” stories. Those are the stories about the “in the trenches” moments that normally don’t make it into a corporate case study. Such as the time a Microsoft partner swayed an entire school district to move from Google Docs onto Office 365 by challenging the selection committee to a time-challenge when he was told he lost the deal. He won the challenge and 450,000 students moved from Google to Office. The best stories often come from deployment teams or the sales team that won the deal. Was there a customer success evangelist involved? How about a trainer? Was the win a co-sell opportunity? Who from Microsoft participated? The Microsoft sales team can often provide a unique perspective. Talk to everyone who touched the customer, from opportunity through to deployment and your ultimate success measurement.

10. They Don’t Submit to Other Awards Programs
Every year I am delighted when our clients win. I am also surprised when some of the most amazing stories don’t receive any recognition at all. We always tell our clients to submit to multiple awards programs. CRN, IT World, Industry Awards, Chamber of Commerce Awards, and more. There are dozens of awards programs that can help you raise your profile and let the world know that you are a serious player when it comes to digital disruption and technology innovation.

Planning is a big part of writing your award submission If you can collaborate and collect everything you need to include in your submission BEFORE you begin the writing process, you will find that creating your story will be simpler, faster and more likely to hit the elements that judges are looking for.

If you need help planning your submission, register for this free planning tool. We would love to see you on the podium in July.

About Gail Mercer-MacKay, Chief Storyteller, Mercer-MacKay Digital Storytelling – Gail is a 25+ year veteran in the Microsoft partner channel and, like Gollum drawn to the power of the Ring, she is drawn to the power of story. Gail is gifted with the uncanny ability to find partners’ hidden stories and to help them articulate their epic hero’s journey of overcoming great obstacles. Gail believes that through effective storytelling, every customer should see their Microsoft partner as the Gandalf to their Frodo Baggins – because partners, like Gandalf, help customers realize their destiny. In her mind, a good story can be just as powerful as the One Ring.