Today, I woke up at the Crowne Plaza hotel next to the Brussels airport for Microsoft Partner Connect 2013 in Belgium. I was restless, jetlagged, and hungry. At 5 a.m. the battle of the shut eye was lost and my laptop was calling my name. The blaring bright screen in front of me made my eyes cringe. I regained focus and went to Twitter for a quick scan of the day’s headlines. My feed was showing a trend – partners were crawling out of bed and were tweeting #MSPC13: eager to get to Brabanthal! I was expecting the day would be spent with a few hundred partners, at most. Little did I know that it’d be 1,100 partners convening together at a conference hall in Leuven – ready to learn about Microsoft’s plans and how they can compete to win.

At 9:00 a.m. my taxi arrived at the front doors of the expo hall. I entered through the main doors and was delighted to see some familiar signage: bright colored tiles and the Microsoft logo. It was reminiscent of WPC 2013 – the colorful expression of modern innovation coming to life amidst a common theme: “Accelerate Growth. Together.” Hundreds of partners were already gathered, networking, and sharing insights in a modern, intimate expo hall among 29 exhibitors and sponsors. I grabbed an orange juice and croissant and headed over to a table where I spoke with Avnet marketing manager, Magdalena Skorek. She told me she came today to hear about the strategy for Microsoft. Their company is concerned about the cloud strategy and eager for greater momentum and profitability. I’ve heard this before and am hopeful that the cloud sessions today will continue to emphasize the “how” in cloud. An hour later, General Manager of Microsoft Belgium & Luxembourg, Philippe Rogge, kicked off the event with excitement. Last year was the event’s inaugural year in Belgium and already in one year it’s grown by 500 attendees. Partners simply want to know: what’s next and how can we grow?
Here’s a play-by-play of the highlights from my day:
10:15 a.m. Headlining the keynote presentation was Jean-Philippe Courtois, President of Microsoft International. He emphasized the move from a software company, to a devices and services company, with the goal of creating a comprehensive end-to-end user experience.
10:33 a.m. Video on how tablets work in real life. Erik Cornelisse, F-16 pilot, uses a Windows 8 tablet in the cockpit in lieu of paper. The tablet is more secure and serves up the information needed up to 75% faster.
10:40 a.m. Jean-Philippe dives into Cloud. Partners have to ask the question, "When and how will I make cloud a top priority for my company?"
10:58 a.m. 5 Recommendations to grow your business by Jean-Philippe:
1.     Get deployed on our products
2.     Sell the cloud and transform your business with us
3.     Develop apps and solutions on Windows phone & tablets
4.     Compete in high growth areas: O365, BI, virtualization, Enterprise Social with Yammer, and Dynamics CR
11:22 a.m. Value Keynotes: "Our Future is SMB" by Paul Faes, SMB Lead: We want to have trusted relationships with SMB partners. Key takeaway here was the topic of influencers. The power of influential community members can be staggering. Paul discussed how to tap into key influencers:
o    Horizontal Influencers
    • Employee Associations
    • Customer Add through Membership benefits
    • Chamber of Commerce
o    Vertical Influencers
  • Employer associations with vertical specialization
  • Customer add through: Membership benefits
11:45 a.m. Accelerating Together: Tom Braekeleirs highlighted how to establish your marketing plan in a nutshell.
o    Highlight: did you know about content syndication?
  • This is an opportunity to place a banner on your existing website, but be able to market with relevant products and solutions.
  • Content syndication stays on your own environment and YOU can stay informed with your own dashboard.
12:00 p.m. Lunch and networking  

1:00 p.m. Session: “Cloud like you’ve never seen it before”

The key takeaway of this session for me was the emphasis that indeed, partners are still struggling with cloud. Now is the time to take a chance – we do not know what the world will bring. We are fighting a perception battle right now. We see the world as we are, not as the world is.
Those who are in favor say the benefits are:
    • Data Security
    • Disaster Recovery
    • Improved Security
    • User Friendliness
    • Adaptability
Those that are the naysayers say the concerns are:
Ultimately, we must believe in the formula of our strategy at Microsoft. It’s consistent:
o    We create platforms + enable partners = this results in 95% of our revenue.
o    We must trust.  We are the only company that can deliver this – the choice is yours.
This session wrapped up in a unique way: Tom created a visual analogy with this question in mind: what if Red Bull was created by an IT company? He showcased how complicated and convoluted the product would become with different naming conventions and numbers. He took it a step further, showing how selling the product would become even more difficult. The light bulb moment for me was simplification in marketing. Just because we’re a technology company, doesn’t mean we need to over complicate.
My key takeaway: simplify for clarity in marketing! I loved the example of how Red Bull can make you feel like you have wings to fly. It’s that simple. No need to make it confusing by elaborating on details such as calorie counts.
2:25 p.m. Session: Extending Dynamics with O365 and Yammer
The Yammer ads they’ve shown here at Partner Connect show how ideas can be executed more rapidly with the power of the social enterprise. My favorite ad shows a hotel executive writing a message on Yammer that says, “I see that guests are throwing away their card keys. This seems wasteful. Can we find a solution?” This triggers the team to do some brainstorming and collaboration on Yammer that results in an idea: what if your room key was actually your smartphone? Mobility solutions are in heightened demand. With Microsoft, partners can utilize the benefits of O365 in conjunction with Yammer to develop solutions that far exceed anything our competitors are able to offer.
3:51 p.m. Session: “What’s new in O365”
Thanks to partners, Belux is one of the top performing countries for selling Office 365. Customers are choosing it because they want a solution for their office and they love the additional benefits that O365 offers. There are new MPN changes, so partners should be sure they understand how cloud program changes might impact them!
4:20 p.m. Session: “Enhancing end-users productivity and satisfaction with modern apps”
Katrien De Graeve, Partner Technology Strategist, talked about mobile websites and web apps. Accessibility and user experience continues to be top-of-mind in this area.
One Windows 8 design integration is alarms – its new design gives accents and shows exactly where the differences are. One partner, Orgar, created a solution that allows you to pinch and zoom and surface information by using just a few gestures. The go-to-market approach for partners encompasses developing a proof-of-concept, configuring before you build on your own, building a customer case, and finally building a framework of base/generic features first.
TACCO is a company led by an F-16 fighter pilot that saw the problem of an abundance of paperwork in the cockpit could be streamlined with a Windows 8 tablet. Erik Cornelisse explained how he straps the tablet to his leg and then is able to access all of his flight plan information all in one place with the touch of the screen. This is real innovation: simplifying the need to access information quickly. Who knew our tablets could fly?

5:00 p.m. The closing keynote wrapped up by Philippe Rogge captured the impetus of the event: an opportunity for partners to network, hear about where Microsoft is headed, and learn more about new opportunities for solutions.
This was a great day for over 1,100 partners, some of whom who did not have the opportunity to attend WPC 2013 to hear about the exciting opportunities ahead as we grow together and compete to win. Reynald Janssen is my colleague in the Belgium subsidiary. I was able to capture a brief message from him, which you may view below. Thank you to all of the Belux partners who participated in this great event today!
Looking forward to seeing you all at WPC 2014 in D.C.!