I arrived back in Seattle last Friday after ten days touring Western Europe, meeting partner teams and partners for a rich series of discussions. It was a great, educational trip; here are some highlights.

 
I started in Amsterdam with our partner leaders representing what we call Western Europe (Portugal, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, and Belgium). Over two days, we covered progress against our core strategies to support our partners and gathered feedback on ways to improve.  We focused on how we are helping our partners benefit from membership in the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), make the transition to cloud computing, and understand the opportunities presented by our latest wave of innovative technology.
 
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I then caught the high-speed Thalys train from Schiphol down to Gare du Nord in Paris, visiting our partner team and participating in a roundtable discussion with members of the IAMCP. Later that evening I headed to Munich, then on to London for Friday meetings.

 
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I was able to enjoy a short weekend stay in the UK, visiting my family and attending my first English Premier League game since relocating to the US three years ago (West Bromwich Albion, 4; Sunderland, 0).

 
Sunday evening I headed to Copenhagen, where I conducted press meetings resulting in  good coverage. I also had the opportunity to listen to a B2B social media marketing session arranged by Microsoft for Danish partners and led by Bruce Rasmussen. The room was packed to the rafters and clearly demonstrated the increasing role of social media in enabling our partners to tell their story and reach new customers. 
 
On to Zurich next, where once again we held business reviews with the partner team. I also attended a luncheon co-hosted by Max Long, our vice president of corporate accounts, featuring six to seven key solution providers. The partners explained how attaining MPN Gold competency status was helping them differentiate in the market. We received feedback that business was good for all present; the new Solution Incentive Program received great acclaim, and we had a vibrant discussion on how we might enhance the program going forward.  
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While I was in Zurich the team back in Redmond opened online registration for WPC 2012. Early registration volume is strong and the momentum continues; given the partner excitement I felt in Europe and insight into early trends, I expect this year’s conference to sell out.  I encourage all our partners to register early and secure the early bird discount of $300.

 
Karl_Brussels.jpgMy final stop was Brussels for another session on social media. Over dinner (see picture) our Belgium team shared how they’re leveraging social media to connect with an ecosystem of 5,000 local partners.
 
Overall I witnessed great uptake of the new MPN on my European tour, excitement about WPC, strong awareness of – and engagement with – Microsoft’s cloud strategy, and an increasingly healthy business environment. In fact, the single biggest piece of feedback I brought back to Redmond is the need to address the IT talent gap, which is hindering growth of our partners’ businesses. Customer demand and partner capability is strong. More skills are needed to meet the demand. A pleasant problem to solve, don’t you think?
 
This week we host our biannual Partner Advisory Council (PAC) meetings in Redmond, where we welcome more than 200 partners from around the world to participate in 12 concurrent sessions to help shape our partner strategy. Jon Roskill, Ross Brown, Julie Bennani and I will be active participants – and I will share more about that in my next blog update.
 
Cheers,
 
Karl​