AvePoint achieves #1 spot in the Top 50 Microsoft Partners: an interview with Dux Raymond Sy

We’re no strangers to the world of Microsoft partners and their mission to attain digital marketing excellence. Fifty Five and Five has been ranking the digital marketing efforts of Microsoft partners since way back in 2014—initially through the annual Top 50 Report, presented in-person at Microsoft Inspire each year (oh how times have changed). Today, we rank partners through our all-digital Top 50 benchmarking tool which runs in real-time and gives a more accurate (and ongoing) picture of how effective their B2B marketing is.

Why benchmark your marketing activities?

Great question. Strategically planning your marketing has never been more important – and benchmarking plays a vital role here. It’s important not only to know your own strengths and weaknesses, but also those of your competitors. The Top 50 benchmarking tool works by analysing and assessing four key criteria of a Microsoft partner’s digital presence: content, website, technology, and SEO. Based on the scores awarded for each of these four criteria, partners are then positioned in the Top 50.

As we rank up to 250,000 Microsoft partners in our weekly updates, everyone who gets into the Top 50 is doing something special to get there. And these partners deserve to be recognised and celebrated. But rising to the top of our league table is an extra accolade.

AvePoint on industry-leading content: an interview

We sat down with Dux Raymond Sy, Chief Brand Officer at AvePoint, to discuss AvePoint’s approach to B2B marketing and how they rose to number one.

Hey Dux, congrats on the top 1 spot! Can you tell us a little bit about AvePoint's content strategy?

“Thanks James. AvePoint’s content strategy is focused on providing educational resources and sharing relevant knowledge to our audience. We publish blogs daily across four languages, release eBooks every two months and consistently host webinars every two weeks.”

How does AvePoint choose topics for its content?

“All of our content is focused around a theme we choose each quarter. This theme is based on industry trends and customer feedback – for example, for the first two quarters of 2022, we are focused on hybrid work and collaboration security.”

Which social channels do you use to promote content and how do you engage with your audience?

“We leverage Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok, serving various audiences. For Twitter, we connect with industry peers, partners and influencers to drive brand awareness. For LinkedIn, it’s used to engage with our customers, partners, fellow AvePoint colleagues and future employees. We share the latest and greatest about our business and also showcase our corporate culture, which drives brand advocacy. For Instagram and TikTok, we leverage it for storytelling and brand engagement.”

Thanks Dux. And lastly, what are AvePoint's top tips for SEO?

“First, focus on a handful of keywords that you want to rank in. Next, ensure that the content you create supports these keywords. Lastly, make sure that you have external links pointing to your content.”

And there you have it!

At Fifty Five and Five, we help technology companies grow their business, drive brand awareness and achieve their marketing goals. To learn more about B2B marketing best practices for Microsoft partners, get in touch with the team today.

Boost your business: partner with Microsoft (or another leading tech company)

Since Fifty Five and Five was founded in 2014, we’ve worked extensively with Microsoft’s partner companies and with Microsoft itself. It’s no secret that during the agency’s early years, we soon made our name as ‘the Microsoft marketing experts' – a badge we still wear with pride today. Although we've diversified and expanded our client list a great deal since then, we’ll always be glad to be part of Microsoft’s world.

Developing a relationship with one of the big players in the tech landscape can do wonders for your business. It can open an entirely new horizon of opportunities, paving your organisation’s path to future growth and success. In this article, I’ll explore the best ways to go about doing that.

The value of partner networks

If you want to get closer to one of the industry’s heavy hitters, the first thing you can do is to look at all the other companies who’ve done so. Partner networks such as the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) are full of organisations who had the same goal as you have now. Partner with Microsoft or another tech titan and it can be the start of a highly beneficial arrangement – for both parties.

Whether they’re reselling a big brand’s products and services or providing something new that fits into that brand’s ecosystem, partner network members bring their own value to the bigger company’s table. And, in exchange, they receive access to new connections with other partners and affiliates, valuable partner-only resources as well as other benefits. More than enough reasons to hitch your wagon to an industry leader.

Making the most of your network membership

Ok, so you’re a partner network member. Now what? It’s time to double down and develop your relationship with the brand even further. You need to demonstrate even greater value and invest even further in cementing your place in this new ecosystem you’re now a part of.

> Tailor your product or service

In our experience, the tech giants love it when one of their partners creates a new piece of intellectual property (IP) that uses their technology, extends their tools or accelerates customers’ ability to adopt their technology.

So, if your product or service can be shaped to do any or all of those things, that will set you in very good stead for a better and closer relationship. You may identify a valuable gap in the market that will appeal to customers within the brand’s ecosystem, as well as your fellow partners – they may want to resell your solution, for instance. Making the right moves here can be a very good – and profitable – thing for everyone.

> Focus your marketing efforts

When you partner with Microsoft or another big-league brand, your partner status and relationships can be very beneficial to your marketing efforts – but only if you devote enough focus and energy to them. If you’re experts in the big brand’s technology, make sure your customers know that. If you’re a ‘gold partner’, for instance, then don’t just stop at putting a logo in your email signatures – shout it from the rooftops.

Microsoft and other brands take partner marketing very seriously, and they provide resources and funds to network members who want to broadcast the merits of their service or solution. So, whatever resources and guidance are available to you: seize them with both hands. They have the potential to boost your marketing efforts a huge amount.

Succeeding with partner marketing and growing the relationship

There is a hurdle that can stand in the way of your organisation really making the most of its partner network membership and taking your relationship with the brand as far as you want it to go. Here it is:

As mentioned, the most successful tech brands take marketing very seriously indeed. They pay great attention to the intricacies of their branding, for instance – it’s part of how they achieved their success and intend to continue it. They’re likely to have a whole raft of strict guidelines that need to be adhered to, laid out across a sometimes bewildering array of documentation. They are also likely to have defined and documented very specific marketing messaging that’s been carefully developed and will need to be reflected in all your promotional activities as a partner.

If your marketing materials don’t hit the mark, they’ll be out of sync with wider campaigns, won’t resonate with customers, and won’t paint a very good picture of your business for your high-flying partner. If it’s too far off the mark, your partner may even reject a proposed marketing campaign or asset entirely – or you could end up mired in endless revisions as you bring it up to scratch. That’s how seriously big technology brands take these matters. Trust us, we know.

So, how can you ensure you’ll avoid all the pitfalls and succeed?

Stay on-message and on-brand with the right partner marketing strategy

By working with a marketing agency that knows the brand well, they can help you meet all the requirements every time. They’ll help you define and follow a partner marketing strategy that will satisfy all parties – and deliver the best results. You can rest assured that everything you do will fit neatly into your partner’s ecosystem, with all the correct branding and messaging, as well as aligning with your organisation’s own wider strategic and marketing goals.

This kind of marketing agency can be an accelerator for long-term growth and success, helping you to nurture your most important relationships—including your technology partners. Ultimately, that may be one of the most valuable aspects of our work.


Interested in building your relationship with a technology giant such as Microsoft, or perhaps you want to grow in a particular market? Get in touch with the team at Fifty Five and Five today.

Gavriella Schulster resilience in business

Microsoft's Gavriella Schuster on resilience, triumph and transformation in business today

What a year it’s been. We caught up with Gavriella Schuster, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner, to get her take on the past twelve months and what’s been happening with Microsoft partners around the world. You can listen to the conversation in full in our podcast here.  

Staying connected

Speaking about Microsoft’s partners’ experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gavriella described a situation many can relate to. Suddenly, with working from home and travel restrictions, partners have been presented with more time. This has meant added potential for productivity but has introduced new issues when it comes to staying connected, so the number of roundtables and checkpoints taking place via Teams have increased accordingly.

“...setting boundaries so that work doesn’t become a 24-hour sport...”

On the flipside, Gavriella and the partners have also had to ensure they aren’t too connected. That means nurturing the right work/life balance, preventing ‘camera fatigue’, and thinking about how to help people thrive in the ‘new normal’ of work. And cometh the hour, cometh the new Microsoft solution. 

Viva la Viva

As Gavriella told us, the launch of Microsoft Viva early in 2021 was a culmination of Microsoft’s learnings throughout the pandemic, and was developed with three aims in mind:

  • Building resilience 
  • Putting people first 
  • Staying connected

Viva brings together communications, knowledge, learning and insight into a single integrated employee experience directly in Microsoft Teams. It’s there to empower people and teams to be their best wherever and however they work and bring organisation and flow to all the elements workers need to be successful,

“We really want people to work smarter, not longer. 

Boosting businesses’ immune systems

“No business is immune to a crisis and no business is 100% resilient.” We definitely agree with Gavriella on this point. And we also agree with her following remark: “But digital businesses and those fortified with digital capabilities have been able to pivot more rapidly.”

If the previous 12 months have taught us anything, it’s that organisations need the capability to digitally connect every facet of their business.  A positive, lasting legacy from 2020 may be that partners and customers across the world have created the networks needed for that connection. Something that may have begun as a measure to safeguard business continuity has the potential to be much more, improving speed of business in all kinds of ways – from customers to employees to operations to products.

Helping customers prevail in a crisis

We discussed partners’ responses to the pandemic. The key opportunities have been around remote work: getting customers up and running remotely quickly, ensuring their business continuity and resilience, and putting everything in a ‘bubble of security’ – data, users and infrastructure. Gavriella was impressed by partners’ innovation and how they’ve swiftly and decisively responded to this need, dubbing them ‘digital first responders’.

...incredible speed, agility and work...”

For those unfamiliar with the term, a first responder is someone who is among the first to arrive at the scene of an emergency and provide assistance. The digital first responders of the Microsoft Partner Network have done just that in response to the COVID-19 crisis, answering customers’ callsputting them first, minimising downtime and enabling business to go on.

Gavriella was struck by how these partners were able to get customers up and running in as little as 24 hours and complete cloud migrations in just a quarter of a year instead of as much as 18 months. They should be very proud of these achievements, we think  and it’s a great reflection on the Microsoft Partner Network as a whole.

“The best of our partners has come out through this.”

As we’ve also heard from many of our clients over the last yearGavriella Schuster noted that Microsoft Power Apps was a very useful tool in a partner’s pandemic toolbox. The low-code development platform’s capabilities for creating bespoke software solutions made it the perfect digital Swiss army knife for organizations everywhere.

With Power Apps, partners could quickly and easily “plug holes and create new business process”, as Gavriella put it. The platform’s value has definitely been put to the test, demonstrated immense value and will now be a firm fixture in many businesses’ innovation initiatives in the future.

Gavriella Schuster’s advice for Microsoft Partner marketing

Toward the end of our talk, we brought up a topic we’d been particularly eager to discuss: marketing strategy. We wanted to know Gavriella’s thoughts on what makes for the most successful Microsoft Partner marketing now and moving forward. She provided some excellent advice which we agree with wholeheartedly.

Hone in on a single thing that makes you really stand out.”

Gavriella emphasised the need to focus on your value proposition and what differentiates you, your business model, your engagement strategy and the solutions you deliver. As she says, that’s how to ensure your organisation stands out from countless others and gets your unique value across to customers.

Once a partner has defined the compelling core of their value proposition, it’s time to make it their digital marketing platformIt’s important to be clear about it and be sure to communicate it in the simple language that’s as accessible and compelling to your audience as possible.

Make sure that you’re not talking tech... but talking outcomes.”

Gavriella was preaching to the choir here. At Fifty Five and Five we are firm believers in telling powerful, benefit-led marketing stories that present clients’ full valuereally speak to their customers and address their goals and challenges – instead of just bombarding them with technical terminologyThat’s central to our approach to business-to-business tech marketing – before the COVID-19 outbreaktodayand long into the future.

Aalways, it was great to catch up with Gavriella Schuster, and we’re always fortunate when she shares her insights with us.

If you want to hear everything Gavriella Schuster said, including her advice for women in tech todayit’s all here in our podcastOr if you’d like to discuss how Fifty Five and Five can help you reach your marketing goals, just get in touch.

Illustration women holding placards

Licences to kill: Changes to Office 365 licence types, from Office 365 to Microsoft 365

Something Earth-shattering has happened in the Microsoft world. From the 1st of May 2020, the tech giant’s flagship productivity suite Office 365 became Microsoft 365. We’ll explain what these changes to Office 365 licence types mean for businesses – and also consumers – and explore how this fits into a wider trend for Microsoft. Read on to learn more.

What’s in a name?  

Microsoft 365 has already existed for businesses since way back in 2017. That was when Microsoft first bundled Office 365, Windows 10 and more into one package: a step that many would describe as bringing us all closer to Microsoft-as-a-Service. More on that later.   

With so much overlap between the two offerings, abandoning Office 365 and going all-in with Microsoft 365 addresses customer confusion. As well as Office, the original Microsoft 365 package also included Windows 10, as well as Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security – a big draw for customers as well. This move is intended to simplify things, focus Microsoft’s offerings, and make it clearer for customers what’s available and what they should choose.     

The reinvented Microsoft 365 now offers all Microsoft’s indispensable business tools packaged in a series of tiers, from ‘basic’ to premium’. These new tiers correspond with the existing Office 365 packages. For instance, Office 365 Business Essentials is now Microsoft 365 Business Basic. Check out the table below to see how they’ve been grouped.  

Don’t panic! 

OK, we’re sorry for alarming you earlier. Maybe ‘Earth-shattering’ was a little over the top. Existing Office 365 subscribers don’t need to worry. As you can see, there are no changes to which Microsoft apps, services and features you receive. And the prices haven’t changed, either. Customers don’t need to do anything to move to Microsoft 365 – your subscription updates automatically.  

These changes to how Microsoft’s products and services are positioned may take some getting used to. It’s possible there could be more in the future as Microsoft refines their portfolio further. But for now, if you’re a Microsoft reseller or you work elsewhere in the Microsoft 365 or Office 365 ecosystem, there shouldn’t be too much disruption to your business.  

And there’s good news for new customers looking to get on board with the new Microsoft 365. Microsoft has announced that it’s offering small businesses six months’ free Microsoft 365 Business Basic. Right now, many organisations are grappling with the need to move to remote working as quickly as possible, catalysed by social distancing and the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis. Right now, businesses need all the help they can get to maximise productivity and stay on track, so this will come as welcome news to many.  

Microsoft 365 for personal and family users 

The changes in Microsoft’s enterprise offerings are also accompanied by changes in the consumer sphere. Although businesses have been on board with Microsoft 365 for some years now, personal and family subscriptions are finally following suit with the arrival of Microsoft 365 Personal and Family.  

Microsoft has called the new Microsoft 365 Personal and Family ‘the subscription service for your life’. They’re packaging up everything for consumers, including the latest desktop and browser-based Office apps, 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage per person, 60 minutes of Skype calling, as well as advanced security features and tech support.  

Personal and family users will also have access to a range of new AI and cloud-powered features. They’ll receive more than 8,000 images and 175 looping videos from Getty Images, as well as 300 new fonts and 2,800 new icons for use in Word and Excel. They also get more than 200 new templates for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

MS Office features  

Microsoft’s Editor writing assistant is also coming to Word and Outlook.com, as well as Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge Extensions. Forthcoming Excel features include Money, which helps consumers to track, manage and analyse their spending. And PowerPoint now includes the AI-driven Presenter Coach, which looks at tone of voice and grammar, helping people to give better presentations.  

There is also new functionality planned for outlook, bringing together personal and work calendars so users can better manage commitments in their working and personal lives. And a new Microsoft Family Safety app for Android and iOS allows families to manage screen time across Windows and Android devices, as well as Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles. Parents can easily monitor their children’s internet usage and gaming, set limits, and keep them away from age-inappropriate content. It also provides location sharing to help keep tabs on everyone and keep them safe.  

Changes to Office 365 licence types: The latest step toward Microsoft-as-a-Service 

Thchanges to Office 365 licence types is Microsoft’s latest move toward simplifying and consolidating their branding and services. It’s part of a trajectory that began when they first introduced Office 365 in 2011. When Microsoft’s Jerry Nixon announced at Inspire 2015 that Windows 10 would be the ‘last version of Windows’, it was another sign of where the future is headed: Microsoft-as-a-Service.  

Enterprise customers have had a while to get to grips with the as-a-service model and its numerous benefits. For instance: swapping sporadic, larger capital expenditures (CapEx) for smaller, regular and more easily planned and managed operating expenses (OpEx). Spotify, Netflix and other services have already gotten consumers used to consuming their digital content on a subscription basis, from consolidated sources. It seems Microsoft has decided that they’re now ready to extend this to their operating system as well as their word processor, spreadsheet, and other tools.  

Powered by the cloud revolution, this paradigm shift in the way we pay for and use our technology is changing everything, and it’s the way the wind’s been blowing for some time. We’re interested to see where the road will ultimately take us.  

Fifty Five and Five at Future Decoded: Morning Keynote

We paid a visit to Microsoft’s highly anticipated Future Decoded event, which took place over the course of two days on our home turf - at ExCel London. We attended day one, where the theme centred around exploring technology as an enabler. This blog will look at some of our personal highlights from the inspiring morning keynote.

Microsoft’s North Star mission

To kickstart the sixth annual Future Decoded conference, Cindy Rose opened the morning keynote with a positive anecdote about the way technology is making our world a more connected place. She talked about AI showing up in unexpected places – even in mapping Shakespeare plays; highlighting highs, lows and plot twists within the narratives.

‘We have no doubt that AI will power the next wave of digital transformation. Microsoft is working with companies in every sector who are already using AI to improve productivity and create new revenue streams. AI could add up to £230 billion to our economy. It’s critical to the future prosperity of the UK. It will be game-changing.’

Cindy spoke with excitement about customers and partners who have modernised their environments and transformed their culture by using the Microsoft technology platform to drive social and economic impact. She outlined Microsoft’s mission: to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.

That mission at Microsoft is our North Star - it is the bedrock of our culture and our values. But more than that – it’s really helped us to redefine success.

Success, defined here as the social impact that Microsoft delivers, was seen all around us at Future Decoded – as many social enterprise companies championed AI technology as the backbone to their capacity for doing good. This included companies that used the Microsoft platform to deliver social impact in areas like environmental sustainability, public health and humanitarian aid.

Accelerating competitive advantage with AI

Dr. Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation in the Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London and Founder of the Centre for Creative and Social Technologies, continued this theme by talking more about the research Microsoft had released that morning. He explained that Microsoft occupies a unique position with the world of AI, as it attempts to strike a balance between responsibility and opportunity. Microsoft, he stated, are looking at how to capitalise on the benefits – while applying it to benefits of the workforce and humanity at large.

We learnt that the UK is in the top 5 globally for:

  • AI research
  • AI entrepreneurship
  • Investment in AI
  • Government readiness in AI

Brauer explained that other nations are gathering momentum and that, in his view, companies in the UK would need to be assertive to avoid falling behind foreign rivals. He then revealed a new report, Accelerating Competitive Advantage with AI, and shared some of the findings with us:

  • Organisations currently using AI are outperforming those that are not by 11.5%, which is up from 5% a year ago
  • Almost three quarters (74%) of business leaders asked did not think the UK has the right structures in place to fully capitalize on its position as a leader in AI
  • Less than a quarter (24%) of UK organisations have an AI strategy in place

These statistics show us that while UK companies are benefiting from AI usage, many business leaders still have doubts about the UK’s ability to lead the way in AI implementation.

To become an AI-enabled organisation, Brauer continued, companies must move from experimentation to implementation, create a culture of participation by empowering employees, and make AI work for everyone.

Get on the bus of AI. 59% of the workforce are willing to use AI, they want to engage with it meaningfully in their jobs. It will free them up to the parts of their job they really want to do.

For us, this statement summarised the core message delivered at Future Decoded 2019. If businesses want to get the most out of AI and their workforce, they need to take their workforce on the AI journey with them. Businesses must embrace the potential of AI, consider the ethics and develop the skills we need for tomorrow – today.

Smart Microsoft Partner marketing tips: content is still king

  • Learn about Microsoft's content marketing strategy
  • Find out how content drives the Microsoft Partner Network forward
  • Improve your content marketing

Content marketing has evolved over the years. How and where we publish content, the channels available to reach customers, customer behaviours and demands – all of these have changed considerably.

In this blog, we look at the state of content marketing in the Microsoft Partner Network and how it has grown more sophisticated and competitive. We also provide some smart partner marketing tips to improve your content output.

Grab yourself a free copy of our “A fool-proof guide to content marketing” eBook!

Pioneers of content marketing

Back in 2004, Microsoft was one of the first organisations to launch a corporate blog. Since then it has made blogging a staple of its marketing diet. From internal news and product releases to the latest developments in AI, Microsoft has put storytelling at the forefront of its marketing strategy – successfully engaging, informing and delighting its customers.

It should come as no surprise that Microsoft has been leading the way. Back in 1996, Bill Gates coined the phrase “content is king” in an article originally posted on the Microsoft website. In that blog, he predicted the rise of content marketing in the age of the internet.

Fast forward 20 years and it’s clear to see that his predictions were not only accurate but hugely influential. Today, it’s far more difficult to find a company that doesn’t blog rather than one that does. But, intriguingly, this wasn’t always the case within the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN). Organisations in the MPN were initially slow to take up content marketing – today, they’re following Microsoft’s impressive lead.

Microsoft content strategy today

Content marketing is everywhere. If you want to stand out, you need to tell a great story, you need to tell it well, and you need to publish and promote it on the channels your audience prefers.

In 2019, Microsoft is taking content to a whole new level. For a full picture of Microsoft’s content marketing strategy, you need to include its use of social media, both as a publishing platform and as a channel to amplify blog content. You also need to include all the video content created for sites like YouTube.

Here’s a short selection of official Microsoft blogs/vlogs:

Official Microsoft Blog – the official homepage for Microsoft’s numerous blogs

Microsoft News – the place to go for Microsoft news, announcements and product releases

Microsoft On the Issues – Microsoft’s take on the big issues of the day, from technology’s role in society to societies influence on technology

The AI Blog – a deep dive into Microsoft research into artificial intelligence

Transform – a hub of inspiring stories, featuring news about how Microsoft is helping to make a difference globally

Microsoft Unboxed – a fresh and fun take on life inside Microsoft, this vlog goes behind the scenes at Microsoft HQ to showcase all the latest news

Microsoft Partner Network podcast - this podcast brings insider access to unforgettable interviews with Microsoft Partners.

The rise of content marketing in the MPN

The MPN consists of approximately 500,000 organisations, employing over 17 million people worldwide. Microsoft relies on this ever-growing network to help deliver success for its customers.

Yet, for Microsoft Partners, content marketing has often been a challenge. Content marketing requires an upfront investment in time and resources before results can be seen. And for many partners, who are busy perfecting innovative solutions for customers, this simply isn’t possible. For this reason, content marketing hasn’t always been treated as a priority.

Yet, Microsoft Partners who embraced content marketing found a way to reach new audiences – by providing insightful content and value to potential customers.

Five years ago, we launched our first Top 50 Inbound Marketing Excellence Report to showcase which Microsoft Partners had adopted this new approach, and to celebrate their success. Since then, things have certainly improved. Partly because it became hard to ignore the success that early adopters of content marketing were enjoying. Now, most partners embrace inbound marketing, from blogging and social media to SEO.

In fact, Microsoft Partners have raised their game so much that the bar has risen too. Now you need to do a lot more if you want to stand out from the crowd.

Smart partner marketing

Now that more Microsoft partners are writing blogs, eBooks and whitepapers, you need to be more creative with your content. For instance, a generic blog titled ‘10 tips for SharePoint Online’ won’t cut it anymore. Even if your content is well-written and engaging, blogs like this will simply get lost in the crowd.

Fifty Five and Five’s Head of Content Stephen Reilly explains:

The best partners know their customers inside out and can tailor content to meet their target audience’s needs. This might mean creating content that is focused on a vertical, a job role or a highly specific problem a customer faces.

Another key differentiator is content type. Content marketing used to be about blog posts. Now, you need to be creating video, audio and interactive content, alongside the written word.

Download our B2B Content Marketing eBook here.

The Partner Benchmarking Tool

If you need help improving your content marketing, you’re in luck. As a digital marketing agency specialising in working with Microsoft partners, we have combined our marketing expertise and our experience in the MPN (we’re a Microsoft partner too) to build a tool to help partners improve their content marketing.

The Partner Benchmarking Tool runs over 40 tests, quantifying performance across three main metrics: website, blog and social.

partner benchmarking tool scores

This data allows you to diagnose the health of a range of content marketing factors. It quantifies these insights into a simple score, making it easy to see where improvement is needed. You can then access a range of informative, how-to videos and tutorials to learn how to get better results in the future.

Microsoft has made the Partner Benchmarking Tool accessible to all 500,000 partners via the Smart Partner Marketing Portal.

So, what are you waiting for? Smart partner marketing is just a few clicks away.

As a full-service agency for the modern world, we provide a complete suite of specialised marketing services for the technology and IT sector. Find out more about the content marketing services that we provide at Fifty Five and Five.

Microsoft Partner network

The Microsoft Partner Network’s Guide to Marketing

  • Building a successful inbound marketing strategy
  • How to stand out in the Microsoft Partner Network
  • Content types that can boost your inbound marketing efforts

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Picture the Microsoft Partner Network as a physical marketplace. Every day you carry your wares in a suitcase, stroll into the marketplace, and set up your table. You’re ready to sell your amazing product, or service, to the thousands of people looking to buy exactly what you’re selling.

You look right and a guy unfolds his table. You glance left and a lady unfolds her table. People start setting up tables all around you, so you jump up onto yours and look around. An endless sea of seller’s hustle and bustle stretches out in front of you. The strange thing is that their tables seem to be filled with similar products to yours.

How are people going to find you through the mass of other sellers? You can’t shout; nobody will hear you. So, how can you differentiate yourself from everybody else?

Break through the noise

Engaging customers is the best way to stand out from the crowd. That’s exactly what a good inbound marketing strategy can do.

How to build a successful inbound marketing strategy

Inbound strategies are all about people finding your business organically. Which person do you think is more likely to buy a car? The person who receives an email that says “buy this car” or the person who looked around for a car and found it on their own? That’s the basis of inbound marketing.

Rather than impose marketing on people, which nobody wants, you leverage buying behaviour and drive results with engaging content. This appeals to visitors and converts them once they land on your website.

Let’s touch on the framework you need to build a successful inbound marketing strategy. Because you can’t just write a blog and throw it into the ether—just hoping that somebody reads it.

You need to understand who you’re producing content for, what problems they have, and show how you are the solution.

Paint a picture with personas

A fundamental part to formulating a marketing strategy is the creation of your customer personas. These are semi-fictional characters that match the traits and desires of the people you wish to target with your content. This way, you understand the customers you have, those you want to bring onboard and how you can tailor your approach to capture them as customers. Let’s have a look at how you can start building your own personas.

Build a bio

Open up with a paragraph describing what company your target works for, where they’re based, how many staff they employ and what their aspirations are. Then, move onto the role they play at the company:

  • Job title
  • What are their business goals?
  • Break down their day-to-day tasks

What’s their current situation

Once you’ve built a well-rounded picture of the person you want to target, you need to design a scenario and describe that person’s current workplace situation.

Here are some points to consider, but it depends on the persona you’re creating, so there are certainly other questions you could add. The more precise the better:

  • What’s their existing IT set-up?
  • Is the business growing?
  • How regulated is the industry and does growth create new problems?
  • Does the business use legacy applications?
  • What’s the remote/office employee balance?

What are their pain points?

We find that the real fruit in the labour of persona building lies in pain point development. This gives you a firm grasp on the problems that potential and current customers face every day. You can then analyse the situations that cause them the most problems and design your inbound marketing strategy to match your technology to the solution.

Here are some common pain points that our clients find among their customer base:

Cost: Small company with a tight budget or unrestricted budget? Big company with a reduced budget?

Reliability: How reliable is their current IT environment? Do they have problems with on-premises software?

Scalability: Most businesses plan to grow. Does their current IT environment enable this or hold them back?

Compliance: How regulated is their industry?

Adoption: Do employees resist the adoption of new technologies?

Why would they resist?

So, you know what your customer gets for their investment and you know why your technology helps to solve their problems. You also need to figure out what reasons this person would give to reject your product or service—despite your technology satisfying their need.

People tend to hesitate when making decisions that require them to invest money from their budgets. It’s likely that you’ll have to grab their hand and walk them over the purchasing line.

Here are a few points of resistance that our clients come up against:

  • They’re interested in looking outside the Microsoft ecosystem.
  • There are more tried and tested products on the market.
  • They’ve been on-premises for so long. The cloud seems risky in their highly regulated industry.
  • They prefer to take care of IT in-house?

Once you’ve gathered this information and built the ultimate persona, you can come up with effective sales and marketing messages, and target ‘real’ customers with your content.

What are Microsoft’s key selling points?

The Microsoft Partner Network is a crowded place, but you can stand out by understanding and using Microsoft’s key selling points in your content marketing.

Grab yourself a free copy of our “A fool-proof guide to content marketing” eBook!

Microsoft 365 & Office 365

Familiarity: Knowledge workers already know about the core applications that Office 365 offers. You have Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive and Outlook. This familiarity gives a sense of comfort and boosts employees’ productivity.  

Includes SharePoint: Large organisations often adopt SharePoint as their primary intranet. SharePoint facilitates the growing importance of internal comms. 

Subscription-based: Office 365 is paid through a monthly subscription fee and you can choose from several different plans. This trims costly fat and saves money.

Storage is included: The cloud provides you with off-premises storage and each company employee receives at least a terabyte—and more if desired. Off-premises storage eliminates infrastructure such as servers and protects your data from the devastating effects of floods, fires, and other natural (and unnatural) disasters.

Install Office 365 on personal devices: Each employee is provided with five installation device options, either multiple PCs, tablets or smartphones. 

Maintenance and upgrades happen naturally: Before Office 365, businesses only received updates when the IT department decided to set aside the time and resources. Office 365 upgrades and maintenance releases are provided automatically without service disruptions or additional costs.

Scalability: Office 365 allows you to add and remove as many accounts as you like. As a cloud-service you can engage and support remote workers and customise services for each user.

Microsoft Azure

Azure matches your global reach: Most modern businesses need their data to have a global reach. Centralised datacentres can sometimes inhibit global expansion, but Azure’s features and capabilities aren’t restricted by location.

Safe & Secure: The idea of the cloud can put businesses off because of misconceptions about its security capabilities. Azure Security Centre gives members access to 24/7 unified security management across hybrid cloud networks.

Scalability: When a business scales it requires systems to adapt to the fluctuations in workload or traffic for its applications. A huge benefit of Azure is its flexibility to scale and that it removes the need to build physical infrastructure.

Reduces cost: Azure offers businesses the chance to achieve cost savings of up to 72% when choosing Azure Reservations over the pay-as-you-go model. Organisations can also choose to take the hybrid route and maintain their on-premise data centres to enjoy the benefits of Azure cloud’s backup security.

Stay compliant: Businesses have grappled with the data conundrum for years now. With the emphasis on compliance brought about by increased regulations, the importance of tightening compliance and mitigating risk and cost has never been bigger. Microsoft holds the most comprehensive compliance portfolio of any cloud service provider; including GDPR.

Disaster recovery: Many businesses have a global footprint, which translates into offices all over the world. This can include areas likely to get hit with natural disasters. Azure offers regional and global fail-over options, hot and cold standby models and rolling reboot capabilities.

Content marketing

Content, in general, focuses on educating and possibly entertaining your prospects - but it’s not just about the product or service you sell. It could be an SEO optimised website, a visually engaging infographic or a blog post designed to target a specific audience. Here are some written content types you can use to boost your marketing:

  • Cast studies
  • White papers
  • eBooks
  • Email
  • Webinars
  • Research

So, we now know how to build personas, that Microsoft is highly sellable, and the basic written types of content you should introduce into your marketing strategy.

Now, let’s take a look at another content type that can really boost your inbound efforts.

Visual content

So, we now know how to build personas, and that Microsoft is highly sellable. Let’s take look at the content type that can really boost your inbound marketing efforts.

Surprisingly, goldfish outdo humans when it comes to attention spans. With an average of eight seconds, one second behind our wet friends, you need to meaningfully impact your reader fast.

Marketers echoed this sentiment. One-third said that visual images are the most important form of content for their business.

Let’s look at some types of visual content you can introduce into your marketing strategy:


Eye-catching and informative infographics give readers knowledge that highlights your expertise.

The combination of graphic design, content, and data breaks down complex ideas and transforms something potentially boring into something interesting. This then creates an understandable and compelling image.

They offer something a bit more fun than plain old text.

“Explainer” videos

When you’re selling technology, and more specifically, Microsoft products and services, it can be difficult to explain how simple to use it really is. Especially when you consider that some people researching your product may not be the most “tech savvy”.

A short explainer video lets you introduce yourself, explain what you do, and tell them how to solve their problem. It’s a memorable way to make an impact on your audience and gain credibility.

One step further… animation

Bring your concept to life with animated video. We have our own animation department here at Fifty-Five and Five and more and more of our clients are making use of this format in their marketing.

Some concepts are just straight out difficult to explain, and audiences have a penchant for clicking off a page if they feel they’re not getting what they want fast enough.

Animated videos are a perfect combination of entertainment, insight and simplicity – and they work. You can tell your story in the most engaging manner and present your brand in the most compelling and memorable way. Which helps you stand out from the crowd.

Don’t believe us?

If you’re still hesitant about video marketing, then take a minute to absorb these statistics:

  • 83% of businesses said that video provides a good return on investment.
  • 74% of respondents said that they have been convinced to buy a product or service after watching a brand’s video.
  • 98% of users say they’ve watched explainer videos to learn more about a product or service.
  • 45% of businesses who use video marketing said that they have an explainer video on their home page.
  • Of those businesses, 83% said their homepage explainer video was effective. 

Should I invest in inbound marketing?

Yes! The simple reason to concentrate your efforts on inbound marketing campaigns is that they achieve far higher ROI than their outbound counterparts. They cost less and give you higher lead generation, increased traffic, and increased sales revenue.

Download our B2B Content Marketing eBook here.

Prospective customers are likely seeking a solution to a precise issue, and this is where you can set your business apart. Especially in the Microsoft Partner Network, inbound marketing lets you showcase your expertise and gives you credibility in a saturated market.

They’re (in)bound to buy your product

We believe that you can truly harness the power of inbound marketing and create engaging and informative content, targeted at the businesses who need it.

The key to differentiating your business from other Microsoft Partners is to offer people something your competition isn’t.

When you figure out exactly who your audience is and the problems they face on a daily basis, you can tailor your content marketing to suit their needs and answer their questions.

Microsoft cybersecurity why a digital geneva convention matters

Microsoft cybersecurity: why a Digital Geneva Convention matters

  • The cybersecurity background which has lead to Microsoft calling for a Digital Geneva Convention
  • What the Digital Geneva Convention is and why it matters to Microsoft Partners

At the RSA Conference 2017 – and then again a few months later at Inspire – Microsoft’s Brad Smith called for the big technology companies and governments around the world to come together and agree on a ‘Digital Geneva Convention’. The aim was to introduce an international treaty to protect the rights of citizens around the world from nation-state sponsored cyberattacks.

Just over a year later, we wanted to see if Microsoft had made any progress with this. In this blog post, we will look at:

  • The human cost of cybercrime
  • What the Digital Geneva Convention is
  • Microsoft’s progress towards establishing a Digital Geneva Convention
  • What Microsoft Partners can do to help
  • What we can expect next

The human cost of cybercrime

First, let’s look at the cybersecurity background which has led to Microsoft calling for a Digital Geneva Convention.

State-sponsored international cyberattacks may have their roots in international politics, yet the consequences of these attacks often hit innocent citizens hardest. All too often, in the wake of these attacks, we get lost in the statistics and forget that there is an impact on individual human beings – their businesses, families and, in some cases, physical and mental well-being.

The human cost

What the WannaCry attacks illustrated in stark terms was the impact of cyberwarfare at the human level. In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) was so badly disrupted that appointments and operations had to be suspended. When emergency operations are cancelled at the last minute, when patients are prepped and lying on the operating table, people’s lives are put at risk. Microsoft argues that it’s human stories like these that highlight the drastic need for a Digital Geneva Convention.

The cost to small businesses

Of course, there’s also a business cost – with small businesses particularly at risk.

It’s reported that 60% of small businesses hit by cyberattacks go out of business within the next six months following an attack, which is no surprise when you consider that, in 2017, cyberattacks, on average, cost small businesses over $2million. What makes this more alarming is that 58% of the victims of malware attacks are small businesses.

Time to act? Microsoft certainly thinks so

These examples demonstrate that cyberwarfare can have life-altering consequences for ordinary citizens caught up in the disputes between nations. What’s more, with attacks like NotPetya and WannaCry spreading indiscriminately across the globe, citizens in all nation states are at risk and in need of protection.

This all highlights a need for change and a commitment from the big tech providers like Microsoft, Apple and Google, and the international community to do more.

What is the Digital Geneva Convention?

The original Geneva Convention was established as early as the 1860s but has developed over time and continues to do so. The convention as we know it today came together in response to WWII in 1949. The Digital Geneva Convention would aim to protect the rights of citizens against cyberattacks. Just as the original treaties were created to protect innocent civilians from the effects of warfare, it’s argued that a new ‘digital’ convention is required for cyberwarfare.

As Brad Smith said when he first proposed the idea: “Just as the Fourth Geneva Convention has long protected civilians in times of war, we now need a Digital Geneva Convention that will commit governments to protecting civilians from nation-state attacks in times of peace.”

The rise of cyberwarfare is just the latest in a long history of the weaponisation of new technology. It is argued that as times change, so should international standards.

Has Microsoft made any progress?

The proposal of creating a Digital Geneva Convention is a big and bold pronouncement from Microsoft – and one that has been greeted with large support, including two Geneva-based organisations - the World Economic Forum and the UNHCR. In some quarters it was suggested that it was just PR from Microsoft – released off the back of a year’s worth of high profile cyberattacks and some bad press about the vulnerability of Windows XP machines. But the progress made suggests Microsoft are serious about making it a reality.

Since the RSA Conference 2017, Microsoft has been active in driving the Digital Geneva Convention forward. The most significant development, announced in April 2018, is that 34 global technology companies have signed up to the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, marking the first big steps to making Geneva 5.0. a reality.

The Cybersecurity Tech Accord commits the signatories to four principles:

  1. We’ll protect all customers no matter who they are or why they’re attacked
  2. We won’t help anyone use our technology against our customers
  3. We’ll do more to help people and businesses protect themselves
  4. We’ll work together to build greater resilience and security

The companies that have signed up to the Cybersecurity Tech Accord include Facebook, Oracle, Symantec, Nokia, Cisco, SAP, LinkedIn and HP.

What does this mean for Microsoft Partners?

The current cybersecurity landscape provides a huge opportunity for Microsoft Partners. Although the threat is constantly changing, there’s one constant: not only do businesses need help understanding the risks but also in implementing the right cybersecurity solutions for themselves. This means finding a robust but affordable solution that empowers and enables modern flexible working, while protecting the business at all times.

Microsoft Partners need to be active in providing up-to-date information about security threats and the solutions to counter these. Social media channels are the perfect way to do this, to reach a wider audience and engage with followers about issues they care about. Here are our tips on how to build a solid cybersecurity marketing strategy.

What’s next? Inspire 2018

As we prepare for Microsoft Inspire 2018 (July 15th-19th), we are hoping to hear a lot more about the Digital Geneva Convention. Brad Smith will be leading one of the main Corenote sessions. Last year, he gave a wide-ranging session on the topics of GDPR, cybersecurity and the political climate – and how these affect Microsoft Partners and their customers. This year, we are hoping for much of the same and expect to hear more details about how the Digital Geneva Convention is developing. We will be sure to share any significant updates with you here on this blog.

Fifty Five and Five will be at Inspire this year. Come and say hello to the team at booth #1622. We hope to see you there. Alternately, you can get in contact with us here to find out more about our services.


Fifty Five and Five specialise in B2B marketing for tech companies around the world. Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you multiply your leads with proven B2B marketing tactics.

Improve your Microsoft marketing strategy with the UK Marketing Concierge

  • Looking to improve your Microsoft marketing strategy?
  • The Microsoft Concierge Desk is your hub for training and resources
  • Learn about Microsoft's Cross-Selling Marketing Package

The Partner Concierge is a central desk that you can contact to answer all your questions about your Microsoft marketing strategy, as well as tips, guidance and general support.

In this post, we will look at the UK Marketing Concierge and how it helps Microsoft Partners. We will then look at one of the marketing packages that can be accessed through contacting the Concierge service in the UK: the Cross-Selling Marketing Package.

The benefits of the Microsoft Partner Network

The Microsoft Partner Network is an eco-system of technology companies that have one thing in common: they have built their businesses around Microsoft technology and products. They range from IT consultancies to Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), Systems Integrators (SIs) to Cloud Service Providers (CSPs), as well as independent consultants and marketing agencies.

The Microsoft Partner Network helps these businesses strengthen their capabilities, better serve their customers and build valuable industry connections. It achieves all of this by providing “industry-leading tools, training, networking and support”. This includes a variety of marketing services that can help partners improve their efforts to reach new audiences.

Another benefit is that they have access to the Partner Concierge.

The appeal of the Concierge desk

The Concierge desk is there to help Microsoft Partners get the most out of their Microsoft Partner status, to make sure they can access the benefits mentioned above. It is a central desk that Partners can contact via phone or email to find out more about what opportunities are available to them.

For instance, if a Partner wants to find out how Microsoft can help them improve their marketing, they could call up the Concierge desk and find out which marketing packages are available, which are suitable for their business, and if they are eligible to receive funding from Microsoft to go ahead with it. The concierge desk will then point them in the right direction to get started.

As we have seen, there are a plenty of benefits to joining the Microsoft Partner Network. However, with so much happening across the network, it can be difficult to keep up at times, especially for new Partners.

The concierge desk is Microsoft’s way of overcoming this. If you have a question, the Concierge desk is there to take care of it. So, don’t be afraid to get in touch with them.

Improving your Microsoft marketing strategy

Let’s take a closer look at one of the services that Microsoft provides to get a feel for the kinds of benefits it offers.

Say you wanted to get in touch with the Concierge desk about helping get you started with their Cross-Selling Marketing Package.

Microsoft utilise the expertise of specialist marketing agencies to help Microsoft Partners improve their marketing services, so that they can reach new customers, sell more to existing customers and drive product usage and consumption.

There are several different marketing packages available to Microsoft Partners. If you are unsure about what is available or which option to take, the first step is to call up the Concierge desk and they will direct you to the right sources for more information. For companies looking to sell more to existing customers, the Cross-Selling Marketing Package is a great choice and can make a big difference.

This package aims to target new solutions to existing customers with an automated campaign that includes the following:

  • Research and go-to-market planning
  • Audience persona research
  • 3 blogs
  • eBook (1,200 – 1,500 words)
  • Landing page with contact form
  • 3-stage email campaign
  • Promotion on social media (LinkedIn and Twitter)
  • Reporting and analysis

If this sounds like something your business could make use of, then why not contact the Partner Concierge? Don’t forget, there are many other packages that may also be of benefit to your business.

How to contact the UK Marketing Concierge

If you have a question or query for the UK Marketing Concierge you can visit the Concierge desk website or use the contact details below:

Phone: 0330 587 8007
Email: ukmc@microsoft.com


Fifty Five and Five are a Microsoft Partner and we work with other partners with their marketing activities – including packages through the Concierge desk. Want to talk to us directly about your next campaign or your broader Microsoft marketing strategy? Get in touch today!

Partner of the year award winner

Microsoft Partner of the Year Award: advice on winning with Modality Systems

  • Interview with Ian Guest, Head of Marketing at Modality Systems
  • Modality Systems were named 2016 Microsoft Partner of the Year for communications
  • Advice and tips for partners entering for a Microsoft Partner of the Year award

Now the deadline for Microsoft Partner of the Year Award entries has closed, and in anticipation for the winners and finalists announcement at Inspire this year, we interviewed Ian Guest from Modality Systems—winners of the Microsoft Partner of the Year Communications Award 2016—to find out more about what goes into constructing the perfect Partner Award entry.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Ian. There are many Microsoft Partner of the Year award categories—how did you decide on which award category to enter?

Ian: Each year Microsoft make changes to the awards process. Some changes are subtle in terms of the information required, while others are more major in the form of new categories. As we do every year, once Microsoft has issued their guidelines for what they are looking for, we look globally to see what projects we have done and which category they fit best.

Can you give us an outline of the Microsoft Partner of the Year Award entry you selected?

Ian: As a Gold Partner for Communications and Cloud Productivity specialising in Skype for Business, the Communications Partner of the Year Award was an obvious standout for us. We selected a US client, technology company Aruba as our focus story and began detailing the project.

The project itself was migrating them to Skype for Business with a wireless infrastructure for all their users, which was around 4,000 in total. The drivers were to improve collaboration, focus on the use of technology and an element of cost savings. Aruba were using a lot of conferencing type servers, a PBX with lots of legacy types in a traditionally ‘wired’ environment. Making the switch to a wireless infrastructure, with handsets and wireless telephones, saved them about one-third of the cost per desktop. We wanted something innovative, and going into a completely wireless environment emphasised the flexibility of Skype for Business.

And in terms of the award entry itself, what measures did you take to give you the best chance at winning?

Ian: We knew the story needed to demonstrate a good return and business case, something that had measurable and tangible results to highlight the value. It also had to be aligned with Microsoft’s message, plus in our example, we wanted to incorporate more than just the technology. We were keen to pull through user adoption which is all about getting users to consume the technology, as that’s a key factor in delivering success and makes the whole story into a ‘business’ story, so to speak.

It was quite a compelling story really, and Microsoft got quite involved with sharing the story as well.

So, having won an award, what do you think are the main benefits of being a Microsoft Partner of the Year?

Ian: Credibility in the market is one of the key things. The Microsoft Partner space is so big, there are so many Partners saying that they can do ‘it’ in every industry and niche, having the Gold sticker for partner competencies sometimes isn’t enough.

As a winning partner, it’s great to say that we’re in the top tier. It raises your credibility to prospects as well as your profile in the Microsoft World which is very valuable. Microsoft are an incredibly important part of our business and being able to support the Microsoft teams with achieving their targets is key. We pride ourselves on being a trusted pair of hands and delivery partner, so having the recognition of the award just helps reinforce the point.

These awards definitely raise your profile in the Microsoft ecosystem. That’s true of Inspire in general, but award-winners get additional opportunities to network with the Microsoft senior team members and learn from all their knowledge and expertise.

And what were some of the benefits you receive from Microsoft for winning the award?

Ian: Again, it’s all about that credibility coming from Microsoft themselves. We get the plaque to say that Modality were Microsoft Partner of the Year Communications award winners, which gives us great kudos. With that carries the prestige that says you’re one of Microsoft’s ‘chosen’ partners.

Did Modality enter again this year?

Ian: Yes, we have entered this year, back into the Communications category, and we've also entered a couple of other categories as part of the Consortium. The submission we’ve put in this year is slightly different than last year, and I think there was one or two additional competencies, which reflect Microsoft’s current objectives.

That sounds like a lot of work! How do you keep on top of multiple award entries?

Ian: It can be quite a lot of effort, but we tend to use the skills of a trusted freelance writer who has worked with us for the past three years. Outsourcing can prove really helpful providing you go with the right people who understand the Microsoft process, have links within Microsoft and understand which buttons to press, particularly from a writing point of view. We scope out what we want to pull out from this story and it’s the preparation that you put into the briefing that really determines its success.

There haven’t been many partners who have won consecutive years for the same category if any. But we're hoping we’ve gone into this again with a winning formula.

And for any other partners thinking of putting themselves forward as Microsoft Partner of the Year, do you have any advice?

Ian: There a number of things to consider:

  • Being selective as to what case study you use and using a case that can tick the Microsoft strategy boxes is important. It’s important to tangibly quantify the stats with a customer who can support it. Fundamentally, it’s about getting the right people on board, and if you’re outsourcing your award entry like I mentioned, you need to work with people who understand what you’re doing.
  • For those partners who have broader offerings, they can enter for multiple awards categories, as well as entering the same submission for different categories. But that doesn’t mean you should enter as many as possible in the hopes that one of them will get the job done. Always remember to make sure your award submission is appropriate and applicable to the category you’re entering for.

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We want to thank Ian Guest for taking the time to explain how Modality Systems were successful in entering the Microsoft Partner of Award, and sharing some insights into the winning recipe for Partners.

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Do you want help writing a Microsoft Partner of the Year entry? Or need help with your Microsoft Marketing?

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