How to write a winning Microsoft Partner of the Year award entry

Do you want your company to be awarded Microsoft Partner of the Year? Of course you do, what Microsoft Partner wouldn't? But how do you write an award winning entry for that sort of coveted prize? I'll keep this post short and to the point. You don't. Don't even try.

But of course you do want to win a Microsoft Partner of the Year award. You might not get to walk about Microsoft Inspire with a sash and maybe a flag, the pandemic has again seen to that for another year, but winning is an incredible achievement recognising amazing work on behalf of your clients. So what should you do to succeed? That bit is easy, pay an expert. At this point I could wax lyrical about the benefits of getting an expert in, about the craft of writing, the insight to know what to include and what not to include. But I won't.

Instead let me outline what we offer in our 'Award writing package':

  • Step 1 - We'll help you select the right awards to enter
    We've been writing Microsoft Partner of the Year awards for a long time now. So we'll work with you to select your best work for the most appropriate award categories. There is an art to this, and as we live and breathe Microsoft, we know what to look for.
  • Step 2 - Next we will interview you and your clients
    We've been interviewing clients and writing case study style material for years. So asking the right questions and seeking out the right answers is what we do. It is harder than it looks.
  • Step 3 - We craft the award entry
    This is when our writers craft the actual entry. It's part case study, part adhering to a wide set of rules, and part crafting a story people can buy into. It takes a bit of experience to get right.
  • Step 4 - We take care of all the back and forth
    Edits, client approval, tweaks. Whatever it takes, we take the pain out of the admin for you.
  • Step 5 - We'll advise on what else you need
    Microsoft will encourage you to upload supporting material. What should you provide? What do you have? What should you create? We can advise.

If you have the time to execute something like the above (and have the people to do it) then good luck to you. But if like most companies you are better at doing the award winning work, then writing award winning copy - why not get in touch? We have a history of writing awesome Microsoft Partner of the Year award entries, and for a very reasonable cost. Follow the call to action below or email me direct.


Report cover Digital top 50

Our all new Digital Top 50 Report

We’ve received many enquiries about our Top 50 Report in the last 12 months. Of course, COVID-19 and a virtual Microsoft Inspire have impacted us all somewhat, but we took the circumstances as an opportunity to fast-forward our plans for an all new Digital Top 50. You can find it at https://top50.live or read on to find out more. 

Top 50 goes digital 

So, we’re excited to announce that we will soon be launching the 2020/2021 Microsoft Partner Top 50 – in a brand-new digital form. For the first time, you can: Browse and navigate the Top 50 online, benchmark yourself against competitors, gain even more insights into your digital marketing efforts 

 

“We’ve always prided ourselves on the quality of the data and the rigour of our analysis. Now we’re giving everyone the ability to run their company through our analytics tool and not only find out their scores but also benchmark themselves against their competitors. In real time. For free!” 

 Chris Wright, Founder

Access real data in real time 

And that’s not all. The new Top 50 website will be running in real time, meaning data will be updated on a regular basis. We're also taking this chance to hone our scoring system even further this year. The brain behind our data is smarter, as our analytics engine has been updated to better understand what makes great content – and thus great content marketing. 

 

"The excitement and build up to the final reveal at Inspire grew year on year - Partners eagerly visiting our stand or visiting our website to get their hands on a copy of the Report and find out their position. Now you won't have to wait. Not only can you find out your score but you'll see how that compares to your peers and competitors."

Barnaby Ellis, Head of Creative

Stay competitive and ahead of the curve 

In our current climate, it’s more important than ever before to strategically plan your marketing output. To do this, you need a clear overview of your own strengths and weaknesses – alongside those of competitors in your field. By benchmarking yourself against competitors and accessing our data-driven insights, you’ll be able to track your marketing progress and ultimately improve it. We can help you to stay ahead of the curve and realise your full potential. 


Microsoft Inspire 2020 Satya Nadella highlights

To follow on from our blog about Gavriella Schuster’s opening keynote speech, this post will provide a quick round-up of the topics discussed at Inspire 2020 by Satya Nadella.

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, presented a half-hour keynote address at Inspire 2020, the virtual event, before making another appearance in an interview with Microsoft Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster.

Here we will cover the highlights of his address, including:

  • Microsoft’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • How the partner network will navigate response and recovery
  • The value in Microsoft Teams for remote collaboration
  • The growing need for end-to-end security solutions

"We've been confronted by something unprecedented"

At Inspire 2020, Satya Nadella opened his keynote speech by celebrating the diversity of “our community of partners [and] global sales team.” He paid tribute to every business function, from sales and marketing to finance and operations – thanking them for all their contributions to Microsoft’s ecosystem and its customers.

He reflected upon how we, on a global scale, have been “confronted by something unprecedented” with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic issues of racial injustice and inequity in society. These issues, he stated, require a global response.

Nadella went on to commend the partner network, who he said have shown leadership amid such challenges – helping customers to become more resilient during this time of acute crisis.

“You’ve acted as digital first responders to the first responders, supporting those on the front lines of this pandemic, from healthcare to education to public sector, to critical manufacturing in grocery and retail.”

He continued to explain that, as we navigate the response, recovery and reimagine phases, we all have a collective opportunity and responsibility to define what comes next.

“It won’t be business as usual”

Nadella told his virtual audience how important it was to develop an acute sense of what should be rebuilt, and what needs reimagining. He also stated that the pandemic had accelerated a shift to the cloud – with 89% of CIO’s claiming they would hasten their public cloud investments. This figure, he went on, was at 54% prior to the pandemic.

The Microsoft Partner Network, Nadella explained, can build more successful businesses across fast growing areas like Teams, security and Azure.

“For Microsoft to do well, you all as partners have to do well. That’s ingrained in our business model...that’s why I always talk about us being a partner led company.”

“The hub of teamwork in Microsoft 365”

A key tenet of Nadella’s message at Inspire this year focused on Microsoft Teams. He outlined new and forthcoming updates for the app, including the Together Mode, due to launch this month. This new functionality, he explained, uses AI to digitally place participants in a shared background – making users feel as though they are sitting in the same room while reducing background distractions and making it easier to pick up on non-verbal cues often missed on video call.

“Our research shows that the brain exerts less effort when participating in a meeting using the Together Mode, compared to the standard grid view.”

“Businesses of all sizes depend on partners to provide critical security and compliance”

Nadella highlighted how Microsoft is helping customers protect sensitive information and meet compliance requirements. He referenced the new Endpoint Data Loss Prevention in Microsoft 365 which helps businesses to identify and protect information and data across all endpoints.

He discussed how security is a strategic priority for every organisation and that the shift to remote work only increases the need for an integrated zero trust security architecture that reduces complexity and cost.

“We’re the only company that offers integrated end-to-end capabilities across security compliance as well as identity powered by cloud intelligence.”

Nadella explained that Microsoft received eight trillion threat signals each day, and that COVID-19 has made the situation much more acute. Cybercriminals, he said, have exploited the fear and vulnerability created by the pandemic to scam people and organisations for personal information.

It's up to the partner network, he continued, to provide the end-to-end security solutions that are so crucial and essential for business across all industries.

"Microsoft is innovating to address customer needs across the cloud and edge”

Nadella turned to Azure and pointed to its AI and responsible machine-learning capabilities, which can help customers better understand, control and protect data and models. He referenced the multiple functionalities of Azure that make AI accessible and allow companies of all sizes to automate solutions and improve productivity.

“We are the only cloud that extends to the edge, from Azure edge zones for 5G to Azure Sphere for secure IoT – and we’re removing barriers for anyone who wants to migrate to the cloud by addressing their data sovereignty and regulatory needs.”

He concluded this point by highlighting how Microsoft are using such technology to make a positive impact in the world – encouraged by the “enormous potential for partners to have a local impact that ultimately has a profound global impact.”

Inspired by our Inspire 2020 Satya Nadella roundup?

Nadella’s key takeaways shine a positive light on the work being done by the Microsoft Partner Network. He highlighted the need for continual growth, innovation and the importance of staying connected so that communities around the world can build business resilience in these trying times.

Everyday innovation, from COVID-19 symptom checking bots to remote assistance working, has helped businesses, services and communities round the world adapt faster than ever to business continuity and resilience.

We learn about exciting developments in the Microsoft Partner Network each year at Inspire. With these insights, we help companies to realise their ambitions and achieve more through their digital marketing efforts. If you’d like to improve your marketing, drop us a line today.


Inspire 2020: The future of remote work takes centre stage

Like much of what’s happened this year, Inspire 2020 turned out a little differently from what we originally expected. Since 2018, the annual event has taken place in Las Vegas. This year, however, it took place in our homes, transmitted via laptop screens, phones and other portable devices. It was perhaps fitting therefore that the theme of this year’s conference was the future of remote work – and how Microsoft is supporting businesses in their remote working journey.

In this blog, we take a look through some of the key takeaways from the Inspire 2020 conference and consider how that will affect the direction of travel for the Microsoft Partner Network over the next year.

The rise of Microsoft Teams

No conversation about the future of remote work could be complete without a mention of Microsoft Teams. Before 2020, Microsoft Teams was already one of the most popular pieces of Microsoft software. Since the global lockdown, however, it’s only risen in popularity, with companies now relying on the software as a vital part of their business continuity plans.

In his keynote speech, Nadella acknowledged the significant rise in the popularity of the software, giving examples of businesses as diverse as a Miami based florist, L’Oreal, and the University of Texas now relying on it to keep going during the pandemic. The latter of this group have moved around 13,000 classes online since the going into lockdown.

Nadella also announced several new features to Teams, including ‘together mode’. This feature uses AI to digitally recreate the impression of being in a shared space with colleagues, reducing background distractions and making it easier for people to communicate. At a time when, for many, physical collaboration is impossible, Teams is working to bring people closer together.

Focus on: The Power Platform

We’ve heard plenty about how Microsoft Teams and similar software has helped countless businesses keep going during the pandemic. But it’s not the only Microsoft technology that’s featured prominently in the Inspire chatter over the last few weeks. The Power Platform, and in particular PowerApps, has enabled businesses everywhere to transfer more complicated processes into the remote working world.

Much of enabling remote work involves installing the right videoconferencing software and scheduling the right meetings. But not everything is quite this simple, as Nadella outlined when discussing the case of T-Mobile. After having been designated an essential service, they realized they’d need a way to share information about which employees were willing to work and where.

PowerApps: the unsung hero
Within 48 hours, PowerApps allowed the mobile communications company to build an app that encouraged employees to give information about their availability, location and willingness to work. This meant that the company had the information to complete this complicated re-allocation of staff, allowing the maximum number of employees to stay working, and enabling business continuity for T-Mobile.

All over the world, PowerApps is allowing companies to solve complex problems that would have otherwise made remote working either difficult or impossible. One of the vital takeaways of the Inspire 2020 conference is the emphasis that Microsoft is placing on those unsung heroes like PowerApps that have helped keep businesses afloat during this time.

The future of security and compliance

Earlier this year, companies were forced to facilitate remote working in the space of just a few short weeks. That means security, access and compliance has been top of every IT or network managers’ list of concerns ever since. As remote working is almost certain to be a fixture of working for the foreseeable future, this year’s Inspire conference featured a renewed focus on how companies can enable this safely. As Nadella said:

“The shift to remote working only increases the need for an integrated zero trust security architecture that reduces both the cost as well as complexity”.

Relying on people to remember information or maintain best practices is an inherently risky way of staying secure, which is why it’s so much more effective to build a security system that doesn’t require this. Using AI-powered risk-based, and multi-factor authentication, technology companies can start to build a truly secure IT system.

Planning for the future of remote work

For some time, enabling better mobility and remote work has been consistently discussed as vital trends in the partner network and wider technology world. The events of 2020 haven’t forced a drastic change in direction but they have provided a fresh stimulus, meaning the need for change is now more important than ever.

It’s clear that for Microsoft the future of remote work lies in supporting as many businesses as possible through their transition to a new way of working. And for partners, there is clearly vast business potential in helping transmit this ambition and direction directly to the customers that it will benefit.

If you need help communicating your message and direction to your customers, get in touch. We help technology providers of all shapes and sizes realise their ambitions.


Microsoft Inspire 2020: keynote takeaways

Microsoft Inspire 2020 kicked off on Tuesday – this time in an online-only format. Like the rest of the partner network, we were disappointed to miss out on attending in person (last year, Queen and Adam Lambert played – yes, it was epic). But it hasn’t stopped us from enjoying the highlights from the comfort of our homes. Vegas will still be there next year.

As well as the Nevada sunshine and musical headliners, another regular highlight at the Microsoft conference are the annual keynote addresses. In case you missed it, we’ve put together the main Inspire 2020 keynote takeaways from the speakers on the first day, which was led by Gavriella Schuster (Microsoft Corporate VP of Commercial Partners) Judson Althoff, (Executive VP of Worldwide Commercial Business) and Nick Parker (Corporate VP of Consumer and Device Sales).

The COVID-19 pandemic

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic was a central talking point for this year’s event. The speakers celebrated frontline workers throughout – highlighting how they continue to make daily life possible. Schuster, Althoff and Parker also commended the many Microsoft partners that have built solutions to help the world adapt to these trying times.

Althoff referred to the ‘digital first responders’ behind frontline workers – those that have built rapid solutions to make continued education, remote working and accessing necessary services possible. He praised these people for connecting the world digitally and helping communities to move forwards.

Accelerating the cloud shift

Althoff explained that the growth of the cloud is still crucial in helping customers achieve their economic goals:

‘Our solution areas, our cloud capabilities – from modern workplace through security, business applications, apps and infrastructure, data and AI – across Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Azure – these are the ingredients that will help customers persevere in these difficult times.’

He continued by explaining that the world needs this innovation now more than ever. He called on partners to help in addressing customers’ needs – whether they have the consulting practices that bring these virtual solutions to life, or the assets and intellectual property as an independent software vendor (ISV) or software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider.

Opportunities for remote working

On the topic of remote working solutions, Schuster explained that the pandemic has changed the way we work forever. She referenced how demand for Microsoft Teams has surged, and highlighted how the real transformation could be seen when customers learnt the ‘full value of Microsoft 365 as a secure, remote work collaboration solution.’

To expand on this point, Schuster turned to Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) as a notable opportunity for partners moving forwards:

‘With WVD, organisations can get up and running in minutes from the Azure portal. You have the flexibility to choose the virtual machines, the regional locations, and you can set up multi sessions for the users...You can manage that environment and turn it into a managed service opportunity – without much heavy lifting.’

Moving towards Managed Services

Schuster told her audience that now is the right time to meet customers where they are. She said that, with customers uneasy about big up-front costs, it’s possible to develop a managed service practice and show up as a hero to the customer.

‘What happens if you don’t take this step? Now may be the time. Maybe this year, your investors are expecting a little less from you, and the customers are asking for monthly terms. You can make the investment into managed services that will help your customers and build your business long-term. And if you don’t have the resources for all this support, this is a great opportunity to partner together.’

Partners were ready for this moment

Perhaps the most inspiring part of this keynote was Schuster’s comments on the Microsoft partner ecosystem. She explained that, while there is uncertainty all around, the MPN manage it by creating certainty – wherever they can:

‘You were built for this moment in time. You are the certainty...we were ready because the solutions we’ve been building together over the last 18 months are the same ones our customers need right now – solutions and services around remote work, business continuity, security and cloud migrations.’

Each year at Microsoft Inspire, we discover more about the partner network and empower companies to achieve more through their digital marketing strategies. If you want to improve your marketing get in touch with the team at Fifty Five and Five today.


Meet the team: Alex, writer

Today, we’ll have a chat with Alex Carnegie, a writer in our content team. Alex will tell us a bit about his working life and the insights he brings to our client base here at Fifty Five and Five.  

Hi Alex! Tell us a little about yourself. 

I’m Alex Carnegie, a writer at Fifty Five and FiveI come up with ideas and write copy for our clients’ content and campaigns. That can include website copy, articles, eBooks and whitepapers, as well as ad copy, social media and really anything else that pops up 

Who do you report to? 

I report to our Head of Content Stephen Reilly, who oversees anything we do with words in itOf all my colleagues, I’d say I work most closely with other writers, but my job takes me all around the agency. Most days I’m collaborating with designers, SEO specialists and the accounts team.  

Describe a typical working day 

It all starts with a coffee and checking my to do list. The longer the list, the stronger the coffee, generally. The main chunk of most of my day is sat at a computer, creating content and working on campaign concepts. This ranges across many different clients, which is great because it provides a lot of variety. Alongside that, I’ll also edit and proof-read other writers’ work, using the full Microsoft Word comment functionality. Some would perhaps say too much use… 

Sometimes, an entire day of time can be reserved to one client, for instance working on a big website project. For work like this, simply getting a hold on all the moving parts is a task in itself, there’s a lot of collaboration with our web design and development team. We spend a lot of time keeping complex projects like this moving, avoiding bottlenecks in communication or one person waiting for something from someone else before they can get their work done. I’ve no idea how project managers are able to keep all these plates spinning at once.  

What skills do you think are needed to be good in your role as a writer? 

The obvious one here is attention to detail in writing and a good grasp of the nuts and bolts of language. Spelling, grammar and generally knowing how to construct an effective sentence. But really, that’s the bare minimum. To write copy that’s engaging, persuasive and achieves what it sets out to, you have to really enjoy writing – even if the subject matter is challenging. This comes across in the final piece and helps you to find creative ways to say things, creative concepts, and make the work stand out. It’s more of a mindset than a skillset.  

In terms of writing skills, you need to be able to express your message, without leaving anything out, and still make an impact – often within a fairly tight structure. Writing banner ads and social copy is good training for this; it teaches you to write good copy and clear meaning within rigid character limits. Website copy is similar – another format that has to be very immediate punchy and attention grabbing.  

What do you love about your job?

Writing, as obvious as that sounds. There’s a sheer joy in finding the best way to say something, which gets the message across and does so smoothly, vividly, sometimes funnily, sometimes seriously and hopefully enjoyably. There are few things more satisfying than hitting the ‘Enter’ key after you’ve just written something really good. That’s why I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for a living.  

What’s the hardest part? 

Writing. When the right word or phrase has eluded you for an hour and is still nowhere to be found… it can be tough. A lot of writing is just staring at a blank page, and the gears are turning but no words are appearing. And then suddenly everything will come together at once and you’re left thinking ‘wow, it really took me half an hour to write that paragraph?’ But, as they say, the only way out is through – so you just have to keep trying ‘till you get there. 

What advice would you give to anyone starting out as a writer?

Make your peace with criticism; you’re going to get a lot of it as a writer. Some will be constructive, some less so, some will be more pointed than it needs to be, some will be genuinely frustrating and some of it will be just plain wrong. Many new writers get into a trap of seeing criticism as something they have to defend against, getting stuck in an endless cycle of taking criticism to heart and arguing with it. It’s much easier for everyone if you get used to the fact that you’ll get a lot of criticism – and try and take it in a constructive spirit.  

A comment or question might seem quite cutting in the black and white comment box – but at the end of the day we’re all trying to do good work. Don’t lose sight of that.  


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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.  


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Your Virtual Microsoft Inspire 2020 preparation tips

  • This year's Inspire conference is entirely virtual
  • We share the best Microsoft Inspire 2020 preparation tips 

Around this time every year, we share our tips for attending Microsoft Inspire. Usually, our advice is based on attending the conference in person. Whether it’s making new business connections, socialising, or absorbing the sights and sounds of Las Vegas, taking part can be a pretty amazing experience. However, the current pandemic has changed our summer plans. As a result, Microsoft Inspire 2020 is going to be a virtual conference. 

While this presents challenges, thanks to the cloud and today’s communication software, we’ve all got the means to make Inspire 2020 just as successful as any other year. 

In this blog, we’re going to give you some advice about taking your networking remote. 

7 Microsoft Inspire 2020 preparation tips 

We’ve been to Inspire five years in a row, and those experiences have taught us some valuable lessons on what to expect and how to prepare. Here are our top 7 Microsoft Inspire 2020 preparation tips, adapted for a virtual experience: 

 1. Plan for new connections  

Inspire is an ideal time to make new connections, but it requires preparation if you’re wish to make the right ones. It’s useful to take a good look at the attendee demographic of past shows. Microsoft provide detailed data on the subject, including: 

  •  Attendee figures 
  • Sector and industry breakdown 
  • Job role breakdown 
  • Areas of interest breakdown 

As a digital marketing agency whose client base includes Microsoft partners, everyone at Inspire has the potential to be a customer, lead, or useful connection for us. But even so, it’s important that we take time to study exactly who will be attending. Doing your research ahead of the event pays huge dividends. Just because you're not in the room, this year, doesn’t mean you can’t make a valuable new connection – online networking events will be taking place across the week this year so it’s important to create a list of businesses and people you’d like to speak to and seek them out.  

2. Flaunt your assets  

Every year, we produce an annual review celebrating the marketing efforts of Microsoft partners: The Fifty Five and Five Digital Marketing Excellence Report. Usually we launch each new edition from our stand at the conference, giving away hard copies to attendees. 

This year instead of handing out physical reports we will release a fully digitally version instead. While we can’t create the same kind of face-to-face interactions at the event, we’ll be making sure to reach out to all our friends in the Microsoft partner world with access to our content – and, of course, congratulating those who ranked in our report. This is an exciting evolution to the “Microsoft Top 50”, and we are very excited to share it!  

Whilst it is always worth taking a proactive role in your value adding activities, it’s particularly important now. Try to stand out in your leads’ memories by going the extra mile – perhaps consider sending a free “how-to” guide or invite them to a specialist session that they simply can’t refuse.  

3. Who do you want to talk to? 

Despite not attending Inspire in person this year, you should still have a client ‘target list’ with information such as:  

  • People that you really want to connect with 
  • Companies that you also want to connect with. 
  • Exhibiting companies you want to check in with. 
  • Past or existing clients that are attending virtually that you should say hello to.
  • Relevant Microsoft employees that you want to virtually meet at the show. 

This list will help you to prioritise your time and make meaningful, valuable connections.  

4. Make the workshops work for you 

Every year Inspire hosts hundreds of workshops from some of the industry’s leading organisations and figures. We’re expecting that this year will be no different, except that these workshops will be hosted online.  

It’s important to maximise your ROI for your tickets, so create a list of the workshops you want to attend. Assign your team to different workshops and ask them to create summaries that you can share throughout your business. This can also be leveraged as content for during and after Inspire, why not turn your experiences and the advice you receive into blogs? There’s more onus on making sure you network and communicate – albeit virtually – this year, so don’t be afraid to share content that’ll get your business noticed.  

5. Follow up with leads 

When following up with your leads and new contacts from the conference, be sure to keep track of the following: 

  • Who was contacted? 
  • When were they contacted? 
  • Who in your business should contact them? 
  • When should you follow up again? 

You can use a good CRM system to automate this process. But a simple spreadsheet can sometimes be just as effective. We recommend that you take notes when talking to leads during the event so that you can remind them of the conversation when you follow up later.  

6. Get social  

To make the most of attending Microsoft Inspire, we invest time in writing blogs and sharing collateral from the show. We stay very active on Twitter during and after the conference and share videos and pictures during the week. Maintaining a vocal online presence will be crucial this year – show the leads you want, who you are!  

7. Calculate your ROI 

Ultimately, any company attending Inspire is doing so to grow their business. Understanding your ROI from the conference requires revisiting your experience of the event soon after its conclusion. 

One of the obvious KPIs is to look at the work you have won since returning. It’s very likely you need to take a long-term view that incorporates the length of your typical sales cycle or longer, as leads from a trade show will typically take longer to result in billable work or sales. Understanding how many leads you get from Inspire and what becomes of those leads is important for understanding the value of the event and if you should change your strategy when attending next year.   

Making the most of the circumstances 

Everything feels up in the air for a lot of businesses and their people right now. But one thing we can rely on is that we will all find ways to connect with each other, whether it’s for business or pleasure. We think of Inspire 2020 as an opportunity to generate new leads and make new connections, and also as a chance to feel solidarity with other businesses. And we can’t wait to hear about the great things that come out of Inspire 2020.  


Mouse pointer outage – the dawn of Everything as a Service

Technology tends to creep up on you. Bit by bit, if you’ll excuse the pun. Little innovations appear all the time, added conveniences that barely register in your mind’s eye, part of the gradual tectonic drift that is our shift toward new technologies. It seems to me that our ascent into the cloud has been a journey so smooth that we don’t even realise we’re moving. Rarely do I actually stop and think: where are we right now, and where are we headed? It took an earth-shattering incident recently to make me take stock and think seriously about one particularly prevalent tech trend: Everything as a Service. Things I never would have imagined now live in the cloud. And sometimes they go offline.

The Great Windows 10 Search Bar Fault of 2020

OK, so maybe in twenty years people won’t be asking each other: ‘Where were you when Windows 10 Search Bar went down?’ But it seemed like a pretty big deal to me at the time. My younger, less grizzled colleagues took it in their stride, but my generation grew up on MS-DOS and 3.5-inch floppy disks (aka 3D-printed ‘save’ icons). Technology years are like dog years, which makes me a tech boomer to them.

I reacted to the Great Windows 10 Search Bar Fault of 2020 like an eighth century serf would to a total solar eclipse. A fundamental part of the operating system abruptly stopped working, because it was connected to something out there, in the mysterious and uncontrollable off-premises world. To me, this was akin to suddenly encountering a mouse pointer outage and discovering that I’m now living in a world of Cursor as a Service. An odd moment of technology vertigo, when you look down and realise just how high we’ve gone.

Old man yells at cloud

You may be thinking: ‘OK tech boomer, get with the times.’ But I assure you, this isn’t just a case of resisting the future: I love the cloud. I love the fact that I’m writing this article in Warsaw, Poland (dzień dobry!) on Office 365, storing it in Fifty Five and Five’s cloud platform of choice, using Microsoft Teams to stay in touch and share stuff with everyone back home while I’m away from the London mothership. I love the fact that this kind of tech-enabled flexibility is becoming the new normal.

But, after the Windows 10 Search Bar fault event, I can definitely understand why some business leaders still have a degree of nephophobia. There is a lingering sense of risk in relying on services that exist only in the intangible ether of the cloud. Nobody likes the idea of losing control, and events like last year’s huge Capital One hack haven’t helped to assuage cloud security concerns. But, the cloud is here, and we all need to get used to it.

You can’t hold back the tide

The simple, unavoidable facts of the matter are that the cloud isn’t going anywhere. Everything as a Service is only going to become everythinger and the majority of businesses are going to have to confront it head on, embrace it and make it work. Otherwise, you’re selling cassette tapes in the age of Spotify. Let me know how that turns out for you.

For some, digital transformation to keep pace with this technological sea change may be a hard sell. But it’s a necessary one. And it requires getting into the mindset of a cloud-sceptic: understanding their concerns, their worst-case scenarios, but also the crucial, unique business benefits that motivate them to make the change.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the cloud

So, maybe the search bar outage was a blessing in disguise. I needed a reminder of how much I rely on the cloud and what I’d be missing without it. I’ve grown as a person. It’s made me a better writer. Thanks, Microsoft. Just please, don’t take away my beloved search bar ever again. I’ve learned my lesson.

Get in touch with our team today.


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.