Powers Unfiltered

An entrepreneur’s journey into grid computing and partnering with Microsoft, by John Powers

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What are they thinking?

May 1st, 2007 · 1 Comment

OK, I’ve posted about our positive experience at a recent Microsoft conference, and I meant every word of it — it was a great event, and we had great treatment by all the Microsoft folks in attendence.  Now I want to address an issue about how policies attributed to Microsoft Legal have the (possibly unintended) consequence of reducing value for partners and customers.  (This is FAR beyond the control of individual event coordinators at Microsoft, who deserve both praise for their performance and sympathy for having to deal with misguided Microsoft corporate policies).

Here’s how the partner lead generation at a recent Microsoft event was organized (others are similar). 

  • All the partners were given a badge scanner, with which to scan the bar codes on attendee badges when an attendee comes to the partner booth. 
  • Any attendee who gets his or her badge scanned by at least half the partners at the event is entered into a drawing for some cool Microsoft thing (an XBox or a Zune or whatever). 
  • Wonderful.  This helps to drive traffic to the partner booths.  cool.  Partners love traffic.
  • But then Microsoft keeps all the attendee information (which it already has), including who was scanned by each partner, and does not share this information with the partner.   


Yes, that’s right — the partner gets none of the contact information for the attendees scanned by the partner, in the partner’s booth.  Because this would somehow constitute inappropriate sharing of secret information provided by the user to Microsoft and Microsoft only.

Yes, Microsoft uses partner presentations and booths as an added draw for propective attendees when promoting their events.  Yes, Microsoft gets partners to pay a good chunk of the cost of this event (my back-of-the-envelope says maybe $60-$70K for this recent event).  But no, attendees may only (conveniently) share their information with Microsoft, not partners.  
Microsoft product teams (and others) go through detailed and valuable customer profiling and use case modeling exercises, doing their best to look at Microsoft’s products from the viewpoint of the user.  Let’s try this for the event process as well — here, I’ll start.  From the viewpoint of the conference attendee, here’s what’s happening. 

  • I register for a conference.  Through this registration process, I give the conference organizer my contact information.
  • I get a badge with a bar code on it.  I know this code allows me to be identified by a scanner.
  • I visit a sponsor booth.  I see something that interests me.  I ask for more information.
  • The sponsor scans my badge, and when I get back to my office after the conference, I have an email with the information I requested, and I am able to follow up as I see fit.

This use case has been mastered by conference organizers with far less experience and technical sophistication than Microsoft.  But Microsoft Legal has convinced itself that Microsoft events are different — that Microsoft is barred from sharing ANY attendee registration information with partners, even when the attendee specifically requests it from the partner.  No, the attendee must IN WRITING request FROM MICROSOFT that the partner be allowed to send any followup information.  No, the request by the attendee to the partner to scan the attendee’s badge and send information is insufficient.  
So here’s the surreal attendee use case we encounter instead at some Microsoft events:

  • I register for the conference.  Through this registration process, I give Microsoft my contact information.
  • I get a badge with a bar code on it.  I know this code allows me to be identified by a scanner.
  • I visit a Microsoft partner booth.  I see something that interests me.  I ask for more information.
  • The partner asks for my card.  I say I’ve run out (hey, I’m a developer, on the average day I give out zero cards, I probably forgot them in my office).
  • I ask the partner to scan my badge instead.
  • The partner hesitates, saying, “um, this scanner goes back to Microsoft and I can’t get the information off it.”
  • I am confused.  This partner must be mistaken.  I say “no no, I gave Microsoft my information already, you don’t need to scan me for them.”
  • The partner, now trying to avoid getting into an argument with a potential customer, must further explain:  “Actually, if I scan you here, you could win a prize from Microsoft.”
  • I say “OK, scan away, I love prizes.”  I still don’t understand that the partner won’t get the information — I’ve been to 100 other conferences, and at each one, I get scanned and the firm doing the scanning is the one that sees my contact info.  (But the prize is also the escape clause for Microsoft Legal — no, Mr. Partner, the attendee might not want to hear from you, he or she might just want a Zune, so it’s inappropriate to share that contact information.  No, Mr. Partner, you can’t get a separate scanner to collect information for yourself — the scanned information must be linked back to the database we’ve collected and can’t share.  Catch 22.)
  • The partner scans me, and as I turn to go, says awkwardly “err, could you just write your contact information on this notepad here?”
  • Now I’m just irritated.  Maybe I write my contact info, maybe I don’t, but all convenience and familiarity has gone out of the interaction.
  • And I get back to the office and maybe I have the follow-up information I requested and maybe I don’t — the transfer of information via notepad scribbling is slower and more error-prone than the scanning process.  

Hey Microsoft — Partners drive sales.  Partners drive 96% of your sales.  I read that on a poster in Redmond.  I heard that from executive after executive at the Worldwide Partner Conference.  And we drive sales by talking to customers and prospective customers.  You should be jumping at every chance you have to facilitate this process. 

If I scan the badge of an event attendee, that attendee has the reasonable expectation that he or she is providing contact information to me (I’ve heard the arguments to the contrary, and do not find them plausible). 

I understand that Microsoft Legal wants to protect customer privacy, but in my opinion they’ve overdone it in this case.  There are better ways (e.g., a partner code of conduct, an event-specific agreeement with partners, a clear statement to attendees in advance about contact with partners, or even a simple note about the rules of a particular giveaway at the conference — use your legal imaginations).  This can be fixed — let’s fix it.

Comments from Microsoft, partners, and customers welcome. 

Tags: Customer Service · Events · Partnering with Microsoft

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 marc // May 1, 2007 at 5:39 pm


    If you dance with the devil …..

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