I was a vocal critic of the demise of Convergence. After spending last week in Tampa at Dynamics Communities User Group Summit event, I have decided that killing Convergence is the best mistake Microsoft has ever made.

Microsoft is a company that builds and sells software. Their efforts are all geared toward selling. They are often described as a marketing company rather than a software company. It is hardly a surprise that when they cook up an event that the core ingredient is a few large buckets full of sales. They add to that a ladle of corporate strategy, a cup of future direction and 3 cups of cross product upsell. The core dish is garnished with a sprinkling of education and learning.

The user group event on the other hand is based on an entirely different recipe. The event is hosted by people that use Microsoft Software on a daily basis. These people begin cooking up a conference with a few buckets full of education and learning. They next toss in a few cups of diced peer learning and discussion. They throw in tablespoons of panel discussions by real experts. They stuff these panels with Microsoft help desk people, consultants, escalation engineers, developers and end users. On top they sprinkle large spoons of what’s new, what can I add to my solution, are there extra things I can buy to be even more efficient?

The two events look the same from the surface. There are key note addresses, break-out sessions, loads of coffee and pop consumed, crowded meeting areas and late night parties. There is one fundamental difference.

  • Microsoft see this group as an audience to sell to, they see prospects and future sales targets.
  • The user group sees dedicated and committed users of business software that want to become more efficient, that want to extract value from what they own, that want desperately to learn.

Prior to Summit there were a number of training opportunities hosted by Vendors and Dynamics Communities that were very well attended. eOne held a 2 day SmartConnect Boot Camp training session on Saturday and Sunday. When this was originally proposed I suggested that “no one will give up both days of a weekend to attend our boot camp.” Once again it was proven I employ smarter people than I, as we had 8 people sign up to sit through 16 hours over their weekend. This was great proof as to why people attend Summit. Learning.

Microsoft, completely unable to resist their inner urges, decided to hijack 2.5hrs on the main stage of the first key note to SELL their new offering Dynamics 365. While this is an important release (read more about this in my next blog) their efforts fell largely flat as it was irrelevant to the immediate interests and needs of the audience. This message was important to Microsoft the sales organization, the media and an important message to reselling partners, but was a long way off the mark for their existing customer base.

It only took an hour or two, and perhaps a few ‘Gin and Tonics’, for the attendees to shake off the sales spin of that key note and get down to why they had come to Tampa. Learning.

The Summit in Tampa turned out to be a great event packed with value for everyone. The message I heard from attendees was that ‘this was just like Convergence, only better’. I heard people say that there was a ‘real buzz and a great energy’. I saw breakout rooms packed beyond capacity with robust and active discussion. I presented sessions in rooms where people stayed actively engaged for a full hour and bombarded me with really good questions.

And do you know what the weird thing is? Because the event was targeted at what people really wanted, was focused on education and collaboration – it presented a great selling opportunity for both Microsoft and ISV developers. This group of people are NOT opposed to buying more software. There is definitely a selling opportunity at this event. But the selling has to be based in education and value and not flashy marketing. This is a very intelligent group of people. People who are loyal and passionate to the ERP and CRM systems they use every day. They are looking for value and can see through spin at 1000 yards.

eOne Solutions have been doing these events for 14 years. We have been in this for the long haul. We have supported our customers through tough upgrades and occasional bugs. We have been innovative and creative with our products and problem solving. We have built up a fantastic customer base and developed strong reputation for ‘doing the right thing’. We come to these events to educate our customers and prospects. We volunteer to present sessions where there is no upsell opportunity, we volunteer for community help desks, we bring our consultants and developers to dig down deep with our customers into their questions. We dial up during the tradeshow to fix issues for our customers.

All of these things lead to eOne having a boat load of evangelists in the Microsoft customer community. We have hundreds of people coming to the expo hall and the say “I had lunch with someone today who said I absolutely must come and talk to you guys at eOne”. We have customers hanging out at our expo booth telling anyone who comes by just how good we are. We have other vendors coming over to ask “why is your expo booth always packed to overflowing?”

eOne Solutions had a great time in Tampa. We loved spending time with our customers, our resellers, our fellow Vendors and friends at Microsoft. We are confident that the sales momentum we may have lost by missing Convergence is about to uptick in a bigger and better way than ever. I dare to suggest that Microsoft could learn a little from the eOne model.

A huge congratulations to Andy and Janet (and teams) at Dynamics Communities for putting on a great event. I am already looking forward to heading to Nashville for next year’s Summit.