Steve has another chat with Alysa Taylor



In this episode of “Steve has a Chat”, I catch up again with Alysa Taylor, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft,
to get the latest from the Queen of Marketing for Microsoft Business Applications Group. We chat about the success of Virtual Events, Customer Insights, Power Apps vs Power Apps, and touched on SMB.  Enjoy!

BTW, don’t forget, Mark Smith (@nz365guy) and I do PowerUpLive every Tuesday at 4PM EST, click here to be alerted, and here’s a link to the replays!

Transcript below:

Alysa Taylor:
Hello?

Steve Mordue:
Alysa. Steve Mordue. How are you?

Alysa Taylor:
I’m doing well, Steve, how are you?

Steve Mordue:
Well, you know why I’m calling, right?

Alysa Taylor:
I have a hunch.

Steve Mordue:
Yes, yes. I’ve got the record button on and I just wanted to see if you had a few minutes to talk about just things. It’s been a while since we caught up.

Alysa Taylor:
Yeah, absolutely. Would love to spend some time and just chat. It has been a little while.

Steve Mordue:
So we just came off Business Applications Summit the first pivot over to a virtual conference. And at least from the rumors I hear the attendance was off the charts compared to an in person conference.

Alysa Taylor:
It was off the charts. It was actually our first Microsoft virtual, we classify events and this is a tier one event, so it was our first one that we executed as a first party tier one event in a virtual capacity. So we were both nervous and excited. We had over 50,000 people registered. So it really was… And it’s a very different format. We condensed two and a half days into a half day. But I would agree, we were very pleased with both the online turnout. And then I think, from what I heard from the community, the format worked well. It was a nice mix, we did a prerecorded keynote, then we had live sessions that were moderated with subject matter experts. And then we were able to do some networking and fun interstitial type activities in between the programming.

Steve Mordue:
You know, I would have to think that if I were Microsoft, having done in person events for so long and the expense of doing those and the coordination of putting those together, because it’s a production when you guys do those. And then looking at the number of attendees there were able to make it because of schedule or cost because of getting approval by their employers and versus now suddenly a virtual event at no cost. I mean, there was no limits to anybody being able to get into that. And while we might lose some of that in person networking amongst one another, from Microsoft’s standpoint getting the information out to as broad an audience as possible seems like this is a better way to do it.

Alysa Taylor:
You know, my team and I have talked a lot about that and I think in the post COVID-19 world, because we’re learning so much about virtual events, I think we’ll end up, and no timeline on this, but we’ll end up probably in the future in some kind of a hybrid type scenario. Because I do think there is always that benefit of face to face, being able to network, shake people’s hands, see old friends. So I think that in person will never completely go away, but I think we’re learning how to do virtual events that will compliment the in person. And so I think, and again, this isn’t an official statement, but I think there’ll be a world of probably smaller, more intimate events. And then the big scale events will be virtual because at the end of the day we’ve had over 150,000 views of our content from Microsoft Business Application Summit, compared to we do 7,000 to 10,000 in person. So it’s a very different scale.

Steve Mordue:
Yeah. It really is. When you think about the ability to touch just so many people that way and the expense. I think that, obviously, we all got thrown into this virtual event motion when we weren’t quite ready for it and our tools weren’t quite built for it but ready or not, here we come. And I was, I can’t remember the earlier virtual event that you guys did that I… Oh, I think it was the launch maybe?

Alysa Taylor:
Yes, we always do the virtual launch event. That we’ve been doing for a long time.

Steve Mordue:
And that was pretty good, but then you still thinking about as a large scale event, which we’ve historically done in person, how does that translate in a way digitally, virtually that it feels as valuable to the people? Not withstanding the fact that we’ve now got 10 times as many people that can see what’s there, but that the event feels as much like a live in person event. And I think the tools are getting… Obviously you guys are tweaking the tools for just that kind of experience, like you said, with some of the networking and we’re kind of figuring it out, but as we get this stuff figured out, and these tools for virtual events are just 100% rock solid and exactly the way everybody would want. And I don’t know, it seems like the future of live events across, not just Microsoft, but industry-wide, is going to be tough.

Alysa Taylor:
Well I think the thing that we’re learning is how to do programming to your point. Because when we did the virtual launch event, it’s our engineering leads and our product marketers doing content and then demos. Content, then demos. And I think what we learned with the Microsoft Business Applications Summit is that how much that programming matters, the back and forth, being able to do moderated forums, because it keeps people engaged. And we do it in much shorter segments. Like the virtual launch event is two hours. We were doing 35 minutes segments in the Business Application Summit. And yes, so to your point, I think doing the right programming allows us to have virtual events that are engaging. And then we get the benefit of being able to scale to such a degree that we can’t do in person.

Steve Mordue:
Yeah. Obviously time zones will be a challenge for anything like that because you’re going to have people doing multiple versions of their session at different time slots to be able to capture everybody. And that’s a trick. I think one of the things, some of the feedback I heard from some of the folks was that they thought the sessions times might’ve been a little short because oftentimes the presenters were pressed right up to the time limit with their content and there wasn’t much opportunity for questions. In those live events we’re just peppering the person with questions throughout the whole thing. So that would be an interesting one to…

Alysa Taylor:
We got that feedback as well. And I think that’s right. I think that’s good that we spend a little bit more time and we’re learning as we go. And I sort of said that, so I think that is one thing you will see us is more Q&A time. I think the presentation time was probably the right amount of content, but then allowing for more Q&A is important.

Steve Mordue:
Yeah, I thought it was nice in the new, whatever the platform you guys were displaying all that in, that, typically at a live event, I’ll walk into a session and five minutes into it I might decide, “You know what? This isn’t what I thought.” And I want to bounce out and go down the hall to another one. And the virtual equivalent of that to be able to drop out of one and see below it, “Here’s the other ones that are going on right now.” And just click a button and bounce from one to another, I felt like we’re getting closer to that kind of experience with the tooling and stuff now too, which is handy.

Alysa Taylor:
Good. I’m glad you had that experience. That’s great to hear.

Steve Mordue:
Yeah. And of course they’re all being recorded and available immediately or as soon as possible, is just huge. Because then you don’t feel… Like I can remember at live events feeling like there were three different things I wanted to see, but I could only see one, and since they weren’t necessarily all recorded, you just had to miss some content. But now, of course, they can all be recorded by default and you have no excuse to miss anything today. So I think it’s pretty cool. Looking forward to see where that goes.

Steve Mordue:
So what are some of the exciting things in your mind? Because you look at this through a different lens than some of the other folks, because you look at it through that marketing lens. And so you would see things differently than maybe Googs or Phillips as interesting or important. What are some of the things you think we should all be really paying attention to?

Alysa Taylor:
Well, I think there’s probably two things and I think James and I would say the same probably on both, which is, I think we’ve continued to bring some pretty remarkable innovation to the portfolio. And when you see things, products like Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, that has been one that’s just been phenomenal to see the customer adoption on this. And I don’t know if you saw like Chipotle was a big customer, wall-to-wall sales floor shop that is adopting Customer Insights. We’ll announce here Walgreens is doing the same.

Alysa Taylor:
So the customer data platform and being able to have a 360 degree view of the customer, even in times of crisis as people are moving to digital selling and remote service, knowing your customers is even more important. And so it’s been very exciting to see the innovation that’s been built over the course of the last couple of years in market and seeing the customer adoption on that. And then I think the broader vision of how Dynamics 365 in the Power platform fits into the Microsoft Cloud.

Alysa Taylor:
You see very large customers like Coca Cola that are moving their entire IT and cloud infrastructure to the Microsoft Cloud. That’s inclusive of Dynamics 365 and the Power platform and doing some pretty cool things with it. Power platform, just even in the recent environment, we released a set of crisis response templates that have just gone like wildfire throughout healthcare organizations, first responders, organizations needing to be able to get in touch with employees, with volunteers, with those that are on the front lines. So you see the direct impact that it can have and it’s pretty incredible and pretty inspiring at the same time.

Steve Mordue:
I mean, I think we’re all pretty amazed at what citizen developer has been able to do when given some tools that could actually do things with, which they never had before and I’m continuously seeing citizens building apps to solve problems that they have in their department or their area that there never would have been budget approved for a partner SI to come in and build something like that, or go buy an ISB solution, all these problems that have gone unsolved forever, it seems like suddenly are getting solved and they’re getting solved quickly and easily without great expense.

Steve Mordue:
Problems that never would have been solved. They just had no other way they were going to get solved before this. That’s been phenomenal to see the change of the platform, frankly, just in the last couple of years, that huge pivot towards that citizen has just opened up so much. You’re talking about Coca-Cola. I mean, that’s a lot of what’s driving that there I’m sure is department heads, line of business people, seeing something that’s accessible and fiddling around over a weekend and creating a solution to a problem they’ve had for years.

Alysa Taylor:
Absolutely. And we have the Unilever executive team in to meet with [Sati 00:12:04] and his directs. And they have done this whole movement to empower their frontline workers with the Power platform to give them the tools to solve problems. And we always say the value of the Power platform is putting tools in the hands of those closest to the problem. And Unilever is just an incredible story of creating a digital factory of the future that is completely from bottoms up, it’s from frontline factory workers that are giving input, using Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI to automate manual tasks that would take them way too long to do, to have insights and analytics to the health of the supply chain and the factory line, having a digital command center that they could access through a power app.

Alysa Taylor:
So you see all of this. And then the great thing about the Unilever story is they’ve been really working to empower their frontline workers with these tools. And then as COVID-19 happened, they actually just took that same rapid innovation model and use it to do things like pivot to being able to scale up production and ventilators because they had, if you think about their IT their traditional IT and developer workforce is everyone. It’s not just limited to one department or one set of individuals.

Steve Mordue:
Yeah. That’s still a challenge for Power Apps. I know in big organizations, we’re frequently running up against the wall known as IT that is resistant to almost anything in a lot of organizations. Sometimes they’re very intransigent to get them to think about new things. You know, the, oh, it’s escaping me now, the name of the enterprise management tool that you guys released for templates… At any rate-

Alysa Taylor:
You talking about EMS?

Steve Mordue:
No, the stuff that was released by the team to help enterprise manage Power App growth in their organization.

Alysa Taylor:
Oh, yes. Yes. So yeah, within Power apps, absolutely. And that you saw that Toyota is a great example of that. They actually use that enterprise management, so enabled their organization, all of their employees, to train them, enable them with Power Apps as a technology, but then they have within the IT department, to make sure they can do things like handle confidential data sharing, they used a set of control mechanisms with Power Automate and Power Apps. And so this gives the IT department that final sort of go, no, go on what gets published. But you still have the empowerment of the citizen developers across the organization.

Steve Mordue:
Center of Excellence.

Alysa Taylor:
Yes.

Steve Mordue:
That’s the term I was thinking of. So, Center of Excellence. Yeah, I think that was key to really having this thing takeoff because before the Center of Excellence, I know that there was some concern with IT about, “People are going to go crazy out there with our data. We don’t know what’s going on.” And that Center of Excellence toolkit really should allay a lot of those concerns. It seems like it has. And we still have a couple of challenges in the market that I know I hear a lot of partners and I struggle with around licensing.

Steve Mordue:
And I know licensing is a necessary thing, but man, does it ever get challenging. And it seems like, I guess, it’s just the downside of having lots of innovation is every new thing that comes out we need to figure out, “Okay, now how’re we going to license this?” And we end up with lots and lots and lots of licensing conversations with customers trying to figure things out. It’s one of those things, they sit back and say, “Microsoft needs to solve that.” But then when you think about it, it’s not an easy problem to solve having lots of different models of licensing.

Alysa Taylor:
Well, we have lots of products. I will say, our design principle is on simplicity. And I think we have, if you look at what we’ve done with Power Apps in particular, we reconstructed the licensing model to be on a per app per user. It used to be, if you remember, based on feature, right? What was canvas versus model driven application development, which is incredibly hard for an organization to figure out. And so we’ve really worked to try and simplify the licensing, but at the end of the day, we have a lot of products.

Alysa Taylor:
In licensing, I always tell our internal teams this, licensing, we go for the 80-20 rule, we designed for 80% of the scenarios and there’s always going to be the 20%, and we actually strive to do 90-10, can we hit 90% of the core scenarios? But there’s always going to be very unique scenarios that we can’t solve for, which is why we do different custom type deals. But our licensing, our principles are simplicity, customer centric and designed for as much scale as possible.

Steve Mordue:
Yeah. I’ve started to take the position with other partners that are complaining about the old days when we only had like three licenses to sell, and now there’s maybe 100 different or more SKUs out there, that this is just a new part of your practice. This is something that you need to be proficient in and competent in, just like anything else that you’re doing, and that is how to help a customer navigate the licensing. To make sure they’re not over licensed or under licensed, that they’re using licenses the right way. It’s just a whole new motion that we didn’t have to worry about before that you’re just going to need to learn and understand. Have somebody on your staff that understands the licensing or can reach out and get answers because it’s part of the business now, it’s just part of the business model. I think the worst thing that happens is a partner just gets lazy. And frankly, we saw this even with Microsoft seller, just go in and sell the enterprise plan to everybody.

Alysa Taylor:
[crosstalk 00:18:19] Yeah, when I started three years ago, we sold two things. That was it. We sold the customer engagement plan and the finance and operations plan. We’d two things that we… There was maybe six standalone SKUs under those two things, but everyone just sold the plan. And so yeah, going from two to a number significantly higher than that, I do have empathy. We’ve ramped and changed a lot in three years, but I think we are at a place right now where we think we have the right model for how we bring new products in and we’re trying to drive for consistency now. So we don’t have a unique pricing, I had this meeting with my team yesterday, we don’t want to have, three different types of pricing models for the insights line. We want to have one. And so we’re trying to now strive for consistency across the different product lines. But yeah, you’re right, going from two to 100 is a leap.

Steve Mordue:
Yeah. And then ditching the plan, I think, was great because not just Microsoft sellers, but you know, partners and SIs, it didn’t require any thinking about what kind of license the customer needs, just put everybody on the plan. But that wasn’t in the customer’s best interest. They’re paying for all this functionality that this particular user doesn’t need. And just because somebody didn’t want to go to the effort of figuring out, “You know? That user could probably get by with some lesser license or some other license.” Or something like that. And it’s forcing us to have to do more work to figure it out. But I think the winner at the end of the day is the customer. They’re just not overpaying. Overpaying doesn’t help any of us because if they’re over purchasing, then they end up churning because they don’t see the value. So we want to put them on the right SKU that gives them the right level of value and then they won’t churn. So I think it’s definitely important.

Alysa Taylor:
Yeah I mean, that such a huge thing. When I say the principles are simplicity, customer centricity and scale, having a plan where you’re… I don’t know, Steve, if you’ve ever met a human being that’s a marketer, a salesperson, a customer service person, a field service person, all in one, but I haven’t yet, that’d be a superhuman, I think. But that’s how we sold. We sold a per user license with five different job descriptions against it.

Steve Mordue:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it’s interesting because it’s also changed the landscape of the partner community, because as you guys launch new products, these are new skillsets.

Alysa Taylor:
Right.

Steve Mordue:
And almost each one of these is deep enough that, with the exception of maybe the largest partners out there, you’re just not going to find one that has the skill set across all of these different things. AI on the insight side and development of Power Apps, the canvas apps and flow. There’s just so many different pieces that we really, as partners, are having to look at how we build our organizations differently. “I need a Power Automate expert. I need an expert in this. I need an expert in that and the other thing.” Whereas before, everybody was an expert in everything. Now there’s just too much.

Alysa Taylor:
Right. Yeah. Now it’s got to be deeper. Deeper levels of expertise. Absolutely.

Steve Mordue:
So one of the things that’s not… It’s not negative, I’m not going to go negative on you, but one of the things that has concerned me and I still see confusion in the marketplace is about Power Apps. What I call Power Apps versus Power Apps.

Alysa Taylor:
Oh, interesting. Say more.

Steve Mordue:
Well Power Apps started out of the Office 365 side with canvas, mostly on SharePoint, embedded in the Office 365 licensing, all these enterprise customers using Power Apps. And then Power Apps also became a name used for something that technically was completely different, right? Model driven Power Apps. And there still is confusion, consistent confusion, among partners also, but mainly among customers, about the difference between these two things that have the same name. I know we’ve talked about converging them, and there is some convergence going on, but not at the license level, right? That Office 365, that customer who thinks they have Power Apps licensing because they have Office 365, they can’t build a model driven app on CDS, that’s a different Power Apps license. And how do you think we can make that story clearer to end customers that there’s two things called Power Apps, essentially?

Alysa Taylor:
Well, I think we’re a little early on this podcast because we’ll provide some clarity in July to the market. But what I would say is today, what is seeded in Office is exactly what you’re talking about. Which is Power Apps the maker, but it does not have the common data service underneath it. And so it’s effectively the head of Power Apps without the CDS back engine on that. And so you have a lot of people that are using Power Apps, but they’re their data source is SharePoint list. We’ll release in July what we are doing to make that a more seamless story. And I think you’ll be pretty excited. But we’re just a little early for me to talk about it.

Steve Mordue:
Understood. Well, good to hear there’s some thinking about it.

Alysa Taylor:
So it’s coming. And it’s coming very soon.

Steve Mordue:
Obviously I come from the CRM world, so I’m a CDS guy and I think model driven, but I don’t have anything against, or any problem with, canvas apps on SharePoint list. I think there’s tons of scenarios where that makes perfect sense, but there’s tons of scenarios where the customer would be infinitely better off having built that on top of the common data service than on top of SharePoint. And right now I think there’s a lot of customers out there that think they’re using Power Apps.

Steve Mordue:
I mean they don’t have any reason to think that they’re not using all of Power Apps when they’re just building on top of SharePoint list and kind of making some things much more difficult or much less effective than they could be, and not realizing that, “Hey, there’s a whole other side here that is way more powerful, depending on what it is you’re trying to do that you should be looking at.” And I continuously find myself having that customer conversation. “Well, we already have Power Apps. We already know all about Power Apps.” And then pulling up a demo of a model driven app. And they’re like, “What’s that?” “That’s Power App.” So looking forward to the clarity. [crosstalk 00:24:58] Looking forward to the clarity in July.

Alysa Taylor:
Well, and it’s not negative. Know that your feedback and the MVP community, our partner community, the feedback that you guys give us is what allows us to be able to learn and adjust, and that’s what we’re doing. And so I think you’ll be pleased in July.

Steve Mordue:
So one of the other customer segments that we’ve focused on for years, and is still an important segment to us is that SMB customer. And I go back and forth from feeling like Microsoft is very concerned about that customer to Microsoft is not very concerned about that customer. Almost weekly I see motions that seem like they’re helping and then motions that we’ve got such a revolving door with some of the folks that have looked at SMB. How do you feel about that SMB customer? And how we should be attacking that customer base?

Alysa Taylor:
Well, it’s an incredibly important customer base for us. And I think that we have a model in which we have a workforce, in my mind they’re sort of two discrete workforces that work with our SMB customers. So we have a digital sales team that allows for both inbound and outbound triaging of those customers. And then, as you know Steve, we spend a lot of time making sure that our partner workforce has the right incentives, offers, skills to be able to service that community as well. And so I think those are the two facets in which we deploy against our SMB community.

Alysa Taylor:
And we’ve seen some really phenomenal customer wins that are in the SMB space. And so we want to make sure we’ve got the technology and the right resources for that customer base. But there is a very, very high commitment through our partner channel and through our telesales team to service that customer segment base. And I think in our world we say SMB, but there’s managed and unmanaged really. Because there are some very, very large customers that we would classify historically as SMB, which I’ve always had a little bit of heartburn about because they’re [inaudible 00:27:16] they’re a big business, they’re just not managed under our management.

Steve Mordue:
Well you got a whole rack of levers.

Alysa Taylor:
I’m going to have to wrap here in a second. I have, speaking customers, a customer meeting that I need to attend to.

Steve Mordue:
Perfect. Perfect. All right. Well, I appreciate the time and look forward to catching up with you again soon. And maybe seeing you again in person some point in the future. Who knows when that’ll be.

Alysa Taylor:
Yeah. We don’t know when, but definitely. So thank you, Steve. Thank you for everything.

Steve Mordue:
Yeah, thank you very much for the call. Bye.

Alysa Taylor:
Same. Bye.

Steve Mordue MVP

Steve Mordue, a Microsoft Business Applications MVP, is the CEO of Forceworks, a 2014 Microsoft Partner of the Year. Steve started his business applications consulting career in 2001, originally supporting Salesforce.com as a Certified Consultant. Steve transitioned his consulting practice to Dynamics CRM, (now Dynamics 365) in 2011. Steve has been engaged in hundreds of deployments over the course of his career. As one of the leading Microsoft Business Application Consultants, recognized by Microsoft as an expert, Steve has provided training, on behalf of Microsoft, to other Microsoft Partners globally on how to launch and build successful practices. Steve is a member of the Worldwide Dynamics Partner Advisory Council, and is a frequent presenter and panelist at global Microsoft events. The opinions shared in this blog are Steve's alone. If you are looking for Microsoft confidential information, you will not find any here.

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