By: Linda Rosencrance
Recently, Microsoft deep-sixed its Pinpoint online partner directory, replacing it with its new “referral engine,” or Find a Partner section of its Partner Center. The change rolled out just before the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) 2016 in July.
Microsoft promised in a report from CRN Australia that the new referral engine will be better than Pinpoint at connecting partners with customers and that the new system is connected with its web properties and marketplaces.
However, there has been little fanfare around the end of Pinpoint. And that has left ISV partners in the Dynamics ERP and CRM space confused about how Microsoft handled this change.
It appears that at least one specific mention of the end of Pinpoint was made at WPC in the session Dynamics ISVs Are the Key For Microsoft Success In Industry Sales. There, Kati Hvidtfeldt, Microsoft’s senior director for Dynamics ISVs, stated that Pinpoint had been retired and ISVs could now publish their apps to AppSource and the Azure Marketplace.
Although Microsoft declined to comment further about the end of Pinpoint for this article, the company told ChannelWeb the following:
Microsoft will make the transition as easy as possible, including importing partner profile information into the Partner [Center], and will continue to refer partner solutions to customers seeking technology solutions during the transition.
A Microsoft spokesperson also told CRN Australia that partners had been unhappy with Pinpoint, “in particular the changes made in 2014 – for instance, the 2014 relaunch was not search engine [optimized]. The redesign comes in response to partner feedback and hopes to address many of the complaints.”
And Microsoft partner group corporate VP Gavriella Schuster told CRN Australia that: “The problem with Pinpoint is it was the place for the lost-soul customer,” meaning the organization with no solid guidance from a partner.
Partners hearing second-hand are “a little frustrated”
It is no surprise that Microsoft is also pushing ISVs toward AppSource, its new directory for finding add-on solutions for Microsoft software, including Dynamics AX, NAV and CRM. But those with a presence on Pinpoint did not get the message that the older system was already gone.
Heather Robinson, director of marketing at Data Masons Software, a provider of EDI solutions that work with Dynamics ERP solutions, only heard that Pinpoint had been retired through word of mouth – something other ISV marketers have reported, too.
“I didn’t see any announcement from Microsoft… so I’m not sure whether to be concerned about the lack of information that’s now in the listing – such as not noting that we are CfMD,” she says. “Additionally, it’s frustrating that the links to fix or update the information appear to be broken, as well as links to even contact Microsoft about the broken links.”
Trish Boccuti, director of marketing at Fastpath, Inc., notes that setting up solution listings in the new AppSource system presented its own surprises. “I went to apply for it and found that GP and SL aren’t even choices. You have to work with Dynamics AX, NAV or CRM, [Fastpath supports AX and NAV] and your product has to be cloud based, which I would guess excludes a lot of ISVs.”
Boccuti says she was at WPC but never heard Microsoft mention that it was doing away with Pinpoint, nor did she ever get an alert from Microsoft about the change. She, too, found out secondhand.
“It’s a little frustrating for people, for sure,” she says.
Pinpoint was launched in 2008. The intended goal was to provide an open marketplace where customers interested in implementing Microsoft technologies and solutions for their business could connect with partners that could help them.
Over the years Pinpoint has gone through a number of iterations aimed at making it more useful. But it seems some partners have not been enamored with the site, as the ChannelWeb story described. Apparently, in recent years, Microsoft has received a number of complaints from partners unhappy with the site’s ranking algorithm, noting that it was placing emphasis on what they believed to be trivial things.
Microsoft aims for better referral service
Just before WPC, Microsoft sent an email announcement to partners noting that changes were coming to Pinpoint. It read in part:
We want to let you know that we’re restructuring Pinpoint and building a more integrated and comprehensive lead referral service that will help our best partners capture more leads from our most qualified prospects…We’re looking forward to showing you some of the enhancements soon.
In the announcement, Microsoft touted the benefits of this new referral service, including “updates to the Pinpoint search ranking algorithm.” Redmond also noted it was removing customer reviews by June 30 but never mentioned that it was replacing Pinpoint.
In her keynote speech at WPC, Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group, described how at Microsoft “We have reimagined the referral engine and connected that referral engine to all of our web properties and all of our marketplaces.”
In her keynote Schuster stated:
What if I could provide you with a single place and a single way to upload your profile, your services, your solutions and your applications, and we would populate it into all of our digital properties?
And what if I could then give you one single management console for all of those referrals to come back to, whether it’s from our field or any of our web properties, to help you focus on actually closing those prospects?
She called this new system a “referral engine for today’s marketplace,” promised by year’s end. It would also offer a way to “easily create your own online marketplace connected to our referral engine.”
But Schuster never mentioned that Microsoft had killed Pinpoint.
Confusion on changes, migration headaches
Anya Ciecierski, content marketing professional for Microsoft Dynamics at CAL Business Solutions, says she received the email from Microsoft before WPC notifying partners of the changes to Pinpoint. She then sent that information to the members of ERPSoftwareBlog, the partner blogging site she manages.
“That email talked about changes coming to Pinpoint but it didn’t say Pinpoint was going away necessarily,” she says. “I did tell my blog [readers] to make sure that they copied all their reviews out of Pinpoint before the deadline, which I think was [June 30], because Microsoft did say those were going away. But I can’t remember when I first saw or heard that Pinpoint was gone.”
Ciecierski followed the steps to import her company’s information and the information of the ERPSoftwareBlog members to the new Partner Center site; but some listings showed up twice because it seemed that some of the information had already been imported.
“I added a question on Yammer on where I could get support but I didn’t get a reply,” she says. “I then tried to get support from Pinpoint site, but that led to an error page.”
Beside the blink-and-you-missed-it notice and unclear instructions, Ciecierski says the main issue for her is that using Partner Center is even more convoluted than using Pinpoint.
“It was not easy to find the partners that you needed if you were a prospect and I believe that the Partner Center site makes it even more difficult to find the right partners,” she says. “It doesn’t seem like the search functionality makes sense and the formatting and the way the information is presented is not as easy to understand as it was even in Pinpoint.”
Where is the value?
Mark Rockwell, founder and president of Rockton Software, says he was “kind of aware” that Microsoft was changing Pinpoint once again, but unaware that it was going away entirely. Rockwell says his attitude toward it is: who cares?
“Pinpoint has been an awful joke and it’s joke number five, I think, of previous iterations of whatever [Microsoft] wants to call this app directory,” he says.
Referring to the history of these directories, he says “It is so futile, it is so horribly managed, designed and maintained,” he says. “I’m trying to think of a more moronic stance from Microsoft on how to deliver what the community wants. I never participate anymore. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to get my stuff approved or up on these sites. You have CfMD, you have Lionbridge testing and they’re supposed to be in the guise of Microsoft helping ISVs market their products. But it is absolute baloney. It has been an absolute, constant failure for two decades.”
Partner Center is the sixth iteration that Rockwell is aware of, but the real issue is that Microsoft’s approach is flawed. This because, in Rockwell’s opinion, Microsoft believes that some applications are better than others and that there has to be an objective way to rank them – which is impossible because software evaluation is so subjective.
Additionally, Rockton says that Microsoft has totally lost track of scope.
“To have market penetration, you have to list everything but in order to do that, you as the creator of the site, have to go out and get all the information because you’re not going to get people to participate,” he says. If a marketplace doesn’t have 70 percent of the applications available to people visiting the site, they aren’t going to find it valuable, he says.
“It takes a lot work to go out and hunt down all the solutions out there and find ways to incentivize ISVs to put their solutions up there,” Rockton says. “But what Microsoft does is they make us either pay money or get stupid certifications or jump through ridiculous hoops that are just way too much work.”