Directions North America 2017 broadens focus to Microsoft Dynamics 365, SMB channel prep

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By:  Linda Rosencrance

From Sept. 17-20 Microsoft Dynamics SMB solution partners will be heading to the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes in Orlando, Florida to participate in Directions North America.

Until 2016, the Directions conference, a Microsoft Dynamics event organized by partners for partners, was focused on NAV. But last year Microsoft asked the organizing committee to transform the event into more of an SMB event. That meant Microsoft would be providing a lot more content around the Dynamics 365 Business Edition, says Katherine Turner-Lawrence, president of the event and VP of sales and marketing at Western Computer.

“That meant opening up our conference to not only SL partners, but GP partners, CRM partners, really any partners that cater to the SMB space,” she says. “We had to rename our event. Our event was always NAV Directions, now it’s Directions North America.”

Changing the face of the event served to make the event more appealing to the broader audience, Turner-Lawrence says, and it made sense to stay aligned with Microsoft’s broader strategy.

Despite the evolution, the event board’s goal remains the same: to run a partner event that is organized by partners for partners.

“For us, it meant broadening our reach and looking beyond our NAV product,” Turner-Lawrence says. “It’s not only education for GP, SL and CRM partners, it is also an education for the NAV partners. Many of us enjoyed many years of success with the NAV product, now the Dynamics 365 Business Edition is moving into that space. And potentially we may have a bigger event. Last year, in 2016, was the highest attendance we’ve had at the event, 717 attendees. This year we’re hoping to reach 800.”

Although Microsoft wanted the organizers to reach 900-950 attendees, Turner-Lawrence says that it will take time to achieve that goal.

“Microsoft is bringing the product and we need to bring the attendees there,” she says. “The rollout has been a little slower than we thought it would be. But the hype is there, the interest is there.”

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Content from Microsoft and the Directions board

This year Microsoft is adding more product-focused content, and the organizing board is bringing the content in leadership, sales and marketing, round tables, and technical, Turner-Lawrence says. Those partner-led sessions could will cover areas like the transformation of a partner’s business from selling on-premises licenses to moving to a recurring revenue model.

“I think given all the content, the question for the partners will be, did you bring enough people to cover the [event]? For a partner who only brings two or three registrants, there’s no way to cover all they need to cover,” she says.

Because SL and GP partners aren’t as familiar with the Directions event, the team expects there will be a significant education and awareness process, she says.

“We’ve been pushing Microsoft to get that message out to [those groups],” Turner-Lawrence says. “Since this is the only conference where we are focusing on the Dynamics 365 Business Edition, it’s the place to be. We fill in where we feel it makes sense to bring content that Microsoft historically does not bring to our event.”

Dynamics 365 Will Be a Hot Topic

Based on what her own company is looking to get out of this year’s Directions event, Turner-Lawrence says she thinks other partners will want to know if Dynamics 365 Business Edition apps are ready. Partners will also be looking to see if the related ISVs are ready, she says

“So for us, in order to sell a NAV solution, we need several ISV solutions that fill gaps in functionality, for example to fill gaps in a specific industry. And it’s going to be the same when we sell the Business Edition,” Turner-Lawrence says.

Those gaps are not going to get filled by Microsoft, she says.

“Those solutions have to be available in AppSource for us to sell [Dynamics 365 Business Edition],” Turner-Lawrence says. “So I think it will be more around, is the product ready? And if it’s ready, do we have a market to take it out to? That is what we are really going to be asking. I would think most partners are going to be there doing the same thing.”

The event has completely sold out of sponsorships, which indicates that the sponsors and the ISVs have every intention of being at the event and making their products available.

“I think that’s a very strong indicator that, if they’re not there now, they’re going to get there, and they want to make sure that they get front and center with the partners so their solutions are recommended,” she says.

Partners can register for the event here.

About Linda Rosencrance

Linda Rosencrance is a freelance writer/editor in the Boston area. Rosencrance has over 25 years experience as an reporter/investigative reporter, writing for many newspapers in the metropolitan Boston area. Rosencrance has been writing about information technology for the past 16 years.

She has covered a variety of IT subjects, including Microsoft Dynamics, mobile security issues such as data loss prevention, network management, secure mobile app development, privacy, cloud computing, BI, big data, analytics, HR, CRM, ERP, and enterprise IT.

Rosencrance is the author of six true crime books for Kensington Publishing Corp.