WPC11: Pinpointing Opportunities and Problems with the New Microsoft Office 365

Microsoft Pinpoint logoI’m in Los Angeles at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference this week.  On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to sit in on Susan Dumett’s session regarding the recently redesigned Microsoft Pinpoint site. 

Susan DumettPinpoint is Microsoft’s directory of business partners, including a catalog of products and services offered the Microsoft partner community.  The site is designed to be a utility for Microsoft customers looking to add functionality or services to their Microsoft deployments.  Pinpoint has been around for about three years.  Honestly, as the marketing lead for a Microsoft Gold Partner, I haven’t considered Pinpoint a very important communication channel in the past.  However, it is clear that Microsoft is investing in this site and is making an earnest attempt to make this a more valuable resource for Microsoft customers and partners. 

Susan’s session was oriented around helping partners learn to build out their Pinpoint profile.  Susan walked us through the updated interface for profile composition.  The interface is very intuitive and required only minimal explanation.  Susan spent the majority of her time reviewing basic principles of search engine optimization, and discussed issues of “voice” and how to write lean, easy-to-scan copy for customers browsing the site in search of key technologies. 

A good dialog evolved between Susan and other session attendees.  One fellow Microsoft partner was quick to comment on the powerful SEO benefits of participating in Pinpoint.  Although it does not seem that Microsoft is intentionally giving Pinpoint content extra weight as results to Bing queries, the ability to create backlinks to the partner website from the a Microsoft.com domain is extremely compelling.  If you’re an SEO junkie like me, you know that backlinks from a domain as popular as Microsoft.com can be extremely valuable.  On that basis alone, I intend to ask my team to continue their recent efforts to enhance our Pinpoint profile. 

I’m less comfortable speculating on this subject, but what I think I’ve seen and heard at the conference this week is that Microsoft is firming up the concept of Web-based marketplaces for many of its key products.  We’ve been hearing about this for years, but were disappointed the absence of a marketplace in SharePoint 2010.  The growing popularity of mobile app stores for iPhone, Android, and others continues to cement the importance of integrated ecommerce venues. 

It seems to me that Pinpoint is going to become a key part of the new Office 365 Marketplace.  I believe this was confirmed my conversation with Steve Contraras.  As Microsoft’s full suite of business productivity software moves from on-prem to the Cloud, there will be contextual integration of access to third-party apps and solutions that enhance the core functionality .  I’ll be following developments here closely in the coming months. 

The most intellectually stimulating discussion with the Pinpoint team was around the current implementation of customer reviews included on the Pinpoint site.  Candidly, the early implementation has some very serious problems that need to be fixed quickly.  I believe the team acknowledged the issues, but in my mind, simply cannot move quickly enough to address them.  Here’s the problem, and it’s something I’ve seen other socially-enabled directories struggle with.

Customer reviews of Microsoft partners and their products are currently submitted anonymously and with little or insufficient authentication.  Why do I care?  Well, I’m embarrassed to admit that there are two very negative customer reviews of Bamboo on our Pinpoint site today.  Because the reviews are anonymous, I have no idea who wrote them.  There is currently no way for me to address the experience of a customer who may have been legitimately unhappy with their Bamboo experience.  There is no way for me to show that Bamboo has engaged with that unhappy customer, made them whole, and resolved their issue.  There is a permanent hate letter on my profile that won’t go away.  Imagine if someone could do this to your Facebook profile.  It isn’t fair, and at some level it makes me want to de-list from Pinpoint and withdraw from the experience.

It’s a complex issue.  When I write a negative review of a restaurant on Yelp, I believe that content needs to persist.  If my experience was rare or unique, that should be balanced out a propensity of positive reviews.  The problem with Pinpoint is that there just isn’t the volume of reviews to provide a representative consensus of public opinion.  Maybe there never will be.  Actually, what I’ve heard is that Yelp will actually work with restaurants (particularly those that spend advertising dollars with them) to remove negative reviews.  That bums me out, and makes me question the credibility of Yelp.  I understand that the Microsoft Pinpoint team wants to defend the credibility and authenticity of reviews on their site. 

But there has to be a mechanism that will allow partners to engage, follow-up on and resolve negative reviews.  Bamboo is extremely responsive to customer complaints and issues.  We are constantly changing and upgrading our products based on customer feedback.  We deserve the opportunity to demonstrate this on our Pinpoint profile.  All partners deserve protection from anonymous sniping that could be conducted unprincipled comeptitors exploiting the weakness of the current system. 

I really appreciated all the time I received from the Microsoft Pinpoint team including Chrissy Maertens.  The opportunity to connect directly with key Microsoft personnel is one of the main attractions of the WPC experience.  I am always impressed how open and genuinely interested “Softies” are in supporting the partner community.  It’s been especially true this week in Los Angeles. 

I hope Bamboo customers will contribute honest and positive reviews to the Bamboo Pinpoint profile.  We appreciate all feedback, through any channel.  I hope all Microsoft customers will check out the new Pinpoint and consider it as a resource for finding technologies that enhance Microsoft products.