The water does indeed spin in the opposite direction, and pretty much everything else is the reverse of what we expect in Australia. The cars are on the opposite side of the road. There is no such drink as a lemon squash, Solo, VB, Moove or Dare, to name but a few. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. Even a slight difference in dialect is ignored by Americans who will accept nothing less than their way. Terminology is fraught with danger. Asking for a Coke causes confusion, "Sorry, we only serve Diet Coke or regular Coca Cola here." I was unable to purchase a "stamp" though postage stamps were available; bikkies could not be eaten although biscuits were consumed in quantity; a footpath could not be walked on, only sidewalks; and you can't talk on a mobile phone, though cell phones are fine.
But I digress. I was here to attend a conference and to see what value a four-day $US1,495 Microsoft revival event was to a reseller from a small country town in Australia. After a stroll through downtown LA, taking in a Dodgers versus Diamondbacks game (1st against 2nd in one of the two major US baseball leagues) and a good night's sleep, it was off to Fusion registration, breakfast and to listen to Rosa Garcia, general manager of Microsoft's worldwide partner sales and marketing group, and her soon-to-be successor, Allison Watson. A visit to registration saw me take ownership of a brand new suitcase, compliments of Microsoft and Compaq. I was impressed - no expense spared here ladies and gents. Donning my Microsoft-supplied "Oss-see" hat I waded through a sea of people from different nationalities (4,953 attendees from 90 different countries, we were later informed).
After a breakfast of sweet muffins, donuts and the typically inferior Starbucks coffee (Americans haven't quite got the hot beverage concept under control yet), Rosa Garcia came on stage with all the fanfare of a rock concert - video screens, light shows and music. In her heavy Spanish accent she assured us that Microsoft truly believes in the channel model before launching into a heart-rending story (complete with legitimate tears) about abandoning her current role to head up the Spanish division of Microsoft.
Next up was an introduction to Rosa's replacement, Allison Watson, a sophisticated all-American woman. Allison commenced with the typical American hype that Yanks love and Australians barely tolerate; it was a jogging, running, bouncing Allison that ran across the stage and into the audience for a series of high-fives with random audience members.
Despite being excruciatingly embarrassed on her behalf, when she started talking I was impressed - this was a young powerful executive who spoke with passion and conviction. By the time she was done, I felt convinced that I was an important cog in the MS landscape and my business would continue to prosper if I remained loyal to the MS brand.
Between Rosa and Allison we heard some interesting information: 800 Microsoft executives were in attendance at the conference, which on a ratio basis worked out at one MS exec to six attendees. We heard the emphasis that Microsoft is placing on the SMB market with 50-60 per cent of revenue being generated by this space. The SMB market is classified as all organisations with less than 500 seats, an area that Microsoft admitted it had largely ignored while concentrating on the enterprise sector, but a space that it now fully intends to pursue.
We also heard an apology for Microsoft's dismal handling of Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) and a promise to rectify the situation. Having attended many conferences over the last 13 years, I had never heard any organisation, especially one as large as Microsoft, seem so ready to listen to their partners and involve them in the decision-making process. Rhetoric perhaps, but if so I was completely fooled over the next four days by every Microsoft employee I spoke to or heard speak, as they reaffirmed the message.
After several keynote addresses by several important people, it was time to find out just how prepared to listen Microsoft were. Fusion had a meeting organisation tool called Rio with which you could search for other attendees or Microsoft personnel and organise a meeting.
With some trepidation I booked an interview with Raul Bandeira, Microsoft's worldwide head of certified partner programs. And, true to their word, the first thing Raul requested when we sat down was for me to tell him what pain we experience as a Microsoft partner and how could he fix it. I requested the Lotto numbers for each Monday night's draw in advance. Without having any idea what Lotto was, Raul said he'd see what could be done. After I explained this joke, we then proceeded to discuss issues with the partner program over the next hour. I was impressed by how open the dialogue was and how committed Raul was to make my experience, as a small reseller in a small country town in a small country, better. At the end of the discussion Raul gave me his business card and made me promise that I would e-mail him with any issues that I believed he could assist with in the partner program.
Score one for Microsoft for being approachable, open and committed as per their promises. So far I was impressed with Fusion and it wasn't even lunch time on the first day.