We just found out that Catapult Systems won a 2009 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference Award. WOW..! We’ve been trying to win one of these awards for years.

Catapult’s specific award was for "Custom Development Solutions, Web Development – Partner of the Year" for one of our Houston clients called Wisenbaker Building Services. If you’re interested, you can view a short video testimonial about the Wisenbaker project at http://bit.ly/wisenbaker or read the full case study at http://bit.ly/wisenbakerprint.

As it turns out, these awards are pretty hard to come by. Hundreds of deserving applications are submitted each year from around the world, and Microsoft only picks a few. So how did we finally pull it off?

Here are five steps to winning a Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference Award:

1. Build a great team

I realize that this sounds pretty obvious, but it’s the most important of the five steps, and it’s by far the hardest since it takes real time and effort. In the services business, we live and die by the caliber of our people. No intellectual property, process or methodology can replace talent in this industry. Without the best consultants you are not going to build the best client applications, and without the best applications you are not going to win any awards. You can’t fake this one.

Making sure that you have the best people on your team is easier said than done. Believe me; we’ve made our share of hiring mistakes over the years. After all, it takes time and money to interview potential candidates, and there are no guarantees. We finally figured out that each hiring mistake we make costs our company around $50,000 (lost revenue, finding a replacement, etc.), and in some cases much more when we have to cleanup a mess left behind with a client. So we invest heavily in our recruiting and interview process. We follow a very effective interview methodology called TopGrading (http://www.topgrading.com) and put each candidate through 7-8 rigorous interviews before hiring them. There really are no shortcuts if you want to do this right.

2. Find a willing client

Not all clients are created equal. Catapult Systems works with over 120 clients each month, and we value each one of them. However, not every client views their IT consulting firm as a true technology partner – as a strategic asset to their business. These relationships are harder to find and take longer to develop.

When a client views IT as a competitive advantage, they tend to foster true partnerships with outside firms to bring in expertise as they need it, they take great pride in the systems they develop, and are often willing to participate in case studies and testimonials. This is always a win-win scenario for both the client and the IT consulting partner. And when Microsoft agrees to make the project one of their official case studies, it increases the exposure exponentially. So in order to submit a winning project for a Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference Award, you’ll need a client who is willing to share their experiences and lend their name to your cause. Finally, there is no point in submitting a project for one of these awards unless it’s already been accepted as an official Microsoft case study.

3. Get lucky

The number of qualified IT projects that are submitted to Microsoft each year for a Worldwide Partner Conference Award is mindboggling. It’s tough to stand out in that crowd. So unless there is something really "novel" or "cool" about your application, or unless it’s the "largest", "first ever", or with the "most recognizable client", you probably don’t stand a chance.

This is where you’ll need a little luck. Your company can be well versed in the latest Microsoft technologies, and you can aggressively promote these new technologies to your clients, but that’s no guarantee that you’ll land an award-winning engagement. Sometimes the stars have to be aligned in order to get the right client, with the right opportunity, using the right technology, at the right time.

4. Have a kickass marketing team

Even the best and most deserving project in the world will not get noticed by Microsoft unless you put some real work into your submission. It’s takes time and effort to work with the client to create an interesting case study; it takes skill and perseverance to turn that case study into an official Microsoft case study; and it takes real commitment and energy to submit that project for a Worldwide Partner Conference Award. The whole process can take months. So unless you have a rock-solid marketing team to take the lead on this project, it’s probably not going to get done.

5. Submit a video

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a client video testimonial is worth ten thousand written submission forms. Enough said.