It was this time last year that I wrote about “Successfully Partnering with Microsoft” and my honour at being appointed Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Community Partner Area Lead (What a mouthful! Let’s call it SBSC PAL!).
Well I’m equally honoured to say that I’ve been asked to take up the role for a further year, alongside Guy Gregory of London based, The Final Step and new PAL, Chris Timm of Basingstoke based TCG Computer Services.
Chris Timm and Guy Gregory
New PAL Chris Timm has been doing a great job of running the Thames Valley SBSC Group, and is a well known face within the UK IT Community. Guy Gregory, who has recently moved from Derbyshire to London, combines a high level of Technical expertise with a keen understanding of the needs of the small business market – ideally placing him to help other SBSC’s to join up those two areas of knowledge.
I’m chuffed to be re-appointed a PAL as I’ve long been championing the fact that SBSC’s need to be much more than simply good Technicians to thrive. Whilst I sold my IT business in 2010, and I no longer do Technical geek work on a day-to-day basis, I now spend the majority of my time working with SBSC’s to help them grow their own businesses. Key to business growth is establishing strong relationships with your vendors, and for most IT businesses they have no bigger vendor partner than Microsoft. The PAL role enables me to help partners understand how I nurtured and then leveraged a strong relationship with Microsoft to grow my own business, and how they in turn can do the same.
But what is a PAL?
I received a wonderful e-mail from my friend Amit Wason at Creative Business Systems, a Microsoft Gold Partner specialising in Dynamics NAV, that asks just that question:-
Just wondering what a PAL is. This is not a deep philosophical question about friendship, but rather more about seeing your name in Microsoft Small Business newsletter saying you are one of the Partner Area Leads (PALs).
Are you now ‘with’ Microsoft or working in this capacity under your own name?
Is this geographic area specific? It says that you “represent the feedback of the Community and provide guidance” – to what exactly?
I only ask as I do not know anything about this role!”
In answer to Amit’s question and to shed some light on the PAL role – here’s some background.
Way back when Microsoft first created the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community in around 2006, they also appointed a series of Partner Area Leads (PAL’s) globally. There are PAL’s in Germany, the USA, Australia and plenty of other locations where Microsoft has a strong presence.
Conduit with Microsoft
These PAL’s, who were also Microsoft Partners themselves, were typically seen as a conduit between Microsoft and the SBSC Community. Microsoft can be a big beast, and so PAL’s, who it was felt peers could more easily approach, were empowered to help communication between Microsoft and it’s SBSC Partners. It’s a two-way dialogue, with PAL’s sharing Microsoft messages, and Microsoft listening to PAL feedback.
Though the role is aimed at Small Business Specialist Partners, as PAL’s we tend to work with any Microsoft Partners – from Community members all the way up to Gold Partners. My own personal view is that I think the role is especially important for helping un-managed Partners (i.e. those without specific Microsoft Account Managers to turn to for advice) to get more from their relationship with Microsoft.
The role is unpaid and is not expensed – so when PAL’s visit your user group, host a webinar or write a blog post that helps you – they are doing so out of their own time and pocket. PAL’s are most certainly not Microsoft employees.
There are three PAL’s in the UK who are somewhat geographically dispersed. I’m in Birmingham, Chris is in Basingstoke and Guy is in London. Historically, we tend to work with Microsoft Partners who are closest to our home office – although nowadays the PAL’s are typically aware of each other strength’s and so re-direct queries from partners to the PAL most appropriate.
Ask the PAL
The sort of queries we receive as PAL’s from fellow Microsoft Partners can range from how to find certain resources in the Microsoft Partner Portal, to sharing our expertise in leveraging Microsoft Technologies for a Partner’s business growth. Guy is well known in the Community as “Mr. BPOS” for instance, and any BPOS or Office 365 queries I receive I tend to forward on to him.
As PAL’s, we also get to know a lot of people both within Microsoft and externally. Many queries we receive as PAL’s end up with us connecting two Microsoft Partner’s together to collaborate on a piece of work or a project.
PAL’s at WPC
The PAL is also invited to attend the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (which this year takes place in Los Angeles) and those PAL’s who have chosen to invest their own time and travel costs in attending can then sit down with key Microsoft executives to get a peek behind the curtain and put Partner feedback forwards.
Talking of Partner feedback – make no mistake about it, PAL’s feed back what is good… and what is not so good to Microsoft. PAL’s hear feedback from Partners. PAL’s feed back that feedback to Microsoft. Microsoft listen, and to their credit, act upon this feedback. The feedback given as PAL’s in the past has help change the contents of Partners Action Pack Subscriptions, generated the creation of specific Microsoft training resources, and even saved the SBSC designation within the Microsoft Partner Network.
So there you have it – an overview of a Microsoft Partner Area Lead, or PAL.
Make a point of connecting with your countries Partner Area Leads or Leads and reach out to them. You’re unlikely to find a peer who knows more about Microsoft and how to work with them, and this will be useful for helping you grow your own business. Ask them questions, give them feedback – learn from them.
Or at the very least, meet a new friend PAL.