I was lucky enough to interview Steve Clayton at Microsoft’s UK headquarters at Reading on Monday. Steve is the Chief Technical Officer for the Microsoft Partner Group. Along with his team, he manages Microsoft’s relationship with 35,000 partners across the UK. Maintaining an excellent relationship with so many Partners is a key priority on Steve’s list, I was interested in how he manages this challenge.
I was also interested to hear Steve’s insights into the challenges and issues faced by SME’s in the UK today. In particular, how the new breed of web technologies can help to raise small business profiles. The highlights of the interview are detailed below. Steve is also an active blogger. However, his blog is somewhat different from other Microsoft blogs in that its not product specific, more a general overview of the industry.
In reading his posts, you’ll discover he’s an avid Liverpool FC supporter, a big fan of BBC’s Dragon’s Den and one of his top five CD’s is Blue Lines from Massive Attack. The blog balances his Microsoft and personal interests in such a way that is both informative, interesting and stimulates a conversation. How many people reading this post, would expect that from a Microsoft employee?
Steve’s approach is not to force a Microsoft sale upon his readers. Instead, he promotes goodwill. Across Steve’s team there are 14 active bloggers with a combined readership view of over two million. Therefore, I’m not the only one that sees the ‘goodwill’ approach as compelling. In fact, a large proportion of the readers of his blog are not Microsoft Partners at all. Readers, (including myself), enjoy reading his daily thoughts on technology.
Having spent over an hour with Steve on Monday, I truly believe that he is a hidden gem at Microsoft UK. In fact, in my opinion he is Microsoft UK’s answer to Robert Scoble.
Of course, he is passionate about technology. However, his passion strives further. He is equally passionate in helping SME’s and Partners to be more successful. In an open message to Microsoft UK’s Managing Director, Gordon Frazer. Can we have more bloggers like Steve Clayton please?
The Blue Monster campaign (read below) grabs my attention, sparks a conversation and builds a bridge. As a Microsoft end user and as a customer, I would like to see more of this.
Q. What is the Blue Monster and how did its story come about?
“I met Hugh MacLeod at a Girl Geek Dinner in London around 8 months ago. We got into a discussion about Microsoft and Robert Scoble. Hugh, expressed the opinion that Microsoft needed a new way to tell its story to the public. Hugh comes from an advertising background and in the wake of Microsoft’s Department of Justice troubles, he felt that the company could benefit from a new way to reach out to consumers”.
“Hugh enjoys drawing cartoons and one day, he sent the Blue Monster cartoon to a few Microsoft guys, including me and Robert Scoble. Hugh’s vision was that the Blue Monster signalled a rebirth and re-growth of company, that was taking on another complete change within the I.T. industry. The I.T. landscape had evolved with Software as a Service and the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon. Looking at it from the outside, could Microsoft go into another round with a different set of competitors and come out and do well?”
“Hugh stated that the cartoon was something that we could either use, or discard. Well, I decided to use it and hence why it is now on my business card. When I first got these [Blue Monster] cards printed, I used to hand them out together with my standard Microsoft business card. However, I quickly discovered that people would keep the Blue Monster card and give me back my standard Microsoft business card!”
“The beauty of the Blue Monster is that it is open to interpretation. It could represent Microsoft saying that we are going to change the world, or we are going to go home. Or, it could represent customers saying, Microsoft you do change the world, if you don’t get that then go home! It can be seen from so many different angles. If Blue Monster had been launched as a corporate campaign, it would have likely died a death. People, would have said that Microsoft is just trying to be cool. Its just not about that. It comes from the grass roots level and hopefully, that’s where it will stay”.
“Blue Monster and its slogan of, change the world or go home drives a lot of the thinking on my blog. What I really want to do, is change people’s perception of Microsoft. At the end of the day, these 4 buildings [Microsoft HQ] that we are sat in, are home to a bunch of regular people who care about their job, passionate about what they do and are passionate about this company. Unfortunately, not many people get to see that. So that’s what my blog has been about, exposing these 4 grey buildings out to a public that actually, I think wants to get to know us a little bit better”.
Q. Can you share any insights of SME’s today?
“What we have have seen is that technology is allowing smaller companies into more places more often. An internal phrase we use at Microsoft is, ‘making your business look bigger than it is’. The advances in technologies such as Wi-Fi, broadband and mobile devices means that SME’s can do their business anywhere. However, it appears as if they are in more places than they actually are. We have a number of good examples of small businesses that are doing just that”.
Q. What techniques have worked best for you to get your message out there?
“Blogging has been the biggest thing to get the message out there. That has driven other things like the Blue Monster cards. I also get involved in community events. For example, Chinwag run a series of monthly events in London and I also attend Sarah Blow’s London Girl Geek Dinners where I meet lots of different people. I’ve recently joined the Board of the British Interactive Media Association. Getting out into the community and public speaking all help to stimulate the conversation”.
“From the feedback I receive, there is a clear interest in the stuff I talk about and the way we talk about it. I’m convinced that people want to have a relationship with Microsoft. There are other prolific Microsoft bloggers such as Eileen Brown, who is driving a really strong message to get more women into I.T. Then there’s Darren Strange, also known as the Office Rocker! Darren is our Product Manager for Microsoft Office, very well known and a great blogger”.
“I would say there are about a core group in the UK of about 20 really good, almost Professional Microsoft bloggers, who have similar mantra to me. Blogging allows us to put a public face to the company, whether its about us talking about a Microsoft product, division or a particular aim”.
Q. What communication techniques did you try that didn’t work?
“When I first started my blog it didn’t work. I’m fortunate that I’ve got some good friends, particularly in the Partner community. They told me honestly that they did not enjoy reading my blog. Right at the start, I was writing about things that always had a Microsoft angle, a product or a piece of technology. Ultimately it took me some time to find my voice during blogging”.
“Whilst out for a pint, I asked a friend about what he thought about my blog. He said it was okay but he wasn’t reading it all that much. When I asked why? He replied that he felt that I was trying to push the product a bit too much. I then asked what he wanted from my blog? He replied, What I want, is the conversation that we usually have down at our local pub. That is probably what most of your readers want and would quite enjoy. An open, frank and fairly random conversation at times. This is where my blog is now. At times, it makes me nervous because there’s quite a lot on my blog which has nothing to do with Microsoft”.
Q. What do you think are the major problems faced by small businesses in the UK today?
“Time and awareness. There’s a huge amount of things a small business can do. Such as, promoting themselves on the web, Search Engine Optimisation and having a blog. Most businesses are too busy trying to run their business and have little about what I.T. can truly do for them. Web 2.0 is a good phrase for the I.T. industry, but most people do not understand what it represents. My mother has no clue as to what Web 2.0 is. However, she knows what a blog is. Actually, she didn’t know what a blog was but when I told her it was my online diary, she then started to read it”.
“So, our challenge is really, time and putting this Web 2.0 stuff in a language that everyone can easily understand”.
Q. If you could offer an SME once piece of advice, what would it be?
“My one simple piece of advice to a small business is simple. ‘Go Blogging’! I’ve seen what it can do for companies. My favourite example is English Cut, which is discussed in Naked Conversations. If a small tailor on Saville Row can go on to build a business through blogging, then anyone can. Go Blogging, is about differentiating your business and telling your story. In essence, it is about imparting some knowledge and adding some value to your reader and potential customer”.
“The Long Tail has proved that no matter how bizarre your niche, there is a market out there. The important thing to realise is that as long as you have something interesting to say, are not over selling and your message is consistent, honest and authentic, it will work. I’m absolutely convinced it will work for any business”.
Thank you Steve.