Over the last 2 years I have mentored a number of new employees joining MS Canada Premier Support organization. I always spend some time talking about how the organization came about, and how it has evolved since. It puts into perspective the role of the Technical Account Manager, how we fit into the bigger picture, and the expectations that our customers have from us.
Microsoft started out as a company developing software. Bill and Paul had a vision for “a computer on every desk and in every home…” As the company pursued the vision and started becoming more successful, there was a need to help people operate this new technology on their desk. As this need grew, a new support department was created to help our customers. Customers could call into MS Support, and an engineer would help them remotely. One of my old team mates, Phil Demaree, had joined Microsoft back then and was showing me how they did support. They had manuals of screenshots, and would help customers by flipping through the manual!
That worked for a while, but as customers started using our software for mission critical applications, remote support just wasn’t cutting it anymore. We would have to send engineers onsite on short notice to help customers through issues. While engineers were onsite, they would also help fix a whole host of other issues as well.
As we all became more dependent on technology, customers saw the value of having technical expertise onsite to help them operate their infrastructure. The previous model of sending engineers onsite wasn’t scaling out. The organization had also grown quite a bit and MS made the decision of locating Technical Generalists (aka Technical Account Managers) closer to the customer to help them be more proactive, while making the remote engineers more specialized in their respective technologies\products.
To get access to these Technical Account Managers’ (TAM), customers purchased Premier Support agreements. These agreements were usually requested by customers who had made big bets on our platform to run their businesses. They needed a higher level of support in case they ran into issues, but more importantly were asking us to help prevent issues from happening in the first place! The TAMs role at the time was to be a dedicated technical resource across all our products and help the customer operate and maintain their environment. They helped customers adopt our products and resolve issues\escalate to specialists.
Another big focus area was to help the customer be proactive about maintaining the environment through knowledge transfer, process improvements, training, patching, etc. If this portion was done right, customers wouldn’t have to call us for support to begin with. At the same time, with technology becoming the bedrock of most organizations, customers wanted help to deploy our products to meet their specific business needs. By now Microsoft Services wasn’t just a small organization anymore. It had grown quite a bit with a worldwide presence. With our customer base continuing to grow exponentially and asking us for more, there was need to split out responsibilities again.
Consultants helped customers deploy new products and technologies, TAMs helped customers be more proactive by helping develop a strategy and roadmap for being proactive, and Premier Field Engineers would be helping customers with technology issues. The remote Support Engineers still are called in for helping out with deeper customer issues as well. The above is a simplified version of history, and there are other additional specialized roles like Enterprise Strategy Architect, Project Managers, Engagement Managers, Application Development Managers, etc., but hopefully the above gives you an idea of the organic growth of the organization. Microsoft Services has evolved from a small set of remote phone support engineers into a worldwide organization helping our customers to do more and achieve more through the use of technology.
Our more than 21,000+ people live and work around the world engaging in billions of customer and partner interactions per year through onsite, phone, web, community and automated tools.
With seven (7) regional customer support centers, 74 call centers worldwide, and by organizing our support approach by audience (Enterprise, SMB, Consumer, Advertiser, Developer, and Partner), Microsoft Services is helping a broad range of customers get the most out of their technology within 191 countries, supporting 46 different languages.
- 5,000+ architects and consultants, along with 3,000+ Premier field engineers support our enterprise customers
- 9,000+ serve as Customer Service & Support professionals, which includes 4,500+ personnel in Support Engineering, Product Quality & Supportability
The organization is continuing to evolve as Microsoft moves to a Mobile first, Cloud first world. The TAM role is going to evolve as well, and we are being charged to help our customers adopt and move to the cloud. I wanted to close out this article by a note from one of my teammates who leads the interviewing team for the MS Canada Premier Support practice, Kevin Junek. Kevin has been at Microsoft for a while now as a TAM. I recently asked him what he thinks about the TAM role, and what he looks for in candidates that his team interviews.
As you well know the role of the TAM is rapidly evolving. We are moving from a role where we primarily focused on managing support cases, delivering proactive engagements to customers, and ensuring overall contract consumption (tactical, IT focus) to a role that focuses on business value creation, capture and realization (strategic, business focused). So in terms of what I look for and how I think about a candidate is largely focused on the knowledge, skills and abilities that candidate has in understanding business goals and objectives and how IT can be an enabler in helping customers achieve those goals. This is critical going forward as many companies are putting pressure on IT to work with them to deliver solutions that enable and move that business forward. As well, many IT budgets are being shifted away from IT decision makers into the hands of business and financial decision makers so understanding how to work with those people in an organization are critical for the TAM role.
I also look for a candidate’s understanding of Cloud, the business landscape for why the Cloud is so important, and their understanding of how to have that conversation with a customer. It’s not enough just to know what Cloud is; you need to understand why it’s important and how to help a customer understand the value proposition of Cloud and how it can help move their business ahead. Again the focus of the conversation has to be around the business. You can see a theme developing very quickly here: the TAM of the future will need to have a much stronger business acumen than the TAM of the past. So to summarize:
- Understand value creation, capture and realization
- Business acumen – ability to truly understand a customer’s business and how they can leverage IT to enable and enhance that business and move it forward
- Ability to build relationships at many levels and work with people across the organization (not just IT)
- Understanding of Cloud, what it means in terms of business and how it can benefit customers
Lastly, here is a link to some open position on our teams in Mississauga, Ottawa, and Calgary. If the above interests you, or you would like to learn more about the role, feel free to send me a note, or leave a comment.