E232 | Leading the Twice Microsoft UK Partner of The Year with Neil Marley
How do you find enough qualified people to deliver on the revenue opportunities that your business comes across? This is a problem that might be familiar to many professional services organisations, particularly within the cloud space. Our guest this week Neil Marley, came across that challenge whilst he was working at New Signature.
Neil is the Managing Director at Qualyfi. He’s also former UK MD and EMEA lead at New Signature, an IT Services Management company that grew from 8 to 300 people in the UK and twice won the prestigious Microsoft UK Partner of the Year award (2014, 2019), before being acquired by Cognizant in 2020.
We know Neil since 2017 when New Signature started coaching with us. During the course of our time working together, they grew from about ten people to 350. From a revenue perspective that’s around 48% compound annual growth rate.
There are two things that Neil is excited about. The first is helping people build an exciting new technology career, regardless of their background or previous opportunities; the second is building long-term partnerships with growth organisations, offering services to help fuel their growth. He has now taken his experience doing that to make Qualyfi a positive force for the world.
In this episode, he shares his journey working in public cloud technologies with Microsoft, moving from working in a big organisation to a small team, and he and his small team managed to become one of the leading partners for Microsoft. He also talked about the challenges the business faced along the way, the secrets to New Signature’s success and the impact coaching had on the team dynamics.
Download and listen to learn more.
On today’s podcast:
- A journey of growth in Microsoft
- Leading a successful partnership with Microsoft
- New Signature and Winning Microsoft UK Partner of the Year
- The importance of business coaching
- Qualyfi and placing new cloud tech talent
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Leading UK Microsoft’s Partner of The Year with Neil Marley
Before starting Qualyfi, Neil Marley worked at New Signature as UK MD and EMEA Lead. During his eight-year tenure, New Signature grew from 8 to 300 people in the UK and twice won the prestigious Microsoft UK Partner of the Year award (2014, 2019) before being acquired by Cognizant in 2020.
Before joining New Signature, Neil worked at Microsoft in commercial roles, ultimately leading the incubation of the Microsoft Azure business in the UK. Today, he is the Managing Director of Qualyfi, a company that combines advisory and placement services to help businesses supercharge their cloud teams.
Delivering growth in Microsoft
The job of the incubation team at Microsoft was to either incubate new technologies that Microsoft had developed or acquisitions that were still new and weren’t ready for Microsoft’s enterprise sales motion.
“I could see there was something quite seismic there. It became much bigger than I imagined.”
What started with Azure, then transitioned into Office 365, which ultimately became Microsoft 365. In the last few years, they extended into Microsoft Dynamics business applications and, particularly, the power platform.
“We were very concerned about making sure the quality of our delivery was excellent. We had the right leaders in the delivery teams to oversee and govern something new we were doing. So I think we were cautious about that, and we looked for really good opportunities with new customers to develop together with those propositions as well.”
In 2013, Neil left Microsoft for a partner role at Dot Net Solutions, which was then bought by the American organisation New Signature.
New Signature and Winning UK Microsoft Partner of the Year
Agility was part of the success package that characterised New Signature, where Neil was UK MD and EMEA Lead. As they got bigger, they became more cautious and more controlled, says Neil. But their approach was more rigorous as there are more things to consider.
Their ability to start and respond quickly reduced the latency and their sales process, which showed their enthusiasm and competence.
“I think if you do something really quickly, it means you’ve done it before quite a few times, and that demonstrates confidence. So, if you’re waiting for a proposal for two months from somebody, either they’re not very efficient, or they don’t know what they’re doing. And so I think there’s every touch point with prospects and then with customers. We tried really hard to do the best we could as quickly as we could, and offered them an answer that would probably be faster than their internal answer.”
In 2014, New Signature won the UK Microsoft Partner of the Year For those awards, Microsoft looks at the engagement between partners and customers, the stories and the approach and outcomes they’re looking to drive for the whole of the UK.
“I think a lot of partners who were maybe working in the modern workplaces or other cloud services started to look across at what Azure could offer them and their customers as well, and what could offer their business. So I think that’s probably why we won the award again in 2019. It’s pretty unusual to win twice, and we won it again through a higher order of impact then.”
New Signature’s secret for success
There’s no magic formula, says Neil, for New Signature’s success as one of Microsoft’s leading partners. They simply worked out what their future role at Microsoft would be and what did they want to achieve that year. They work hard to bring clarity into what they were doing, what their role was and how it would help them and the customer.
“In a world like Microsoft, or Amazon, or Google, any big organization, any partner and any interaction, any meeting, you have a very small window into that person’s time. Everyone thinks that you’re going to remember everything, but they remember very small amounts but what you talk about. So you have to be really, really crisp.”
For Neil, the cleaner and simpler your proposition is, the more likely is to be remembered by both Microsoft and customers. Once you’ve got that, it’s about having friendly persistence, continuing to talk to people and sharing the credentials and the reference ability that you’re building up.
“I think it’s continually demonstrating that you have the capabilities to hit the thing that they want to do, which drives your economic engine. In our case, it was ‘we’re the best partner in moving a customer to Azure’, because of our Go framework and our whole range of tool sets that we build to make it free, to make it quick and easy, and risk-free.”
Moving from a big corporation to a small team
Microsoft is an impressive organisation to work at, with wonderful facilities and huge meeting rooms. Since Neil worked there, it has only gotten better. So, going from that to a relatively small office in Windsor, behind a theatre and next to a car park, was a shock, says Neil. But, he held on to the quality and the skills of the people he was working with and the funding they had.
“One of the big differences, I think, in those smaller organisations is the ability to scale through funding and not growing organically, which I think is really, really difficult, and really restricts some of the decisions you have to make. So it allowed us to invest and grow.”
Also, when moving down from a big corporation to a small company, there is a degree of getting involved with everything that goes on and making good decisions. Microsoft is a really good company that makes a lot of good decisions, but they also have many processes that can make things go slower than one would like.
“When you get down to ten people and you’re at a table and you say should we do this? And everyone nods, then the decision is made, and you do it. And initially, that’s quite scary, but after a while, that becomes extremely fulfilling because you know that as you see problems, you can answer the problem with a solution, you can all agree, and you can execute. And if you can do that effectively, you can see meaningful change and grow really fast.”
One other contributing factor to their success was New Signature’s values and how the team worked and fixed problems as they emerged. Neil explains that they spent a lot of time making situations, writing their own cost and fixing problems to make a solution work. They would worry about the commercials later.
“Because I think if you don’t deliver on the promise, that quickly becomes something which doesn’t work in the partnership. You have to invest and go all in, to fix and deliver the outcomes for the three of you: you, the partner, Microsoft, and the customer.”
The genesis and purpose of Qualyfi
Over ten years working in public cloud technologies running a successful Microsoft partner, Neil saw that the number one problem in the industry was there were not enough great people to service its growth. It was after New Signature was acquired by Cognizant, that he left to solve that problem for the world.
As they developed the business idea and they spoke to people, it became clear there were two things they saw were really important: people were stagnant, and they shouldn’t be in that market, or they’re growing really fast, and there’s a whole bunch of issues that resolve from that. Those are the two things that Qualyfi combines now in their conversation.
“There are so many companies out there and partners who are going through huge digital transformation exercises, and they’re trying to understand either how they build or grow practices. Qualify has been set up to fix that problem.”
Qualify provides advisory services, as well as placement services for growing businesses, helping them understand how to build a cloud practice, how to manage it and how to fill it with great talent.
From every background, and any educational experience, Qualyfi put these talented people – who they call ‘Qualyfiers’– through a series of tests and if they’re good enough to pass the test, they get on their earliest stage career program.
The importance of business coaching
Even after so many successful years in business, going from ten to 350 people and growing nearly 50% year over year, Neil admits there’s still a lot to learn. Looking back, one of the things that made a difference was coaching. When Neil was at New Signature, he met Dominic, and he and his team started coaching with him. A journey that was interesting and ‘a bit surreal’, he reckons. One of the things he realises now is that he wishes his communication was different from earlier on in the journey.
“It’s great to get third-party observation and help. A lot of sports stars have coaches, even when they’re on top of their game. So, having someone with the knowledge and expertise in your industry can offer a fresh perspective. I think having the ability to listen, take feedback, get other people involved in your organisation, like a coaching company or a mentor and others, to watch and be part of your organisation and offer feedback is really powerful.”
Through coaching, Neil and his team got introduced to the concept of Radical Candor and started developing the ability to have difficult conversations. It’s not easy to have them, but it’s important to have a structure and a culture that allows for that to happen.
“We did that quite early on. But it’s not a natural thing for humans to have difficult conversations. Most people try not to have them. So I think that’s probably one of the things that I’ve learned is it’s okay. And people genuinely, after a period of quiet reflection, do appreciate being told the truth.”