Instead of something technical, perhaps your next training course should be sales, or maybe business management.

That's not the sort of advice one might expect from Microsoft, with its long list of potential qualifications from MCSE onwards. Yet the suggestion comes from Phil Cross, who heads the software company's IT professional audience group in the UK.

"IT people need the skills to sell themselves and their [other] skills to the business," he says. "Though maybe we should say 'persuade' rather than sell - it's not about a telephone sales rep becoming CIO!"

He adds that IT specialists would also do well too get a better understanding of business and of what motivates business managers, and the pressures they're under. That way, when IT pitches a proposal or a purchase request, or even when management is proposing cut-backs, they can argue in the right terms and context.

That doesn't necessarily mean training as a manager, but it does mean being aware of the pressures on managers, of how businesses work and managers think, and - critically - understanding IT's role and influence within the business.

"The big thing we get from feedback is 'Help me sell internally' - you have to sell your ideas up the management tree," Cross explains. "It's understanding the needs of the person you're talking to - there's still a huge gap between business and IT, yet IT is so important in business now."

This feedback comes from the activities of Cross' group within Microsoft. Its role is to engage with IT professionals, not only to get the company's key messages over to them but also to find out what they want or need from Microsoft - and supply it where possible.

Cross says a lot of that involves events, ranging from Microsoft's own Technet conferences through sponsoring exhibitions, to inviting Microsoft users to join his team for a debate over drinks in a coffee shop.

The IT professional group has also got involved in social networking, including getting Microsoft staff to contribute to discussions on sites such as Facebook, for example.

"Technet is a big part of what my team does, the other part is reaching out to people," Cross says, adding that the hardest part in all this is measuring the return he's getting for the company's investment.

"The analogy I use is pocket money. Like your parents when you were a kid, Microsoft has lots, but I only get a small bit of it so I have to use it carefully," he explains.

Even at conferences, where the top sponsors will get the chance to present a keynote, a mis-step such as offering a sales pitch to the wrong people can mean a wasted opportunity.

"It's that key moment - you have to stimulate thought, intrigue them," Cross says. "It's picking the right events too, you want people who make decisions and whose opinion counts."

He adds, "There's two way to engage - presence and money. But we've got to be able to measure the return, who those people are and what their current engagement with Microsoft is, and the cost per head to get the message out."

And what is that message? "I want people to think 'Microsoft is committed to my success'," he says. "At the moment, IT people can get to a certain level in the business, and then businesspeople take over. It's hard to get onto the board.

"Profile your attributes," he advises. Improve your powers of persuasion and your understanding of the business, he adds, but "focus on what you're good at, not what you're bad at. Don't spend all your time trying to marginally improve your worst skills, when you could be honing your best."