Filtering the Noise: Analyst Relations As An Intelligence Gathering System

Communications without intelligence is noise; Intelligence without communications is irrelevant.

– Gen Alfred Gray, USMC

The very first United States intelligence unit was the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), created in 1882. While the US had already had its hands in spy workings, from George Washington’s desire to create a clandestine area in the Secret Service following his use of spies during the Revolutionary War to the numerous reconnaissance missions by both the North and the South of the American Civil War, the ONI went immediately to work gathering up to the minute information on global navies.

This unit that began as just a way to peak into the latest technologies of naval warfare along with some broad foreign knowledge has morphed into the largest intelligence gathering apparatus the world has ever seen. The current intelligence gathering has grown into seventeen governmental agencies to include the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency, of recent fame following its revelations from informant Edward Snowden on their intricate global surveillance operations. It’s fair to say they can read and understand much in this world or as a former CIA Director puts it, “When the fate of a nation and the lives of its soldiers are at stake, gentlemen do read each other’s mail—if they can get their hands on it.”

Lucky for those in IT industry, looking into mails is not necessary when trying to gain an edge, and may even be fruitless. I mean who uses the post office in the day of email, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Slack. This doesn’t mean though that quality intelligence gathering is not important. One may say, in the tech especially, it’s one of the most important things you can do.

The tech industry is ubiquitous and all encompassing, in every region and in every conceivable type of business around the world, driving efficiency, cost cutting and improving lives. This means that everyone in the technology industry needs to have a good idea of what’s happening, not just in the new fields of computational applications and architectural designs, but they must have an idea of go to market strategies, regional business forecasts, and industry swings. Senior leaders in tech need to know just about everything, globally. Sound pretty easy, right?

While tech does not have the power of an all seeing eye like the CIA’s PRISM program, it does have something great: analysts. Analysts cover the spaces and the sectors that need to be known. Analysts have the years of experience needed to know when trends are happening. And, analysts need those in the tech field to get a good information on what’s happening on the ground to go into their data stores. They are in the center of all things knowledge.

Having access to the analyst firms is only the first part of your intelligence journey, however, so you must work to use your time wisely. Garter, Forrester, IDC and the other numerous firms write on tech every day. Blogs, research, tweets, quotes in the media. There is an ocean to sift through but if you break it down into digestible portions, you may be able to fuse your knowledge with your pitch to win in the future. Here’s some of those portions:

Competitive Reports

Magic Quadrant. Those two words strikes fear into the heart of many analyst relations managers around the world, worried about their “dot” positioning. While positioning is important in Gartner’s ubiquitous report (and in other firms such as the Forrester Wave, HfS Blueprint, etc.), dot placement is not the only thing that makes these reports so handy. Inside these reports is competitive insights that you cannot find anywhere else. They are line by line, platform by platform benchmarks that tell you exactly where you fall against your competition. In order to use these properly, you have to think “beyond the dot” and extrapolate this data properly, guiding your delivery teams with information on how they’re performing and aiding your sales teams on how to position against competitors. Competitive reports give you a chance to test yourself against your peers. Make sure you don’t just look at the 2×2’s, and get to the heart of the analyst’s views.

Deals Understanding and Forecasts

Famous futurist John Naisbitt once said “The most reliable way to forecast the future is to try to understand the present.” We are very lucky that some analysts love to live on Excel charts and databases. By giving us a view of what’s happening in the marketplace, month to month, quarter to quarter, these data analysts ensure that what we are hearing from our customers is matching to the broader market. Some firms such as Gartner and IDC offer great databases for deals information and forecasts by sector and technology. You can also reach out to advisory firms such as ISG or KPMG to keep you in the know. Remember that not every forecast and deal report is completely accurate. It’s a relatively “get-it-close” science, so be sure to get a good field of view from your entire firm landscape before you go advising your senior leadership on your attack lines.

Go To Market Strategies

As we continue to enter an era where top notch industry consulting is paramount and technology becomes more and more of a commodity, it’s never been more important to know how to communicate your platform or applications. Technology is complicated and never easy to describe when it comes to its roll out. Some analysts, normally insiders with rich industry experience or those that have been covering a particular domain for an eternity, know exactly what works when it comes to selling your product. Some firms have whole special series such as the Forrester Playbooks that gives readers a chance to look broadly over how to create visions, strategies, and operations to see your business humming. Meeting regularly with these analysts keeps your pitch perfect, so be sure to not only read but ask these analysts if pick up what you’re putting down.

Webinars, Presentations, and Advisories

Most of the information analysts know is not in their papers; it’s in their heads. Which is why getting to hear them speak live and interacting with them is some of the best Intel you can get. By scheduling timely advisory sessions with your key analysts, listening to them give a talk at a conference, or just listening to a webinar while you’re sitting in traffic gives you a view that the screen might not be able to give you. If you can ask questions, please use this opportunity to probe a little deeper beyond their slides. One thing analysts love to do is share (that’s what they get paid to do), so be sure to be prepared with some high quality questions that go into that next layer of information. Take quality notes, and perhaps, turn it into some media yourself, in internal blogs, an enterprise social reach out or an email to your group.

Social Listening and Media Benchmarking

This type of intelligence is half analysts work and half your own. Analysts’ research, forecasts, and presentations can be perused, but don’t forget your analysts more casual conversations: their blogs, LinkedIn articles, and Tweets. Sometimes this is where you get your leading edge info which hasn’t had time to cook or received their research manager’s approval. Make sure to follow all your analysts on Twitter and use a social listening platform like Radian6 or Synthesio to track what being said in the market and about you. Create an engine around paying attention to key analysts’ blogs and make an effort to comment to keep the conversation happening. One other possibility is tracking your competition’s thought leadership papers. Knowing what they are leading with in terms of their own white papers gives you a view of what they feel their strong suits are or where their next plays may be.

Internal Sales Data

One of the least used of all intelligence is something you already have: information from your own environment. Guys in the sales teams in the field and key delivery architects and engineers have just as much information as the analysts sometimes. Be sure to have weekly informal chats with your global teams on what’s happening in the market. Pay attention to key metrics such as Win/Loss Reports and other internal benchmarks. Find out which competitors you are competing against the most, what technologies are winning deals, and what pitches are/are not working. Analyst Relations managers have unique positions in the company by viewing a firm at the highest level possible. Use this view as a catalyst of synthesis by working with a broad coalition of folks inside to get the best view outside.

The IT industry is a complicated and fast moving space. To win in the Intel game, you must work to be not only a knowledge seeker, but a maven, keen eyed tracker of all things around the world. Make sure you have a team dedicated to filtering all this noise into your program, and hopefully, you will see the wood from the trees. Or at least, some light out of the forest.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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