When I was a Gartner ECM analyst, I answered approximately 42,300 client questions. This rough estimate is based on three factors: time on job (9.4 years), inquiries per year (avg. 900), and questions per inquiry (avg. 5). Inquiries, by the way, are scheduled client calls that last half an hour and are often scheduled back-to-back. There were many more questions that didn’t get logged into a system – many of which happened during day-long client sessions or at events. But the point that research analysts answer lots of questions should now be clear.
Oddly, you might wonder what number of questions I asked as an analyst. That number is somewhat reflected by the body of research I delivered; but on the whole qualifies as ‘secret sauce’ rarely enumerated. But it’s probably best expressed as a Confidence Algorithm: to answer any question with confidence, you’ll have to have asked many times more questions yourself. It’s lucky that I’m curious. It’s unfortunate, though, that I have bad handwriting.
I’ll admit one administrative failing during my tenure: I wrote down all the questions (and my responses) in Mead Five Star Wirebound Notebooks and then filed dozens of them away for further/future analysis… and then got too busy to properly ‘mine’ the contents. And, because the technology market moves so quickly, I presumed much of what mattered between 2002 and 2011 – to either enterprises or vendors – would have been rendered useless by a factor of time. Based on reading through the notebooks recently, I realized I was wrong.
What I was looking for was one word: Customer. Trust that – even with an aforementioned scribbling issue, and even as the night grows long and the wine is nearly gone – I can scan page after page on a shelf full of notebooks and quickly dog ear those on which a critical word appears. Or doesn’t – which in this case was frustratingly the fact. And, sometimes unexpected themes become apparent too. The people I most often talked to: IT leaders and enterprise architects. The issues they faced: vendor and product selection, technical integration or trouble-shooting, and process and planning optimization. The audience for their efforts: internal. So, not a single mention of ‘customer’ across any of the calls made sense back in the day.
But, wow. Since I know some analysts working now (those still willing to talk to me), I also know that the shift toward business participation in the technology conversations they host is very clear. I also know that the most common questions they’re asked relate to customer-facing content-rich processes. Where loyalty is the ultimate goal and reputations are made and lost with lightning speed. And, where the value of their investment is obvious because it engages literally everyone. As cloud and mobile technologies, SaaS, and apps do. Interestingly, another alignment has happened driven by changing market conditions: industry analysts and technology providers are hearing the same thing.
At IBM, literally every conversation relates to customers – whether ours or those of our customers. I say this with certainty because I am still doing research. I’m just not answering as many questions as I ask these days. The question I would suggest you ask is the same I often ask: what recent advances in technology could make the greatest difference in building customer loyalty through better engagement? Also consider: what investments we’ve already made can connect us to that future most effectively and economically? I have an answer in mind and hope you do, too.