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On Building a World Class AR Team, David Liddell, and Lessons in Business Ethics and the Entrepreneur Mindset

Delusions of Adequacy Dave Liddell Bloggerview – The History and Inside of IBM SWG Analyst Relations

The Analyst Relations people in pretty much every large software company I talk to usually show envy if the subject of IBM’s Software Group AR team comes up.

Often its complaining about the scale of resource available to IBM – which has a very large AR team. I believe however that the size of the team is a mark of the seriousness with which IBM treats AR, rather than being resource overkill.

IBM SWG AR is world class because of solid execution, not because of the number of bodies on the team or amount of money it spends (although paying people certainly doesn’t hurt in winning influence… if the IBM spigot was turned off tomorrow some analyst firms would be fatally undermined)

While other vendors whine “but we don’t have the resources to deal with a wide range of firms” IBM just gets on with it.

IBM puts senior management executives in front of RedMonk or other small firms, not just my pals at Gartner. Thanks.

When you’re taken seriously you take the other party seriously.

What makes IBM AR world class to my mind is that its set up as a listening organisation, rather than a broadcast/bombast organisation. More bodies are required because AR is about relationships and because IBM’s portfolio is so big. While other vendors aim for control of message, IBM aims for influence of message – that is a fundamental difference.

I don’t know if Dave Liddell, who set up the IBM SWG AR group I am praising so fulsomely before retiring late last year, has ever read the Cluetrain Manifesto, but he certainly created a culture that understands that markets are conversations.

The link above points to one of John Simonds’ Bloggerview series, in which he interviews IBM people about what they do, in this case Dave, about his time at the helm. I would recommend anyone in AR in any sector read the piece. Here is an excerpt:

“Can you share some thoughts on the history of IBM analyst relations?
The start up days were tough, not just for AR but for what was to become IBM Software Group two years later. There were no good models for AR, so we had to invent one built on basics: earn the trust of both analysts and executives; be fact-based in a world of hype; and be relentless in everything we did.

Perhaps, especially in the beginning when most all relationships between analysts and IT suppliers were adversarial, that struck me as nonsense, if not irresponsible for both parties. In the end, we both existed because the customers wanted us to do so. No matter what traffic in money and knowledge passed between us, it was dwarfed by what customers – our mutual customers – expected of us.

Analysts needed product and technology skills that came to suppliers as a matter of course and suppliers needed the perspective that analysts generated also as a matter of course. None of that is to suggest that there aren’t opposing interests between suppliers and analysts, but those opposing interests are only an element of a very complex set of relationships.

What did we learn from our experiences?
This may be putting it too boldly, but we learned that it is possible to influence thinking. It’s a lot of hard work, often over months if not years. It is done with facts in an environment of candid communication and trust. A funny thing happened along the way. The more the IBM team became successful at influencing opinions, the more the team learned to learn from those same analysts. That’s the thing about the influence of facts, trust and communications on relationships. They are bi-directional.”

“The more the team learned to learn” from those same analysts. Hear that, folks? That is why broadcast makes no sense. Broadcast and command and control models for AR ignore all those opportunities to learn from a community of pretty smart people. The Big 2 have no monopoly on insight, IQ or experience.

Well that’s enough advice for ARs. So what about advice for budding entrepreneurs?

What is my story with Dave? The simple truth is there might not be a RedMonk if it weren’t for Dave’s willingness to support us early on.

I had great relationships already with many of his internal clients. I have an enviable roster of IBM General Managers and VPs in my contact database, who will return my pings. But RedMonk was just two guys at first (now we’re 50% bigger!)- what if it all went horribly wrong? Dave was willing to take us seriously, while some at IBM were saying they won’t last, they won’t be analysts, they might just be occasional consultants. We can’t risk a subscription with James…

But that’s really not the most important point of the story – no – that’s what Dave taught me regarding some massively important basics of both risk taking and corporate ethics and responsibility.

The fact is I asked Dave about RedMonk before I left Illuminata (sorry Jonathan!). But you know what he told me…

He said that he couldn’t do business with an idea, but more importantly couldnt talk to me about setting up a new firm when he already worked closely with my existing employer. To do so would have been unethical.

That’s the thing about being an entrepreneur in the services industry- its very important to have a key client in mind when you set up, but until you actually go through it, there is no safety net. It’s you that must take the risk and the responsbility. There are very few risk free startups.

Dave made me feel somewhat guilty that I was going behind my employer’s back, and that feeling more than anything else pushed me to make the leap, to quit and create an organisation rather than just an idea. To stop whining and start acting.

Dave is not a friend of mine, but he is one of the most important mentors I have had in my career.

The impression I get is that Dave probably counts few analysts as friends. Unfailingly professional, polite and friendly, but not conflicted–that’s the way to do it.

Sarah Aryanpur, Jonathan Eunice and Stuart Lauchlan were my greatest influences as a journalist and now analyst. They were my great teachers as editors and research directors.

But that one conversation in November 2002 in upstate New York probably taught me just as much as the years that they gave me. Sometimes the most important lessons come from epiphanies rather than ongoing chivvying.

Please et me know if you’re in London any time Dave- I would like to buy you a pint. Maybe now you’re out of the game, you can be a friend as well as mentor.

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks on behalf of SWG A/R. Your messaging ability is very clear, so far above me and most others. It’s a skill that I wish I had.

  2. Thanks John. You are doing a mighty fine job driving narratives and frames, so no worries there. I had been meaning to post about David’s advice a long while ago – but then didn’t. So i was happy to see your bloggerview, to give me a “peg” to hook the story on.

  3. Well said, James. I have only worked in the research industry since 1997 but I too have never come across anyone who “gets it” like Dave. I echo your thoughts and I don’t think I am alone in saying that I would not be where I am today if not for Dave’s guidance and support.

    Cameron O'ConnorAugust 3, 2006 @ 1:31 pmReply



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