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Does your tech business think with a business mindset?

“I think agencies are definitely a necessity. And I believe this is because agencies can often see things from an outside perspective, from a creative perspective.”

Helping tech companies think from a business perspective and creating a unique offering for their clients is the advice from research analyst Julie Short. The former Vice President of Research at Gartner chats with us about original messaging, market competition, and creating a unique market for your business which positions you for success.

Transcript:

Nathan:
This is ClientSide from Fox Agency.
Nathan:
(singing).
Nathan:
Julie Short is an independent research analyst supporting technology and service providers, from startups to well-established companies. As a former Gartner Research Vice President, she understands the market spending podcasts and developed innovative ways in helping technology and service providers understand what their business customers need and want. She works with them to develop their unique built market, positioning and messaging, and helps them develop technology and services that make sense to business users and business buyers. She also works with them to structure their organizations for success. She has more than 30 years experience in both private industry and working for some of the biggest global tech and service providers in the world. Julie Short, welcome to ClientSide.
Julie Short:
Many thanks, Nathan. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Nathan:
So excited to speak to you with that history and background. You’ve had such a fascinating career journey. You started your career consulting for some of the biggest consultancies in the world, EY, Oracle, et cetera. What first attracted you to the world of management consulting?
Julie Short:
I started out at EY and during that time, as you can tell was a few years ago, trying not to date myself, but one of the things that really impressed me about management consulting at that point in time was the fact that all the consultants had to have very high levels of integrity. They were completely focused on servicing their clients. So the relationship with clients was considered something almost sacred, and they were really paid to do the right things, to give the advice to their clients, to help their clients overcome whatever business challenges they were facing.
Nathan:
Really fascinating. You have an independent research analysts supporting technology and service providers from startups to what established companies, as we said in the intro, how do you support them?
Julie Short:
Well, what I found with both technology and service providers is that many times they will focus on their offers to the market, whether it’s a product or a service, but what they forget about somehow is that very important focus on the client. What is the client needing to hear? How can the client actually be enticed to buy the product or service? And what is it that they can say that differentiates themselves? So one of the things that I do is I will review their product or service portfolio, go through it and try to make that connection, so that they will talk about it differently. And actually, it changes their mindset. It changes the way they interact with their clients. And again, that’s one of the most important things. It’s quite a driver for me personally, that they understand what is their client looking for? What is the buyer looking for?
Julie Short:
So I support them by helping them with their positioning, helping them understand their competition in the market, what the market looks like, where they should be focusing, things they hadn’t thought of, how to get their messaging correct. And also how to get the attention of analysts.
Nathan:
Really fascinating. So let’s talk about that then, because that sounds like the perennial trap of techies or entrepreneurs falling in love with their own products and talking tech speak and not talking in the language of the customer. That’s a trap that a lot of entrepreneurs and tech people fall into. What are the best ways of extracting the value from the proposition, and then communicating that to an audience? How do you help them do that?
Julie Short:
Well, Nathan, I’m really glad that you’re the one that said that. So you’re absolutely right. Many times technology people will become enamored with their product or their service that they’re offering and forget about the other party that they’re offering it to. So what I will usually do is, first I will take a look at the product or the technology or the service, and then try to find what’s different. I use a technique called synergistic communication, which is being able to hear what’s behind what’s being said. So, I will let them talk about their technology. And then I will ask very down to earth questions like, how would a client use this? Give me an example in the banking industry or the manufacturing industry, how a client would use this product or why the service would actually benefit their business. So it’s a matter of helping technology and service providers think about it from a business perspective, rather than a pure technology perspective, and then try to get them to articulate what’s the business problem or challenge they’re actually addressing.
Julie Short:
And it can take time, but I found it very, very worthwhile because once the light goes on inside their head, they remember, “Oh yes, the buyer have to understand how they’re going to use this.” And sometimes they have-
Nathan:
You would have thought.
Julie Short:
Exactly. Sometimes they haven’t even thought who the buyer might be.
Nathan:
Interesting.
Julie Short:
And if they do, oftentimes they limit themselves when they could position it slightly differently and have a whole different set of buyers.
Nathan:
Really fascinating. So I guess you’ve been able to unearth a new sort of audience, potential audience who could buy their products, who consume their product, that they hadn’t even thought of themselves.
Julie Short:
Exactly. And that’s where I use my analyst skills, because I think that many times technology and service providers think too narrowly. They think they just consider one buyer, “I built this software and it’s going to be bought by business process outsourcing companies.”
Nathan:
Sure.
Julie Short:
And in fact, once you look at the technology and start to identify other scenarios for them, they will say, “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Oh, well, you’re right.” And I think that’s when I get the most reward out of the work I do.
Nathan:
Is that really about now the Amazonization, that is my own word, of business these days? In that, I mean, you look at the way that Amazon has sort of expanded into cloud business, retail, television, groceries, just go down the list, there isn’t any industry that Amazon isn’t looking to sort of get into and it’s making a lot of people really nervous. And so their focus on looking at customers in completely different industries has been really a harbinger of their success. Is that the sort of new age business thinking that you’re helping or encouraging your clients to start thinking about now?
Julie Short:
Yes and no. I think Amazon is exceptional because they have great technology, but they also seem to have a real talent for understanding what people want to buy. How are they going to part with that money? And I think that in many cases, what I’m talking about is taking the view of the business. So not only just looking at the technology, but ever since I’ve started in my professional career, it’s always been about the business. And I think that sometimes technology and service providers have lost track of that, forgotten that they don’t just develop technology or services for themselves. It’s really for their clients, for the buyers. And once you can put it in the language of the buyer, that makes sense, that’s attractive, yet far more successful. And I think it also opens up the mind of the tech and service provider as well.
Nathan:
Let’s a little bit about Gartner. In 2009, you joined Gartner as a research director and rose to become research vice president for transformation, business and technology services. What did that role entail? And what is it like working with such an iconic and well-respected organization
Julie Short:
Working for Gartner was fantastic. That probably is the best job in my entire career. It was not an easy job especially at the beginning, because Gartner is very, very strict with their analysts. You have to be objective. You have to have evidence to support your claims. They encourage original thought, but you can’t just come up with an original thought based on no evidence. So it truly is a stellar organization. And I think that one of the things that I did in my role, I actually covered… I worked for them for nine years. In the first five years, I wrote for end-users about enterprise architecture. In the last four years, I felt like I came home because I was covering business consulting services. So I worked with all of the big consulting firms and a lot of smaller ones, but I also branched out and worked for… Some of my clients were actually a technology providers, software companies who needed to understand that they’re not that different from a service company about the way they talk about their products.
Julie Short:
So it was a fantastic job. It was very exciting. I met thousands of people. I’ve talked with thousands of organizations or over those nine years. And I can tell you that it was a really great company.
Nathan:
In 2017, you joined BearingPoint, becoming director and responsible for analyst relations, thought leadership knowledge and a strategic advisor. What problems did BearingPoint have that needed you to fill that role?
Julie Short:
I think BearingPoint is an excellent European consulting firm. They have the same DNA as many of the big four, as Deloitte UI, KPMG, PWC, but they’re primarily based in Europe. They’re still growing in other countries, but have the majority of their presence is in Europe. And they were actually, I would say it’s not really a problem, but I think that one of the challenges they had is they didn’t know how to talk about themselves. They were doing some fantastic things for clients. Delivering business outcomes to those clients that is unimaginable, and they didn’t know how to talk about them. They didn’t know how to express that and they were much more focused on their own products and their own services again. So when I said, “But look at the value you brought to your client organization.” I said, “That’s got to be king.” So that was one of their challenges. And when I went there, it was a great experience also because I had a chance to test much of what I had written about at Gartner.
Julie Short:
It’s one thing to write about it, it’s another thing to be able to prove it and demonstrate it and that I was able to do at BearingPoint.
Nathan:
Really fascinating. So just going back to Gartner, what were some of the original thoughts that you came up with in that pressure-tested environment, where they encourage you to really back up your original thought with empirical data and what were some of the ideas that you have subsequently been able to implement with your time at BearingPoint?
Julie Short:
Okay. That’s a great question. So one of the things that I did was I actually helped to define what business consulting services was comprised of and what are the services that a business consultant delivers versus a technology consultant. And so that was a lot of very detailed work that I had to test over the period of a year with many of the consulting firms to see if it resonated. And it did in the end. Another very big example is the work that I did around Gardner’s theme of digital business. So as you can imagine, how many companies are still talking about doing a digital transformation. A lot of companies, unfortunately they don’t have any idea what that really means. And so they would come to me and ask me, “I want to do a digital transformation. What providers should I use?”
Nathan:
Interesting.
Julie Short:
And I had to do some research and devised a framework with two ex colleagues of mine, about the type of service for digital business was dependent on the business outcome that the client was looking for. So for example, was the client looking for improving or optimizing a business function? Was the client looking for more widespread transformation across their organization rather than optimization? Were client looking for new revenue streams? All of those things are actually digital transformation. So we developed a framework that when clients came to me and asked that question, I could ask them the question, what’s the business outcome you’re looking for? Then I can help you.
Nathan:
Right. So the starting point for any conversation around digital transformation is, what is the business outcome that you’re looking to drive? Is it introducing new revenue streams? Is it making a department more profitable? Is it making them more efficient? That’s the really the starting point for any conversation about digital transformation.
Julie Short:
That’s spot on. That’s exactly right. And any conversation about digital transformation without understanding the desired business outcome ends up being two people talking about two or three completely different things.
Nathan:
So you mentioned earlier that BearingPoint is a European consulting firm. It’s got a global reach, but the company operates in really three main units of consulting solutions and ventures. What makes them different to the other consultancies out there, of the likes of EY, Deloitte, KPMG, McKinsey-Bain? Go down the list.
Julie Short:
I think all the consulting firms have strengths and therefore also have some areas they could improve on. BearingPoint, one of the differences about BearingPoint is that the majority of the partners who own the firm are European. So they live in Europe, they’re born in Europe, they speak the language, they understand the culture of the country they’re working in. And that is vitally important. Imagine trying to speak to German engineers, if you’re an American. Not so easy.
Nathan:
Sure. It’s a challenge.
Julie Short:
Imagine trying to speak to the French luxury brands, if all you ever knew was Walmart. It’s a different world. So they bring much of the same disciplines that other major consulting firms have, but they are really truly European. Whereas some of the larger firms, some of the other firms that I mention, have member firms in Europe or in Asia. So the truth is, is that BearingPoint grows organically, not inorganic through acquisition. And that’s been another trend for some years now with most of the consulting firms.
Nathan:
Let’s talk about one of the exciting startups that you’re working with at the moment, Celonis. You’re working with a really fascinating company right now. They’re a leader in execution management systems, which I didn’t know as a term until a few weeks ago. EMS, and that lifts barriers to execution capacity and maximizes business performance. They use machine learning, as I understand it, to help their clients understand their processes and really sort of understand process performance, deviations, and root cause. As well as sort of value drivers and measurements against key performance indicators. They’re now valued at around two and a half billion pounds. Tell us a bit about the company and what problems are you helping them solve.
Julie Short:
So I just started actually working with Celonis. Celonis is a Munich and New York based company, founded by three gentlemen, all under the age of 35, the [inaudible 00:18:20] Leo’s plus CTO. They were schoolmates at the Technical University of Munich, which I think very highly of. And Celonis is a specialist in process mining. They actually go to the data level in processes and understand friction points. They recently released this execution management system and a number of other new products. So I wouldn’t really say they’re a startup. In 2016, they were given the Company Entrepreneur of the year by EY. They’ve been in business since 2011. But it’s remarkable to me, and I love to hear their CEOs and their CTO talk about friction. Because they talk about the interactions between people as well. So they’re doing all the right things.
Julie Short:
They’re very human company. Their employees are extremely important. Their stakeholders, their customers… They really have a fantastic approach to the market and they’re highly successful. So, I’m working with them in a different capacity. I’m not really doing any work to help them, except for the fact that I am able to up identify opportunities. One at the moment where I’d like to take this, some of their technology and embed it in a company that’s developing software. So rather than waiting until the software’s developed and then you find out about the friction points between processes and people, how about building it into the product to begin with.
Nathan:
Makes sense to me.
Julie Short:
Avoid all of that frustration.
Nathan:
Sounds like common sense. So they’ve just received their series C round. 290 million pounds, roughly. What are the biggest challenges the company now faces at this stage of their growth? And how are they tackling them?
Julie Short:
Well, this is purely my opinion. And honestly, it remains be seen if they will actually face these challenges. But I think as I told you, their messaging around people and society in general is extremely strong. It’s all the right things. Everything that everyone wants to hear right now. As they continue to grow. It’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to maintain that same spirit that they base their company on. One of the things that I’m finding interesting is that they are releasing new products and really excellent products by the way. Very, very interesting. And that’s why this idea of enabling other software companies to embed Celonis would be, I think something that maybe someone hadn’t thought about. And so I think that their challenges will be, can they grow and maintain their culture at the same time? Recently they, in the month of September, they opened a huge hub in Madrid.
Julie Short:
Now think about it for a minute. What kind of company opens a big hub in Madrid during COVID 19? They have a lot of faith in what-
Nathan:
A vaccine.
Julie Short:
… or where that talent is coming from. Madrid is another very interesting place with a lot of talent, a lot of innovation. And again, not many people really know about it. But I’ve been continually impressed with Spain and especially Madrid, Barcelona as well, and their ability to innovate some of the greatest ideas come out of that area. And so I think it’s remarkable that Celonis took this… had the courage to do what they did. And I think we’re all standing behind them, cheering them on hoping that they are successful.
Nathan:
Really well said. So we talked a moment ago about machine learning being a core part of what Celonis do. It seems like every new tech startup these days adds machine learning to that business model, and then takes that into their VC and then the VC gives them a lot of money. Is the hype real? Or are we looking at another bubble similar to the.com 2000’s?
Julie Short:
No, I think machine learning is real. Just about, last week actually I had a conversation with a partner at EY, in Madrid. Who is globally responsible for data and analytics and artificial intelligence. And she gave me a very interesting perspective. They’re really looking for embedding machine learning in the workflows. Now, when she talks about workflows, she’s talking about the component of a process. So in a process, there could be multiple workflows. And they’re looking at dissecting, decomposing those workflows and understanding, where are the opportunities to introduce machine learning? And it really is honestly, I think to not only to remove repetitive tasks, but to get people to focus on more value added work. To free them up to do that. So I think if it’s done right, yes, there’s a lot of talk about it and knowledge workers may feel threatened, but in fact knowledge workers are never going to become a commodity. Knowledge workers will always be important. And machine learning can remove some of the more menial, repetitive tasks that nobody really wants to do, and free people up to do much more interesting and knowledge-based work.
Nathan:
Really interesting. So, you’re not one of the doomsayers who says that machines are going to take over the world like Skynet and enslave us in the next 20 years. You’re far more optimistic. And you think we’ll be able to sort of focus on the more value adding ways that human beings can sort of add value to the world as opposed to doing the drudgery of repetitive tasks.
Julie Short:
Exactly. And I find it rather humorous that you called me optimistic. I think you’re the first person to say that to me. I’m not known for my optimism. But in this case when I listened to the providers that are really working with machine learning, that’s exactly what I’m hearing. It’s really about introducing some new kind of thinking. BearingPoint also does some work in machine learning as well, and some really interesting solutions that they built for the markets, for different media markets. Just one example, I’ll give you this example if we have time.
Nathan:
Sure.
Julie Short:
They actually built something for the media industry. So if anyone’s ever been to Paris, you know that it’s broken up into many [carties 00:26:10] or neighborhoods. And France is a very literary country so, you will see on every street corner kiosks that have magazines, newspapers, all kinds of journals, books. Because if you go on the metro, you’ll see everyone reading. And the real challenge for those media producers are, how much should they deliver to each neighborhood? If they deliver too many, then they have a lot of unsold journal. If they don’t deliver enough, then they’re not meeting the customer demands. Well BearingPoint built a solution using their hypercube technology, to help Le Figaro. The newspaper, one of the main newspapers in Paris, to know how many copies of that newspaper they need to deliver to each of those kiosks. And they’re using machine learning to do that.
Nathan:
Fascinating.
Julie Short:
That’s just one example. They’ve done several others. So I think the machine learning is unlimited if you are creative enough.
Nathan:
Really, really fascinating stuff. Julie, I could speak to you all day but we’re fast running at a time. Let’s get into our speed round. These are the questions that we ask everyone that comes onto the show. So I’ll fire some questions at you. If you can fire some answers back, that would be appreciated. Let’s start with a nice, easy one. Which CMO has the hardest job in marketing right now?
Julie Short:
Which CMO? I think CMOs have a hard job because they’re oftentimes seen as only marketing. Okay? All CMOs have a difficult job, right now. And the reason that it’s difficult is because oftentimes they’re not provided enough content to work with. Content is extremely important. There’s a big difference between marketing speak and content. If a CMO has content, they can spin the story from a marketing perspective. But if they don’t have that content, it’s a bit like trying to bake a cake with no flour. I think that for me is one of the biggest challenges CMOs have right now, is getting access to content and they need that vitally. They need that.
Nathan:
So just to expand on that. What do we mean in this context by content? And could you give me an example of what you mean by that? And either a client that you’ve worked with or one that you maybe haven’t. Yeah. What do you mean by that?
Julie Short:
Okay. So in some cases, depending on who the CMO is working with. They may be working with someone who’s responsible for a product or a service offering. And if that individual thinks, “Oh, I’m going to be talking to marketing. I’m going to talk to the CMO. I can’t go too deep technically. I can’t explain too much about what the product does, how it operates.” They give them the superficial story.
Nathan:
Sure.
Julie Short:
Give the CMO just the light version. And in fact, the CMO needs the deeper details, needs much more content because then they can put their own creative juices to spinning that story. And I think that that’s one of the biggest challenges. It’s really the position of the CMO in an organization or how much they are respected and how much they actually know about the business they work in. So if a CMO and a tech provider who’s doing machine learning, if they don’t have a deep understanding of machine learning they need to surround themselves by people who do, and who can make that translation into business. Otherwise the CMO has a tough job.
Nathan:
Really fascinating. So we’re an agency ourselves, and I’ve got an agency question for you. Are agencies a luxury even or a necessity? What do agencies do that’s so unique that their clients can’t achieve on their own? Obviously it’d be crazy to think that you could do something in-house that you are outsourcing to a third party. What makes agencies so valuable?
Julie Short:
So I think agencies are definitely a necessity. And the reason I believe this is because agencies can often see things from an outside perspective, from a creative perspective. They can then translate that into visual offerings, images as well as messaging that would be difficult to do internally. So what’s the expression? The closest thing that we can’t see is our own eyebrows. You need a mirror-
Nathan:
Love it.
Julie Short:
… to be able to see your eyebrows. Because they’re right close to our eyes, but we can’t see them. And I’m thinking it’s the same. Good agencies, especially agencies that focus on technology and service providers are excellent. And I think that they are not a luxury at all and are vitally needed. There’s one thing that they may miss, and they will look at it from a prospect perspective. But agencies could be more effective if they also looked at the messaging from an external analyst perspective. Because so many of these tech and service providers need to get visibility with analysts. And they may talk to an analyst at Gartner or Forrester or IDC or TBR or any of these others. And basically the first thing an analyst does is go look at their website after they talk to this provider.
Nathan:
Interesting.
Julie Short:
And if the website says something different than they were told, then the credibility is lost. So for me agencies, if they could focus on both aspects, not only the prospect but the external analysts. Especially if they’re doing things for technology and service providers.
Nathan:
What excites you most about your current role and position?
Julie Short:
The fact that I’m able to do things more hands-on for technology and service providers. When you work in a big company like Gartner or Forrester or any others, you have other commitments. You’ve got to write, you’ve got to come up with thought leadership. But now I’m able to really do some more hands-on work with tech and service providers, to help them see the value. So I’m able to do a lot more hands-on work and I think that pleases me the most.
Nathan:
Final question, Julie. What’s the vision or goal that you’re working towards for the rest of your career?
Julie Short:
I think if I can help all the technology and service providers I’m working with become successful, get noticed by analysts, get their name out there, understand their clients better. This is really what motivates me more than anything. And if I can see the proof of that, then I’ll be very happy.
Nathan:
Well said. Julie, thank you so much for doing this.
Julie Short:
You’re very welcome. It’s been a real pleasure talking with you today.
Nathan:
If you’d like to share any comments on this episode or any episode of ClientSide, then find us online at fox.agency. If you’d like to appear as a guest on the show, please email chloe@fox.agency. The people that make the show possible are Chloe Murray, our booker/researcher, David Clare is our Head of Content. Ben Fox is our executive producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba. You’ve been listening to ClientSide from Fox agency.
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