What is it that you do?

2866065-office-space-e1424478930608I’m asked this question surprisingly often, “Alan, what is it that you do?” My stock answer is, “I wander the world helping people.” Which generally results in a wry smile from those who know me; else a questioning or annoyed look from someone who was expecting a straightforward answer to a straightforward question.

When I first started out wandering the world helping people in 2003 I created a taxonomy with lots of case studies and reference customers. A bit of it is still on my website, but all needs an update, at some point, in the future, when I get time….

I’ve worked with hundred of companies, large and small, around the world, across high tech, information and communications technology, finance and insurance, healthcare, even primary industries like oil and gas. I was recently reviewing my customers over the years, and thinking about the main categories of work, to see if I could find a better answer to the often asked question:

  • Emerging technology analysis. Before technologies like NFV / SDN, CDN, CPaaS, IoT, Cloud Communications, API management / SOA / SDP, messaging clients, machine learning, streaming internet video, policy control and charging, open source telecom software, IMS, and decentralized internet protocols gets talked about. I’m diving deep into the market’s potential, timing, control points and early acquisition targets. The reason I was selected is: ‘big name’ projects failed or were too expensive and someone knew of me, or I was already a trusted advisor to that company. Its what I’ve done my whole career, since BT. These tend to be big company projects.
  • Market entry, marketsplaining, growth strategy, business modeling. As markets develop, and people start investing, it gets noisy. Cutting through the marketing spin, working out what is real versus positioning gets difficult. Here I marketsplain – helping people understand where markets are going and how other markets will combine and compete. I win as I’m working with many companies at the coal-face, seeing sales reality from both sides. Its not numbers in a spread sheet, though I have those numbers and projections, its understanding what problems are really being solved with which bit of the offer, and the alternatives now and emerging. Business modeling is where the excel–monkey in me comes out. Like any model its the assumptions that make or break it, getting those assumptions good-enough is my value, the rest is handle-churning.
  • Marketing collateral and thought leadership. Sometimes its a white paper that stands out from the crowd because it avoids all the silly terms like digital, AI, smart, transformation, etc. Something that simply and clearly sets out a company’s or product’s value. Sometimes its leading an executive or customer event, or just providing some thought-provoking light relief. These are always fun as it gives me a chance to get my thoughts straight on a topic, the discussions are fun and free-wheeling. Sometimes I’m even just creating web-content, its amazing how many companies struggle on what should be simple, straightforward statements. I guess I win projects here through clarity of thought and limited written skills forcing me to be succinct.
  • Business development. I’ve dragged founders and their product / sales / marketing people around the world meeting potential customers, partners, buyers, and people they should know. I always feel I’m helping the rest of the management team understand how hard the sales person’s job is on Friday when a sleep-deprived exec team, dragging wheelie luggage behind them, enter their last meeting before heading home. Over the years I’ve helped many companies open up new markets or build partnerships that turn into M&A. Its hard work but fun.
  • Finally, I’ve acted as interim part-time BD / Marketing / Product Management, getting a company’s marcom or roadmap together and enough of a pipeline so that they attract the full-time ‘big-guns’.

It is great fun helping people and the people I help have fun as well, just do not expect sugarcoated recommendations 😉  If there’s one common theme, its helping people either realize that nagging doubt in their gut into a clear evidence based argument, or for others showing that commonly held perception is incorrect again backed by direct objective evidence. I guess I should modify my reply to the common question “Alan, what is it that you do?” to “I wander the world helping people gain an edge.”