Big Dogs don’t yap: the secret ingredients for MQ success

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What do companies that make the step up into the Leaders section of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant have in common?

Looking back on the last quarter, our MQ Tune-Up clients have had some great successes, with four of them gaining Leaders status for the first time. That was a fine performance, and it got us thinking about why it was that these four had managed to achieve this breakthrough.

As a result, we decided to go in search of what it was these successful companies had in common. And what we came up with rather surprised me, so I thought it might be useful to share it with you.

Naturally, I like to think that these successes are all down to the work we put in and the advice and support we were able to give our clients. But it’s also clear that all these upwardly mobile companies share certain key qualities and characteristics – and they are not necessarily apparent to the outsider.

Some of the elements that mark out the Leaders-to-be are pretty obvious. It’s no secret, for example, that the fundamentals of the company’s performance have to be right. But there are other factors that would not be so clear to us if we weren’t seeing the practical evidence, day by day and week by week, of their importance. “Get the fundamentals right” is the kind of advice you will have heard before. But the advice to “Be a Big Dog – and bark as you mean to go on” is probably not so familiar.

The mission, the person, and the dog

What we found was this. The business fundamentals are clearly vitally important. So is strong executive sponsorship and commitment. But there seem to be another three key make-or-break characteristics that every would-be Leader needs to focus on.

1. On a mission – What we saw in all four companies that made the breakthrough were dedicated people who were engaged with the MQ process and determined to leave no stone unturned to get the best possible rating. They were prepared to listen to and act on informed advice, to piece the necessary facts and evidence together, and to rehearse and practise to make sure their performances in demos and briefings were perfect. They were the kind of people for whom “good enough” is never going to be good enough. And this isn’t just a matter of style. Content is vital, too, and these people all worked with us to anticipate, way in advance, what questions might be asked. We put them  all through a tough exercise where we tried to identify the most awkward queries the analysts might raise. Though they’d certainly be unlucky if more than a few of these stinkers came up, each of these teams paid significant attention to prepping responses carefully for every one. These were people who had no intention of getting caught out by a question and having to admit “We never thought about that.”

2. Right spokesperson – Each of our newly-crowned Leaders had at least one excellent spokesperson. These were senior people who could address the analysts’ questions with authority, but were also engaging, informed, and passionate, full of enthusiasm and belief. This definitely made a huge difference when it came to convincing analysts that what was being said was true and important. Analysts value the chance to speak with the top people who have been directly involved in the “why?” decisions, and it damages you if you can’t produce them. As one very senior Gartner analyst said to me recently: “A lot of people’s briefing content is just boring. We get lots of ‘what?’, but not much ‘why?’” As our four new Leaders showed, giving the analyst the opportunity to talk to the senior people involved in the “why?” decisions, in terms of both technology and business, seems to be a major success factor.

3. Big Dog, not Little Dog – The most interesting insight we uncovered in our review of the new MQ Leaders was that every one of them already believed it was a Leader and looked and acted the part. Gartner’s recognition was important to them, but, as far as they were concerned, it was only ratifying what was already a fact. As former analysts ourselves, we know all about the way smaller companies pester you and nip at your heels when you’re working on a Magic Quadrant. They’re trying to prove how important they are, but all this behavior does is reinforce the fact that they are followers, rather than Leaders. By contrast, our four new Leaders acted and presented themselves as if they were already unassailably there. It came across in their attitudes, in the type of material they put forward, in the tone of their presentations and the look and feel of their communications. They felt like Big Dogs, and they weren’t going to be caught yapping and snapping around like little dogs do. If you’re going to be seen as a Leader, you’ve got to act like one. If you’re going to be a Big Dog, you need to do the things that big dogs do, and not come across like some shrill, yapping terrier. Like it or not, this is a key factor in determining how you are rated, by the market, as well as by Gartner. Intuitively, each of our new Leaders had adopted a Leaders mindset.

These three characteristics – commitment to the mission, the right spokesperson, and the Big Dog attitude and mindset – seem to be the key factors all four of our new Leaders have in common. But this is a small sample group, and there may be other shared traits we haven’t spotted. I’d be interested to know if these thoughts resonate with your experience and observations. Have you taken your company into the Leaders quadrant for the first time? What do you think helped make that a reality? Have you observed the Big Dog factor at work? Or are there other key qualities and attributes you’ve observed to be essential for success?

Are we on target? The last thing we want is everyone agreeing with what goes into this blog. After all, if you don’t disagree with some of the points we’ve raised, we’ll be forced to be more and more provocative, and who knows where that will end? So let us have your thoughts. Have you seen worthy companies fail to get the recognition they deserved because they didn’t have that vital Big Dog confidence and assurance? Have you found it hard to get serious executive sponsorship and face time in support of your company’s MQ efforts? Have your say, and send us any practical tips you’ve discovered that we can share with our readers.

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