Santa Clara, California
I hurried down the palm-tree-lined street. Making a left turn I ran across the parking lot of Unabridged Networks, carrying a Mediterranean salad. I rounded the corner and dashed into the elevator then back to my office. Every minute counted. The salesforce awaited intel on chief rivals.
“Time is money,” my bosses’ words rang in my ears, like a ripe tomato exploding under a stiletto heel.
I listened to my phone messages while stuffing a forkful of food into my mouth. Bits of olive and feta cheese drop onto my desk. Sean Coleman, our top-ranking sales rep tells me his call is critical.
Isn’t every sale call critical?
My hunger was urgent, so I continue eating. I’d heard through the corporate grapevine that Sean rakes in about twenty-five grand a month in commissions on top of a good base salary. With all my slinking around the trade show floors to gather information for the sales force to sell around the competition, then working around the clock to write competitive analysis, shouldn’t I get a piece of that pie?
He can wait.
The plethora of succulent plants hanging off my cubicle partition helped my mind relax. Amid the greenery, a bottle of Estate Cabernet Sauvignon sat patiently waiting to be sipped. Not that I’d ever drink at work, it was there as décor.
I had golfed eighteen holes during a company tournament last week in Monterey and had picked up the wine at a tiny family-run vineyard and winery in the heart of charming Carmel Valley.
It made me happy just looking at it.
The marketing administrator poked her head in, “Caryssa, your last competitive brief is published to the intranet.”
“Thanks, Denise.” Her gigantic glasses magnified her eyes, making them look like Ant-Man’s.
Our intranet is the internal company network where only employees see what’s posted. That includes the secret sauce for the sales reps I was adding weekly.
Remembering Sean was in a zone three hours ahead of me, I dialed his number and he answered before the second ring. “I need some competitive intelligence on Flash Systems,” he urged.
“What technology space?” I suppressed the need to burp, reminding myself I need to learn to take a real lunch break.
“It’s a mixed network. I’ll need information on Ethernet switches. The Flash rep is future selling campus local area network technology and promising it would blow us away in performance.”
Future selling. I shot straight up in my swivel chair. “I just returned from Networld + Interop and got some intelligence on Flash’s upcoming announcement—”
“How the heck did you get non-disclosed information at a trade show?” he interrupted, with what sounded like a blend of admiration and skeptical concern.
I hesitated, wondering how much I could tell him. “I’m a Competitive Marketing Analyst, I have ways of getting this information.” A glance out my window revealed the surreal beauty of the Diablo Range mountains in the distance; dwarfing my daily life in the valley. I was especially drawn to the light fog dividing the city and the series of mountain ranges above.
The cloud line was almost metaphorical, with the fog separating my two worlds. My world of work and play; my job move from the Boston tech belt to the west coast tech hub capital of the world. My weekend jaunts from Silicon Valley workaholism to Squaw Valley skiing and living in the moment.
“Give me the ammunition to win this deal, what do you have? Where are the technology flaws?” Sean insisted, breaking my dreamy trance.
I was taken aback by his driven nature and could see how he pulls in so many deals. “Not so fast, buster. My boss says to only show non-disclosure-agreements (NDA’s) details to help win deals of at least a million—”
“Holy shit, this deal is a multi-million-dollar opportunity at the start, with the potential to morph into multi-billions over a five-year contract. Trust me.”
This sparked my interest. Too bad it won’t fill my pockets. “How much of that fat commission check will you share with me?”
Sean laughs, “Hey, I’m all for marketing commission. What’s that saying? ‘Marketing designs the bullet, and sales fires the gun.’”
I liked that. “Who’s the prospect?”
“Lockheed Martin. They have a legacy network and slow response issues. I’m talking to the Chief Technology Officer. They might need to replace every switch and hub—it’s huge!”
I pushed aside the warnings of the techno-moralist during our last departmental meeting—with their shouts; ’Do we know what’s at stake here if we continue dealing military contracts? A future of perpetual war for our country. It will only bring bad, biowarfare.’ “When do you want to close the deal?” I calmly asked.
“Within a month. Their network needs to be operational quickly.”
I thought about the slated release date the Network Manager at Flash’s booth told me when I posed as an ‘industry consultant.’ “I can tell you firsthand, Flash will be late-to-market. They won’t be able to deliver on time. Use that against them.”
“I need more. Flash Systems is the fiercest competitor—”
“I’ll email you my latest sales battle card loaded with bullet points.” I didn’t wish to get lectured by management for being too quick to divulge non-disclosure details. Although I had to admit it was nice hearing business colleagues referring to me as their “competitive marketing hero.”
Sean asked, “Can you put a rush on this? They might outsource the project through the consulting arena.” I heard what sounded like fear in his voice.
“I’ll arm you with whatever sales tactics I can. In the meantime, look at the template I’ll send you.”
“You’re like… a corporate spy or something. All the secrecy. You’re a Competitive Intelligence Analyst, heck, like the ‘CIA’ of the tech-world!”
There was a split second of an inkling something wasn’t right about what my boss Rob had me doing; then I shrugged off Sean’s comment. After all, it was fun, with industry analysts amazed at the level of information I shared. “It’s business as usual, Carl. Nothing out of the ordinary. It’s not industrial espionage or anything—”
“Then why can’t you tell me any advanced technology features or trade secrets you learned—”
“Do you want me to support you in this deal or not?”
“Be patient. You of all people realize major federal government contracts don’t happen overnight. Intelligent decision-making takes time.”
After we hung up, I turned to check my second landline—the one my boss set up for me as a competitive data agent. We called it my “spy phone.” I was like human intelligence deployed in the business field; boots on the corporate ground.
Only one message. All those booths visited, all those NDA’s signed with shaky hands and nerves on fire. The message was from a keynote speaker I’d met after a breakout session. It seemed my consultant press badge and mock designs of ‘huge client networks’ had impressed him. It worked.
He used my alias. “Lynda, I’ve emailed you a future roadmap for the key computer networking players to sell into your client infrastructures. These require non-disclosure sign-off….”
I hadn’t listened to what he said before or after this, only the words “future roadmap” stuck in my head. Bingo!
I opened the attachment and at first, couldn’t see anything but overwhelming words. I stood and stretched, stepping back. I turn and stared at the screen from across the room and saw a pattern that pulled me in. “Perception becomes reality,” we’d say in every meeting. Now I knew what it meant.
Gathering competitive intelligence can be like a pointillist painting. At first glance, nothing makes sense. It’s a bunch of dots. You can’t see the story the artist is trying to show you. But from a few feet away, the “painting” goes from colorful smudges to clarity.
Suddenly I could see our top three competitive rivals with a minimum of brushstrokes—beyond unreleased products. A perfectly formed picture with source code, design plans, proprietary algorithms, and more.
The risk of working undercover could cost us our jobs. But it was well worth the reward. After all, this is the way the high-tech world is run. The more money involved, the less squeamish I felt. A girl has gotta live.
I was Queen of the information-superhighway. That amazing Estate Cab will be making its way to my apartment to celebrate tonight.