The technology sector is undergoing profound transformations. How clients perceive value in a technology solution is changing rapidly. Technology companies are striving to keep pace with this change, however, they need deeper insights. Sellers in the technology sector increasingly feel that they need much more than the competitive intelligence collected using standard and established methods. OSINT (Open source intelligence) can help them in their quest to collect actionable competitive intelligence. Read on, as we explore how technical sales teams can benefit from OSINT.
OSINT: A brief overview
Let’s understand what is OSINT is before we explore how it can help technical sales teams. While the abbreviation stands for “Open Source Intelligence”, we shouldn’t confuse OSINT with the open-source movement.
The term OSINT means any information that you can gather about an organization or individual from publicly available sources. You should be able to gather this information for free, and collecting this information must be legal.
For practical purposes, OSINT mostly means information available on the Internet. However, the definition of OSINT doesn’t limit it to that. You can find information about an individual or organization from printed materials like newspapers, media briefings, press statements, or books available in libraries.
OSINT doesn’t limit itself to any particular type of media either. You can find information as texts on a website, or you could find information on audio/video clips. Images, social media feeds, webinars, etc. can all be sources of OSINT.
People and organizations working in the following areas use OSINT significantly:
- National security;
OSINT analysts in these areas often come up with very important findings. For example, I have often seen OSINT analysts in the national security field sharing their findings and analyses on social media platforms using anonymous handles. Many of them demonstrate multi-disciplinary knowledge and open-source tools. To get an example, you can check out the Twitter feed of a user named Orion_int. This user employs the knowledge of 3D mapping and satellite imagery to arrive at his/her findings.
The advantages of OSINT
Before we examine how technical sales teams can take advantage of OSINT, let’s first understand what OSINT can offer. It offers the following advantages:
- Cost savings: You don’t pay anything significantly for the information when you gather OSINT. We aren’t talking about the people you might need to employ to gather OSINT. Moreover, you might need to subscribe to a magazine to gather information. We aren’t even talking about that. You need tools and people for any job, and OSINT isn’t an exception. You see, intelligence collection using the traditional methods requires you to pay significantly to access the source of information. That’s completely different in the case of OSINT where you collect intelligence from publicly available sources.
- No legal hassles: Gathering OSINT is completely legal. You don’t break any laws when you gather information from publicly available sources. Collecting such information doesn’t require you to enter into potentially illegal deals with middlemen.
- Ease of sharing: Think of intelligence you gather from websites or social media platforms. You can easily share them with your colleagues since these are open to anyone and always accessible.
- The wide range of sources of information: You can gather OSINT from any publicly-available source of information. This gives you a potentially wide range of sources from where to collect information.
Can OSINT help technical sales teams?
OSINT could help sales teams in technology companies. Consider the example of a sales team in a managed cloud services company. Such a team needs to know what cloud products and services its customers use. This insight will help them to position appropriate products and services to customers.
Gathering this information can be hard in the normal course. The managed cloud services provider might not have sufficient access to the senior and mid-level managers in the customers’ organization.
However, customers might have provided this information already. Their senior executives might have spoken about their cloud infrastructure in webinars.
If customers are publicly listed companies, then they might have described their cloud strategy in their annual reports. We often see annual reports of publicly listed companies where they talk about controlling fixed costs. Since adopting cloud computing can help them to do this, they often explain their cloud strategy in their annual reports.
Furthermore, a senior executive of the company might have referred to this strategy in a LinkedIn post. Gathering OSINT can make this information available to the technical sales team in question.
The limitations of OSINT
You could face some challenges in your effort to collect OSINT, and these are as follows:
- Information overload: One of the strengths of OSINT is the potentially wide range of sources of information. However, this can also act as a disadvantage. With too much information to analyze, you could find it hard to get relevant information. We often see this challenge concerning OSINT in the cybersecurity domain. You get a tremendous amount of information on malware, ransomware, and different kinds of cyber-attacks. However, not all malware and ransomware threats require equal focus. Some of them can cause massive damages, and you need to focus more on them. Information overload can make it hard to focus on high-value objectives.
- Choosing the right OSINT tool can be hard: Since you have many sources from where you will gather information, manual efforts will not take you very far. You need effective tools to gather actionable intelligence. Since the use of OSINT is so far limited to a few sectors, you need to spend significant effort to search for a suitable tool.
- Validation of OSINT requires significant effort: You can get a lot of information from various sources, however, that doesn’t represent actionable intelligence. You need to validate the information and eliminate the information that’s inaccurate or misleading. This validation work requires significant human effort.
Note: Remember that all advantages OSINT offers are available to everyone! This means that just as you can gather OSINT for ethical purposes, hackers can also gather the same information to attack the IT infrastructure of an organization. This is another general disadvantage of OSINT.
How should technical sales teams use OSINT?
Now that you know the pros and cons of OSINT, let’s examine how technical sales teams can use it. If you are leading a team of sellers in a technology company, then you should do the following:
- Define your OSINT-gathering scope: Frame your business problems carefully. Narrow it down to the precise information that you need. Remember that the larger your OSINT-gathering scope, the more sources of information you need to study. That will increase your effort manifold.
- Choose relevant types of datasets: This closely relates to your OSINT-gathering scope. Analyze your information requirements and choose the types of datasets that are most relevant. For example, the sales team of the managed cloud services provider we talked about can analyze annual reports and social media feeds of customers. This can give them information about their customers’ cloud strategy.
- Identify OSINT tools: This requires careful analysis. The use of OSINT is more in domains like national security, investigation, and cybersecurity. People working on these domains use a variety of tools, however, many of these don’t have relevance for technical sales teams. You need to review several tools and choose one that works for you. Look for OSINT tools that don’t limit themselves to one or two domains. An example is OSINT Framework. While this originally served the information security domain, the creator of this framework has expanded its scope since then. It can gather OSINT from a variety of sources like people search engines, business records, search engines, public records, forums, blogs, etc.
- Tailor your approach to your target segment: You might have customers from different market segments and you need to tailor your approach accordingly. Our managed cloud services sellers can expect a publicly-listed enterprise to talk about its cloud strategy in its annual report. However, I don’t see too many privately held companies provide such information publicly. As you know, their reporting requirements vary significantly from a publicly listed company. As a result, out managed cloud services sellers need to modify their approach for privately-held companies.
- Use advanced search features of search engines: We typically use the regular features of search engines like Google, however, they also offer advanced search features. The term “Google Dorking” refers to using the advanced search features of Google, which provide more specific search results. Use advanced search features to get information that’s more narrowed-down.
We reviewed how OSINT can help technical sales teams to gather actionable intelligence. OSINT can offer actionable intelligence at a low cost, and you can gather this intelligence in a perfectly legal manner. While these are advantages, gathering OSINT can be hard. You need to define a clear scope and find the right OSINT tools. You also need to tailor your approach to specific market segments. Augment the intelligence you gather using traditional means with the help of OSINT.