Gartner just bets bigger & draws further from the pack – analysing Gartner’s & Forrester’s 2013 financial results
Everyone knows that Gartner is the big gorilla of the technology research & advisory business. It’s not just that it now generates six times the annual revenues of its nearest competitor, Forrester Research, but how it plays the game. Gartner bets big, & expects to win big.
Gartner & Forrester have both reported their 2013 financial results in the past few days, and the CEOs of both firms came across on the earnings calls as happy with their numbers. They pretty much hit the revenue & income targets they forecast 12 months ago, and were comfortable about hitting similar targets in the coming year.
The difference is in where the bar is set.
- For the year ended December 31, 2013, Gartner generated total revenues of $US1.784 billion, a 10 per cent increase on 2012, and at the lower end of 10 to 13 per cent growth forecast it announced 12 months ago. This year, its revenue growth guidance is 9 to 12 per cent.
- Forrester reported full year revenues of $US297.7 million, a 2 per cent increase on 2012, and at the upper end of the -1 to 2 per cent growth it forecast a year ago. This year, its revenue growth guidance is of the order of 2 to 5 per cent.
Same same, but different
Issues of scale and nuanced discussions about the difference in the research portfolios aside, these two firms effectively sell the same products into the same markets, yet one expects – and gets – double-digit growth, while the other sees single-digit growth as a reasonable outcome.
For all the similarities between Gartner & Forrester, there are also plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle differences – in their research agendas, the type of analysts they employ, their sales approaches and so on. Perhaps they can provide some insight into the difference in performance between these two firms?
In 2012, the difference between these companies was much about sales execution, which was covered in detail in our blog post A tale of two sales teams – an analysis of Gartner’s & Forrester’s 2012 financials. This post is our most-read article of all time, by a significant margin, and continues to attract hits 12 months on.
The 2013 results are a little more complex, but I’m going to break them down in a similar way as 2012 to provide some insights into how these two firms approach a multi-billion dollar market which both of them continue to claim is under-penetrated.
Top line, bottom line
- As noted above, Gartner finished fiscal 2013 with total revenues of $US1.784 billion, an increase of 10 per cent over 2012, while Forrester reported revenues of $US297.7 million, an increase of just 2 per cent
- Gartner posted a net income of $US182.8 million, an increase of 10 per cent over 2012 & 10.3 per cent as a percentage of revenues, while Forrester reported a net income of $US12.8 million, a 51 per cent decrease on its 2012 result, & just 4.3 per cent as a percentage of revenues
Gartner’s Q4 revenue growth was similar at 10 per cent, while Forrester’s was a little stronger at 3 per cent. Gartner’s Q4 income growth was weaker at 4 per cent, but so was Forrester’s – declining 56 per cent. Gartner CFO Chris Lafond highlighted investment in the salesforce as impacting Q4 income, and while Forrester didn’t discuss this issue specifically, it pointed to investment in its consulting headcount & weaker conditions in Europe as affecting its overall bottom line.
Syndicated research services continue to account for the bulk of revenue for both firms – 71 per cent for Gartner, and 68 per cent for Forrester. But while Gartner’s research revenues grew 12 per cent for the year, Forrester’s were flat, and declined 1 per cent in Q4. Gartner’s guidance for 2014 research revenues is 11 to 13 per cent, and while Forrester didn’t provide a specific forecast for research, it did suggest that growth would come from other areas.
As we saw last year, Gartner didn’t spend a lot of time talking about research, apart from the numbers, while Forrester chairman & CEO George Colony introduced the earnings call with a discussion about the firm’s research focus in the “Age of the Customer”, as well as highlighting the increase in delivery of playbooks – now totalling 64 & double the previous year.
Forrester includes consulting in “Advisory & Other” which also includes events, while Gartner breaks it out as a separate line item. From a growth perspective, Forrester appears to have done better here than Gartner, with a 5 per cent increase in advisory, compared with 3 per cent growth in consulting for Gartner.
Consulting has become a key focus for Forrester – it increased the number of consultants to 60 at the end of 2013, and plans to almost double that to 114 by end 2014. That’s still a lot fewer than Gartner’s 480+ consultants, but a serious statement of intent. The aim is to move Forrester analysts out of project consulting to focus more on research & advisory, and consulting was flagged as one of the areas of strongest growth in 2014.
Gartner also seems to have fixed a few issues in its consulting business, which delivered disappointing results in 2012. While 2013 & forecast growth is modest, Gartner highlighted a backlog of $US106 million at the end of Q4.
With a 15 per cent growth to just under $US200 million in revenues, events are the gift that keeps on giving for Gartner. That growth was achieved by adding just three events to the calendar, bringing the worldwide total to 64 events. Attendee revenues increased 11 per cent and exhibitor revenues increased 17 per cent for the year, suggesting that Gartner has struck a good balance between the needs of its delegates and sponsors.
Forrester doesn’t break out its events revenue, but indicated that it was pretty comfortable with its 2013 commitment level, focusing on “fewer, bigger, better” events focused around its most important five to seven roles.
Gartner didn’t break down its headcount figures in its earnings statement, but CEO Gene Hall pointed to a 16 per cent increase in sales headcount at the end of 2013, and said that the long-term sales headcount growth target was 15 to 20 per cent a year.
For Forrester, total headcount grew 4 per cent, with research (including consulting) increasing 10 per cent to 475 and sales growing 5 per cent to 485, and with Forrester also highlighting that salesforce attrition was at its lowest in eight quarters. Once again, Gartner’s greater focus on the salesforce is obvious, and while it continued to fill research roles through 2013, it is unlikely that research headcount grew at the same pace as its sales team.
Client retention & contract value
Client retention is a critical metric for analyst firms – as it is for many sales organisations – because it’s generally easier to renew & increase an existing contract than to sign a new client. Generally, these are calculated on 12-month rolling averages, and we’re assuming that Gartner & Forrester use similar approaches, despite slightly different terminology.
Gartner reported a 82 per cent retention rate in terms of total client numbers, compared with 73 per cent for Forrester, while Gartner claimed a 98 per cent wallet retention rate, compared with 86 per cent in dollars for Forrester.
For Gartner, year-on-year contract value grew 12 per cent to $1.423 billion, while Forrester’s agreement value declined 2 per cent to $US216.5 million.
Outlook & areas of concern
Both Gartner & Forrester appeared reasonably bullish about 2014, despite the different target growth rates. For Forrester, 2013 was impacted by weakness in Europe due to economic issues & client restructuring, while Gartner highlighted the US federal government and government in some parts of Europe as areas of softness last year. While no major improvement in government spending is expected this year, neither firm flagged it as likely to have any deeper impact in 2014.
Forrester went into 2013 on the back of a weak year characterised by poor sales execution, and set itself some modest goals as it set about correcting those problems. Delivering against its guidance, it has proven that it can execute against a plan, so can be expected to do that again in 2014 if it continues to focus its efforts on the areas which will grow its top & bottom lines.
Gartner went into 2013 on the back of a strong year, with all its ducks in a row. It’s in pretty much the same position as we go into 2014, and has a pretty strong track record of executing against its plans.
In 2010, Gartner was just over five times bigger than Forrester, but based on 2013 revenues, Gartner is now six times the size of its closest competitor. With a significant margin between the growth forecasts of these two firms and barring any major changes in the market, we can expect this delta to increase this year, and probably beyond that.
So long as Gartner bets big in terms of investment in its sales & research headcount and the growth targets it sets itself, as well as playing those cards sagely, it will continue to outperform not only Forrester, but many of the smaller firms which follow it in the revenue rankings. This might be good for Gartner, but whether it’s good for the technology research & advisory business overall is open to debate.
What do you think?