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Posts from the ‘Training’ Category

So you want to train spokespeople to talk to analysts – but what do you teach them?

A good spokesperson who can effectively communicate with industry analysts is a valuable asset to any IT vendor or service provider, and while some executives enjoy this as a natural skill, the majority of them have to be taught.

As I covered in my post last week, there are lots of great business reasons to train spokespeople to engage with analysts, so having put together the value proposition, the next thing that an AR professional needs to consider is – what are you going to teach them?

Executives can be a tough audience. They think they know it all (or most of it, anyway), they have short attention spans, and if they’re going to give you a few hours of their time, then you’d better make sure that you surprise them.

Often, the way to teach people new things requires “unteaching” old things – effectively making them forget about things they thought they knew, so that you can replace that knowledge. Sounds complicated, but it’s really just about laying the foundations.

Understanding the analyst landscape

Pretty much every executive I’ve ever dealt with has reckoned that they knew all about analysts, but very few do. Some have negative perspectives caused by analysts not writing what they want them to (if at all), while others think analysts are just fine, because you can pay them to write nice things about you. Pretty much wrong on all counts…

Explaining and defining the analyst landscape helps executives understand that there are lots of different types of analysts, different research methodologies, different business models, different deliverables and so on. Which helps them understand that all analyst engagements are not the same, and that real business benefits can be derived from the right ones.

I usually get push-back from my clients about spending too much time on the analyst landscape, but if you cover this topic properly and in detail, everything else falls into place pretty quickly. Time and time again, this is where I’ve seen the lights come on in executives’ eyes, as they say “now I get it!”

 Unlearning media training

Media training is all about getting spokespeople to deliver tight, pithy soundbites that sound good but often say little. To a large extent, it’s all about techniques to push the points you want to push, and avoiding talking about stuff you don’t want to discuss. As Rob Curran from Waggener Edstrom pointed out in a comment on my earlier post, “bridging” away from an uncomfortable topic is more likely to annoy an analyst than have any positive impact.

Analyst discussions are all about candour, and breaking the defensive habits learnt in media training is key to effectively communicating with this audience. Yes, you can still focus on the topics and points that you want to cover, but it’s quite acceptable to say “I can’t answer that / I won’t answer that / I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll get back to you.” In fact, a spokesperson is more likely to gain an analyst’s respect by not trying to BS their way out of the discussion.

 Understanding how analysts work

This is a combination of blowing away misconceptions eg explaining that analysts think and work differently to journalists, and educating ie pulling back the covers on what actually happens in an analyst firm.

In the same way that the analyst firm landscape discussion looks at different types of analyst firms and business models, this part focuses on understanding how different types of analysts think, conduct research, engage with vendors and users, construct their deliverables, and generally go about their day. Getting this insight helps executives better prepare for analyst engagements, and hopefully better execute.

Understanding briefing structure

It’s way too easy to pick up the standard corporate slide deck, walk into an analyst briefing and hope for the best. But when you’re midway through the 63-slide deck with five minutes to go and you still haven’t got your key message across, you know that the wheels are going to come off.

Analyst content and conversations need to be tailored to the audience. If the analyst is technical, you go in with lots of product specs and details; if the analyst is market-focused, you’re going to talk about go-to-market, partner ecosystems and sales approaches. You can still be telling the same story, just differently. And the content needs to be structured to suit the time available – to ensure that you actually have a conversation with the analyst, not just a presentation.

 Putting everything into context

Training spokespeople to engage with analysts can be a somewhat abstract process unless it’s aligned with what your company is trying to achieve. Just about every vendor has a different approach for its AR program and a different target group of analysts, so there’s no point focusing on things that just don’t apply.

Of the many spokesperson training sessions I’ve conducted over the years, the most successful have been those where I’ve tag-teamed with the inhouse AR leader. While I can talk at length about landscapes, concepts, strategies and tactics, the AR leader can apply those to specific examples in the vendor’s activities, highlighting approaches that have worked, and with whom. This is another period where “the lights come on.”

 Enlisting external training resources

This might come across as a gratuitous plug, but the reality is that external consultants (such as me, and my colleagues at KCG) are significantly more effective in training executives to engage with analysts. External trainers do this all the time, we can provide real world examples and evidence of best practices across the industry, and we don’t buy into the corporate Kool-aid.

And we don’t have to tread as carefully around company politics as the inhouse AR leader might, because we’re not relying on someone in the room giving us a positive performance review at the end of the year!

It’s not unusual to stray into other topics when conducting spokesperson training, but these are core areas that I typically focus on. Have I missed anything? Let me know.

Cheers,

Dave

Train spokespeople to speak with analysts? You know it makes sense!!

Just about every AR pro I’ve ever met has a war story about a spokesperson – long on confidence and short on common sense – who has gone feral or badly off-message at an analyst briefing or meeting. Not quite as bad as doing the same thing in front of the media, but still cringe-worthy at the very least.

Yet many of those same AR pros struggle to get adequate time with these spokespeople to prepare them for individual briefings, let alone train them to engage effectively with industry analysts.

Ironically, time invested in proper training of analyst spokespeople tends to reduce the time needed to prepare for individual briefings and meetings. Often, prep time for a briefing consists of a quick review of the key messages and the analyst backgrounders, but if a spokesperson understands why they’re doing the briefing, then even that limited information provides more context and insight.

So, that’s the question, really. Why train analyst spokespeople?

Analysts influence sales

Any vendor investing in AR accepts this. Not everyone agrees on how, but every AR pro and most senior executives understand that analysts directly or indirectly influence how their customers perceive them and therefore have an impact on how, what and when those customers buy from them. So equipping spokespeople with the best tools to take advantage of that just makes sense.

Analyst conversations are different

Analysts are a different audience to press, to customers, to partners, to just about everyone else a vendor communicates their messages to. That means the conversations are different – they’re mostly more detailed and far-reaching, they can sometimes be broad and theoretical. Understanding what analysts want to hear about just makes sense.

Analysts are different

Analysts aren’t just different to other audiences, they’re different to each other. Some analysts are thoughtful and technical, others are interested in go-to-market approaches and partner ecosystems, others just want to know what you’ve sold. Each type requires a different approach, so understanding what individual analysts want to hear about just makes sense.

 Analysts want insights, not sound bites

Media training is well-accepted and very useful for engaging with journalists, but it’s next to useless in preparing executives to speak with analysts. Bridging to safe ground, speaking in bullet points and compressing messages to 30-second grabs simply add no value in analyst conversations. Understanding how to talk with analysts just makes sense.

 Executives don’t know what they don’t know

Most senior executives who engage with analysts come from sales and/or marketing backgrounds – they’re good at rallying the troops, sweet-talking customers, speaking to scripts on stage, and generally being positive. So they’re pretty confident that they can talk to analysts without help. But if they don’t understand the objectives of the discussion (because they don’t understand analysts), then they don’t know how effective they’ve been. Helping your executives be successful just makes sense.

Not all spokespeople are executives

I could have said “executives don’t know everything” and been equally correct. Because executives don’t know everything. They’re pretty good at talking about the business, the strategy, the customer engagement approach and lots of other higher level topics, but they’re usually weak on technical detail. Product marketing and management is often the source of good technical spokespeople, but depending on your circumstances, the best person to engage in-depth with analysts could be in pre-sales or a line of business. Helping the business get the message across just makes sense.

 There are simply too many misconceptions about analysts

Just about everyone in the ICT industry has an opinion about analysts, and the majority of them are wrong. They vary in degree from simply not getting the nuances of different analyst firm business models to believing that analysts will write favourable research if only you put enough money on (or under) the table. Battling these misconceptions on a daily basis just makes an AR professional’s job harder, so blowing them away & getting everyone on the same page just makes sense.

Having figured out that it does make sense to train analyst spokespeople, the next question is what do you teach them? That’s the topic for another post, but in the meantime, let me know if you think I’ve missed any good reasons, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

Cheers,

Dave