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.