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Same same, but different: Are Gartner and Forrester really in the same business any more?

The IT analyst business used to be pretty easy to define – we differentiated firms that influenced end-user organisations from those that worked for IT vendors, then segmented them based on technology depth, vertical markets, research offerings, geography etc. From an analyst relations perspective, we could choose how to deal with them, depending on our own objectives.

We’ve always seen analyst firms buying up others to fill out gaps in their offerings and/or broaden their reach. But after Forrester bought Giga Group and Gartner bought Meta Group several years ago, they remained the only two firms of any substance in the segment that my colleagues at Knowledge Capital Group call “Deal Makers & Breakers” – the firms which are most influential over end-user purchasing.

Then came “disruption”

Some analyst firms repositioned themselves to focus on new market opportunities, some stayed the course on their traditional IT markets while also keeping a weather eye out, and of course new players emerged targeting users and/or vendors.

It’s now four years that Forrester chairman & CEO George Colony has been talking about the “Age of the Customer” and repositioning the firm’s research away from the traditional IT organisation towards marketing and line-of-business executives, focusing on customer experience and how to use technology to deliver that.

Forrester was trying to differentiate itself from Gartner and get a head-start in tapping into the new research goldmine. Meanwhile, Gartner pretty much stuck to its guns, continuing to focus on the IT organisation (although it also has digital marketing services).

Regardless of this, Gartner and Forrester are pretty much in the same business. Their service offerings are not dissimilar, their sales models share many of the same characteristics, and their target customers have the same addresses, if not always the same business titles.

But is this really true any more?

For the past five years, I’ve been analysing the financial performances of these two IT research leaders, and a few points have always stuck out:

  • Gartner has consistently talked about its business as a business, enumerated sales metrics, how to increase sales productivity and drive out costs, while at the same time forecasting high single-digit or low double-digit revenue growth numbers – and delivered against them
  • Forrester has consistently talked about reinventing and realigning its research, reworking its sales model and changing its employee profile, but generally providing low single-digit growth forecasts – and delivered against them

When you listen to the annual earnings calls – or read the transcripts – for these firms, another thing stands out. The way that Gartner talks about business is pretty consistent with its balance sheet and the other numbers it discloses, while Forrester’s soundtrack is a little more aspirational, but not always backed up by the numbers.

In short, there are contradictions in the way that Forrester talks about its business and the way it delivers its numbers. Which is what makes me wonder about whether Forrester and Gartner are really in the same game any more…

In previous years, I’ve broken down and compared their results by attribute, but what I’d like to highlight now is the basic differences and the points that I have trouble correlating. I have a spreadsheet with lots of data comparisons, but I’m assuming that not everyone is as fascinated with this detail as I am, so I’ll keep it high-level. In any case, I’m not a stock market analyst, so the annual comparisons are more relevant from a business perspective than quarterly.

Let’s look at some points of difference:

Growth

  • Gartner’s annual revenue in 2016 grew 13% to $US2.445 billion, just a tad under its forecast from 12 months earlier, while Forrester posted a 4% revenue growth, right in the middle of its forecast
  • Gartner’s net income grew 11% to $US196 million, while Forrester’s jumped 47% to $US17.7 million, but that is still significantly lower than its most recent high of $US26 million in FY2012
  • Gartner’s revenue has grown at a CAGR of 11.1% since 2013 and 11.3% since 2010, while Forrester’s has grown 3.1% since 2013 and a slightly better 4.5% since 2010.
  • Gartner has generally forecast higher revenue numbers and hit them, while Forrester has generally been conservative, but has been variable in delivery. If Gartner analysts were as accurate as their finance department, they would be legends….

Business mix

Gartner’s research revenue – coming mostly from the IT space – has continued to grow as a percentage of its total – 75% in 2016, compared with 67% in 2010, while Forrester’s has remained pretty consistent at about 66%.

  • Gartner’s research revenue grew just under 16% in 2016, and 14% in Q4, while its five-year CAGR is more than 13%
  • Forrester’s research revenue grew just over 2% in 2016, and 1% in Q4, while its five-year CAGR is about 4.5%

While growing its consulting business, Gartner hasn’t achieved the same results as for its syndicated research. Its events business grew by a similar number – just under 7% – but the firm did highlight the fact that some of its Symposium events were selling out, so new events are likely.

Forrester doesn’t break down its consulting and events numbers, but includes a single line item called “advisory” which grew just over 7% in 2016, and just under 7% in Q4, and from the soundtrack, it seemed that events was the stronger performer.

Sales

It’s no secret that Gartner invests heavily in its salesforce and in sales training, but it doesn’t tolerate under-performers. It claims to have fine-tuned hiring to minimise wastage, and continues to focus on sales productivity.

  • Average spend per account in 2016 increased 10% to $US174,000, while sales productivity increased 7% on a four-quarter rolling average
  • Gartner’s salesforce is forecast to increase 13% in 2017

Forrester brought on Michael Morhardt about four years ago as Chief Sales Officer, and has continued to refine its sales model since then, with varying degrees of success. Under the latest structure:

  • Forrester has moved to a “premier” account model for its largest customers, with three levels of engagement – a client executive, a solutions partner and a client success manager. It plans to transition to this model by end of the year in the US and Asia/Pacific, with Europe about 75% complete by then
  • Other accounts will be managed under a “core” program driven by an inside sales organisation in Nashville, with its 50+ headcount doubling in 2018. It is not clear how that will work for non-US clients

The Outlook

Gartner is once again bullish about the next year, forecasting a revenue growth of 10% to 12%, with the highest forecasts in research. That doesn’t take into account its proposed acquisition of Corporate Executive Board (more on that below) which has the potential to add about $US1 billion to its top line once it’s finalised in April.

Forrester is forecasting a revenue growth of -1% to 2% for 2017, which is its lowest outlook since a similar forecast for 2013.

The Inconsistencies

I hold no torch for Gartner, but it’s hard to poke holes in its numbers and its forecasts. Gartner consistently walks the talk and lives up to its forecasts, so if it says it’s going to do something, then you’re unlikely to see a different outcome.

Likewise, I have nothing against Forrester – I have some great mates who work there and I respect their research. But there some things that just don’t make sense:

  • Forrester’s largest research communities in 2016 were CIOs (8,232 members), application development & delivery (5,341) and analyst relations (4,744) – that’s vendor folks like me. Sure, some of these clients might be buying customer-oriented research, but it still looks like a traditional IT audience
  • While CSO Michael Morhardt and CFO Mike Doyle talked up the new sales model – and particularly the Nashville beta – their positivity doesn’t gibe with a revenue forecast that is low to negative. Normally, a new inside sales organisation would be expected to ramp quickly, driving up revenue

Inorganic Growth

Gartner has always been acquisitive, adding breadth to its portfolio. In 2015, it acquired Peer Insights, a sort-of-less-nasty TripAdvisor review site for IT user feedback, which extends its ability to get direct insight from users about IT vendor performance. Other acquisitions have extended its capabilities into technical or niche market segments, but the $US3 billion purchase of Corporate Executive Board – a peer networking platform for legal, financial and HR – pushes it out of IT and into the rest of the C-suite. That deal is expected to close in April.

Gartner wants to play across the business, and always has dozens of potential acquisitions on its radar.

Forrester wants to play that game too. On its earnings call, Forrester said that it had appointed Doug Kohen, formerly head of operations & strategy, to lead its acquisitions, with a goal of completing one deal per year.

Meanwhile, International Data Corporation is also cashed-up for acquisitions, with its new Chinese venture capital owners also placing some emphasis on inorganic growth.

So Where To Now?

Plus ca change, plus ces’t la meme chose.

Gartner remains the 800-pound gorilla, but extends its reach into other line of business segments with the CEB acquisition. According to my friends at KCG, Gartner accounted for just under 70% of end-user spending on analyst firm services in 2015, and most of that was in the IT space. With the addition of CEB and other acquisitions, that penetration will no doubt increase.

At the same time, Gartner, IDC and Forrester accounted for 56% of total analyst firm revenues, with hundreds of firms making up the balance.

More acquisitions means more consolidation in the Big Three, but there are only a handful of mid-sized firms, and they’re not all appealing. The most attractive are those outside of IT, who can add breadth to the offerings of these traditionally IT-focused firms.

From an AR perspective, the new Gartner is a lot more complex. AR pros are already wrestling with how Peer Insights will impact existing engagement programs, while at the same time figuring out how to deal with CEB, whose people act more like advisors than analysts. It seems that the bigger Gartner gets, the harder it is to navigate.

Forrester, meanwhile, seems to be under attack from some of the ATGs (Alternatives to Garter) which have narrower focus, particularly around digital marketing. These firms are driving revenue out of lines of business rather than IT and generally have been established by Gartner and Forrester alumni – Constellation Research and Altimeter are probably the most visible examples, but there are others, and while generally smaller, they are becoming more important.

In the medium to long term, the analyst firms we know and love won’t look anything like those we deal with today. That will change how customers buy from them, how they influence customers, and how vendors try to influence the analysts.

But in the short term, the analyst business remains pretty much the same. And for AR folks, the strategy remains the same – focus on the analysts who really influence your customers and prospects, but keep one eye open for influencers who have – and will – come out of left field. It’s probably also worthwhile giving serious consideration to the length of future analyst firm contract commitments.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Cheers,

Dave

  • Thanks to Seeking Alpha for the earnings call transcripts, which compensate for my inadequate note-taking, and also to my mate Bill Hopkins at KCG, who did a stellar job of peer reviewing my draft.

Gartner & Forrester results show there’s life in the “old” business model yet

The stronger US dollar and the sudden decline in the oil & gas sector combined to impact the business performance of both Gartner and Forrester in FY2015, but their respective balance sheets belie the argument that the “traditional” IT analyst firm business model is dead or dying.

For the past couple of years, there has been a debate in the market about the long-term value proposition of the “old school” firms – Gartner, IDC and Forrester, respectively #1, #2 and #3 in the market – as more information becomes available from new players via “freemium” models focused on non-IT buyers. The most extreme end of that argument posits that end-user customers will no longer accept the high-priced, subscription seat model used by Gartner and Forrester.

On the current evidence, that is clearly not true. In Q4, Gartner’s new business increased 9% year-on-year despite an average 3% increase in prices. Since 2010, Gartner has consistently increased the share of revenue from research (subscription) from 67% to 73% in 2015, while Forrester’s research share of revenue has been roughly steady at 67% over the same period.

The results suggest that Gartner continues to deliver generally solid growth rates by sticking to what it does best, while Forrester continues to struggle to reap the benefit of its shift to focus on the age of the customer, rather than traditional IT. Are some of the newer players generating good returns? Of course, but not necessarily at the expense of the older firms.

Certainly, Gartner’s results are a bit of a mixed bag, but there are more positives than negatives. Meanwhile, Forrester’s results don’t necessarily support the positive commentary from its senior executives on the company’s earnings call this week, but they’re not all bad.

As the only two analyst firms to report their results publicly, Gartner and Forrester act as a bellwether for the state of the analyst business. IDC does too, but with little breakdown of its numbers, it’s hard to get deep insight.

As always, analysing the financial performance of these two public firms provides some interesting insights. We’ll break down their businesses in a similar format to that we used last year and previously.

Top line, bottom line

Gartner closed the year with revenues of $US2.163 billion, up 7% over 2014, while Forrester notched up $314 million in revenues, an increase of less than 1%. Interestingly, Gartner came in at the lower end of its year-earlier forecast, while Forrester was well below its unusually bullish forecast.

Gartner posted $176 million in net income, down 4% on 2014, and about 8% as a percentage of revenues, while Forrester recorded a net income of $US12 million, a solid 10% increase on its record low 2014 result, and almost 4% as a percentage of revenues.

GartnerForr

Research

Syndicated research still drives the revenue for both these firms. It grew strongly for Gartner in 2015, up 10% to $1.584 billion, and is forecast to grow 13 – 15% this year. For Forrester, research grew just over 1%, to $210 million.

On the earnings call, Forrester’s chairman, George Colony, said that “our customer experience business across all product lines continues to grow at over 20% per year.” Given the overall growth rate, that suggests that this business is still relatively small, which is supported by the fact that CFO Michael Doyle said that the top research role for Forrester was CIOs, with more than 10,000 members, followed by application development & delivery professionals, then analyst relations professionals.

Consulting

Forrester doesn’t report consulting as a separate line item, combining it under the category “advisory services and events”, but said that “this segment of the business continued to strengthen.” Overall, this line item declined 1% in 2015, but grew 7% in Q4 year-on-year, when event revenue declined 21% with one less event held.

Gartner separates its consulting business in the balance sheet, though there’s not much insight into how much of that comes from users vs vendors. Overall, consulting declined 6% in 2015 and was marginally down in Q4 year-on-year, with the firm forecasting 1 – 5% growth in 2016. Like Forrester, Gartner remains bullish about this segment, increasing its managing partner headcount by 18% to 109 last year, as well as adding junior consultants.

Events

Events were again the standout performer for Gartner, increasing just over 11% for both the year and the final quarter, when the flagship Symposium events are held around the world. Despite selling out the Orlando event and not increasing the number of total events, Gartner is forecasting 9 – 15% growth in that business this year, which suggests increased fees for both exhibiting and attending.

For Forrester, events are a much smaller business than for Gartner, and it doesn’t break it out as a separate line item in the balance sheet. However, George Colony said that the segment had begun to grow again in the second half of 2015 with the appointment of a new events chief. Forrester will hold 13 events in 2016, compared with Gartner’s 63.

Headcount

Gartner doesn’t provide a detailed breakdown of its staffing in its earnings statement, but its latest corporate profile – updated on September 30 – states total employment of 7,600 “associates”, an increase of 1,000 from the previous 12 month period. Of these, more than 1,100 are analysts – up 100. On the earnings call, Gartner CFO, Craig Safian, said that the consulting billable headcount was 606, up 13% on the previous year, while sales headcount grew approximately 15% in line with forecasts.

Forrester ended the year with a total of 1,345 staff – down marginally – including 4% fewer research & consulting for a total of 499, and 3% more sales staff for a total of 524. On the earnings call, Michael Doyle said that 340 of those were quota-bearing.

Client retention & contract value

Gartner & Forrester use slightly different terminology to describe their key metrics, but they both use rolling four-quarter averages to eliminate seasonality. Gartner said its client retention rate was 84%, down one point, while Forrester reported a one-point improvement to 77%. In terms of dollars, Gartner’s wallet retention was 105% at the enterprise level compared with Forrester’s 89%, with Gartner down slightly and Forrester up slightly.

For Gartner, research contract value increased 10% to $US1.761 billion (although this was restated on January 1 to $US1.69 billion due to the impact of foreign exchange rates), while Forrester increased 2% to $US237 million. None of these figures suggest that enterprises are walking away from the business model.

Outlook

The ongoing strength of the US dollar had an impact on the year-end results for both firms, and will continue to do so. Forrester was particularly bearish about ongoing exchange rate impacts but Gartner was more circumspect, despite having a greater exposure to international markets.

Forrester is also more bearish on revenue growth, and less positive than it was a year ago. Current forecasts are for 3 – 5% growth this year – though that may be adjusted – while Gartner has returned to its typical bullish form with a forecast of 10 – 13% in 2016.

This will only increase the delta between the #1 and #3 players in the analyst business. Gartner added almost “half a Forrester” to its bottom line in 2015, and will cross the 50% mark this year even at the lower end of its forecasts.

So the traditional IT analyst firm business model is far from dead.

Gartner remains cashed-up and interested in acquisitions to bolster its offerings to enterprises lower down the value chain, while Forrester could also benefit from some inorganic growth to broaden its offerings and provide some more heft to its market position. However, it’s unlikely that either will be a buyer for IDC, whose parent company IDG is currently looking at options to sell all of its publishing, research & events businesses.

Unlike Gartner & Forrester, IDC draws very little revenue from end-users, but some new money in the marketplace could change that focus, and the balance of power in the analyst business. Or not….

Cheers,

Dave

* Thanks to Seeking Alpha for the earnings call transcripts, which compensate for my inadequate note-taking.

 

 

Gartner nails its numbers yet again, but Forrester ups the ante on future growth

Underlining the inherent stability of the analyst business, Gartner and Forrester have again delivered pretty healthy balance sheets for the 2014 financial year, but there is a sharp contrast in the way that the two leading buy-side firms finished the year and view the future.

Now much more than six times larger than its most similar rival, Gartner cracked the $US2 billion revenue barrier & exceeded its growth forecast of 12 months ago, coming in 13% up on its 2013 revenue. Meanwhile, Forrester hit the top end of its 12-month forecast, with a 5% growth over 2013.

Both firms saw their Q4 revenues grow at similar rates to their annual performance, but net income figures were more dynamic. Gartner’s net income grew just 0.5% for the year, and declined 4% in Q4, year-on-year, while Forrester’s net income plunged almost 17% for the year, but rebounded 67% in Q4, year-on-year. That’s totally different to Forrester’s profit performance in the previous couple of years, when Q4 declines have been of the order of -50%.

Gartner has also started to moderate its future guidance, giving equity analysts an outlook of 6 to 9% revenue growth, while previously-conservative Forrester has upped the ante, forecasting 4 to 7% revenue growth in 2015. Most interestingly, Forrester CFO Michael Doyle stepped beyond normal protocol on the earnings call, flagging a revenue growth of 10 to 11% in 2016, although cautioning that it was preliminary. But this was an unusually bullish call from Forrester.

As always, analysing the financial performance of these two public firms provides some interesting insights. We’ll break down their businesses in a similar format to that we used last year and previously.

Top line, bottom line

  • Gartner closed the year with revenues of $US2.021 billion, up 13% over 2013, while Forrester notched up $312 million in revenues, an increase of 5%.
  • Gartner posted $184 million in net income, marginally up on 2013, and about 9% as a percentage of revenues, while Forrester recorded a net income of just $US10.9 million, a sharp 17% decrease on its 2013 result, and just over 3% as a percentage of revenues. Neither of these firms is as profitable as they used to be.

GartnerForresterrevs

Research

Syndicated research still drives the revenue for both these firms. It grew strongly for Gartner in 2014, accounting for 72% of revenues – a touch up on previous years – and is forecast to grow about 11% this year. For Forrester, research grew only 2%, accounting for two-thirds of total revenues.

Both firms believe there is significant opportunity in delivering research into new accounts with new services, though it’s fair to say that Forrester was more specific about focusing on the opportunities in business technology (BT) – roughly speaking, the line-of-business applications enabled by cloud, mobile, social etc – than in information technology (IT). But both areas are big areas of focus for both firms.

Consulting

Forrester doesn’t report consulting as a separate line item, combining it under the category “advisory services and events”, but it has been an area of strategic focus. In 2014, it moved to liberate its research analysts from consulting apart from short-term advisory & presentations, instead hiring dedicated consultants to undertake longer term projects. This is still a work in progress, with the firm aiming to balance the two 50/50. Overall, this line item grew 10% in 2014, suggesting a good result for consulting.

Gartner separates its consulting business in the balance sheet, though there’s not much insight into how much of that comes from users vs vendors. The most dynamic element is what Gartner calls “contract optimisation” – which is essentially helping end-user clients drive down technology acquisition costs – but it seems to have that reasonably under control. Overall, consulting grew 11% in 2014, but the outlook is for flat to slightly negative growth this year.

Events

Events continue to be the standout performer for Gartner, increasing just over 14% for the year and 20% in the final quarter, when the flagship Symposium events are held around the world. Gartner conducted 64 events in 2014, and plans to increase that by one this year.

For Forrester, events are a much smaller business than for Gartner, and it doesn’t break it out as a separate line item in the balance sheet. However, it noted that Q4 events revenues declined 14% due to weak sponsorship support rather than poor attendances. Forrester has hired a new sales leader for this part of the business and hopes to return to growth in 2015.

 Headcount

Gartner doesn’t provide a detailed breakdown of its staffing in its earnings statement, but its latest corporate profile – updated on September 30 – states total employment of 6,600 “associates”, of whom more than 1,000 are analysts. Sales headcount grew just over 14% in 2014 and is expected to continue growing in the 15 to 20% range. The company also noted that it now employed 92 managing partners in the consulting business, up 15%.

Forrester ended the year with a total of 1,351 staff – up 5% – including 518 research & consulting staff and 510 sales reps. The firm this week announced that it intends to reduce its headcount by 50, of whom only two are analysts. While this represents 4% of its total headcount, it plans to increase headcount 7% this year – the layoffs are aimed mainly at rebalancing its skills mix in the consulting organisation.

Client retention & contract value

Gartner & Forrester use slightly different terminology to describe their key metrics, but they both use rolling four-quarter averages to eliminate seasonality. Gartner said its client retention rate was 86%, up two points, while Forrester reported a three-point improvement to 76%. In terms of dollars, Gartner’s wallet retention was 106% at the enterprise level compared with Forrester’s 88%, both firms improving by two points.

For Gartner, research contract value increased 13% to $US1.603 billion (although this was restated on January 1 to $US1.55 billion due to the impact of foreign exchange rates), while Forrester increased 7% to $US231.7 million.

Outlook

The strengthening US dollar had an impact on the year-end results for both firms, and will continue to do so. Gartner writes about 40% of its business in other currencies, so this reduced overall profitability and increased the effective tax rate, while Forrester is less exposed with only 26% of its business written outside the US, but nevertheless reported an impact on Q4 revenues, and expects this to continue.

As noted above, Forrester has emerged as relatively more bullish this year, with its upper guidance at 7%, compared with low single digits in previous years, and flagging double-digit growth in 2016. For the first time in recent years, Gartner’s upper guidance has dropped from double digits to 9% – still greater than Forrester, but comparatively conservative.

Since 2009, Gartner has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 12%, twice that of Forrester, and the delta between the two has widened in recent years, both in terms of revenue and net income, so it is interesting to see their outlooks become more similar.

While Forrester acknowledges that it still needs to fine-tune its consulting organisation, the bullishness reflects a confidence that it has put all of its operational problems behind it, and that the changes it has made to both sales & research over the past couple of years are starting to pay dividends, which will accelerate over the next couple of years.

For Gartner, a hint of conservatism in no way suggests that it plans to take its foot off the gas. The single-digit guidance probably has more to do with currency volatility than anything else, and the firm stated that it intends to continue investing in both research and sales headcount, as well as look for strategic acquisitions.

So it’s time to buckle up – it’s full steam ahead for the technology research business in 2015.

Cheers,

Dave

* Thanks to Seeking Alpha for the earnings call transcripts, which compensate for my inadequate note-taking.

Why technology industry disruption is also disrupting the analyst relations game

The analyst relations profession has always been a challenging one – fun, but challenging. Over the past couple of years, it has become tougher, and all indications are that it’s going to get even tougher in the coming years.

Like many buzz words that the technology industry latches on to, “disruption” is much over-used and often incorrectly applied. But the reality is that some technology market segments are being significantly disrupted by a range of forces, and by extension that is having a profound effect on the analyst business and the AR profession.

Confronted by this range of forces, many traditional IT vendors are struggling to get the attention they’ve previously enjoyed with the larger – and smaller – analyst firms. So, for AR pros, this means getting smarter & more creative if they want to get the cut-through they need.

But before we look at some of the potential solutions, let’s look at the problem. These are the forces at play:

Analyst business models are changing

To a large degree, analyst firms provide – and have always provided – pretty much the same thing to their clients, whether they are IT vendors or users. That is: content, engagement & advice. It’s a multi-layered approach which has worked for years & will continue to be successful, but here’s how it’s changing:

  • “One to many” is being disintermediated. The subscription model for written research & market share data has long been the cash cow for analyst firms, but it is being devalued by the vast amount of information available for free on the web. Some emerging analyst firms are using freemium models to drive interest in paid services, but there is a wealth of information available online – on vendor websites, on blogs, on aggregation sites and elsewhere. Quality written research is still relevant for most analyst firms, but it is no longer a differentiator.
  • “One to some” is gathering steam. Analyst firms have always done events – it’s a great way to promote the brand, the content and the ideas, but it also provides for more intimate engagement with customers. And it’s an area where many firms are focusing their investment. Gartner’s event business grew 17% last financial year, while the Symposium conference in Orlando in October sold out. IDC has a crowded schedule of events covering just about every country in Asia/Pacific, not to mention North America, Europe & elsewhere. And they’re not alone.
  • “One to one” delivers value, but doesn’t scale. A key value proposition for Gartner – among many others – has been its enquiry service, through which it is able to provide specific, personalised advice to both vendors & users. This is what many clients really pay for, but there are only so many 30-minute enquiries that an individual analyst can manage. Increasing enquiry volumes means adding expertise, which costs money.

The technology business ain’t what it used to be

In the beginning there were just a few technology vendors – old hands will recall referring to one predominant group as the BUNCH (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data, Honeywell). The minicomputer business started the process of expansion, but the advent of the PC in the early 1980s truly democratised the technology business, with the emergence of software standards & platform independence. The web further built on this legacy, spawning thousands of new players, while the smart mobile revolution has made everyone an app developer. But it gets worse:

  • There are few barriers to entry for new players. There are still barriers to success, but anyone with a good idea, access to some smart programmers and a half-decent marketing plan has the potential to carve themselves out a niche and/or disrupt existing business models. Add in some venture capital & social media cred, and they have the potential to be a real player. And guess what – they’re doing everything they can to get the attention of industry analysts.
  • The Internet of Things. What can we say? Even Gartner has declared it as the #2 strategic technology trend of 2015, and many other firms have been beating the drum about this for some time. This brings a lot of non-traditional players into the mix. And guess what – they’re doing everything they can to get the attention of industry analysts.
  • Everything old is new again. In part due to the IoT, many old established manufacturing companies are finding that they’re interesting & relevant again as they build sensing technology into products like jet engines, heavy haulage, air conditioning systems and more. As one analyst said to me recently, many of the new disrupters are 100-year-old companies, not creative start-ups. Think Honeywell, Siemens, Rockwell Automation etc. And guess what – they’re doing everything they can to get the attention of industry analysts.
  • Traditional IT vendors are looking for greener fields. The vendors we know & love are not sitting idly by while all this happens. They are well aware of the factors shaping the market & the emergence of new competition, and they are exploring their adjacent markets to maintain their growth. Unfortunately, they’re not seen as “sexy” like a lot of the so-called disruptors. But guess what – they’re doing everything they can to get the attention of industry analysts.

Analyst behaviours are changing

Being an analyst has always been a good gig, but it’s been getting tougher over the past few years. It’s still a good gig, but in general, analysts have less latitude than they once had to explore ideas, to think, to pontificate, to focus on the big long-term issues rather than the immediate problems in need of resolution. In simple terms, they’re more accountable for their time, but let’s look at the pressure points:

  • Analysts are busier than they have ever been. Most analyst firms have figured out how to get more productivity out of their analysts over the past few years, so many of them now goal their staff on the stuff that impacts their renewal rates – not just written research volumes, but also enquiry volumes and paid engagements. So analysts are not just more accountable, they don’t have the “slack” in their schedules they once had, or the ability to apply that as they choose.
  • Analysts need to know more about more things. Analysts in the Asia/Pacific region have always been broad rather than deep because they have to understand multiple geographic & technology markets, more so than their US & European peers, who have the luxury of larger markets which allow them to specialise. But all analysts need to understand the adjacencies to their focus markets, and that has become more complicated. They need to understand – and explain – how the new market dynamics affect the narrower markets they focus on.
  • Analysts are being used differently by their own firms. As we noted above, there is a greater focus on delivering events which engage analysts more closely with their clients, whether they are vendors or users. While these events deliver a good contribution to the bottom line, they require more time commitment, not just in terms of presentation delivery & travel, but also for preparation. Analysts involved in these events are expected to be “always on” even when they’re not on stage, doing client enquiries, networking & otherwise promoting the firm’s brand.
  • Analysts are being used differently by their clients. Not only do analyst firms run their own events, but IT vendors host them too. The user conference/roadshow/roundtable is a stock component in the marketing playbook of most IT vendors, and they love to use analysts in keynotes and breakouts to add an air of credibility and independence to their events. There’s nothing wrong with this, but once again it sucks up a lot of analyst time in preparation, delivery & travel.

Bottom line

What this boils down to is that many traditional IT vendors are struggling to get the attention of the analysts with whom they’ve engaged for years. They are competing for airtime & mindshare with a growing number of new players, whose stories are often more “sexy” than the business-as-usual messages they deliver. And this is at a time when analysts have less time to listen to vendors, and are more selective about what briefings they attend.

It’s a tough landscape, and vendors are going to have to get a bit creative to stand out from the crowd. There isn’t space today to discuss potential solutions, but I’ll do that in another post in the next week or so. In the meantime, I’d appreciate your perspectives on this dilemma, the ramifications and potential solutions.

Cheers,

Dave

How measurement of analyst relations programs has evolved to provide clarity in an uncertain world

The business of influencing the influencers has never been straightforward. Just getting agreement in the analyst relations community about what we mean by “influence” has always been the subject of lengthy & sometimes heated debate, but the evolution of new analyst business models, research methodologies and information delivery processes have added further layers of complexity.

AR professionals continue to be challenged by tightened budgets at the same time that the scope of their target audience is growing. Even the most disciplined AR pros who focus tightly on their key influencers sometimes find themselves distracted by their stakeholders pushing new players into the mix, and the deafening noise of others promoting their opinions via social media.

A well-structured targeting & tiering process is a key element in ensuring that you’re focusing on the analysts that matter to your company, however you define influence and however broad or narrow the scope of your AR program. I’ve written previously about why targeting is important and how to go about tiering analysts.

But then you still need to determine whether you’re getting cut-through with these analysts. And that’s a bit harder.

There are a bunch of things that come into play when you’re trying to measure an AR program. Some of them are subjective, some of them are a little more concrete. As I wrote a couple of years ago, there is no single metric which will define success in AR – and counting the number of briefings conducted is certainly not that! – but smart AR pros will use a range of measures to build an overall dashboard.

A big piece of the puzzle is some sort of objective measure of how well your AR program is working, and what it is actually achieving. How better to do this than asking the analysts themselves?

So here comes the self-serving bit. Intelligen has been running AR effectiveness studies since 2003, annually surveying analysts right across the Asia/Pacific & Japan region. Not surprisingly, we think that this is a really important tool for keeping track of the impact of vendor AR vendor programs, and so do many of our clients, who subscribe year after year.

Our study is called Understanding the Influencers, and it has constantly evolved to reflect the changing nature of the analyst business in APJ, plus the changing requirements of our vendor AR clients.

Over the past few months, we have undertaken a complete review & revision of Understanding the Influencers. We have sat down with analysts to understand what’s important to them, and how to make this study more relevant for them. We have talked with AR and marketing pros across the region to understand the sorts of insights they need, and how to deliver them.

So here are the big changes (and what hasn’t changed):

A new survey platform, optimised for today’s web

Although Understanding the Influencers started as a phone survey, we took all the quantitative aspects online fairly early – in 2005 – and since 2006, the study has been hosted by Novagenus. Over the past few months, the outstanding team at Novagenus have built a complete new survey platform for us in HTML5, optimised for modern browsers and tablets. The new layout is clean and simple to use, minimising the amount of time it takes busy analysts to respond. For the first time, analysts will be able to write in the names of vendors not included in our standard segment lists.

A new survey questionnaire which reflects today’s AR world

We’ve tweaked the survey questions many times over the years to expand coverage and address new influences such as social media, but this year we put everything on the table and analysed the value of every question. The core attributes we use to measure AR effectiveness remain (plus one new one), but other questions have been removed, updated, simplified and/or clarified. We believe that this will not only make it easier for analysts to respond, but will also enhance the quality of the results.

Native language support

For the first time, we are effectively running three separate versions of Understanding the Influencers this year – in English, Chinese and Japanese. While analysts in China and Japan generally read & write English fairly well, particularly in the large global firms, we know that it will be easier and less time-consuming for them to be able to engage in their native languages. We’re hopeful that this will also increase responsiveness from local research firms where English skills are not so strong.

了解决策影响者们 2014

情報発信者を理解する 2014

Qualitative insights remain important

A significant differentiator for Understanding the Influencers has always been the fact that we overlaid the quantitative survey with qualitative depth interviews with more than 20 senior analysts across the region. This approach has allowed us to provide deeper insight into why specific AR programs are working (or not) and what other issues are important to analysts. We will continue to conduct these interviews with leading analysts who really understand AR, plus capture comments in the online survey in English, Chinese and Japanese.

More tailored analysis for vendors

One of the challenges of this type of study is that every vendor segments its target markets differently, and drives its AR program differently as a result. What’s important to one vendor will be less so to another, and the tools used will vary depending on size, resources and geographic focus. At the end of the day, we have to categorise both vendors and analysts according to their technology & business focus, what we call capture segments. It is impossible to get that 100% right, but we think we’ve improved our ability to map vendors with their target analysts by revising and expanding the capture segments. While we’ve always provided our vendor clients with customised analysis, we’ll be able to add a great deal more precision to that this year.

Earlier timescale for research & deliverables

We got a lot of feedback from analysts that our November/December schedule for fieldwork often conflicted with their need to finish research projects by the end of the year, so we’ve moved the start date to early October. This means that not only can we leave the analysts to finish their research in peace, but we can also deliver results for our vendor clients a month earlier. This ties in more neatly with typical planning stages which often take place in January.

Understanding the Influencers 2014 goes live next Tuesday October 7. We’re confident that all the changes we’ve made will drive up response rates and provide our vendor clients with deeper & more detailed insights on how to engage more effectively with the growing group of influential analysts in the APJ region.

If you’d like to know more, send me an email.

Cheers,

Dave

 

New firms sprout roots in the Asia/Pacific IT analyst landscape

Like the markets it supports, the IT industry analyst landscape is in a constant state of change. Firms come and go, research agendas shift to new technologies, business models are tweaked & redirected, deliverables metamorphose to reflect changed information consumption habits.

The last few years has seen quite a bit of consolidation at the “top end of town” as larger players have bought up smaller firms which provide them with access to new markets or opportunities. Forrester acquired home-grown APJ firm, Springboard Research three years ago, and Gartner soaked up IDEAS International in 2012. More recently, 451 Research picked up Yankee Group, a shadow of its former self, and Informa Telecoms transmogrified into Ovum, which it had acquired a few years ago.

These deals have been well reported, but just as interesting is what has been happening at the other end of the market. The analyst business is a classic “long tail” industry – there are hundreds of companies which fit the broad definition of “analyst firm” – and there are few barriers to entry, so there are always new players.

Over the past couple of years, quite a number of new seeds have been sown in the Asia/Pacific region. Some of these have already borne fruit, some are still quite nascent. They all have different business models, different focus areas, different capabilities, and how well they perform remains to be seen.

But they all have something to offer. As we’ve noted before, any analyst firm can give you insights into a market or technology – how important that is to a vendor depends on its own market focus, information needs, budget availability & many other factors.

Very few analyst firms have true influence over end-user purchasing decisions, but many influence around the edges, or can help create exposure for vendors to build awareness or help them better address their market opportunities. These are all valid outcomes of an analyst relations program, just addressed differently.

We thought it worthwhile to profile some of the “new” firms which have come on to our radar in APJ over the last couple of years. There are also a couple of firms which are relatively new on the scene that didn’t want to be included in our coverage at this point, but we’ll likely hear more of them as they get themselves established. We make no judgment on the capabilities or likely success of these firms, and to avoid any allegations of bias, they’re listed alphabetically.

 BigInsights (Australia)

Big data is a big topic, and that’s all that BigInsights covers, offering research, consulting, go-to-market services & training. The firm was founded by a former HP colleague of mine, Raj Dalal, who also spent some time covering emerging technologies for IDC Asia/Pacific. Also on board is another ex-HPer, David Triggs – as CTO – and former IDC Australia software analyst, Shayum Rahim – as research director – while the advisory board includes Ramin Marzbani, who in the 1990s built the internet research firm, www.consult, before selling it to ACNielsen; and Vikram Mehta, who rolled the blade server business out of Nortel to create Blade Network Technologies, later selling it to IBM.

BigInsights’ business model is fairly “traditional” and primarily focused on vendors with specific big data products, but includes some end-user services including discovery workshops & training. Key research studies include an annual technology & vendor landscape, and demand-side research on big data technology adoption, both covering the Asia/Pacific region.

 capioIT (Australia)

It’s been nearly four years since Phil Hassey set up capioIT, so he probably has more visibility than some of the newer firms, but still merits inclusion on this list. For a one-man band, Phil covers a lot of ground within his focus area of emerging technologies & emerging markets – recent studies have included topics as diverse as BI & analytics, infrastructure services, Chinese tier 2 & 3 cities, and natural resources IT solutions – but broadly his strength is around IT services & enterprise software.

With a background leading IT services research for Springboard and IDC Asia/Pacific, Phil delivers research & consulting services to vendors, but also undertakes custom consulting projects for end-user organisations in Australia as well as in other countries in APJ. Unlike many analysts, he also invests a lot of time & some of his own money doing on-the-ground research in many countries.

 Greyhound Research (India)

Former Forrester/Springboard analyst Sanchit Vir Gogia started Greyhound just over a year ago, positioning it as an IT & telecom research & advisory firm, focused on emerging markets. While many of the pages on its website remain incomplete, Sanchit told us that the firm targeted three audiences – IT decision-makers, IT vendors & partners, and venture capital funds – and revenue was reasonably balanced across the three, with clients in India, ASEAN and the Middle East.

Greyhound’s services include free & paid research, custom research, role-based advisory, toolkits & speaking engagements, with broad technology coverage focused on five business themes. Sanchit is also fairly visible through his blog, AsDisruptiveAsITGets, and on Twitter.

 Progessive Digital Media Group (UK)

Datamonitor founder, Michael Danson, who sold his business to Informa in 2007, has recently been rolling up a range of publishing & research businesses across a range of industries. The firm most relevant to this space is Kable, which does detailed primary research on ICT usage in 14 industries in 33 markets, and which also owns telco research & advisory firm, Pyramid, and Strategic Defence Intelligence, which tracks the global defence business.

For the past few months, former IDC Australia & Datamonitor sales director, Paul Hodges, has been ramping up the APJ sales operation in Sydney, and is planning to add country & regional analysts over coming months. Collectively, the PDM businesses have an enormous amount of data on technology consumption & usage, so the potential to further develop services of interest to both vendors & users is high.

 Specialist Computing (Australia)

After covering data centre technology for more than a decade with Gartner & a long career in marketing/technical roles with major IT vendors such as HDS, Phil Sargeant established Specialist Computing last year to focus on storage technologies, as well as server & desktop virtualisation.

While strictly speaking a consultancy rather than an analyst firm as there is no regular cycle of research, Specialist’s services are primarily focused on end-users, including creating & evaluating storage RFT/RFPs and creating storage & virtualisation plans.

 Tech Research Asia (Australia & Japan)

Tim Dillon had an extensive background as an analyst – leading IDC Asia/Pacific’s mobility practice, establishing Current Analysis’ European analyst operation& heading up Asia/Pacific research for Current Analysis, among other roles – before setting up TRA two years ago. Tokyo-based Trevor Clarke, formerly IDC Australia’s lead infrastructure analyst and a former editor of Computerworld Australia, joined the team as a partner a few months later, with former Corporate Express/Staples CIO, Garry Whatley, coming on board more recently.

While TRA positions itself as able to assist end-user executives – and many of its engagements are with CxOs and CIOs across the region – the majority of its revenues are derived from ICT vendors and service providers.TRA has broad technology coverage – although its published research has a strong focus on mobility and the future of work – and says its primary focus is analysing the business outcomes from technology, rather than technology per se. All of its team are active on the regional speaking circuit.

Generally speaking, all of these firms have chosen to focus on market niches where they can compete effectively with some of the bigger players. Key advantages they enjoy include nimbleness & flexibility, unconstrained by the business models, research methodologies & market taxonomies of the more established firms.

Of course, they lack the reach & scale that give some of the leaders a certain amount of market muscle, and scaling up requires adding quality analysts, who are often hard to find. And while some of them will be capable of producing quality research across the APJ region, they will understandably be stronger in their home markets, simply because no amount of travel can compensate for having feet on the street.

From an AR perspective, vendors should be thinking about how, when & why to engage with these firms. Some will make more sense than others, but they’re certainly worth exploring further.

Have we missed anyone? Let us know if there are other new players we should be looking at.

Cheers,

Dave

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.

 Research

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.

 Consulting

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.

Events

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.

Headcount

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?

Cheers,

Dave

Crunching the analyst firm numbers – what do they tell us about Gartner, Forrester, IDC & others?

Not all IT research is about numbers, but the IT analyst business definitely is. It’s a business after all, and if you don’t make the numbers, you don’t have a business. But what’s interesting is how many different ways there are to make the numbers stack up.

It’s somewhat ironic that while IT analyst firms often rely on public – and private – disclosure of information from both vendors and end-user organisations to make their prognostications, they often don’t like to reveal too much about their own businesses. The big public firms, Gartner & Forrester, disclose good detail about their revenues to meet their statutory requirements, and perhaps a little more, while the private firms tend to be fairly vague.

As a former analyst, I’ve always been intrigued about the insights you can gain by breaking down the numbers. Topline and bottom line figures tell you one thing, but there’s often a more interesting story when you dig a bit deeper – you can see this in my recent post analysing the 2012 financial results for Gartner & Forrester.

I’ve long considered analyst headcount a good indicator of the health of analyst firm. If the headcount is growing, then that’s a reasonable sign that the business is also growing – or has good prospects of growth. Analysts are a product, and typically you don’t hire more of them if the ones you’ve already got aren’t selling.

But it’s not as simple as that. If you can increase revenue without adding analyst headcount ie adding costs, then you’re going to increase the profit margin, which is also a positive indicator. So you need to look at the relationship between analyst headcount, total headcount and revenue to get a better idea of how a firm is performing.

This is where it gets tricky. Not all of these data points are available for all firms, nor are they necessarily comparable. But by poking around the websites of a few of the leading firms and asking questions of their PR folks, I’ve come up with some insights.

Analyst headcounts

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use the term “analyst” a little loosely because of the different way that each firm categorises their staff, combining analysts & consultants, because these roles are sometimes shared.

According to Gartner’s website, it has 902 analysts and 500 consultants (total 1,402), an increase of just under 10% from a year earlier, while Forrester employs 432 “research professionals”, a decline of 4% from last year. IDC told me it employs 1,075 analysts, which is higher than the 1,000 stated on its website, although that latter figure has been unchanged for some time.

Ovum advised me that it currently employs 102 analysts and consultants, which is lower than I’d estimated from the analyst bios listed on its website, but those include management. This figure seems largely unchanged from a year ago. Frost & Sullivan confirmed that it employs 1,800 analysts and consultants worldwide, and while this figure seems relatively unchanged, it is unclear how many of these are focused primarily on IT & communications, as is the case for the other firms.

Looking at analysts as a percentage of total employees, Gartner has the lowest ratio – just over 25% – while IDC has the highest, at 63%. Forrester – at 35% – and Ovum – 55% – sit in between these two extremes, and all appear to have drifted downwards slightly in the past couple of years. Of course, these firms have quite different business models, research services, analyst types and client bases, so it is not unusual that the ratios should vary, but it is interesting how starkly different they are.

Unfortunately, we don’t have accurate data for sales headcount for these firms (except Ovum, which is about 25% of its total), but we do know that Gartner has invested heavily in its salesforce over recent years, particularly in Asia/Pacific, but elsewhere as well. Forrester and IDC have also increased their sales hires in the past year, evidenced by total headcount growing at a greater rate than analyst headcount.

Mapping headcount to revenue

The headcount figures become more interesting when we map them against revenues. Forrester and IDC have similar revenue per employee figures – about $US236,000 – but Gartner’s is about 25% higher, just under $US300,000.

headcountThe differences become even more dramatic when we compare revenue per “analyst.” Gartner is generating more than $1.1 million per analyst, some 70% higher than Forrester, and more than 200% higher than IDC! Granted, the different business models don’t make this an apples-for-apples comparison, but the deltas are large enough to demonstrate the point.

So what does this tell us? Certainly, Gartner has optimised its sales-to-analyst ratio in recent years, but can it still make gains from pushing this approach further? At what point does reducing the analyst percentage of headcount start to have a negative impact?

Forrester blamed poor sales execution for its weak financial performance last year, and has indicated a greater focus on sales to turn the business around. But does it need to match Gartner to make that happen? Forrester is about one-fifth the size of Gartner, so does scale change the equation?

IDC obviously has a different client base to these two firms, and the analyst workloads are quite different, but can it benefit from adopting this approach, driving analyst percentages down and sales ratios up to increase revenues & margins?

And what does this mean for other, smaller firms, where the sales ratios tend to be lower? Can they learn and benefit from Gartner’s approach?

On the surface, this doesn’t look like a good trend for the analyst business, from an AR perspective. But on deeper assessment, fewer analysts with greater impact & influence are much easier to engage with than lots of analysts with less impact. In other words, simply increasing analyst headcount is probably less effective than improving the penetration of existing analysts by putting more sales resources behind them.

This is one of those areas where I don’t have all the answers, but I find the questions intriguing. What do you think? How important are these ratios to the performance of an analyst firm, to the health of the analyst business overall, to the execution of a vendor AR program? What else can we learn from this analysis?

Cheers,

Dave

A tale of two sales teams – an analysis of Gartner’s & Forrester’s 2012 financials

If you ever wanted evidence that success in the analyst business is about more than good research, then the latest financial results from Gartner and Forrester tell the story – it’s as much about sales performance as anything else.

In its earnings call on Wednesday (US time) Forrester chairman & CEO, George Colony, CFO Michael Doyle & recently-appointed chief sales officer, Mike Morhardt, all pinned the blame for weak 2012 results on a complex sales compensation plan implemented in early 2012, which subsequently accelerated salesforce attrition & impacted bookings growth.

A week ago, Gartner reported much stronger growth for the fiscal year, and attributed its performance, in part, to a continued focus on improving sales productivity. Increasing its sales headcount by 12 per cent over the year probably didn’t hurt, either.

Looking at the numbers and listening to the earnings calls, Gartner appears to be at the top of its game & would seem to have no intention of backing off, while Forrester is more in recovery mode from a tough year, with its outlook still a little tentative. So let’s take a look at the breakdown and see what it can tell us about the prospects for both firms.

Top line, bottom line

  • Gartner finished fiscal 2012 with total revenues of $US1.616 billion, an increase of 10 per cent over 2011, while Forrester reported revenues of $US293 million, an increase of just 3 per cent
  • Gartner posted a net income of $US166 million, an increase of 21 per cent over 2011 & 10.3 per cent as a percentage of revenues, while Forrester recorded net income of $US26 million, a growth of 13 per cent & 8.9 per cent as a percentage of sales

While the deltas between those sets of figures are telling, they’re not too bad when compared to the Q4 numbers. Forrester’s revenues grew less than 1 per cent from Q4 2011 and net income declined 47 per cent, while Gartner reported revenue growth of 11 per cent and net income growth of 31 per cent.

It’s not unusual to have a strong Q4 – most sales teams are driven to close deals at the eleventh hour – so the fact that Forrester didn’t push more over the line is interesting. Gartner CEO Gene Hall spoke of double-digit growth in earnings, revenues & cashflow in Q4, plus double-digit growth in research in all of its major geographies. There was no such enthusiasm on the Forrester call.

Research

Syndicated research services account for about the same percentage of revenue for both firms – 70 per cent in the case of Gartner, 69 per cent for Forrester. But while research revenues grew 12 per cent year-on-year for Gartner, Forrester’s grew at only 6 per cent. The delta was even greater in Q4 – Gartner’s research revenues increased almost 13 per cent, Forrester’s less than 3 per cent.

Outside of the numbers, Gartner didn’t talk about its research business much at all. By contrast, Colony spent a good chunk of his introductory remarks talking about research products & methodologies, most notable of which was his discussion of playbooks, which Forrester introduced in 2012 to guide customer roles through every stage of a strategy, from development to execution. While the broader analyst & AR community seems a little uncertain that the playbooks are a true differentiator for Forrester, Colony confidently stated that the firm would double the number of playbooks from 39 in 2013, with all of them being constantly refreshed.

Events

There is no doubt that events have become a nice cash cow and a great growth business for Gartner over the past few years. Events revenue grew 17 per cent in 2012 and 21 per cent in Q4, and now account for 11 per cent of revenues, up from 10 per cent a year earlier. In 2012, Gartner ran 62 events worldwide, and plans to increase that by a handful this year – why wouldn’t you, when attendee numbers grew 8 per cent, exhibitors increased 20 per cent, and the business provides a 46 per cent gross contribution!

Forrester doesn’t break out events revenues in its balance sheet, but seems less bullish about this segment than Gartner. Forrester had been steadily increasing the number of events it hosted, but plans to reduce the total to 19 in 2013 – “fewer, bigger & better events” with improved customer experience.

Consulting

This was a weak segment for both firms. Gartner’s consulting revenues declined 1 per cent for the year and 8 per cent in Q4, which Gartner CFO Chris Lafond said was “below expectations” and was a result of contract optimisation. Despite this, Gartner had increased billable headcount by 5 per cent by the end of the year.

Forrester’s consulting revenues are included in “advisory services and other” which presumably includes events revenues. This line item declined 2 per cent for the year and 4 per cent in Q4, with CFO Michael Doyle saying that consulting delivery had been impacted by analyst attrition, although bookings had grown.

Headcount

Gartner didn’t mention total or research headcounts on its earnings call (and hasn’t yet updated its factsheet), but there is little doubt that both of those increased in 2012. There has been a constant stream of research headcount requisitions posted (and filled) over the past several months, and there have been few departures. Gartner said that it added 149 sales positions, bringing the total 1,417, and billable consulting headcount increased to 503.

Forrester said on its earnings call that sales attrition slowed after modifying the compensation plan mid-year, and that it finished the year with 274 quota-carrying salespeople, 239 of whom were “fully-ramped”, after increasing recruitment. Its press statement cited a total salesforce of 462, up 5.5 per cent for the year, while of more concern was the fact that analyst headcount declined 4 per cent to 432. Forrester also stated that it would eliminate approximately 30 jobs “to streamline its operations” but gave no detail about where those cuts would be.

Outlook

Gartner is bullish about 2013, saying it is “well-positioned for another year of strong growth” and providing formal guidance of 10 to 13 per cent growth in total revenues, with research strongest at 13 to 14 per cent. Forrester’s guidance range for the full year is -1 per cent to +2 per cent, with executives saying it was hoped that recent & ongoing changes to the sales structure would lead to a modest increase in sales productivity.

What next?

Gartner seems to have all the levers for its business in the right places, but no doubt will continue to fine-tune. This is a company which has comfortably increased its prices by between 3 and 6 per cent per annum since 2005, has a quarterly client retention rate of 83 per cent (from more than 13,300 clients) and attracts more than 6,000 CIOs to its events annually. The juggernaut rolls on…

Forrester certainly doesn’t look as comfortable, but it’s not out of the game by a long shot. Less than one-fifth the size of Gartner, the third-largest IT analyst firm now has 2,462 clients, having consolidated its accounts for a single client view, and its client retention rate is just a little lower at 77 per cent. If it adjusts its levers correctly this year, it will stay on track and return to growth.

Both of these firms know that clients will continue to buy information and advisory services from them, whether the economy is good or bad – what differs is what they buy in up and down markets, and how much they pay. Both of these firms still think there’s plenty of upside – this is what they had to say about long term prospects:

“Our level of penetration is very low in all of [our geographic markets], even the US.” Gene Hall, Gartner CEO

“This is a target-rich environment, the market opportunity is as big as ever.” Mike Morhardt, Forrester CSO

Sounds like a good business to be in… what do you think?

cheers,

Dave