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Posts tagged ‘best practices’

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.

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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

 

10 things I’ve learned about AR & the analyst business – and that you should know too…

It’s that time of year when just about everyone in the analyst business and the broader technology industry comes up with their prognostications and predictions for the year ahead. Inevitably, many of those will prove wildly inaccurate, overly optimistic or simply embarrassing.

So rather than fall into that trap, I decided to cast my mind back and consider what I have learned about analyst relations and the analyst business in APJ over 10 years of running the only independent AR consultancy in the region (that milestone ticked over in November), working with dozens of vendor clients and engaging with hundreds of analysts.

Here’s my list. I’ve written about some of these issues before at length – you’ll find more detail on previous posts. And while I’ve thought a bit about the rankings, this is just my perspective. Don’t be afraid to give me your thoughts.

1.         It’s the relationship, stupid

AR is all about creating a two-way dialogue between a vendor and an analyst. Relationship builders take the time to understand the analyst’s interests & needs, and personalise the engagement accordingly, but they’re also pretty good at creating internal executive support for AR, which is when the magic happens. A good relationship builder with a weak story and/or content will mostly do better than an average engager with great content

2.         Most analysts are decent human beings

Yes, some are arrogant, anally-retentive or just downright difficult, but 99% of the time they’re trying to do the right thing for their clients. An engagement approach that recognises this can turn an adversary into an advocate. Analysts also need to have some relationship skills, and dickheads just don’t last.

3.         Vendors will continue to under-invest in APJ

I’ve written about this before, and sadly it’s just a reality of the technology business in this region – it applies as much to overall marketing & sales investment as it does specifically to AR. Vendors have a poor track record of making decisions at HQ which don’t take into account the growth & needs in emerging markets, and the current global economic situation isn’t going to change that. (But reading the goat entrails available to me, I feel cautiously optimistic that the needle is swinging back a little in 2013, after a very lacklustre 2012).

4.         Many vendors just don’t “get” AR – nor do some analysts

Some vendors will never “get” AR, simply because they don’t try to understand the value that analysts provide, or how they are differentiated from other influence communities. Their loss. On the flip side, some analysts fail to see that most AR professionals are advocates for analysts, not gatekeepers – despite all the evidence to contrary. It’s not a perfect world…

5.         Analyst targeting is the most important element of any AR program

Full stop. Understanding your audience is the cornerstone of any marketing or influence program, and AR is no different. Targeting is the first step, tiering is the second, engagement approach follows. All analysts have different needs & require different approaches, regardless of their prioritisation.

6.         Influence is global/regional, but engagement is local

Many analysts engage with clients right across the world, not just in their home countries or cities, and it’s important to understand where individual analysts have impact. But it’s much more important to engage with analysts in their own timezones. Regardless of how you manage that, you can’t assume that information will trickle down to an influential analyst who’s sleeping when you decide to run a briefing.

7.         Training spokespeople to engage with analysts is a no-brainer

Why wouldn’t you want to give your executives the best possible preparation for engaging with key influencers? Dealing with analysts is not that complex, but it is not innate, and spending a few hours upfront demystifying the analyst business yields immediate benefits and also avoids embarrassing outcomes.

8.         Measuring results is critical to AR success

You might consider this a bit self-serving, considering I provide a measurement program, but really – if you’re not measuring what you’re doing, then what are you doing? Don’t try to measure everything, and focus on measuring where you’ve actually influenced analyst perceptions – this is where you’ll demonstrate value to your internal stakeholders (and holders of the purse-strings).

9.         Some vendors will continue to confuse running analyst summits with an AR program

Sad, but true. An analyst summit is a one or two-day event which provides the opportunity to showcase your key messages, introduce some key customers, dig into some nitty-gritty around technology or go-to-market strategy, and develop relationships between key executives and analysts. An AR program is a day-to-day interaction process which ensures that analysts get the information they need, when they need it – and ensures those relationships prosper. To do the first without the second is a waste of time, effort & money.

10.       Change in the analyst landscape is a natural state

It is for every other business, so why not analysts? Firms will continue to grow & prosper. Some will be acquired because they offer something different, others because they have lost focus but retain analyst value and/or an interesting client base. Analysts will continue to become disgruntled with their employers, then quit to explore new markets, business approaches and delivery models. And so the cycle continues…

Just one more thing, which doesn’t require a number of its own…

In 2013, doing AR will continue to be fun/challenging/rewarding/ frustrating/boring/exciting/bloody hard work/just a breeze… Pick your adjective – it will be all of the above, and more, but the one thing I hope is that for AR pros and analysts alike : it will be worthwhile!! And fun, of course…

So tell me what you think. Have I missed anything? Would you rank these points differently?

Cheers,

Dave

What’s the point of running an AR program if you’re not measuring the outcomes?

Marketing is all about results – there’s no point doing something if it doesn’t deliver results, and there’s not much point doing something if you can’t measure those results. So it’s often astounded me that otherwise savvy marketing folks are quite happy to invest in AR, but not in measuring the outcomes.

As the saying goes, the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing again & again, but expecting different results. And so it goes that when you’re not prepared to examine your outcomes, then you’re bound to repeat the mistakes of the past.

You might think this is a bit self-serving, given that I’m about to bang on about a product that addresses this issue, but the fact is that monitoring, measuring & modifying AR programs has significant benefits for ICT vendors and analysts alike.

What got me thinking down this track was doing all the development work for our annual study of AR effectiveness in APJ, Understanding the Influencers 2012, which goes into the field early next month. This will be the 10th year of running Understanding the Influencers, and every year it has been tweaked to better reflect the market, better meet the needs of our clients & make it easier for analysts to provide feedback.

This year, the changes are slight, but the level of detail & insight we get now compared to when we launched in 2003 is incredible. Last year, we introduced some new questions about analyst use of social media, discussed in this blog post and this one, so this year we’ll be able to provide some comparative analysis of the changes in analyst behaviour.

The point I’m making is that just as this study has had to continue to evolve, so should AR programs. Just because something was working last year doesn’t mean that it is this year. Or that just because you think something is working, that necessarily means it is…

Too many AR programs focus on counting activities eg number of analysts briefed, number of white papers purchased etc rather than measuring outcomes eg positive report mentions, positive analyst recommendations in deals etc. That’s not to say it’s not important to know what activities you’ve undertaken – it is – but it’s not a measure of success.

Nor am I trying to suggest that measuring the success of AR programs is simple – it isn’t. There is no silver bullet, no single metric which can define success in AR, and that’s a frustration for many. Rather, any AR practitioner worth their salt will use a number of measures – some of them subjective, some of them objective – to build an overall dashboard.

Whichever way you look at it, analyst perception studies are an important element of that. They don’t provide all the answers, but they provide many of them, and they provide the opportunity to get insight which is very specific to an individual vendor, and to identify issues which are actionable.

So what’s the benefit to a vendor from an analyst perception study?

Objective, third-party validation

Most vendors value analyst reports because they provide an independent assessment of markets or technologies, and analyst perception studies such as Understanding the Influencers are just the same. Individual responses are not identified, so analysts can be completely open & honest in their assessment – and believe me, they mostly are – so feedback doesn’t get moderated by politeness or commercial imperatives as it might in a direct conversation.

Depth, detail & richness of data

Syndicated studies such as Understanding the Influencers are structured to capture feedback from as many analysts as possible in a short period of time so that sensible comparisons with competitors can be made and enable detailed analysis. In 2011, we received responses from 140 analysts at 20 different firms in 12 countries, covering more than 70 different vendors & service providers, which provides a wealth of perspectives. The ability to slice & dice this data is significant.

Tailored, actionable advice

This ability to cut the data many ways provides us with the ability to drill down into issues specific to each client, and recommend appropriate actions to address problems and leverage opportunities. Apart from the quantitative research, we also conduct 20+ in-depth interviews with senior analysts, in which they provide very specific feedback on what’s working, and what’s not.

Insight into analyst thinking

Apart from measuring a number of key attributes to evaluate vendor AR programs, we also ask a number of questions about the analyst’s involvement in & likelihood of recommending vendors in a deal. While this is an indicator rather than an absolute, it quite clearly shows whether a vendor is getting traction at the “business” end, or not.

And what’s the value to an analyst in responding?

The analyst’s voice is heard

Analysts tend to have strong opinions, and most aren’t backward in coming forward. They want vendors to understand that analysts’ information needs are different to other audiences, but they don’t have the time or energy to tell them one by one why their AR program sucks, or how they can improve it. But by spending 15 minutes to complete a survey once a year, they can get their message across load and clear.

The analyst/AR ecosystem benefits

Many analysts value AR and know that a good AR program can make the analyst’s job easier. They also know that AR pros are powerful advocates for analyst research & insight inside the vendor organisations. They know that if they help the AR pros do their jobs, AR will help the analysts build their profile, and so the process continues.

There are many analysts who have participated in every study I’ve conducted over the past nine years, and most of them are the heavy hitters of the APJ analyst business. These are the analysts who put up their hands year after year to participate in 15-minute qualitative interviews, on top of completing the online survey. They know that it’s a good investment of their time, and some of them just like to give a little bit back.

As usual, that’s the perspective through my lens. I see plenty of upside in analyst perception studies for vendors and analysts alike, but what do you think? All benefit? Or is there a downside? Join the conversation below.

Or if you just want to know more about Understanding the Influencers, click here.

Cheers,

Dave

It’s Symposium season! What should AR pros do to prepare?

UPDATE: Some things change, some things don’t. One thing that doesn’t change is Gartner Symposium – it rolls around like clockwork every year. And another thing that doesn’t change is the need for APJ AR pros to have a plan to get the most out of their attendance at Symposium. And the time to start planning is now.

Gartner is again running three events in APJ – Tokyo October 15-17, Goa October 21-24, and Gold Coast October 28-31. From an APJ AR perspective, the Gold Coast is probably the most important one, but the other locations also offer the opportunity for plenty of engagement with analysts from across the region & around the world (although the Tokyo event is a little more local in focus).

This year’s theme is “Leading in a Digital World” – hardly earth-shattering, but we would be more surprised if it was something very different to this! This theme plays through all of the tracks, and most notably the CIO stream. Sadly, the CIO sessions are pretty hard for vendor AR folks to get into, so you might have to rely on chatting to a friendly end-user executive to get any insights from that stream…

In terms of changes, the most notable this year is the introduction of a full day of sessions devoted to seven vertical markets – banking, education, energy & utilities, government, healthcare, manufacturing and retail – indicating that industry insights are becoming just as critical as technology understanding.

Below is a post I wrote a year ago, providing advice to AR pros about what they need to do to prepare for Symposium. That advice remains true today, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to review, even if you read it last year. It’s also worth checking out the short video interview with Gartner’s Ian Bertram, who also provides some sound advice.

Just as Gartner itself is the 800-pound gorilla of the industry analyst business, Symposium/ITxpo has become the dominant analyst event as the firm has continued to invest and expand across the globe. The portfolio now includes eight separate events – three of them in the Asia/Pacific & Japan region – enticing thousands of high-quality, paying delegates to invest up to a week of their valuable time to listen to and engage with the cream of Gartner’s analysts.

The events business is big business for Gartner, and it’s growing. In 2011, Gartner generated a touch under $US150 million from events, a 21% increase over 2010. That’s only 10% of Gartner’s total revenues, but it equates to more than half of Forrester’s total 2011 revenues.

The events business is getting bigger for other firms too – as I write, Forrester is running its first CIO Summit in Singapore, and IDC runs a continuous stream of conferences, summits and other events across the major cities in APJ. But it’s the sheer scale of Gartner Symposium/ITxpo that means that AR pros need to take it seriously, and need to put a plan in place if they want to get the maximum benefit out of attending.

I’ve attended most of the Symposiums held in Australia since the late 1990s, both as a full fee-paying delegate and via the cheaper option of a showfloor (ITxpo) pass only. I also attended the Orlando extravaganza – on a showfloor pass – in 2008, when the onset of the global financial crisis dampened attendances and enthusiasm.

There are two things I’ve learnt from these experiences – if you plan well and work smart, you’ll get value out of Symposium; and as an AR pro attending the APJ events, you get way more access to the people who matter to you – the analysts, the customers and the Gartner executives – than you could ever hope for at the Orlando event, where it’s just too easy to get lost in the crowd.

As a consultant, I get much of my value from networking so I spend a lot of time on the showfloor – and hanging around near the one-on-one desk – where I can catch up with analysts as well as vendors. Inhouse AR pros will get value from this approach too, but need to spend a lot more time attending sessions, so you know exactly what analysts are saying about you.

Another way to know exactly what analysts are saying about you is to engage with them directly well in advance of Symposium – about now is a good time start, if you haven’t already.

That’s where the benefits of planning come to fruition. Well before getting on a plane, AR pros should know which analysts are speaking (and doing one-on-ones), which of their colleagues are attending, and which key customers are attending. They should have a pretty good idea of which sessions they’re going to attend, who they need to set up meetings with, and how they’re going to spend their time.

Once you get there, it’s just a case of executing on your plan. And knowing that you’re going to have to adapt that plan on the fly as new opportunities arise and others disappear.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with Ian Bertram to talk about what AR pros should do before and at Symposium to get the most value. As well as being the global manager of Gartner’s analytics and business intelligence research, Ian is the head of research for APJ and also leads the vendor relations function in this region. A 14-year veteran of Gartner, Ian has attended his fair share of Symposiums too, so his advice in this video comes from experience, and is pretty much the same as what I give my clients.

So, just one more piece of advice from me – work hard, but make sure you have fun! Symposium really can be an enjoyable experience…

Of course, more suggestions for best practices at Symposium – or any analyst event – are welcome, so just hit the comments box.

cheers,

Dave

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

How cloud, adjacencies & intersections are making the analyst business interesting again

Analyst firms have traditionally been structured in silos. In the past, this made sense – hardware was different to software, which was different to services. Breaking down just one of those segments as an example, PCs were different to servers, which were different to storage, and so it goes on….

The silos were a reflection of how products were sold (by vendors) and bought (by users). They were also a reflection of how research about those products was sold, and to whom. Many analyst firms – the big ones particularly – have done very well out of selling siloed, compartmentalised research programs to narrowly-focused product managers in vendors and technology specialists on the buy-side, slicing & dicing to match their specific interest.

The silo approach still works for (some) analyst firms – up to a point. But it’s started to break down over the past few years, and it’s going to break down even further over the next couple of years.

This is a good thing! Silos may be deep, but they’re narrow – and frankly, just a bit boring & artificial. I don’t think we’ll ever see them disappear, but the way that vendors market, sell & support technology continues to evolve, driven by changing preferences in how users buy & deploy it. And the same is true for analyst firms.

The largest analyst firms have started to break down the silos, to a greater or lesser degree. But it is the newer, more nimble firms which have most enthusiastically embraced the new order, partly because it provides them with differentiation, but also because that’s what their clients are asking for.

Probably the single most important factor driving this change is cloud computing, but it’s not the only one. Cloud sort of sits at the centre of this, but there are other adjacent “technologies” and “trends” which have a play – data centre transformation, mobility, application awareness, big data, broadband, social media, BYOD, always-on, possibly a couple of others…

But I’m not here to lecture to you about technology market dynamics – if I was, I’d still be an analyst! But these dynamics do have an impact on analyst relations, and how AR pros should go about engaging. From that perspective, I think it’s one of the most interesting periods I’ve been involved in over three decades of observing the tech space.

So what’s the upside, from an AR perspective?

 Access to a bigger audience

AR is not a numbers game, but it is a lot more fulfilling engaging with a number of experts than just a few. Service providers can now talk to software and telco analysts, software vendors can talk to mobility specialists, hardware vendors can talk to outsourcing analysts, and so on. Tiering is still important – within and across the silos – but you’re not restricted to core technologies.

Analysts get a little broader

Once upon a time, a storage analyst was a single-focussed hardware guy. Today, he might still be a hardware guy, but he probably covers servers and enterprise networking. He might also be developing a pretty good understanding of the infrastructure management software layer. The “old” handheld devices guru now covers a bit of network infrastructure, applications, security and service delivery models, as well as the device itself. Through necessity, analysts in APJ have always been broader than their colleagues in North America and Europe, but this trend is putting more structure around it.

 Analysts get a little better informed

Being exposed to these broader conversations has the potential to create better analysts. Context is important in understanding & explaining the deployment of technology, so looking and thinking outside the silo adds depth to the advice that they provide to clients.

But what’s the downside?

 Analysts sacrifice depth for breadth

There are already some analysts who try to be experts about everything, and there is a danger that more analysts will start providing commentary outside their areas of expertise. Deep domain knowledge is where analysts can add value, and that will be eroded if they allow the pendulum to swing too far.

Too many opinions from one source

Diversity of opinion is one of the great benefits of a competitive analyst business, but there needs to be some consistency of perspective within individual firms. Some firms are better at collaborating than others, and it’s important that analysts whose coverage intersects or abuts with others are actively communicating & collaborating with their colleagues. They don’t have to agree 100 per cent, but two perspectives which are poles apart within a single firm tend to destroy the credibility of both.

Targeting gets more difficult

Putting analysts in a single box has always been tough, and probably a little dangerous. These days, you need to map analysts right across your portfolio, and across your adjacencies. You’re still going to tier them with your usual methodology, and it’s going to take more time, but in the process, you’re probably going to learn more about them.

Like all things in technology and the analyst business, this isn’t black-and-white. There are lots of fuzzy edges, but what else do expect in a market which continues to evolve? For mine, it makes the analyst business much more interesting than it was a couple of years ago, and I’m pretty sure it will continue to be for the next couple of years – at least!

Cheers,

Dave

How to screw up an analyst summit….

Logic says that the best way to screw up an analyst summit is do the reverse of everything I wrote about in my last post What makes a great analyst summit? But life is never that simple, and there are other “worst practices” which don’t necessarily map neatly to the positives.

One would hope that nobody deliberately goes out to create a bad event. But rigid adherence to inappropriate structures and a lack of awareness about what could go wrong can certainly contribute to poor outcomes.

Once again, these 10 “worst practices” are in no particular order. Everyone has different priorities, so these issues will vary in importance. Some folks will no doubt disagree entirely with some of these – that’s fine, just so long as they’re aware of them. And whereas last week’s best practices tried to strike a balance between analyst & vendor needs, these points are probably biased to an analyst’s perspective.

 Death by PowerPoint                      Until someone comes up with an alternative, PowerPoint will continue to be used as the main communication platform for briefings & conferences. But it doesn’t have to be used in every session. And it doesn’t have to be used ad nauseam – less is often more, and in this situation, fewer slides often deliver better insights.

 Marketing mumbo jumbo             The technology business delights in jargon, whether that’s abbreviations, acronyms, verbifying nouns, repurposing phrases or just trying to make things sound more exciting. Without much of this jargon, you’d struggle to make yourself understood, but you need to stick to the generic. Internal buzzwords & abbreviations are generally unintelligible (and irrelevant) to the outsider, while over-hyped product descriptions gain zero to little traction with analysts.

 Mixing analysts & media                This is a constant pet hate of analysts. Journalists & analysts are different breeds with different needs, so why assume that they can be productive together? Certainly there may be times when you need to invite both analysts & journalists to the same event eg a user conference, but you certainly wouldn’t give them the same program. As to other influencers such as advisors, consultants & bloggers, well, the jury is still out, but you need to tread carefully.

 Expecting positive “stories”        To the point above, analysts don’t produce their outputs in the same way that journalists do, so it’s illogical to expect that to change just because you’re running a briefing. While some analysts may produce an event summary, most won’t & this certainly shouldn’t be one of your summit objectives. Executives need to be educated not to expect immediate gratification from event bulletins which look good, say little and have even less market influence.

Failing to follow up                          It will be impossible to answer all questions at a summit, simply because they require more time, more depth, or a spokesperson who isn’t at the event. All of these outstanding issues offer an opportunity to continue to engage with the analysts & deepen the discussion. Failing to follow up on them is a bit like not returning calls from sales prospects – who knows what you will miss out on?

 Not managing time                          It’s hard to shut down a really interesting discussion, but there are two things you have to remember: this may not be interesting to everyone in the room, and whatever time you add here, you need to take away elsewhere. It’s impossible to be time-perfect, but you need to keep on track. Build in buffers, wrap-up some sessions early if the opportunity arises, give presenters time calls & shut down folks who run off at the mouth. That applies equally to executives & analysts, you just have to be more tactful if it’s the CEO!

Speaking, not listening                  Analyst relations is a dialogue, a two-way discussion. Vendors who want to present their view of the world without discussion, questions & debate are doing themselves a disservice (as well as boring the pants off the analysts!). Often, the best insights for both vendors & analysts come from the debate, not the canned presentations.

Mis-using analyst data                   Analysts define markets, and generally have pretty good methodologies for doing that. That doesn’t mean that Analyst Firm A agrees with Analyst Firm B. Using data or quotes from one firm when analysts from another firm are in the room is always a bad idea. Redefining market data or replicating analyst firm signature research to reflect your own view of the world is even worse.

 Sticking to the script                      Of course, you’re going to build your analyst summit agenda around a core set of topics and messages, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stray a little outside them. Your executives are knowledgeable people and (generally) are capable of having an open & honest conversation. Analysts value candour, & will suspect the motives of anyone who sounds too rehearsed & on-message.

Overdoing hospitality                     Everyone likes to be pampered & made to think they’re just that little bit special. Good venues & accommodation are essential, but there’s no need to overdo it. The same applies to mementoes & giveaways – your presentations don’t look any more convincing wrapped up in a brand-name electronic device than they do on a logoed USB stick. Some analyst firms have strict rules about the value & type of gifts they are allowed to receive, and it’s a pity that more don’t follow their lead. Often, those analysts most willing to take advantage of your largesse are the ones of least importance & influence.

I’m sure there are more examples of analyst summit “worst practices” out there, so what have I missed? Tell us what made you cringe (no names, though – to avoid embarrassing the guilty!!).

Cheers,

Dave

What makes a great analyst summit?

While ICT vendors might be under-investing in other areas of AR, there certainly seems to have been a swing back to multi-day analyst summits in APJ over the past couple of years. These events are a key element of any AR practitioner’s toolkit, but they’re a big-ticket item, and they can be fraught with danger.

There are many things that can go wrong when staging a large-scale event. Some of these things can’t be anticipated, but most of them can. And most of them can be avoided with a little bit of foresight.

I’ve been involved with dozens of one, two & three-day analyst summits over the years. I’ve run them from concept to execution; I’ve mentored other AR pros through every stage of the process; I’ve consulted around content & structure; I’ve coached spokespeople; I’ve managed feedback processes; and I’ve even attended a few as an analyst – though they certainly weren’t as prevalent back in the ‘90s.

Most of the events I’ve been involved with have run fairly well – though a few have induced a panic attack or two. All could have run a little better, most often because someone chose to deviate from the plan.

But with all this experience, I admit that I was a caught a little short when a colleague asked me for “10 dos & don’ts for analyst summits.” It’s one thing knowing how to do things, but I’d never actually captured my knowledge like that.

So, no time like the present. I’m going to focus on the “Dos” today, which I’m sure will attract some great feedback from my analyst readers (and the vendors too!). The negative side of things – what to do if you want to screw up an event – we can cover in a separate post.

To create a great event, you need to take into account the objectives & needs of both the vendor and the analyst, not just one or the other. So that’s the context of the best practices detailed here:

Structure                               Every event needs to have an over-arching structure which creates a logical flow and allows the vendor to tell a story. In simple terms, you need to start with the “big picture” and work down to the detail level over the course of the event.

Strategic context                 It’s easy to assume that analysts understand who you are and what you do. Most have a perspective, but is it the right one? Vendors need to explain where different solutions, technologies & target markets fit into their overall strategy, and why they’re important.

The right audience              If you’ve read my previous posts on analyst targeting & tiering, you’ll know how important it is to identify analysts who have influence & alignment with your solutions. While the incremental cost of an additional analyst is often low, these events are about value, not volume. And your executives need to understand that, too.

Content                                 Seems logical, doesn’t it? But it’s not about masses of Powerpoint, it’s about content that’s tailored to an analyst audience. However it’s delivered, analyst content needs to contain depth & detail, strategic context and real proof points, not marketing hype or messaging.

Breadth & depth                  Not all analysts are interested in the same things, although they may share common interest areas. Great analyst events provide the opportunity for “techies” to dig deeper while also allowing those on the GTM side to explore country-specific approaches or vertical markets.

 Spokespeople                     The best spokespeople at analyst events are defined by their domain knowledge, not by their titles. They’re also defined by their attitude. Spokespeople need to be positive, knowledgeable, well-briefed & keen to engage with analysts, not hobnob with their peers & managers.

 Networking                           One of the great benefits of an analyst summit – apart from educating & informing analysts about the latest & greatest – is the opportunity to build relationships with key influencers. Informal networking opportunities are available at breaks, over meals & during cocktail receptions. Attendance should be compulsory for (most) spokespeople.

One-on-ones                                    In an ideal world, every analyst would have a personal discussion with everyone from the CEO down. That doesn’t work in the real world, but summits provide a great opportunity to provide analysts from each firm with some dedicated discussion time with key executives, away from the prying ears of their competitors.

Real-world access              While it would be nice to think that analysts would totally focus their attention on you for the whole time, that just ain’t gonna happen. Wifi access throughout the venue is essential so analysts can deal with email during the course of the event. Some “non-compulsory” sessions give them the opportunity to withdraw to their hotel rooms to deal with bigger work projects, whether that’s writing a report or dealing with an end-user client enquiry. This is a much better option than analysts returning to the office & “forgetting” to come back.

Feedback                              There is no point in running this type of event without measuring the outcomes & learning how to do it better (or what to do next). Analysts will be happy to provide feedback on the event, the content, the structure & your executives. What they won’t do is give you direct advice & commentary on your products, solutions & strategies – that requires some “thinking time”, and there are better ways of getting that advice.

 Flexibility                               On re-reading this, I realised that I’d omitted the most important point. Structure & timetables are important in making events work, but stuff will change! The better you plan, the better you equipped you are to respond to changing schedules and different requirements.

That makes, 11, not 10. I haven’t listed these best practices in order of importance, more in a (hopefully) logical flow around a typical analyst event. There may be others, so tell me what I’ve missed. What’s more important to you? Both analysts & vendors should apply J

Cheers,

Dave

Is AR really considered strategic in APJ?

That’s a pretty scary question for me to ask, when I spend many of my working hours pitching the strategic value of AR to ICT vendors and service providers of all shapes and sizes. It’s a question posed partly out of frustration, but mostly out of curiosity.

As with many of these things, it took a single event to trigger broader consideration of the state of AR across APJ, and how this marketing discipline is truly regarded by vendors.

The trigger was a phone call from the regional AR lead for a large multinational vendor telling me she was leaving – this week – to take on a bigger, more challenging role with another vendor. Not unusual, this happens all the time – personnel turnover is just part & parcel of the IT business – but it left me wondering, what happens now?

Out of respect for the individual and the company she most recently worked for, I’m not going to name names, though many folks reading this will know who I’m talking about. She’d be embarrassed to hear it, but her departure will leave a gaping hole in the marketing communication function within the vendor concerned, though there are several others who contribute positively to the AR program in various ways.

Without doubt, this individual is one of the savviest AR professionals I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with her on several projects at a couple of different vendors. She is held in high regard by all the analysts in the region who matter – and many who don’t – as well as by her internal stakeholders and spokespeople. She “gets” the strategic value of AR, and is a passionate advocate of leveraging AR to influence sales.

When she took on the role of AR lead at this vendor, the APJ AR program had been in hiatus for over a year. It was performing poorly in our AR perception study, Understanding the Influencers, but over a couple of years she was able to bring it back into the leadership groups in the market segments where it competed.

 In praise of “AR heroes”

But this isn’t a story about this individual or the company she worked for. It’s not a criticism of that vendor, or the other folks who contributed to the AR program – it’s about the bigger picture of AR in the APJ region. She is just one of a handful of “AR heroes” who lead the profession in this region, who apply their passion and organisational skills to deliver great results for their employers, despite having far fewer resources at their disposal than their peers in other parts of the world.

And this is pretty much the nub of the issue. Vendors continue to under-invest in AR in the APJ region, though they have some great champions who punch above their weight. I’ve seen this scenario before, and sadly, I think I will again.

In most cases, vendor AR programs in this region are driven by single individuals, some of whom juggle their AR responsibilities with other disciplines such as PR or market intelligence. They are generally supported by other marcomms professionals to a greater or lesser degree, as they should be – they’re generally engaging with analysts in at least six of the 13 or more countries included in their sales territory.

When one of those individuals leaves a vendor, so too does much of the knowledge built up about the analysts & which ones are the most important, which areas they focus on, how they like to engage with the vendor, and much, much more.  Rarely is there any succession planning, so the search for a replacement often starts with a blank sheet of paper and a long lead time.

In the meantime, the AR program slowly grinds to a crawl, if not a complete halt. Analysts are demanding individuals – when they’re being looked after, they’re happy, but when the information flow dries up, they can become difficult. They become reluctant to recommend vendors & solutions to their clients, because they’re not sure they have the latest insights & information.

Different strokes for different folks

This situation wouldn’t be tolerated at “headquarters”, but it’s situation normal in APJ. Why do vendors continue to under-invest in AR in APJ? Is it that they don’t consider AR strategic? Or that they don’t consider the APJ markets important? Or both?

Maybe it’s because vendors tend to apply standard frameworks across the world, regardless of the local market conditions. One analyst whose opinions I respect – located in APJ but supporting clients worldwide – has repeatedly told me over the years that most vendors regard APJ as a sales territory, therefore not requiring any depth in product management or marketing. Another – who also has extensive regional marketing experience – has often lamented that there is no correlation between regional marketing budgets (low) and regional sales targets (high).

I’ve certainly seen plenty of these situations – global marketing budget cuts of 10% imposed universally, including in countries growing sales at +100% each quarter! Global headcount freezes placing regional AR requisitions on hold indefinitely, despite “exceptional circumstances” bypassing the rules back at headquarters. The list goes on…

As I noted in my earlier post Why do AR in APJ? this region is home to two of the fastest growing economies in the world – China & India – which are buying technology at unprecedented rates, high growth markets in ASEAN, and more mature but technology-hungry markets such as Australia and Japan.

Certainly, it makes sense for vendors to invest in sales resources to service these markets, but doesn’t marketing pave the way for sales? Doesn’t it make sense to invest in marketing – and in AR specifically – to educate, inform and influence those sales prospects?

Personally, I’d like to see this role replaced with another “AR hero” within 2-3 months, but there ain’t that many of them, and only time will tell.

What do you think? Why don’t vendors invest in AR in APJ? Are “AR heroes” the best answer? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree.

Cheers,

Dave