Like any AR veteran, there are plenty of war stories I could tell about spokespeople who’ve gone feral in the middle of a briefing – whether they decided that it really was necessary to try cover 67 slides in 30 minutes; managed to throw the delicate schedule out by doubling their allotted time; forgot to tell the analyst that some sensitive details were under NDA; or stuck to a three-point mantra crafted by PR to deflect media questions (despite being told this wasn’t an appropriate response for analysts).
Specific details can wait for another time, but I’ve seen all of these scenarios – and more – and some of them more than once. While the reality is that these situations are the exception rather than the rule, it is important to plan to prevent them, and know how to manage them if things go awry.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to work with three separate clients on developing and executing four different half-day analyst summits in two countries, which involved liaising with multiple marketing teams and countless spokespeople, many of whom I hadn’t worked with before.
Everything pretty much ran to plan at every event, and a big part of that was because of the “talent” we had available to put in front of the analysts. Planning & preparation are critical to the success of an analyst briefing, but all the plans in the world won’t save you if the spokespeople don’t deliver. In these recent cases, they did.
Because I’m naturally an optimist, I found it fairly unremarkable that all these events ran smoothly. Then last week I read a blog by the CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, entitled The three qualities of people I most enjoy working with. Check out the full post because it’s pretty insightful, but in summary, Jeff picked out three characteristics – Dream Big, Get Shit Done and Know How To Have Fun.
It resonated pretty strongly with me, because I realised that I value the same qualities. As a consultant, I get to work with a range of people across a lot of vendors, but the most satisfying and long-lasting relationships are with clients (and analysts) who share those attributes.
I’ve written in the past about why you should train spokespeople to speak with analysts and also what you should teach them – I would encourage you to check out these posts.
But the focus of this post is on the ideal characteristics of spokespeople. In a blatant rip-off of Jeff’s post, I’ve adapted his Venn diagram and the attributes he described to fit the world of vendor spokespeople. Hopefully he’ll take it in the spirit intended.
Yep, this one’s a no-brainer! Any spokesperson you put in front of analysts should be a subject matter expert. They should be deep on their technology/solution area, or the business markets they’re addressing. A spokesperson who can talk about customer outcomes & market dynamics as well as being able to drill down on technology is like gold. But more than just being knowledgeable, they need to be willing to engage with other technology experts, who are generally strongly opinionated & sometimes just a little egotistical (otherwise known as analysts). They need to be able to hold their ground within reason, while also conceding that they don’t have all the answers – without damaging their corporate messages. Sometimes, the best spokespeople aren’t the most senior business executives – pre-sales engineers often provide more insight into what customers are doing than the execs who are running the show.
Technology can be a dry subject at times. Speeds & feeds are important, but they’re generally only a point in time. Discussions about performance & comparative capabilities often descend into semantics & pedantry. While all of these things play a part, it’s not what customers buy, any more than they buy a dot on a Gartner Magic Quadrant or a Forrester Wave. What customers buy is solutions to problems, and the best spokespeople are the ones who can describe how they solved those problems for customers. They can weave a narrative, make it compelling and bring the customer experience alive, bridging the technology & business worlds. Analysts are always looking for proof points, and real use cases are among the most useful. Most importantly, these spokespeople are quite happy to walk away from their slides! These spokespeople are often the ones who can get analysts excited about their overall vision.
Listen as well as talk
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve told a spokesperson that “it’s a two-way dialogue”, I’d be reasonably comfortable by now. But the truth is that analyst relations is about an ongoing conversation. There have been a couple of memes running around social media recently along the lines of “people listen to respond, not to learn,” and these are particularly applicable to AR. Yes, it’s important to listen to questions & respond appropriately, but it’s also important to understand why those particular questions are being asked. Every analyst conversation provides the opportunity to gain insight into what’s happening in the market. It’s not about asking for “free” advice or market intelligence, although some analysts are quite willing to provide it. Rather, it’s about understanding the nuances, asking for clarification, exploring the issues & providing a more informed response. A conversation is always much more fun than a pitch. And you just might learn something too.
What it comes down to is delivering a good outcome for both the vendor and the analyst. This takes a combination of planning & preparation, having good content, understanding the needs of the analyst, and making sure you have spokespeople who are appropriate for the discussion at hand.
And one more thing, which Jeff Weiner hit on – have fun! Getting a great result is always good, but enjoying getting a great result is always much more satisfying.
What do you think? Are there other attributes of great analyst spokespeople we should highlight?