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Posts tagged ‘Training’

The three qualities of analyst spokespeople I most enjoy working with

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.

Slide1Know their shit

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.

Tell stories

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?



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?



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.



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.