Email

info@ilumatech.com

Phone

804-499-6730

PO Box

3840 Glen Allen, VA 23058

Chasing Redundancy

Chasing Redundancy

I was speaking with a colleague the other day and I remarked about the amount of people covering topics that are significantly oversubscribed. IoT (Internet of Things), AI, cloud, edge, SaaS etc.  That is before you get to the endless amount of offshore firms pushing out reports on anything you can imagine. 

I suppose one could say that people flow to where the action is but if you are not an early entrant you have to ask yourself, why does the market need another analyst covering that space? What is it that you can offer that isn’t already being provided? Can you offer some particular piece of analysis that hasn’t been thought of? Can you outsegment, outpredict, out analyze or do anything else that someone else isn’t?

Doing it better:
I once had a colleague who found a means to view the world differently than others when it came to sizing the optical wavelength services market. His approach was to look at the real estate market and use that as the basis for sizing. He considered POPs (point of presence) and then looked at occupancy patterns and buildings served by fiber. From that he could properly establish a good market estimate. No one else in the business was doing it that way but it turned out to be more accurate than anyone else.
Another of my colleagues grew up in the Bell system and had not only direct experience but also connections everywhere with people who actually made the decisions on what sorts of equipment would be deployed and from which companies. You were never going to contact these people and get them to tell you anything but if you were a member of the system, you knew what was happening in ways that provided amazing value. Anyone could add their name to a vendor press release. Knowing what was actually happening in the labs and in who was cutting orders trumped analyst PR services every time.

Another colleague built a massive data set of machines, materials, outputs, utilization rates and the like.  The fact that clients funded the bulk of the development was a bonus.  Their direction helped to optimize the data engine in ways that made it impossible for a competing firm to displace them in accounts.

Another colleague spent years building a network of people who would tell him things that they wouldn’t share with anyone else. Much like the ex-Bell guy, he could tap into a network that could validate (or most likely perforate) any vendor story within a short amount of time.
Finding another way:
If you or your firm doesn’t have capabilities in terms of knowledge, experience, sources or unique processes, what do you do? Do you compete on cost? Okay, how long is that going to last you? And at what point do you run up against the offshore providers who actually do have a ton of expertise in IT subjects and can do it for 2/3 your cost or more?
Or maybe you decide to play the role of PR supporting analyst offering validation to vendor slide decks and news releases? That is really the low end of the professional ethics spectrum but in trying to generate revenues and you cannot offer differentiated value, what else do you do but throw your integrity up for sale? The reality is that no one respects you and you can find yourself cast aside quickly.
Oh yes, there are those that are late to the party and cannot offer a competitive advantage over early entrants or innovators. But they go ahead and just dive in anyway but never manage to stick around long enough to do more than lose money before racing on to the next shiny object.
Bottom line:
If you cannot distinguish yourself in some meaningful way then don’t bother.
Self-Publishing vs Working with a Firm

Self-Publishing vs Working with a Firm

Publishing an analyst report through a firm means you enjoy the benefits of trading on someone else’s banner and there are varying amounts of support available that range from simple editing and layout to research support and analytics to coaching and management support.  And yes, there is the marketing and sales process including media outreach, access to email databases and account development to consider.

But at what cost to the person actually adding the value?  What if I were to tell you that, depending on the deal, some writers are getting as little as 25% of the NET revenue for publishing a report through a third party?  Would that cause you to reconsider this type of arrangement?

And even better is that your work is not your own.  Copyright is owned by the publisher so not only are they taking the biggest chunk of the money, they get your work.

Think about it for a moment.   You do the hard work, provide the actual value and walk away with a fraction of the money and you leave the work behind.  And how much effort is going into promoting your personal brand?

!!!!

Now, this isn’t to disparage the benefits of publishers as they can offer a writer benefits that are not easily obtained but once you realize that there are ways to replace the services that they offer their attractiveness wanes.

Steps:

Product development: Develop your topic with description, TOC, objectives. And who are you and what is it that makes you worth buying.  This is where the lack of analyst brand comes into play.  You have to be sold to the market.

Crowd funding: Select companies capable of committing to projects in exchange for pricing concessions and research shaping.  (Note that does not mean one trades objectivity for cash). Their funding launches your project and funds your product development.  Your financing threshold shouldn’t require more than 3 commitments and $10,000.

Research: Comprehensive research and market outreach process making sure that marketing the report is part of your objective along with connecting with anyone and everyone you can.  The engagement process will boost revenue potential.  Need a list though.

Quality control: The good news is that there a ton of editors out there who can support your efforts for reasonable money.  Yes, you have to be able to write properly but an editor takes you to another level.   Expect to pay up to $1,000 for 100 pages but the output is worth it.  Negotiate a press release or content bits as well.  You should also be willing to obtain a reviewer to act as an unbiased third party to challenge your processes, perspectives and assumptions.

Media: Media is an important element as well. A decent press list takes a few hours to develop and connect with.  A fact sheet about the report and what you are working on is a good place to begin and a willingness to share to details with reporters and editors generates results.  And befriending outlets and people with large audiences boosts your marketing potential. And your press release (which I address in a bit) will serve as a means of being picked up

Marketing list: This is an area where you can expect to encounter some expense and time investment.  Lists are crucial to your marketing process.  Yes, media outreach gives you exposure but in today’s age people need multiple opportunities to see something.  Be prepared to spend some money building a contact list (or obtaining another’s list) if you are going to adequately research and promote a report.

Content marketing: An effective content marketing strategy entails a well written press release, a fact sheet about your report and your observations distilled into key talking points that you feel provides real value to the market. From this additional social media oriented items can be developed.  There are sites for you to share content beyond tweeting you release to your likely limited amounts of followers.

Follow up: The sales process for people can be a bit daunting or at least awkward for some.  Simplest way forward is email marketing with sending content from the report to people that you engaged with during research and anyone else you ran into along the way.  The offer to talk over findings if there is interest is another option.  But for the extroverts, I think that calling people to ask for a sales is fine but finesse matters.

Events: While webinars are far too frequent today I think that they can be useful tools to market reports and establish your brand.  However, without a firm you are left to do this on your own and that isn’t likely going to get you as far.  Partnering with a third party makes sense here.

Following: This is a long term process but a critical issue in marketing and selling knowledge based products and services.  You need people to follow you in some capacity.  It makes the marketing process far simpler and effective it improves your overall practice.  Establishing takes time though.

Sales channels: There are resellers who can load your reports into their collections.  I would not expect much to come out of this though since their clients prefer to work with brands and brands take time to build.  They also want volume so the odd report here and there isn’t likely to garner much attention but this can be mitigated in some cases

In additional to the editorial support there are resources out there to help you market and sell your report, build your brand and improve your research process.  The benefit is that you can put more time into your research and product development and less time into business development.  Yes, it will cost you but still less than the publisher will charge and you still get to keep the work.

Obviously there is a lot more to this process than I laid out above but hopefully one can see that there are options to publishing reports and monetizing knowledge beyond firms looking to outsource reports.

Risky?  Most certainly but to borrow a phrase, Qui audet adipiscitur

Who Dares Wins

Ever Heard of the $3,500 Briefing?

Ever Heard of the $3,500 Briefing?

So from time to time I have had to deal with PR firms representing a client from whom we needed information. Some were rather helpful to make sure we did get what we need in order to understand their client while others have been a bit indifferent over the fact that we were not top tier. Some worked hard to support their clients in having a productive relationship with the analyst community while others acted like they were back in middle school in setting up and burning bridges with relative ease.

I had an interaction with an agency recently where they took the position that they should receive a copy of a report in exchange for one of their clients briefing one of my colleagues. This is not a new practice but one that I still find irritating given the lack of professional courtesy that said expectation displays. First of all, I have never once heard of a supplier briefing that was worth $3,500 or whatever the price of a full market study is running. I know that suppliers will try and pitch that story to analysts and it falls on deaf ears. Secondly, PR firms are paid for their time even though their contributions to analyst coverage is, at times, dubious. Why do they feel entitled to the marcom budget but the people whose opinions are sought by the market aren’t?

What a good agency should do is make sure that every media outlet, website and analyst knows what their clients are working on. They should facilitate requests, make sure the company spokesperson is properly messaging and doing so as often as possible. They should be developing coverage for the clients and doing so with a proper attention to professionalism. Treating analysts as the help or worse will damage their clients in the market. I have seen it happen. Instead of listening to the vendor’s side of the story my colleagues called the vendor’s customers, learned what they needed to and issued research notes without their input. Or, they simply avoided the PR people’s attempts to get their clients noticed.

Improper? Well, considering that the customers are the best validation source out there I don’t think so. And, while getting the vendors’ input on things is useful it rarely offers anything close in value relative to how the customer base views them. Depending on the size and stature of the company, once an analyst is up to speed they need not do more than follow the news releases or social feeds and peruse the website.

I do think it is part of the agency’s job to provide advice on the firms that are out there and recommend the best firms with which to engage or consider buying reports from. They should be monitoring who are the most well followed or who gets the most visibility. But that’s still a fine line to walk because the analyst firm you dismiss for one of your clients might very well be the one you really want to be aware of your new one.

Something to consider…..

Effective Content Strategies for Analysts

Effective Content Strategies for Analysts

An effective content strategy involves executing a well thought out and constantly evolving program that supports multiple interlinking objectives. A properly developed strategy will be a significant factor in driving an analyst firm’s success.

Your content strategy (you do have one, right?) should be focused on the following objectives:

  • Establishing and supporting your brand
  • Driving engagement with your sources of information, sources of revenue and followers
  • Sales lead generation
  • Supporting your message channels (press, social channels, industry watchers)

Do it right and you have a powerful process in place to support your firm or personal practice objectives.

Branding:

As I discuss in other posts, branding in the analyst and information services world is more than a logo, color palette and splashy website, it’s the way in which you provide your analysis, forecasts, value proposition and content and what the reader takes from it. It is the depth, substance and relevance to what you are talking about and what your audience sees. You should have a relevant and professional look with clean graphics and lay out. (And if you are at the smaller end of the spectrum you can still look the part without having to fund a graphic design position.) But content clarity, message and discipline matter more.

Does your content show expertise? Does it show you and/or the firm as substantive? Engaged? Connected? Does it engender confidence in your reader? Does it show you to be an authority that people have to go to for something? And is it presented in formats that users like to see?

Engagement:

Say you have press releases, articles, white papers, PowerPoint decks, blog entry, tweets and video blogs. (You do have all or some of these, right? What results are they creating? Are they spurring interactions with people? Do people contribute comments? Do they email you? Buy things? Call and yell at you? Anything at all? And do you have reply mechanisms in place to address these responses? Are you responding appropriately? Do you take time to talk to the people who are most unhappy or who are pointing out where they find you lacking? Are you using disagreement to further your understanding of what’s really going on?

If your content isn’t spurring engagement or at least supporting your efforts to engage with the market then you really need to look at why that is.

Lead Generation:

This aspect of your strategy is the one that many people focus on but simply throwing up a paper, posting slides or excerpting pages from reports isn’t likely getting you all that you want. There has to be consideration for what each item is going to get you. And, is what you are posting going to compel someone to give you their details or ask you how to purchase something?

There was a time when I could have an analyst pull a paper together, we would post a link to the document and email to our lists. 3 days and 400 registered requests later my sales people were locked and loaded to go and sell something. Not so simple any more. Everyone does white papers, video blogs, gives away free reports or keeps an archive. Webinars have proliferated everywhere.

On the other hand, give away too much and what are you getting in return? You have to establish a fair return on your content with respect to what value you set for the items and evaluate the amount of registrations, requests for more, follows or shares. Also looking at how each content unit feeds into creating leads though your analytics apps. Not every content piece carries the same weight with each audience and industry. See what items create the best leads.

Message Channels:

Press and trade media especially are key audiences for your content efforts. Your news releases have to be well written and substantive but also contain graphics and report data.  Are you supporting media outlets with offers of interviews and yes, press copies of reports? Are you staying on top of what your industry press is covering? Are you engaging with them through social channels?

And for the social world, posting on Twitter or LinkedIn is a must but since everyone else posting what makes your content compelling and engaging?  How much effort goes into producing quality graphics, text and messaging?  LinkedIn groups used to be a way to promote findings but have been rendered ineffective with constant report spam posting from offshore report factories.  So instead, there is a need to build your own following or aligning with other larger accounts be they media, trade associations or yes, vendors.  

To make an effective content strategy work you have to think through what returns you want it to provide. You have to constantly consider and then reconsider how the various elements are working for you. Think about how the audience that you want to reach wants to interact with you and how they prefer to consume information and more importantly, what hot buttons do you need to hit in order to get them to do something worthwhile for you.

Bigger firms can afford to have a content director. Smaller firms and soloists have to do it themselves or engage with an outsider to support them. 

The Plight of the Independent Practitioner

The Plight of the Independent Practitioner

Being an independent analyst/consultant or private practitioner has its perks. No staff meetings, no production quota (sort of anyway), no having to toe the company line, dealing with research directors who don’t see things your way or getting drafted to pitch in on a project that seems more hassle than it is worth. You can write about what you want, go to the shows and conferences that you want and there are no company politics.

But, it is also hard to carry the role of producer, marketing, sales, financial, graphics and any else your business needs. You can outsource the web site, QuickBooks is a great tool, graphic design is reasonably inexpensive and editing is available. Clients will still hold you to a reasonably high standard but no one expects Forrester level branding.  Marketing and selling is a whole other matter.

It is an awkward thing to produce analytical content and then turn around and try and market and sell it to companies. Process wise you have to deal with CRM, creating email campaigns, following up on leads that come in, developing and sticking to a content strategy that promotes the brand and then there is the account management side of it.

My experience has been that analysts analyze, write and forecast. They engage with companies and talk to the media. They produce content. When they are not producing content, they are looking at information to broaden their knowledge. They may have aptitude for sales and marketing but even with a natural flair for some of the practices, they have to choose between being an analyst or someone in the revenue generation side of things. There are not enough hours in the day to be both nor do them well.

Having an in-house sales and marketing department often isn’t practical for solo practitioners. The cost can be substantial and having to manage it can be the extremely time consuming. Junior level people need a lot of hand holding, senior level people command bigger salaries.

And just how much can you produce to keep everyone busy and the cash flow coming in?

The good news is that there are ways to overcome this.

  • Organization is everything. Without this, you are done and nothing else matters.

  • Outsourcing can work if you know what key activities you want to have happening in and around your business. Find someone who has worked in your industry and bring them into your business for a fraction of the cost of hiring your own staff. Make the compensation tied to what they do for your business.

  • Commit to some basic marketing and activities and put them on par with eating, sleeping and coffee.

  • Find people that will accept your content in some form and promote it for you. Editors need content, you need promotion. Fair trade and one of the best ROT (return on time) you can find.

  • Get socially active in a business way. If you can keep your name out there people will come to you or at least follow you somewhere which is a major part of the battle. Don’t just say hey, follow me on Twitter. Get involved with LinkedIn groups, trade groups, industry forums etc.

  • Give away free stuff when you can. Automate your web site so people can access archives and samples, they give a name, company and email, they can read your premium content.

There are a number of other things you can do to make your solo practice succeed.  Budget time necessary to support the critical functions you can handle and look to partner with others to handle the rest.

Things You Just Shouldn’t Do In Industry Analysis

Things You Just Shouldn’t Do In Industry Analysis

Or I could just as easily title this, “Why They Won’t Respect You In The Morning.” I am talking about the ways in which analysts and/or a firm will weaken their standing in the eyes of potential customers in the hopes of making a sale. You would think that people would figure out the downside to being too eager to please but the fact that prospective buyers still make certain requests tells me that some folks haven’t.
Forget the notion that the customer is always right or that you have to sell out in order to win business. I have seen far too many companies adopt seriously unprofessional tactics when dealing with analyst firms. And unless you and or your firm stop following their lead then the profession will continue to suffer.

Practices to Avoid:

You don’t have to spend an hour on the phone with that company that wants to interview several firms under the guise that they doing due diligence when all they really want is free consulting. 

Agreeing to give prospects a free hour of analyst time if the lead hasn’t been properly vetted.  Sales reps should understand that analyst time is valuable and will only be given to situations that warrant it. Instead, train them better.

Giving away products at serious discounts to prove something to a prospective client. There are excerpts, older reports and other ways to educate a prospective client.  Selling the product short sends a weak message.

Giving away your numbers so that a company can evaluate them and see if you are worth buying.  

Other Don’ts:

Giving away your forecasts to a company looking to add credibility to their PowerPoint deck who lack budget despite their promise to make sure you get credit.

Don’t take extended briefings or offer feedback to companies that have budgets available for PR agencies or your competitors but never anything for your reports.

Sign your name to vendor press release quotes that they write for you.

Accept and publish profiles that the vendor provided you.  By all means solicit their feedback for accuracy but do your own stuff.

Rely upon start-ups going on their fifth year “help you” with your research in return for a copy of your report.

And….

Don’t give PR agency clients a free report in exchange for setting up a spin job briefing.

The ilumatech Empowerment Plan:
Feeling better now? A bit more confident? Good. But in order to enforce some standards I think it is important to consider the following:
Establish yourself and your firm as someone that companies HAVE TO deal with. If you are not a top tier firm or a rock star analyst then work on being a player who knows what’s going on and be the one that the reporters and trade web sites quote frequently. Be seen in all the right places, participate in the important conversations taking place in the market and spend your time associating with people who can advance your prospects.
Next, be sure to have good data. I know that sounds rather obvious but if more people published quality analysis then there would be far fewer hacks in the market and all of the bad practices I mentioned above would fail to survive. And once you get yourself to a place (if you didn’t do it already) where your analysis is first rate then make sure that everyone in the industry who matters sees it.
If you are going to take briefings, make sure you come prepared to ask tough questions and push back on spin. Be the analyst or firm that doesn’t roll over. Ask the companies to prove what they say. And tell them what you think then and there. Publish your impressions about the meeting afterwards. The PR department and expensive outside agency won’t necessarily like it, but so what? It isn’t your job to act like an extension of their marketing department. And, if you showed up correct, showed you know the market and offered good feedback then the senior people on the company side might just be impressed enough with you to want to buy you. But on your terms, not theirs.
If you are going to do a call with a prospect who wants to test your knowledge, know when it’s time for you to stop talking and tell them that you have given them what you can give them and turn it over to the sales dept. If you are Mr./Ms/ Nice Guy/Gal, bring someone to the call with the designated power to redirect the conversation to the company’s interest in buying. Furthermore, if you can’t explain within 15 minutes what makes you and your report worth buying then you probably never will. In that instance cutting the call off won’t likely change anything since you either couldn’t communicate your value proposition or the person looking for free time wasn’t likely to buy anything anyway.
And there are several other way in which an individual or small firm can establish credibility and respect in the market through excellence in research, analysis, relationship management and communications. And yes, saying no can go a long way as well.