AR people are either nodding their heads, standing up and saying “preach!” or shrugging their shoulders as if this is not news to them. However, the stated goals of AR do not always meet the realities of how companies practice it. And the disconnect makes the engagements with analysts that much less productive or worse.
To construct this article, I drew upon my lengthy history in the analyst space which has entailed engaging both from research and business development perspectives. I also conducted over a dozen telephone interviews with analysts, practice heads and senior salespeople across a full spectrum of firms in terms of size, scope and focus. The topics focused on the following:
What elements of Analyst Relations were effective and which ones were not? How vendors were missing opportunities to better leverage their offerings? Some of the commercial aspects and challenges of the relationship that arise between AR and analyst firms. The dominant themes that arose from the discussions are presented below.
There seems to be an excessive vendor focus on Gartner’s MQ rankings and other metrics like Forrester’s Wave etc. Putting aside the segmentation games that analysts play and the pressured marketing and sales practices employed, waving the MQ about is a marketing play and is not what drives deals with customers despite what surveys conducted by these very same firms intimate. These metrics also do not necessarily impress other analysts that vendors want to impress. There are other sources for customers to collect insights and preferences from via peer reviews, user groups crowd actions and other research avenues.
Some companies properly treat AR as a strategic function and others place the role within corporate communications. Each area fulfills important roles for companies, but they have distinctly different objectives. Marcom is messaging, narrative and yes, spinning. Putting AR in the Marcom domain tends to lead to more friction between the vendors and the analysts. Marcom has a tendency to prefer having analysts act as part of the company’s marketing and messaging channel. Quality analysts are quite put off by this.
Analysts value having a relationship with AR people who get them the information they need and connect them with the right people inside the company. When AR plays gatekeeper too often and makes getting information difficult analysts are prone to bypassing the function altogether. Inevitable that analysts will create relationships they will leverage but AR does itself no favors by not being responsive or not providing access.
One additional point that was raised was in AR not necessarily having goal alignment with internal stakeholders. What problems exist from a strategic or tactical perspective that firms can support? If AR isn’t aligned with supporting the company fully or limits its focus to improper metrics, it isn’t maximizing its own value. (insert https://www.starsight.biz/2021/10/14/how-are-your-analyst-research-subscriptions-like-a-gym-membership/)
Good analysts are open to being influenced by vendors, but they want qualified data. Approaching them with unsubstantiated claims or with no means to verify leaves good analysts skeptical. Expecting analysts to accept the narrative turns them off and even more so when the business side of the equation is leveraged. This last action does damage to the relationship and whatever influence or mindshare they were hoping to gain.
Candor and professional respect play much better with them.
Regular engagements vs ad hoc or situational outreach would produce better results. When there is a certain cadence to interactions that the parties follow it makes the flow of information to analysts much smoother and potentially reduced the negative responses and surprises that a vendor may encounter. Analysts have multiple clients and companies that they follow. It becomes impossible for them to drop what they are doing and needing to suddenly get up to speed on a vendor’s initiative.
If a company operates within multiple verticals or segments with multiple analysts operating within them then it can become too challenging to engage everyone. Nonetheless, activity, strategy and considerations still need to be communicated to the market as the analyst community will still likely be writing about companies or making media comments. If AR is not going to engage personally then be sure to make it possible for analysts to follow along with what the vendor is doing. Find ways to provide information that analysts can use.
Some AR programs and professionals are very heavily invested in influence and generating sales leads and give less attention to advisory, messaging and data that firms offer. They also forget, or ignore, that many analysts have real world experience in leading product groups, GTM efforts, have created technologies or sold them. Their insights can be useful if engaged properly, especially in the initial stages of a product, strategic initiative or launch plan.
It is understandable that companies have significant investments in products, strategies, and messaging. Founders have vision, leaders have targets to hit, and marketing needs to sell the story. Hearing that the strategy or implementation is a miss is hard to hear for some. But engaging analysts that tell leadership what it wants to hear is self-serving and destructive. Bringing internal stakeholders to the table to listen and consider what quality firms and the objective analysts have to say is how to best add value to a firm.
Question that arises is it the fault of the company’s AR program for shielding the company from criticism? Or is it a reflection of company culture where there is no value placed on outside thinking or constructive criticism?
Companies can be too myopic by focusing on a select few firms and missing other valuable thought leaders and potential influencers. Good people work outside the big 4 of Gartner, IDC, Forrester and Omdia. Talented people leave large firms and go to work in boutique firms, start their own or go independent. Start-ups may grow in both size and importance and wind up absorbed into larger firms. Or they may become leaders in their space. Some firms have their own events, media platforms or excel when it comes to promoting their own research and brands. Some have major presence in the trade media a company’s customers look to for news and trends.
Analysts are time constrained with the variety of tasks they are required to perform. They cannot take briefings from every company that reaches out and surprise, clients are generally going to be prioritized. Having a business relationship in place is wise in order to gain access and maximizing engagement opportunities available from the service agreements and programs works to further increase mindshare within firms.
If an analyst is important enough to reach out to for briefings, then they or their firm are likely to believe a vendor is a candidate for their programs. Briefings may very well be treated as a sales opportunity either during the time or after the fact. The P/L practices and accountabilities of the particular firm as well as the analysts themselves will vary. Professional firms do not sell opinions, but they are not acting as not for profit entities either.
Be honest and authentic about the interest in firm. Analysts understand that not everyone they talk to is going to be a client but still likely that their sales colleagues are going to call on a vendor or continue to look to grow the relationship. This should not be awkward or a surprise. It is unwise to tell an analyst there is interest then ignore the sales call from their colleague. It will not likely impact their assessment of a company, but it does not help a vendor either.
Holding a business relationship over the head of an analyst is a really bad practice. No one respects the firms that sell out their objectivity, but analysts and their firms generally take umbrage with being asked to change their opinions or beliefs based on who is buying or who won’t buy if they don’t.
The analyst business is highly nuanced with a broad ecosystem of providers and thinkers with a variety of skillsets. Companies should periodically consider if they are getting the full value available to them. There are numerous metrics that AR can apply to analyst relationships but how successful it is in challenging itself and being open to reexamining and considering new possibilities will go far in determining its ultimate value to a