Friday, April 2, 2010

Building Credibility With Analysts

It's not just "what" you say, but "how" you say it

Make no mistake: launching a new business or product — especially in this economy — can be brutal. One of the major challenges facing us as tech marketers is how to communicate the value of our product or service offering, not just to prospective clients, but also to individuals who can exert influence over a prospective buyer's decision as to which vendor will prove to be their "best bet." And while traditional Public Relations activities go a long way toward managing public perception, there is a limit to how effective you can be, especially when trying to communicate in a cluttered field of competitors, and hindered by limited resources. Which is where developing a relationship with select Industry Analysts can be particularly useful.
An industry analyst performs primary and secondary market research within a particular segment of an industry — for example, financial services or telecommunications — to determine market trends and business models and to evaluate technology providers and their respective technologies. Not only do analyst firms evaluate individual vendors and technologies, they also provide a reasonably objective perspective of the overall marketplace, key drivers, competing technologies and vendors, short- and long-term trends, and other equally valuable intelligence. Analyst firms such as Tower Group, Gartner, Forrester, IDC, and Yankee Group are retained by companies looking to make technology investments, and these analysts provide guidance with regard to which products to buy and which services to retain. These firms provide a combination of market research, competitive intelligence, and management consulting to their clients. From the perspective of the technology vendor, inclusion in an analyst firm's report or vendor ranking can provide a huge competitive advantage for even an established technology provider, and for a startup, it can mean the difference between success and failure.

As you can see, it's important to engage with analyst firms in order to get your message to them; they can't evaluate and report on a product about which they know nothing. But it's equally valuable to utilize their research services, in order to obtain a more comprehensive and more objective view of both the marketplace and competitive landscape. This can be extremely useful for your product development efforts, in understanding market requirements and pain points, as well as in honing your market messaging. Analyst firms can even advise on potential partners or customers, as well as providing insight into sales channel strategy. Many firms also produce national and regional events focusing on specific areas of interest, say, CRM or Business Intelligence. General research reports are typically purchased via subscription, or, in some cases, a la carte. For more intensive, one-on-one consulting and advisory services, most firms offer tiered consulting agreements, depending on the level of your need and length of engagement.

In this article, I want to focus primarily on how to go about developing relationships with analyst firms for the purpose of communicating your product message to them. But first, I want to state that it's vitally important that your CEO be fully on-board with your analyst relations initiative. An effective CEO is one who is completely aware of the needs of his customers, as well as knowing exactly what's going on in the marketplace. But more importantly, an effective CEO is both aware of and honest about their company's strengths and weaknesses. Analysts are always appreciative of a CEO who comes to the table with this kind of candor, and conversely, are keenly aware when a CEO is trying to bullshit them. Hopefully, your CEO is not one of that type!

How to Initiate the Relationship
If you're considering the establishment of an analyst relations function within your organization, here are a couple of things to consider: There are currently more than 700 (!) analyst firms across the globe, and their research and advisory staffs range from one person to several hundred.

Another important point is that these firms make their money from selling their research, either as reports or through custom consulting. In spite of a supposed "wall" between their research arm and their sales arm, it stands to reason that a "paying" client will get their attention more readily than a non-paying one. That said, I've had great success in obtaining good, positive coverage from the major firms without having been a paying client. It can be done, but it requires a methodical approach and some well-mannered persistance... and a little roll-up-your-sleeves "guerrilla marketing."

The first thing you need to do is to research which firms are covering verticals or technologies that relate to your product offering. That may seem obvious, but in situations where your product doesn't fit easily into an existing category, you may need to do some legwork to identify technologies that are similar, and see which firms are covering those technologies... if that's not working out, then you need to focus on analysts that are covering your target vertical(s). As you can imagine, Google will get a real workout! From this initial research, identify and rank in importance the firms that appear to be providing the most in-depth coverage of your technology or your target vertical. Start with the top 5 or 10, so you don't become overwhelmed.

Next, you'll need to identify which specific analysts within these firms are actually writing about both your target vertical and your technology type (or at least similar technologies). Again, Google will be your go-to source, and you should find plenty of information by typing-in a) the name of an analyst firm (i.e. Forrester) and b) the specific technology or topic, or a vertical (i.e. brokerage compliance). What you should find is a fair number of Press Releases containing "quotes" from specific analysts, excerpted from a research report or vendor ranking. Most analyst firms have an Analyst Directory on their website, including the analyst's name, research area of interest, and recently published work by that analyst. But you probably will not be able to access any of the actual research reports, without a subscription. To get around this, narrow-down your Google search, using the names of the specific analyst and the topic, you should be able to find some actual research reports, typically on the website of a firm that has been mentioned within the report. Many of these reports will be "restricted access," meaning that, in order to access them, you will most likely need to fill-out some information on that company's website (name, company, email address, phone, etc.) If it's a competitor, you may want to use a personal email account when completing this form. In any case, once you've been granted access to the report, you can begin to get a feel for the analyst's areas of coverage, etc. Most analysts also have public Blogs, where you can get a better sense of their interests and their perspectives, and possibly weigh-in on topics of interest to you or your company.

You will need to repeat this process for as many firms and as many analysts as you deem necessary. Your final product from this exercise should be a database of firms and analysts, with some basic information about both the firm and the respective analyst (including topics of reports and vendor rankings in which they've participated). Note that most analyst firms are very protective of their analysts, and do not list their contact info (phone, email) anywhere, insisting that you access them through a "Request Briefing" form on the firm's website. When you are ready to do so, you should, by all means, request a formal briefing through this mechanism, but you will also want to find a way to access the analyst through a "back channel." You may be able to decipher an analyst's email address by using one of the common email address protocols, such as, or

Time to Request a Briefing
When you're ready to actually request a briefing, do so through the "Request Briefing" form on the analyst firm's website. If you've done your homework, you already have a good idea as to which specific analysts cover your technology or vertical, and can request them by name. If you've read anything that the analyst has already written (and you should have, by now), you will have some sense of their perspective on the marketplace and its players, as well as their personal "hot buttons," and can hopefully find a way to address them in both your presentation "pitch" and in your actual presentation. Determine who from your organization will be on the call, and, as I suggested earlier, if you can get your CEO on the call, it signals to the analyst that your company takes the briefing process very seriously. Add analysts like that... a lot! You will typically need to provide a range of dates from which to choose, and the more flexible you can be, the greater the likelihood you'll get your briefing in a timely manner.

Prepare Your Presentation
You'll need to put together a Powerpoint presentation that provides an overview of both your company and your product. You typically have no more than 30 minutes to conduct a preliminary briefing, so it's important that your presentation is crisp and concise, with no more than 15-20 slides. Remember, this is NOT a sales pitch, so you really need to tailor your briefing around exactly what industry problem your product or solution solves, and exactly what differentiates you from other available products or solutions. Lastly, while this initial briefing is not typically focused on deep-level technology or architecture, most analysts are very comfortable discussing the inner workings of software applications, so it's a good idea to have a couple of "extra" slides that take a deep dive into the underlying architecture of your product, just in case the analyst is interested in reviewing it with you.

Write Your Script and Practice Your Delivery
You should prepare a written script for your entire presentation, and detail what you want to say for each slide. You (and whomever else will be presenting with you) should rehearse your presentation at least twice, and make sure that your entire presentation comes in well below the 30-minute mark. Be sure to leave at least 5-10 minutes for comments and questions from the analyst during your presentation, as well as for Q&A at the end of your presentation.

Preparing to Deliver Your Briefing
Most analyst briefings these days are conducted over the web, so if you do not already have web conferencing capabilities, you should arrange to get set-up with one of the various providers of this service. Webex, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Live Meeting, InterCall, and ConferencePlus are just a couple of the main contendors, and these services enable you to share Powerpoint presentations and other applications over the internet with individuals or groups. Some have integrated voice capabilities; for others, for others, it's an add-on. Once you've been set-up with web conferencing capabilities, be sure to do a "dry run" (or two) before you have to do your "live" briefing with an analyst. I've always found it useful to record my presentations (most of the web conferencing providers have a feature that enables you to record both what's on the screen as well as the voice), because it enables me to a) critique my performance and fine-tune it for the next briefing, and b) share the webcast with others in my organization, such as sales, client services, or new employees.

Deliver Your Briefing
When it's time to deliver your briefing, be ready and on the phone at least 5 minutes before your scheduled start time. Make sure that your web conferencing works, and your presentation can be seen. I will typically have a colleague in another office participate silently to ensure that the presentation software is working correctly, and who can alert me if there is a problem. I also take copious notes during a presentation, jotting down anything the analyst might have to say about either my product or about the market in general. Lastly, don't keep your analyst waiting.

Immediately following your presentation, send a thank-you note out to the analyst, as well as to any of his (or her) colleagues who might have participated on the call. Be sure to reference any comments they might have made on the call (it lets them know you were paying attention), and if there were questions, either answer them within your thank-you note, or let them know when they can expect a formal response from you. Provide them with your contact info (including your mobile number) and encourage them to contact you if any subsequent questions arise.

You need to remain on the analyst's "radar," and should plan on re-briefing each analyst at least once per year. If you are fortunate enough to be making significant enhancements to your technology, you may be able to brief them more frequently, perhaps twice per year. I typically shoot to do at least one or two briefings per month, throughout the year, and begin re-briefing them once I've gone through the entire cycle. Also, most analysts will want to keep apprised of your company's progress, and sending them periodic newsletters, notices of client wins, or other interesting news is usually welcomed. Just don't overdo it... communicating with them once per month is plenty. And, if they have a Blog, be sure to visit it periodically, and comment wherever it might appropriate.

At the end of the day, establishing credibility with the analyst community can have a huge payoff, especially for startups and emerging technology companies. When prospective buyers see your name come up in independent research, it raises their comfort level considerably, and gets you into doors that might not otherwise have ever opened for you!

Some of the better-known analyst firms utilizing traditional business models include:

• AMR Research
• Basex
• Burton Group
• Canalys
• Current Analysis
• Dittberner Associates
• Evaluator Group
• Forrester Research
• Frost & Sullivan
• Gartner
• IBIS World
• Informa Telecoms & Media
• Mercator Advisory Group
• Ovum Ltd
• SNL Kagan
• Springboard Research
• Strategy Analytics
• Verdict Research
• Yankee Group

Several firms are developing new analyst business models based on contemporary technologies, social media, open source licensing concepts, loosely-federated analysts, and/or a more radical and visible emphasis on offshoring. Notable examples of these types of firms include:

• ConneKted Minds
• Experton
• Experture
• RedMonk
• Macehiter Ward-Dutton
• Quocirca
• ResearchFarm
• Freeform Dynamics
• Wikibon

Got a tip you'd like to share, or maybe a question about any of the ideas presented here? Feel free to drop me a line at

1 comment:

Neil Ward-Dutton said...

David - nice post, and thanks very much for including our firm in your list! Our community of subscribers now numbers around 3,000 so our "open access" model seems like it's working... we've also just had our 5th birthday and we've grown revenue in each of those years (our last quarter was our largest ever in terms of sales).

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