Analysts are cynics – a dead idea

Public policy wonk and Fortune Magazine columnist Matt Miller’s new book The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity got us at SageCircle thinking “Hmm, are there dead ideas holding back analyst relations?” Of course there are! This is one in an occasional series of posts that will address the dead ideas that impact AR programs and their ability to delivery strategic value to their companies. These posts are meant to be provocative and not necessarily definitive in their new ideas and suggestions.

Dead Idea: Industry analysts are irredeemably cynical

Back Story: It is common for many vendor executives to think of industry analysts as cynical. And at first glance, Gartner analyst Ray Valdes (bio, blog, Twitter) would seem to confirm this perception by characterizing his reaction to a vendor’s announcement as cynicism in his blog post The Secret Sauce Behind Google Wave

“…My initial reaction was colored by instinctive reflex of cynicism, and basically amounted to: Yes, it’s very cool and innovative, but what has Google done for the enterprise lately?

After a healthy debate with Gartner colleagues, spanning a range of views pro and con, I reviewed the Wave video and the documentation, and felt greater excitement than I did during the keynote (where I was one of the few sitting down during the standing ovation). I won’t use this post to make one of those forecasts, such as “Google Wave will kill X”, where X can be any number of well-known vendors or products. That kind of statement is overly glib, because we are just a few days into a scenario that will take 5 years or more to play out, with many twists and turns along the way…”

Although he uses the word SageCircle would not characterize Ray’s reaction as cynicism (def. “An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others”) but as healthy skepticism (def. “A methodology based on an assumption of doubt with the aim of acquiring approximate or relative certainty”). Why this different characterization? Clearly Ray had his doubts after the Google announcement, but after conversations with colleagues and further research he moderated his point of view to at least neutral if not slightly positive.  

This is an important lesson for analyst relations (AR) managers to convey to their “cynical” executives – and maybe even themselves. While some analysts are truly cynics and thus a problem (see There are many types of problem analysts), for the most part industry analysts want vendors to succeed, but are legitimately skeptical due to all the grandiose marketing claims they have heard over the years. As a consequence, AR needs to collaborate with spokespeople to moderate claims and work hard to provide solid proof for any claims made. A negative but open-minded analyst can change their opinion if presented with sufficient proof.

SageCircle Technique:

  • AR teams should ascertain which of their executives perceive the analysts as cynical
  • AR teams should ascertain which of their analysts are truly cynical and not just skeptical
  • AR teams should educate executives and other stakeholders as to the difference between skepticism and cynicism and carefully characterize which of the most relevant analysts are which type
  • AR should always be pressing colleagues in advance of announcements for proof that can be used with analysts
  • AR should always be probing negative analysts as to why they are negative and what proof will be required to support the vendor’s message
  • If necessary, AR should incorporate into the AR plan the steps needed over a period of time to gather and present proof points to skeptical analysts

Bottom Line: Taking the attitude that analysts are cynical could cause vendors not to make the effort needed to develop and effectively present proof to support their marketing messages. Vendors – especially AR teams – need to start with the attitude that analyst are skeptics until proven guilty of cynicism. This will permit AR to devote the energy and political capital needed to tone down overly sensational claims and generate the needed proof points.

Question: AR – Do you have executives who think analysts are cynical? Are they right? Analysts – Do you consider yourself cynical or skeptical? Do you clearly and proactively articulate what proof vendors need to present in order to support their messages? Or do you assume that if proof is available then it is up to the vendor to be the proactive party?

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23 Responses

  1. Comment originally on Twitter from Courtney Benson @techdom –

    Rid the industry of the jaded

  2. Industry analysts are not any more cynical or optimistic than anybody else in the business. What people often perceive as cynicism may actually be healthy skepticism. Being so deeply immersed in the industry, they have heard all sorts of claims and seen all sorts of snake oil salesman products. More often than not, it’s safer to doubt those claims than to trust them.

    However, there’s another side to the coin: Analysts are being paid tens of thousands of dollars for their opinions (or their agencies are). Their clients don’t lose money if they don’t spend it, and a pessimistic opinion will achieve that. However, if clients follow through on an analyst’s optimistic assessment – and the analyst is wrong – those clients will lose their money, and being resentful, will probably cancel their subscriptions. If you’re analyst and you want to keep your job – and your clients – being cynical is obviously the safer route.

  3. Comment originally on Twitter from Ron Shevlin @rshevlin in response to my tweet “Are analysts cynics or skeptics?” –

    why is there an “OR” in your question? :)

  4. Carter,

    This post encapsulates the internal conflict I think many analysts go through as well.

    Skepticism I think serves an analyst well, and gives them the opportunity to make some great recommendations for their clients who are deploying technologies. On the vendor side, skepticism can help separate fact from fiction. So it’s an essential skill.

    The dark side of cynicism is that I think at times analysts feel they must be that – to be tougher on vendors and force out the truth. And that forcing of cynicism is what makes analysts appear to be callous and curmudgeon. In some analyst cultures being a curmudgeon is a badge of credibility. Yet I sometimes think analysts push themselves to be cynical and curmudgeon in approach to earn respect in their firms.

    Vendors can stop this by being as open and forthright as possible, letting out the good and the bad and sharing where they have won and failed. Trust – that most precious of all commodities – can kill cynicism. Sounds idealistic but it is true and as for the truly curmudgeon analysts, run, don’t walk to the skeptical ones instead!

    Great post Carter.

    Louis

  5. Comment originally on Twitter from Greg Schulz @storageio —–

    another angle, some vendors/ar see analyst as skeptics/cynics if they r not cheerleaders or dont provide media like coverage

    - – - – 2nd tweet

    in other words, there are many ar who confuse, or, are confused with difference between analyst/media/reporters

  6. Comment originally on Facebook from Michael West at 7:07am June 5

    yes i think most are very cynical, as a result of dealing with inflated claims on a daily basis

  7. Comment originally on Facebook from Gary Flynn at 7:09am June 5

    I’d argue that they’re not irredeemably cynical or skeptical, but that the cost of redeeming them would be unacceptably high. ;) Now Sages of course, are an entirely different matter. :)

  8. Comment originally on Facebook from John Mihalec at 7:48am June 5

    There are no dead ideas, only unfashionable ones. When did being cynical become unfashionable?

  9. Comment originally on Facebook from IdaRose Sylvester at 9:22am June 5

    I think the tech industry itself has become cynical. But John has a point.

  10. Comment originally on Facebook from Gary Flynn at 10:27am June 5

    I agree with John re ideas. I once worked at an engineering firm where 40 year old research ideas were sometimes resurrected because new technology allowed a new perspective.

    But I’d contend that cynicism isn’t an idea but an attitude or approach which assumes that bias is certain, while skepticism merely acknowledges it’s possible.

    But it is hard not to be a cynic in a down market, when all scramble to save themselves. :)

  11. Comment originally on Facebook from Erin Kinikin at 11:27am June 5

    I always thought that being at least a little bit cynical (or at least skeptical) was a core analyst hiring criteria. Vision – skepticism = cheerleading?

  12. Comment originally on Facebook from Michael West at 11:36am June 5

    Of course analysts are cynical, and their cynicism is matched by tech industry AR/marketing professionals; and their back and forth is like cold war rhetoric; meanwhile, the consultants who teach vendors how to deal with analysts are the most cynical of all, especially those who raise the issue of cynicism as though it weren’t pretty near universal.

  13. Comment originally on Facebook from Gary Flynn at 11:42am June 5

    I always thought that the ability to reach a research-based opinion was the most important criteria. The ability to test data for bias, without introducing your own in the process, being key to an opinion you can defend. And knowing from experience that a given company always inflates its sales numbers, and testing for that each time doesn’t make you a cynic, just thorough. ;) A certain amount of skepticism, like paranoia, is healthy. ;)

  14. Michael West at 12:07pm June 5

    gary, what do you mean by research? listening to pr/ar flacks and marketing vps intone about technologies and timeframes? or quant work? most analysts do the former not the latter.

  15. Comment originally on Twitter from Greg Young @Gartnergreg —-

    an analyst without a dose of realistic cynicism is a cheerleader who will fool his/her own customers. Plain negativity is bad

  16. Comment originally on Facebook from Jan Dawson Ovum at 1:07pm June 5

    Like any other category of people (as you point out in the blog post) there are analysts who are cynical, and ones who are merely sceptical. If they’re not either, that’s dangerous, and if they’re cynical that can also be dangerous because they can be overly negative.

    However, I will say that as an analyst I’m always extremely uncomfortable writing something up without at least one negative point for fear of being seen as having drunk the Koolaid. Is there a word for that?

  17. Analysts who are not skeptical are not analysts – they are amplifiers. The cynical view from the vendor side is to use them that way – with or without pay, that’s all some vendors ever do. Now THAT’s cynicism.

    There’s aother dimension here, too. One can be entranced by a vision, as Ray was by Wave even after digging in. Me too. But that is no guarantee of success in the market. That takes engineering execution, continuous resource commitment, support of the product/.service, effective identification and pursuit of the target audience. I could go on. (And often do, I hear some folks saying.)

    Following up to assess some of those things is what analysts do – and it separates them from (most) journalists, who for most purposes speak on what is happening in the moment.

    When do analysts becone cynics? When they start wih the assumption that the vendor they are speaking to is lying. That is not just skepticism, it’s generalization. Maybe that company has earned that perception – but even then, while some people in some companies may be untrustowrthy, that still doesn’t mean all are. Cynicism becomes the lazy analyst’s way of avoiding the perception of being too credulous. And both are to be avoided.

  18. I realized that I may appear to be speaking negatively of journalists here. No such intent – i’m talking specifically about press reporting on announcements from technology firms, which often takes the form of “rewrite what’s in the press release, and find a quote from an analyst to round out the story.”

    Many journalists do no such thing ever; others do sometimes. Time is a limiting factor, and sometimes “reporting the news” is the only objective. What analysts do is *supposed* to be different because it’s not about being “in the moment” with a scoop.

    But the social media have changed that. Sometimes analysts do the same thing as “news” reporters – and that blurs the lines. Cyncisims and skepticism intersect this issue in interesting ways. But that’s another conversation entirely.

  19. If you are an analyst you are an optimist – at least when you first get started. Your vision is that you can help end users, vendors, and the industry move forward.

    You are trained to be skeptical, and most of us were there anyways. You begin your career with a healthy dose of skepticism. It is through interaction with bad AR and bad mkth people that you become cynical. When promises repeatedly get ignored, when statements have not backup or corroborating data, and when information passed along is wrong (but they try to pass it as good) – all that builds to cynicism. Mind you, i said just the bad people.

    Being skeptical, but optimistic, is essential to being a good analyst You hope that things will come up as promised or told, but you know that it won’t be so. You know from experience that you will just have to live with some below the level of commitment or delivery promised. And that is acceptable, that is the give and take between analysts and AR and mktg. It is the straight-out lying that makes you cynical.

    Thankfully, that is the minority of people you deal with..

    I would close by saying that most analysts are pragmatists, which carries with itself a hefty dose of skepticism. Perhaps that is a better question to ask:

    is a good analyst a pragmatist?

  20. Comment originally on Twitter from Rob Curran @robcur

    cynicism is an emotional coping filter, not an analytical model. Cynics interested in validating past ‘rightness’

  21. A great analyst is neither cynic (defined above) nor skeptic (def: someone who is unwilling to believe things).

    One trait of a great analyst is to applaud the positive but equally to actively seek out what is not being said as much as what is. Analysts are not cheerleaders.

    When you find someone with this trait they will naturally be someone who sees the glass half-empty. They actively look for the holes in the story and then try and punch a great hole through it. Sadly this can lead both to skepticism and cynicism (and certainly the impression thereof as they often forget the piece about applauding the positive!) but that is not the healthy side of the trait.

    Per your own comments Carter I believe that anyone dealing with an analyst firm needs to recognize this natural trait (the firms hire for it!) and hence focus on utilizing its value and also plan communications to deal with it (e.g. dont preach to analysts, engage with them)

  22. Copied from Twitter DM by permission –

    Well both: skeptics or they’d be reporters. Cynics because we’re all in IT ;-)

  23. I used to work, in a previous life, as a TV news reporter…my anchor was George Clooney’s father, Nick. A class act. He gave me many solid pieces of advice…one of them was: “Always be skeptical. Never be cynical.”

    Words well spoken.

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