SageCircle has addressed the never ending myth that large advisory firms like Gartner and Forrester require vendors to pay in order to be included on research in posts such as You don’t have to be a Gartner client to get a good “dot” on the Magic Quadrant and Analyst integrity issues – the urban legend that won’t die. In addition, Gartner VP and Distinguished Analyst Tom Bittman (bio, blog, Twitter) has addressed the issue in A Rant – My Integrity as an Analyst along with Gartner Client Ombudsman Nancy Erskine who posted It’s Still True: Gartner Opinion is Not for Sale. A final point is that large firms explicitly make it part of their policy to state vendor briefings are not contingent upon being a client. For instance, on Gartner Vendor Briefings page there is the statement in the first paragraph “Gartner analysts schedule briefings at their discretion based purely on an interest in the vendor, its technologies and its marketplace, not because of any fee or contractual relationship.”
So why does this myth still persist? One reason is that there are still “white paper for hire” firms that will generate papers favorable to the client. So these “white paper for hire” firms taint the perception about all analyst firms. In addition, there some unscrupulous sales representatives at major firms like Forrester, Gartner, and so on that have played the research placement card when they desperately needed to close a contract or risked being fired. So part of the problem is that a few rotten apples at the major firms spoil the reputation of the entire firm. Finally, while analysts have policies against pay-to-play on their websites, has anybody ever read them?
Killing the myth
So what can analyst firms do to drive a stake through the heart of this pernicious perception? They can create a “Bill of Rights for Vendor Prospects” that clearly states the policy and that every firm sales representative is required to give to a new prospect or existing clients working on a contract renewal. By explicitly stating the policy, which would include a provision that the firm would deal harshly with any sales representative that crossed the line, the firms would stand a better chance of stamping out this myth.
While the focus of this proposal is on vendors who are (or are not) clients of the advisory firms the concept plays well to the end-user clients who are purchasing services. They expect the advice they are receiving is objective and not tainted by undue influence. A more public statement of the policy might be of value in selling to those clients as well.
To get the process started, here is an outline of what a “Bill of Rights for Vendor Prospects” could include. This is simply the starting part. Based on the community’s input, via comments or emails to “info [at] sagecircle dot com” we will wordsmith the outline. When it looks reasonably set, we will upload a PDF of the document that analyst firms and vendors could use.
Draft Outline of the “Bill of Rights for Vendor Prospects”
- Vendors do not have to be clients of analyst firms in order to brief our firm’s analysts
- Vendors do not have to pay in any form (e.g., annual subscription, consulting contracts or conference sponsorships) to be included in any research report
- Vendors who are clients of our firm will not be given favorable treatment in research reports
- Vendors who stopped being clients of our firm will not be retaliated against by exclusion from research or receiving negative positions in research
- If any of our sales representatives explicitly or implicitly state that the vendor must pay to brief the analysts, be included on any research, or gain a more favorable opinion, then those sales representatives will be dealt with harshly
- Please report sales representative misconduct to ___________________
- Clients have a two-day “cooling off” period in which to cancel sales contracts without penalty
Signed by __________________ Date ___________ (analyst firm sales representative)
Acknowledged Receipt _______________ Date ____________ (vendor employee talking to analyst firm)
This document would be provided by the analyst firm sales representative at the first meeting. The content would be formally discussed with the vendor staff member and then signed by the sales representative in front of the prospect. The prospect would be encouraged to initial or sign a copy to acknowledge their understanding of their rights. If the first meeting is over the phone, the analyst firm sales representative will email a copy of the document, but also send a signed copy by postal mail with a postage-paid return envelope that would go a special address at the firm, not back to the sales representative.
In addition to the form, this information should be included in every presentation (i.e., “PowerPoint deck”) that the sales representatives use with vendors. This would be like the Safe Harbor slide that public companies include in presentations to financial analysts.
Bottom Line: This “Bill of Rights for Vendor Prospects” would be useful for everybody in the analyst ecosystem: vendors, analyst firms, and end users. The first two groups are obvious. The end user aspect is less obvious. If analyst firms made it crystal clear to vendors that they do not have to worry about pay-to-play, then more vendors would want to brief their analysts. The more briefings that analysts are receiving, from a more diverse group of vendors, means more information the analysts have to base their research and recommendations. This benefits end users, often IT managers at enterprises and large government organization, because they will in theory be receiving better research and recommendations.