Lack of hands-on testing for products by industry analysts [AR Practitioner Question]

question-mark-graphic.jpgQUESTION:  It disturbs me that analysts don’t have hands-on experience with the products they advise their clients about.  How are can they be credible?

ANSWER: Analysts, especially at the larger end-user centric firms like Gartner and Forrester, have access to what they would claim is the world’s largest testing lab – their clients. Analysts covering hot product areas, both software and hardware, are hearing from scores of clients every month who are evaluating products or using them in production. As a consequence, the analyst firms claim that they can develop a series of data points that quite accurately portray the quality of a vendor’s products. 

Note: This is a classic SageCircle article from our pre-blogging newsletter. This particular article appeared in March 2001. It is being brought into the blogging era because ZL Technologies in its lawsuit against Gartner criticizes Gartner because it does not do “a single minute of independent testing of the products it purports to evaluate” (page 9 of the original court filing).

SageCircle Technique:

  • Vendors can help themselves by ensuring that their product evaluation programs for prospects are Continue reading

Where do social media metrics fit into an AR measurement program? [Practitioner Question]

AR Metrics & MeasurementQuestion: Are social media like blogs and Twitter something we should be measuring or is it too early yet? Where does social media fit in a measurement scheme?

icon-social-media-blue.jpg If your analysts are using social media, then including those sorts of metrics in a measurement program is really not optional. In this case we are putting social media on par with published research, press quotes, and activity counts as something worthy of measuring. While a 140-character tweet does not have the impact of a Gartner Magic Quadrant, it can provide useful information that should be added to the data mix.

Social media has elements of both operational metrics and performance metrics. Some example uses include:

  • Operational
    • Unfiltered opinions feed into plans and briefings
    • Activity insights feed into interaction calendars
    • Tweets and blog comments by AR to an analyst fulfill top-of-mind touches requirements
  • Performance
    • Tonality tracks analyst opinion movement
    • Mentions of company, products, and competitors with opinion can track changes in perception

Social media metrics complement other sources of data. For example, social media can complement Spoken Word Audits because social media-based conversations between analysts and end users are often personal, unfiltered, and Continue reading

Asking analysts about sales impact [Practitioner Question]

icon-dollar-euro.jpgAt last week’s workshop “Launching an AR-Sales Partnership Program” we had a number of insightful questions.  We posted one item already about getting feedback from recorded sales training but here is another that came from a participant. 

We were suggesting the use of inquiry as a way of asking analysts about the influence they have in your market space.  Questions such as “how many short lists did you review in the past week (month)?” are examples of ways that a short inquiry can be used to approximate the impact on sales.  However, what if you don’t have a contract and cannot do an inquiry?

We always suggest that inquiry access with your key (tier one) analysts is a requirement for AR teams.  But with the current economy and associated tight AR budgets we are hearing of some teams that wind up without all the desired contracts.  So how do you pose these questions without inquiry?

Most analysts will reply to well-placed and appropriate questions during a briefing (note: this has been a problem with Gartner analysts – we suggested a workaround in the SageInsight sent to client “Schedule inquiries the day after briefing Gartner analysts to deal with the ‘no questions during briefings’ issue”).  We always suggest that you have prepared a sequence of general questions to go with every interaction of any type.  These of course include such things as “what research are you working on next?” or “what interesting thing did you learn at the XXX conference”.  Placed in context you could also ask about the kinds of questions that IT buyer clients are asking or places where the market might be changing.  This gives you the rationale to ask questions that would give you insights into the influence this analyst has in a particular market.

While having inquiry privilege is the best approach you can be creative and still get some information.

Another potential resource is the analyst firms’ account representatives. They Continue reading

How do you get feedback when you do recorded training? [Practitioner Question]

question-mark-graphic.jpgAt yesterday’s workshop “Launching an AR-Sales Partnership Program” we had an interesting question about the use of non-live training for sales representatives.  The workshop participant asked how to go about getting feedback.  Feedback, comments, and student reactions can often help you tailor your training or understand areas that could be improved.  Of course this would also apply to any other recorded, web-based, or portal training or information that the AR team wants to deliver.  

There are two easy-to-implement approaches to this problem.  Perhaps the simplest solution is to create an email address such as:  AR@company.com.  You can direct sales (or others who listen to recorded training) to use this team address for questions, comments, and requests for information.  You can then put this at the end of any recorded training (e.g., MP3s) or add it to content you deliver via web streaming.  SageCircle has even created a specific space in its recorded training for sales representatives where we can insert a “For more information” comment that is tailored to your team.

Alternatively you can use technologies such as blogs or wikis for posting the recorded training, which provide a Continue reading

Do I place my bets on AR-Sales partnering or adopting social media?

icon-dollar-euro.jpgQuestion: If I had to choose between starting an AR-Sales partnership or launching a social media initiative, which way should I go? If I did both, but with limited resources, how should I divide my efforts?

 During the happy hour after the first session of our STRATEGIC ISSUES advanced AR seminar, one of the attendees asked these great questions. Both Dave and Carter answered immediately and in unison:

     “AR-Sales!”

Why? Even a simple AR-Sales partnership pilot will give the AR team an opportunity to gather real world examples of the analysts impacting sales opportunities. These types of hard sales numbers, even in anecdotal form, are powerful tools for illustrating the strategic value of AR. In addition, a pilot project can Continue reading

What are the pluses and minuses of former analysts taking on vendor AR roles? [Practitioner Question]

question-mark-graphic.jpgComment/Question: Re: your point below about jobs for senior analysts, here’s an idea for a blog entry – the pluses and minuses of former analysts taking on vendor analyst relations roles. That ought to stimulate some discussion on the comments section.

Rob Curran, wicked smart AR professional at Waggener Edstrom, sent along that comment after this week’s newsletter where we wrote in light of the recent spate of layoffs at analyst firms: 

Do you know of a job appropriate for a senior analyst? – Now is the time to grab talent. The job could be at a firm you know is hiring or maybe your company has a position open in product management, strategy or market research. If so, notify the analysts you know that are “in transit” between positions. Not just former Forrester analysts, but the others as well.”

It looked like Rob noticed we did not include analyst relations (AR) as a possible job for former analysts. Hopefully that was a simple oversight on my part (this is Carter, a former Gartner analyst, writing) and not a Freudian slip. Obviously there can be real value to having a former analyst in the AR role. On the other hand, I have seen some former analysts really botch the job of AR.

This is a topic that really does Continue reading

Acquisitions of analyst firms are likely, so who would be buyers and targets?

question-mark-graphic.jpgQuestion: A common question SageCircle has been receiving concerns the likelihood that there will be acquisitions of analyst firms during the current recession.

During a recession, companies with strong balance sheets often acquire companies with weaker financials because the purchase price has been cut. Both Gartner (cash at September 30th was $145.2 million) and Forrester (NASDAQ: FORR, cash and marketable securities at September 30th were $254 million) have a history of acquisitions.  They also have dedicated M&A teams and CEOs that assure Wall Street during quarterly earnings calls that acquisitions remain a potential tactic “at the right price.” As a consequence, there is always the possibility that one or more small or mid-sized firms will be acquired by one of the two major public firms. 

Who could be acquired? Almost any firm. Obviously mid-sized firms like AMR Research that have gone through recent job actions could be thought to be shoring up their finances to ride out the recession… or make themselves a more attractive acquisition target by reducing cost structure or eliminating duplicate reearch coverage.

Who could be buyers? While Forrester and Gartner have the requisite strong balance sheets and motivations, they are not the only potential buyers of analyst firms. Companies that have made analyst firm acquisitions over Continue reading

Rebutting the spoken word – can you really know what analysts are saying? [AR practitioner question]

Question: Is it possible to respond to something an analyst says? 

Advice: It is not only possible to respond to the analysts’ spoken word, it is highly recommended. Obviously, it is more difficult to respond to the spoken word than to respond to written research, but in many cases, the stakes are much higher because actual sales hang in the balance.

First, you need to find out what the analyst has actually said. It many cases, this task requires investigation on AR’s part because you are hearing about the analyst’s conversation second- or third-hand. In most cases, AR is hearing about an analyst’s verbal comments from one of their company’s sales representatives – after a sales deal has been impacted negatively. Rather than acting immediately on what the sales rep thinks was said (e.g. sometimes the sales rep gets the analyst’s name or firm wrong, or does not recall all the details of the conversation), AR should coordinate with the vendor sales rep to go back to the prospect and find out exactly what transpired. Investigation need not take a long time or generate too much stress on AR’s part. The investigation phase includes talking with the vendor sales rep, the prospect and the analyst (Online SageContentTM Library (OSL) clients can look up “Responding to Analyst Impacts- Investigation Phase” for more information, Advisory clients can set up an inquiry to get the best practices and advice on applying them).

Once AR staffers have determined as best they can what the analyst actually said, AR can advise the sales rep on how to repair the damage to the deal. Then, AR can proceed – carefully – to Continue reading

Making Data Collection for Measurement Practical [AR Practitioner Question]

AR Metrics & MeasurementQuestion:  How do you make data collection easier for AR measurement programs?

This question gets to the heart of the measurement challenge-if it is too difficult to do, it will not get done.  Making data collection practical involves selecting the right mix of metrics, leveraging outside resources, and automating many tasks.

[This post focuses on the data collection aspects of an effective measurement program.  Therefore, the following related topics will not be addressed 1) picking and prioritizing the right metrics, 2) distinguishing between operational and performance metrics, and 3) using metrics to track performance against pre-defined goals.  For discussion of these topics, please see Online SageContentTM Library series "Metrics and Program Measurement."]

SageCircle Technique:

  • Selecting the Right Mix of Metrics. First, to make data collection practical, you must pick metrics that meet measurement program goals (e.g. track what you want to measure) and are easy and cost-effective to generate (e.g. data collection requires moderate/minimal effort). Be clear on what you want to measure and collect only that data so you can encourage AR team participation. However, do not reject metrics that initially appear difficult to collect. New options to out-task and automate may make collection easier than you think.
  • Leveraging Outside Resources (Out-Tasking). Out-tasking is a variation of out-sourcing, but instead of contracting out a significant part of your AR program (which SageCircle rarely recommends) this technique refers to contracting out an activity or task. Out-tasking is especially appropriate for activities that are Continue reading

Should your industry analyst conferences be combined with other company events? [AR Practitioner Question]

question-mark-graphic.jpgQuestion: As AR managers look forward to 2009, many are thinking about scheduling an analyst conference. A common question SageCircle receives on this topic is whether to co-located the analyst event with other events.

Are you holding an IT or telecom industry analyst conference in the next few months?  If so, planning should be well under way.  One of the questions we have received several times over the year concerns the possibility of combining your analyst event with some other company function.  This other event might include customer or user group meetings, partner events, financial analyst events, or PR or marketing meetings.  The logic seems to be that you have gathered all the key executives together and can leverage their time and travel.

We think this is a really bad idea. 

The needs of the Industry Analysts are Continue reading

How does one become an analyst? [AR Practitioner Question]

question-mark-graphic.jpgAt a recent client meeting we got an interesting question: How does a person become an analyst? Is there certification? A test?

At this time the requirements for becoming an analyst consist of ownership of a laptop, cell phone, business card and an opinion. A website and / or blog are nice, but not required. There are no educational requirements, no state certifications, no tests to pass, no professional licenses to acquire, no World of Warcraft guilds to join, or secret handshakes to learn. Direct experience as a vendor or end user is not a requirement either as firms hire people straight out of collage and even outside of the tech industry as well.

Obviously, an individual has to be smart and insightful to be successful as an analyst. But to become an analyst one only has to be hired by a firm or hang out one’s own shingle.

While this statement produces chuckles and rolling of eyes in AR training or meetings with clients, there is both a serious issue and a real opportunity for AR teams in this reality. The issue is Continue reading

The organizational challenges of managing AR, CI and MR [Practitioner Question]

question-mark-graphic.jpgWe often are asked about the differences in management techniques when AR is organizationally under corporate communications or marketing as compared to a when it is part of a strategy group.  How you deal with analysts, and the need for strategic interactions as compared to product-level briefings, will be altered based on the client base you are attempting to serve.

Analyst interactions also occur in the Competitive Intelligence (CI) and Market Research (MR) groups.  They are also often the keepers of the major analyst contracts and the “repository” of the purchased analyst data, reprints, and commissioned research.  In addition to providing research for the product and strategy teams they contribute to the sales organization with share numbers and competitive bullet points.

Sometimes these groups are in very separate parts of the company (e.g., AR in corporate communications, MR in product management and CI in field sales) while at others, especially in smaller vendors, one person does it all.  In larger companies these functions may be so organizationally separate from AR as to require processes for enhancing the communications and collaboration, despite the fact that you are all dealing with the same analysts.

From time-to-time, companies make organizational changes with AR being told – sometimes over AR’s reasonable objections – to take responsibility for the CI/MR teams. Incorporating the CI/MR teams with AR can prove to be an interesting challenge for the AR manager because Continue reading

Will you get analyst opinions in a briefing if you are not a client? [AR seminar question]

question-mark-graphic.jpgYes… if you give them a chance to actually speak and if you take the time to ask correctly.

There is a common (mis-)understanding that analysts will only provide opinions if you are a paying client of their firm.  So can you get their opinions during a briefing? For the most part, analysts are more than happy to comment on what they hear in a briefing. The primary reasons why they don’t express their opinions are Continue reading

Can the IT industry analysts be objective?

question-mark-graphic.jpgI recently saw this question on Twitter. It was from an AR practitioner, but it also applies to research consumers as well. Several studies* of IT manager clients surfaced that “objectivity” or some variation is an important consideration for buying analyst services. But is this a reasonable expectation for the research consumers? The answer is a qualified “yes” and there are ways for analyst clients to ensure that objectivity is as high as possible.While it is our opinion that analysts do not pull their punches because vendors are clients (see Analyst integrity issues – the urban legend that won’t die), that does not mean that analysts are 100% objective all the time. Every person has life experiences that will permanently or temporarily make them a little less objective.  AR teams may have their doubts about some analysts Continue reading

Why do analyst consulting days? [AR Practitioner Question]

question-mark-graphic.jpg As was briefly mentioned in Strengths and weaknesses of analyst research delivery types, analyst consulting days (aka SAS or strategic advisory service in Gartnerese) have a high risk/reward profile for vendor analyst relations (AR) teams. After that post, we received a question from an AR practitioner asking why AR would want to spend the money on an analyst consulting day.

It is important to remember that building strong analyst relationships requires a mix of interaction types.  You cannot achieve your objectives using only briefings and inquiry. Consulting days can have significant benefits when done correctly.  Because there are different reasons for purchasing analyst consulting days from the firms, vendors need to clarify the goals they want to pursue through buying consulting days. The shotgun approach of “we’ll just throw some more money at them by buying consulting time” rarely succeeds in genuinely increasing an analyst’s positive perception of a vendor.

The various reasons why vendors choose to do consulting days vary in real value:

  • To build stronger relationships with key analysts
          – Rating: high value
  • To do a Deep Dive-style uninterrupted briefing
          – Rating: none to high value
  • To have a high profile marketing event speaker
          – Rating: Continue reading

Do you know of a headhunter specialized in recruiting AR? [AR practitioner question]

question-mark-graphic.jpgI just got pinged by a VP of Corporate Communications asking if I knew of any recruiters that specialize in the analyst relations field. Frankly, all the headhunters I have chatted with were their clients regular recruiters and were only doing the AR search as a favor. If you know of a firm that has an AR practice, please let me know. Perhaps this is an opportunity for a firm to develop a niche capability. Send your suggestions to info@sagecircle.com or leave a comment. Thanks.

How is corporate AR different from product-centric AR? [AR Practitioner Question]

question-mark-graphic.jpgLast week I had lunch with an AR manager at a software company where we had an interesting chat about “corporate” AR. She had always been focused on product-centric outreach and wanted to know what constitutes good corporate AR. That is a great question because most AR teams are focused on products for a good reason, but that means that corporate issues frequently do not get the attention they deserve. This is especially true for larger companies with a diverse portfolio of products and services since the analysts will often not see the forest for the trees.

Continue reading

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