Up and To the Right, Please
There other night, I was attending a local business professional networking event (I'm a big believer in "networking for life"). You know the format.... drinks and meet/greet, followed by a speaker followed by a little more networking time. A friend came up to me with someone "in-tow" and greeted me by turning to his friend and saying, "Hey David, this is Michael Kerman. He's a 'marketing guy' and can help you". My friend headed off to the hotdogs-in-a blanket leaving me with 'David'.
David says "I have a software business and want to be in the upper right-hand quadrant with
the analysts. What do I need to do?" I chuckled, chatted for a little and gave him my card. After all, this was going to be a MUCH bigger discussion. Here's a summary of what I told him.
First, understand how these analyst firms work. They're middlemen and advisors to both customers (solution-seekers) and vendors (solution-providers). They make money by doing research and writing reports to which both sides subscribe. They also do consulting with both sides to help them (1) purchase the right solution for their needs and to (2) help vendors build better solutions.
Secondly, working with analysts is, no surprise, a relationship business. If analysts don't know you or your company, they can't evaluate your offerings beyond looking at what's on your website.
Third, understand that when a customer calls the analyst firm and says "which vendor should I choose?", the analysts will not say "Oh, you must go with _____". Instead, they typically listen to the customer's needs/criteria and then reply with "Here are a couple of vendors you should look into". This is the "short list" and you always want to be on the short list!
Finally, I did mention that while it isn't a requirement, it does help to have a contract with the analyst firm. This simply gives you access to their reports and even more importantly, access to their analysts. I know these contracts can get expensive, but look at it as you're paying for consulting services + market research + customer insight. Suddenly, it doesn't look so bad.
So, I gave him a few action items to pursue in his quest to "be in the upper quadrant":
Align your Business. To gain value from analyst relationships, you must be willing to share insight into your strategy, your customers, their use-cases, your roadmap and technology. If you're not willing to do that, STOP; there's no point in continuing this discussion.
Do Some Research. Research the different firms. Look at their coverage/practice areas. Look at the research and reports they've written. Look at the background of the analysts. No point of engaging with a firm that barely writes about your category or have analysts with little industry/domain knowledge. Choose carefully.
Engage with a Starter Contract. Most analyst firms have tiered contracts. Start out small but be certain that you're getting access to the reports you need and the analysts who cover your space.
Establish a Regular Communication Cadence. Depending on the firm, you may or may not get an "account manager". Regardless, you want to establish a regular (4x or at least 2x per year) briefing schedule with the analysts. DO NOT go silent with the analysts and then try to engage them and get their support right before a major report to a product announcement. That will NOT work. Instead, keep them in-the-loop on a regular basis.
Dialogue, not Preaching. Yes, you're trying to convince the analysts why your company is the best. However, real value in the analyst relationship comes from engaging them and seeking their advice about:
- "How does my feature set or roadmap compare with what you're hearing?"
- "Does my messaging and value proposition seem clear and compelling?"
- "What needs and use cases are you hearing from your customers?"
Get Your "Proof Kit" in Order. Analysts are going to want to see/hear some proof to support your capabilities. So, you need to have the following ready to share with them:
- Customer References (actual customers the analysts can speak with)
- Benchmarks (e.g, application performance)
- Product Demos and Screenshots
- Competitive Assessment (How do you compare vs. ______)
Be Open to Feedback. If you're going to ask analysts for their feedback, you must be willing to listen and even incorporate some of it. Nothing makes for a more contentious relationship than a vendor or customer who seeks the analyst's advice, ignores their feedback, ends up in a poor review or a failed project and then goes back to the analyst for more advice. You have to respect their input and be willing to incorporate it into your decision-making, even if it means changing your plans a bit.
Patience. It is unlikely to go from being unknown and not covered to the top position in the analyst's latest ranking. You're making an investment for the long-term. Yes, it may take multiple presentations and demos to different people. Yes, you may start out at the bottom of their ranking or a "bottom quadrant". The goal is to constantly work with the analyst to understand what they're seeing and hearing and how you can improve.
The conversation was much longer than this, with numerous stories of some of my successes and stumbles. Now, I just have to wait and see which quadrant he ends up in, if any!