Influencing the Influencers: Analyst Firms
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No technology company, whether early-stage or well-established, can escape noticing the immense impact IT analysts have on both customers and the market. Gartner, Forrester, and IDC are the 800-pound gorillas, but 451 Research, HFS Research, CXP Group, Frost and Sullivan, Ovum, and countless others also play a significant role in shaping how customers perceive a company and its products.
Today’s leading technology analyst firms—like Gartner or Forrester—are the primary tech influencers of the buying behavior of the world’s roughly 10,000 largest companies, financial institutions, and government organizations. But there are other analyst types—IDC, for example—which take a more quantitative approach, specializing in measuring market size and share, units sold, downloads, and projected future growth. Then again, there are smaller boutique firms that work with tech and services suppliers, producing white papers, speaking at customer events, and conducting bespoke research. And, while big analyst firms typically focus on the broad industry, smaller firms tend to specialize in particular tech disciplines or niche markets. That doesn’t mean that Gartner doesn’t do market share or that IDC doesn’t influence buying behavior; it just means some firms have a better reputation in one discipline than in others.
Before discussing strategies to influence the influencers it is vital to establish the reason, i.e. what goal the company is trying to achieve, before approaching the analysts.
What Is The Company’s Goal?
How to make use of these industry influencers depends a lot on what a company is trying to achieve. For example, in the early stages of raising investment capital, the goal might be to impress potential investors with the current size and future potential of the target tech segment market. When pitching to investors, IDC market size and future market potential numbers are the gold standard.
Then again, in the case of a brand new company or product seeking to get recognition and visibility, the goal will be to get more vendor-oriented firms to write white papers and research and speak on the company’s behalf at seminars/webinars. The gain here is added credibility based on their knowledge and perceived independence.
The common goal is getting customers to buy the products or services, so it makes sense to work with those analysts that have the most influence over buying behavior in the specific market. When targeting the IT department (CIO) or cybersecurity group (CISO) of a global 10,000 company, the list of potential analysts is short—Gartner is number one, with Forrester and IDC distant seconds. But whether choosing Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, Forrester’s New Wave, or IDC’s MarketScapes, keep in mind that these companies’ vendor assessment tools (VATs) can have a significant impact not only on the customers but also on investors and potential strategic partners.
Where Is the Company in the Market?
Thanks to primary research quality and perceived independence, Gartner—and to a lesser extent Forrester and IDC—is so trusted that it can establish the purchasing criteria and even the buzzwords for an entire market space. The analyst’s ability to set the ground rules applies particularly to emerging markets, but leading industry analysts substantially control the agenda in more established markets, too. With tools like Gartner’s Hype Cycle, they can even define products’ maturity stage, which hugely influences buying behavior because many of the global 10,000 have learned the hard way to avoid products at the pinnacle of “inflated expectations.”
Further, however the product or service is launched, major analysts will often define its nature and functions, how it integrates with or stands alone from other technologies, how users should interact with its features, and whether it is an emerging market trend or a flash in the pan. They may even coin terminology that sticks with the press, competitors, and ultimately, the customers. But tread carefully here—there is fierce thought leadership competition among the big firms, with Gartner invariably trumping whatever IDC comes up with. When in doubt, go with Gartner’s terminology.
A great example of this was the intrusion detection/prevention product a former startup of mine unfortunately named “Intruder Alert,” implying that it only “alerted” to intrusions rather than blocking them. The industry analysts eventually steered the market towards “Intrusion Prevention” as the defining terminology but, despite being first to market, we never recovered from being perceived as an alert-only product.
What all this boils down to is that analysts concern themselves not only with the technical aspects of the product or service but also with the best delivery mechanism (software, hardware, appliances, SaaS, etc.), the best way to reach target buyers (direct, channel, or online sales, OEM, partner, open-source, etc.), and the strength of a company’s financial backing and staying power—”ability to execute,” in Gartner-speak. The bottom line here is if a company wants to play in a market that is staked out and defined by the prominent analysts, it will have to play by their rules.
8 Strategies To Influence the Analysts
There is no easy way to go about it though. Nothing can teach a product manager to pull the wool over the eyes of a good analyst—and most of the big firms’ analysts are very good indeed. If the product or company is all hype, it will not be possible to hide it for long. However, with an excellent product in place, there are some strategies of how to present it to the analysts.
Choose the Correct Analyst
The product manager should identify those analysts who publish research on the competition and focus on them. In most cases, it should be one of the major firms - Gartner, Forrester, or IDC.
If the product or service doesn’t fit neatly into any analyst’s coverage area, competitors are scattered across multiple research areas, or the solution is so innovative that a category has yet to be established, the product manager should talk to all the analysts who might be interested and go with whoever seems most excited about the product.
And, although the big three are favorites, working with a boutique firm should not be discounted if the company has a specialized technology that is poorly covered by the major outfits. It can be risky—smaller firms tend to be less influential on big purchasing decisions—but a boutique analyst may have a lower-level IT implementer’s ear. They might be the key to earning the CIO’s trust if the sale is substantial and highly visible.
Introduce Yourself to the Analyst
Most are willing to give an initial 30 to 60 minutes to a viable vendor, whether in person or on the phone. This is the time to present the product and ask any burning questions. If it’s hard getting through, an investor or, better yet, a customer can open the door. Scheduling this pretty far in advance is necessary, though, since most major analysts are booked solid with paying customers.
Before speaking to the analyst, it is necessary to read as much of their research as possible. It might be necessary to pay for their proprietary research, but there are also free sources to learn from like their Twitter feeds, what they say in the press, or entries in Google under their name. One trick to get free research is to look at competitors’ websites. Leading vendors in the Magic Quadrant, New Wave, and MarketScape VATs are usually happy to publish the analyst’s research for anyone to freely look at. And don’t forget to review their press releases. Favorable analyst research notes usually result in a press release.
Ultimately, though, it might be inevitable to pay the analysts money to truly get on their radar screen. A product manager can subscribe to their services and ask them questions—the company is paying for their research, advice, and time. However, it is important to keep in mind that the money spent won’t affect where the analyst places the company in the VAT. Concentrating on forging a strong relationship is the way to go.
Buy a Day of the Analyst’s Time
Another approach is to book Gartner’s Strategic Advisory Service (SAS), Forrester’s Analyst Advisory Service, or one of IDC’s custom solutions, which are roughly equivalent. It is possible to bundle this service with access to their canned research and attendance at their conferences and symposiums. Negotiate with the analyst firm’s salespeople to get the best deal, but expect to pay $10,000 to $20,000 (plus expenses) and much more if including an annual research subscription.
During the initial engagement with the analyst, the team should use the day to pick their brains and get their input on the company, product, services, positioning, and go-to-market strategy. The analyst should do most of the talking.
Most important is to listen. Asking open-ended questions can draw the analyst out but the team should avoid getting into an argument. If there is a disagreement, the best bet is to make a point and move on by being firm and confident, but not arrogant.
The CEO, CTO, and product manager should participate in the meeting. The team should be well prepared, read the research, and decided who will do what in the briefing—the CEO should not pitch the technology, and the CTO should not talk finance or go-to-market. PowerPoint slides should be kept to a minimum and mostly feature the product and capabilities.
The presentation might be interrupted even during the title slide. The analyst will push hard on customer deployments (i.e., the real world), wanting to know the size of the engineering team (ability to execute), “secret sauce” (i.e., what makes the company better than the competition), the pedigree of the executive team, long-range strategy, financial backing, marketing plan, and go-to-market (i.e., sales) approach. They will delve into how the company works with strategic partners, how it positions itself relative to the competitors, how easily customers can implement the product or service, what support is offered to customers, etc. The team should agree in advance how to answer these questions; disagreement among senior leaders sends a bad signal to analysts.
Debrief After Meeting with Analysts
After meeting with the analysts, the team should get together to discuss what was learned and agree how to incorporate the analyst’s advice into the strategy, what buzzwords are important, and where improvements are needed to the offering, marketing plan, and go-to-market approach to better position the company and product/service in light of what was heard.
Implement Suggested Changes
The idea is that during the next meeting with the analyst, the product manager can show that they have listened and taken their advice. Incorporating their suggestions is pure psychology. If one is following the analyst’s guidance, it is impossible for them to be negative about the company without being intellectually dishonest. It is not necessary to take all of their advice, but incorporate enough to show that they were taken seriously.
Focus on the Customers
Analysts at big firms might deal with lower-level implementers sometimes but mostly they talk to senior technology buyers (CIOs and CISOs) at the global 10,000. The absolute best way to influence a big firm analyst is through their customer base—these are probably the potential target customers, too.
The product manager should cultivate happy, successful customers who are willing to talk to thje analyst—the more, the better, but at least three to five. The successful implementation of the product or service must percolate up to the customers’ CIO or CISO. The C-level must clearly understand and agree with the value proposition. Generally, second- and third-level IT implementers carry less weight with big firm analysts. After all, if the product or service is terrific and adds significant value, why wouldn’t the C-level want to know about it?
The goal is to get the CIO/CISO to call the analyst and talk about the successful deployment of the product or service. Most CIOs/CISOs want to be thought of as innovators and leaders, even the conservative ones. Showing them how their implementation of the product or service vaults them into a leadership position in their industry can get them on board. Get them quoted in the press and invited to speak at the analyst’s conferences. They don’t have to endorse the company or product; they just need to be the thought leaders in the technology market space.
Another strategy is to get CIOs/CISOs who are not yet current customers to call the analyst. The product manager can try to get them to ask, “Hey, what do you think about company X? I am really interested in the way they approach __.” Or, “How do you feel about company X’s product? We’re thinking about taking a closer look at them.” The more the analyst hears the company’s name mentioned in a buying context, the more credibility it will have.
Having prospects call the analyst is particularly useful if the company is at an early stage and it doesn’t have many successful deployments; it might not even be on the analyst’s radar yet. Calls to the analyst by prospective customers are the best way to get it there. It doesn’t take many—three or four within a month’s time frame is usually sufficient to get the analyst’s attention, then they will probably call the company themselves.
Of course, this strategy is risky if the company is not well positioned with the analyst; it could dissuade potential customers from considering the product or even put them on to the competitors. So, it is in the best interest to have at least spoken with the analyst before attempting this approach. But if the company truly has an innovative solution that adds real value, the risk might be worth taking.
Get To Know the Analyst Personally
The product manager can find excuses to drop in on them: “Hey, I’m going to be in your area next week calling on company XYZ. Do you have a few minutes to catch up?” Invite them to dinner, lunch, or breakfast. Bring a customer or prospect along to the informal meeting (there will be a better chance of getting a meeting if there is a customer there). Meet with them at their conferences, but set the appointment up early as they get booked up quickly. Invite them to speak at customer events—it won’t be cheap, but it can pay significant dividends, especially if there are a lot of current and future customers in attendance. Companies don’t do business with companies; people do business with people. A product manager that shows the analyst respect will earn theirs.
Build on Progress
Once the analyst is firmly in the company’s camp, and the product is up and to the right in the VATs, it is time to encourage others to get in touch with them. Current investors, potential investors, and potential strategic partners can all exert considerable influence on the industry influencers. Again, the more the analyst hears the company’s name in a positive or even neutral context, the more seriously they will consider it.
Keep in mind that the leading venture capitalists are already talking to the big industry analysts, so the product manager has to make sure what they hear about the company is positive from both a product and a business perspective. The analyst might like the products but think the go-to-market strategy is suspect. Or they may feel that the company doesn’t have what it takes to scale. Influencing the IT influencers means covering all of the bases, not just the technical ones.
Influencing the analyst is not a once-and-done proposition. Keeping on top of them and keeping the customers and prospects calling them is necessary. Analysts are often swayed by the last phone call or briefing. A competitor might come in after and undo much of what you the company has accomplished. The best cure for this is to make sure that the product manager does the last phone call or briefing. It is all too easy to forget to pay attention to the analyst when things are going well.
Influencing the Analysts is Part of Product Strategy
Influencing the key industry influencers is an often overlooked product management function. We like to talk about Agile principles, sprints, user stories, etc. But in the end, building a better mousetrap doesn’t mean the world will beat a path to the company’s door. The customers have to know about the better mousetrap, trust the builder, and believe the company will be there for them in the future. The best way to achieve these goals is to have key industry influencers talk favorably about the mousetrap and position it up and to the right on their VAT’s. Therefore, make sure influencing the IT influencers is part of the product management strategy.
- Our previous article - Inside the Realm of Tech Influencers - provides an overview of the different types of IT influencers and general strategies on how to approach them.
- For more detail on the taxonomy of the industry analyst landscape, refer to a white paper by the Knowledge Capital Group: “The Executive Guide to Analyst Relations.”
- For additional strategies on dealing specifically with Gartner and Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, the book “Up and to the Right” by Richard Stiennon is the best title to pick up.
Understanding the basics
What does an influencer do?
An influencer is someone who is able to influence a particular target group. Influencers have access to a large but niche audience which trusts the influencer’s opinions.
What is an analyst firm?
An analyst firm is a company that specializes in providing business and market analysis of various different industries. Through their research, analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester analyze the current situation in a given market and identify the best vendors.
How do I become an industry analyst?
The easiest way to become an industry analyst is to apply for a job at one of the companies in the field. While bigger companies like Gartner and Forrester focus on various different industries, smaller niche analyst firms could suit your particular industry expertise.
What is Gartner analysis?
Gartner analysis, more commonly referred to as the Gartner Magic Quadrant, is a type of research which evaluates an industry’s vendors completeness of vision and ability to execute, and identifies whether a vendor is a leader, challenger, visionary, or niche player.
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Member since June 11, 2019
About the author
Pete is a veteran product management professional who has taken four companies from startups to successful exits, including two IPOs.