Aneel

Executive Marketing Consultant

Analyst Relations 101 for Engineers

Demystifying analyst relations and making it work

This guide is presented in three major parts: knowing your audience, understanding what analysts can do for you, and then finally how to go about getting the most out of your interactions with them.

Enjoy. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.

Programming notes: this post is n in a series of indeterminate length on GTM topics mainly for startup people, mainly leadership, mainly coming from non-GTM backgrounds. There’s a list at the end.

Know Your Audience

If you’re making enterprise technology at all, you eventually have to interact with “technology analysts” from firms like Gartner, Forrester, IDC, and 451. So you should know what they are and what they do.

Although blogging and byline articles blur the lines, analysts are not press.

Press may do analysis. Analysts may report on news. Both tend towards punditry. But analysts are not press AND press are not analysts. Business models, incentives, etc., are all different.

Side note: technology industry analysts are not financial analysts. Although the financial analysts are frequently customers of industry analysts.

“Independent” analysts are rarely independent. They tend to be pay-to-play and rely on vendor cash to keep afloat. It’s hard to cobble together a living as an independent without being compromised. There are exceptions, but not many.

Many analyst firms are pay-to-play. They’ll write whitepapers and “advertorials” that are underwritten by vendors. I find these (after too much experience) highly suspect and particularly worthless. But YMMV, because depending on your target audience, they can be effective “offers” that convert SEM dollars into form submissions and perfectly valid lead gen expenses.

Top tier analyst firms don’t do that. They run on reputation and can’t afford to tarnish it. Typically, they’ll fire any analyst found to be trying to shake down vendors for cash (directly or indirectly). Or they’ll fire any analyst found to be hiding a conflict of interest (e.g. personal financial stake in a vendor).

What analysts do

  1. Provide research on specific technology or business areas of coverage, including related vendors, products, and practices. For example: trends in a specific tech (e.g. MDM), vendor position in the marketplace (e.g. Magic Quadrants), product fitness for particular purpose, etc. The analysis is typically published and includes both quantitative (e.g. unit sales) and qualitative (trend derived from end user interaction) “research” — which frequently incorporates actual primary (the big firms have in house primary research functions) and secondary research. Access to research is sold on a subscription basis and is the primary revenue stream for most firsm.
  2. Provide “advisory” services to those who subscribe to the research products. This is typically in the form of “inquiry” on the phone where a client will call up and ask to speak with or get routed to an analyst covering a specific topic to discuss a particular issue in depth (e.g. Can you replace ProductX with ProductY?). It can also be in the form of in-person sessions with presentations and other consultative options or one-offs.
  3. Run conferences.
  4. Provide consulting services (usually an independent arm of the firm) which produce written reports and the usual high-end IT consulting work products. (Although in my experience, these are usually crap.)

Who analysts serve

  • Buyers: typically the bigger end of SMB up through the largest enterprises and state/federal agencies
  • Sellers: early stage startups through the biggest, most entrenched incumbents
  • Investors: VCs, investment banks, merchant banks, private equity, hedge funds, institutional investors, family offices, etc

How analysts are used

  • Should I upgrade X or wait a cycle or bring in an alternative for a POC to use as a lever to get better license terms for the upgrade or abandon this line of inquiry altogether and let X age out before replacing it with Y from a promising new startup?
  • Is it the right time to get behind trend X? What kinds of impacts will my current spread of development, operations, organization, and applications suffer?
  • What is the decision criteria I should use when selecting a vendor, or making a change, or adopting a trend? Where do things stand relative to that criteria?
  • How do I prioritize these 10 features on the product roadmap and position myself best for what end user of type X sees as the gaps in all the products out there today?
  • What is the right arrangement with my channel partners to get new product X into new market Y? And which partners are the right ones that hold the highest degree of influence in that market?
  • Which of these 5 startups are likely to survive the next 2 years and make it to the point of being acquired and who will most likely acquire them and what are the competitive dynamics of big players A-D that will impinge on their success?
  • How will the rise of technology X affect legacy business Y of incumbent Z?

Fundamentally, what analysts provide is decision support.**

Fundamentally, what analysts do is information arbitrage.

Their perspective, domain expertise, and context should allow them to draw conclusions that are very hard to reach otherwise and then to present those conclusions in grokkable form to clients.

** There are exceptions, such as firms that are purely vendor focused or specialize in very targeted areas (e.g. RedMonk — read their guide!).

What Analysts Can Do For You

Remember that their customers are buyers, sellers, and investors. If they have influence over your (potential) customer, your (potential) competition, or your (potential) investors — you should be talking to those analysts.

What analysts can do for you indirectly

Prospect Influence:

  • They ask analysts about how to solve some problem or what vendors to consider, etc.
  • They ask analysts about you, your product, your potential, your competition, etc.

Acquirer Influence:

  • They ask analysts how to fill portfolio gaps, which other vendors are doing well in a space, etc.
  • They ask analysts about you, your product, your team, your potential, your competition, etc.

Investor Influence:

  • They ask analysts about the marketplace, what buyers are saying, which vendors are best positioned, etc.
  • They ask analysts to gut check your pitch, during due diligence, and to verify your product-market-fit.

What analysts can do for you directly

Marketing: Message development, testing, and segmentation —

  • Are we using the right words? Does the story make sense? Are we actually articulating value? Are we saying anything compelling?
  • How do we create the end user, influencer, and buyer versions of the message?
  • Will this work with a foreign audience? Will this work with partner of type Y? Will this work with investor of type Z?

Product: Roadmap and strategy —

  • Is this the right strategy for getting into market X in front of buyer Y competing against vendor Z?
  • Is this the right roadmap? Should certain features get prioritized over others for customers of type X? Or for differentiation amongst 5 known competitors?
  • What aren’t we thinking about? What are we missing? Where will we get steamrolled by incumbents or competitors?

Business Development: Strategy and tactics —

  • Should we work with partners? What kind? Which specific ones?
  • What’s the best model to go to market with partners? What should partner agreements and contracts look like? How do we keep from getting screwed and/or sued?
  • What do we have to do to enable and support partners?

Sales/PMM: Pricing and packaging —

  • Is the product packaged in a way that makes sense and matches how end users consume this kind of thing?
  • Does the pricing make sense? Is it too low? Too high? How does it compare to all the other vendors in the field?
  • What will the objections be? Who’s the real buyer? Who are the influencers? Who are the likely champions?

How to Engage

What not to do

The tendency amongst startups, especially those that outsource AR (analyst relations) to PR firms, is to treat analysts like press and try to get written up.

But most of what analysts write is behind a paywall and targeted at very specific audiences. Also, nothing you do can make them write about you. They don’t win by writing about you, unless you’re worth writing about. In which case, it’ll happen anyway if they know you exist and why. You just have to create the right environment and do the influencing to make it inevitable.

What to do

In the typical analyst model, there are two fundamental forms of interaction you can have with them:

  • Briefing: Any vendor can brief an analyst — no $ or being a client required. Briefings are one-way, you -> analyst. They can be requested by your or the analyst. As an analyst, I used to request many briefings with startups that I heard about through the grapevine or read about elsewhere.
  • Inquiry or advisory: You must be a client. Inquiries are two-way, you <-> analyst. You get to ask questions, get feedback, have a dialogue, drill the analyst on their views.

Briefings

No matter what, you should always brief the right analysts about what you do and any significant changes in your business. “Significant changes” include things like new funding rounds, new notable customers, major product updates, upcoming announcements. The right analysts are the ones whose coverage area(s) overlap with whatever you do or are adjacent influencers. For example, if your product is a mobile only SaaS CRM app, you probably shouldn’t brief an analyst whose primary coverage area is supply chain management (unless that’s a use case you’re getting into). Figure out what analysts cover through their profiles, published research, LinkedIn profiles and what they’re talking about on social media.

What happens when you brief an analyst well and regularly

  • If you’re defining a new market or doing something unique, you can help the analysts define the space for themselves and develop their own buying criteria which get used with their clients.
  • You stay in the front of mind when the analyst is thinking about the market space you operate in and they might write you up in a research note as an example or even in a list of vendors to watch or something.
  • When one of your potential customers (that you might not even know about or be targeting) asks about or is looking for something like what you do, the analyst is more likely to suggest they have a look at you or mention you.
  • When a customer you are trying to land asks the analyst whether they should consider you, they have something to say other than “never heard of them, try this other thing that’s getting some traction instead”.
  • When a potential acquirer (that you might not even know about) asks about or is looking for something like what you do, the analyst is more likely to suggest they have a look at you or mention you.
  • When a VC or other investor-type asks about you, the analyst has something to say other than “never heard of them, but I know this other thing that’s in the same space that’s getting traction.
  • When the press ask the analyst about your market segment, the analyst might actually mention you as an example.
  • When the press ask the analyst about you, the analyst has something to say other than “never heard of them, but I know this other thing that’s in the same space and getting traction”.

What you can do if you brief an analyst well and regularly:

  • You can refer potential customers to them for an objective 3rd party gut check
  • You can refer potential acquirers to them for an objective 3rd party gut check
  • You can refer investors to them for an objective 3rd party gut check
  • You can refer press to them for quotes and an objective 3rd party gut check

Inquiry

If you choose to become a paying customer of an analyst firm, you can do inquiry — which basically means you can call up and ask questions, send in documents and get them reviewed, etc. The major benefits to inquiry are twofold:

1. You can ask all kinds of questions — marketing, product, channel, competitive, buyer behavior — and get serious, sometimes useful, answers.

2. You can use them to influence the analyst thinking on a topic

Which can be used to help:

  • Message development, testing, and segmentation
  • Product strategy and roadmap
  • Competitive & market intelligence
  • Business development strategy and tactics
  • Pricing and packaging

Color outside the lines

You don’t have to only follow the typical analyst model and use the formal channels. Reach out on Twitter, LinkedIn, at events, etc. You should be building awareness and interest in what you do through those channels in conjunction with formal inquiries and briefings.

General guidance

If you are selling into any kind of business that is NOT another startup or at the bleeding edge of technology, there is an analyst out there who has influence on your customers.

Figure out whether your customer, investor, acquirer, or press base overlaps with that of any given analyst firm. Brief every analyst that it might. The more overlap, the better and more regular the briefings should be.

What to include in your first briefing:

  • Company overview, founding team, investors, investments and total investment amount
  • Vision, mission, value prop, use cases, target customer segment(s)
  • Who you think you compete against, who you actually compete against, and what differentiates you — market and self-definition
  • Product overview, architecture, demo if possible (and if not, on followup); and be prepared to go deep technically if needed (bring the head of product or engineering, if you’re talking to someone like Lydia)
  • Actual customers, why they bought, and any customer references that would be willing to talk to the analyst

Consider paying for a seat/license to an analyst firm only if you know for a fact that they (or particular analysts there) are real influencers of (i.e. directly serve) your target customer segment (now or in the future).

Always brief or inquire with adjacent analysts — especially if what you do crosses categories or coverage areas. You want to get multiple angles on what you do and get yourself into the heads of whoever might touch upon your product area. Also, analyst reports get peer-reviewed inside (the good) firms; so the more analysts there are who will say good things about you, or provide support for your claims, the better.

Consider attending an analyst firm conference (e.g. Gartner Data Center) if your target customer segment will be present. I can’t speak for other firms, but Gartner conferences are attended by a surprising proportion of actual executives with buying power.

Find out if your VC is a customer of any relevant analyst firms. Have your VC do inquiry for you! Or next time the right analyst comes by in person to visit your VC, make sure you’re in the room.

Most firms will do a free inquiry session as a POC (in person or on the phone). Take advantage of that. :)

Summary and Tips

Fundamentally, what analysts provide to their customers is decision support.

Fundamentally, what analysts do is information arbitrage.

Analysts are not press.

Analysts serve: buyers, sellers, and investors.

Use analysts to influence evaluation criteria and buying criteria defensively and offensively.

If your customers are other startups or bleeding edge technology companies, analysts are probably useless, unless it’s RedMonk and you care very much about developers.

Analysts will be used by your customers, competition, potential acquirers, and investors to understand, evaluate, and position you. Whether you like it or not.

Figure out who the right analysts are that cover what you do and are adjacent to it. Brief them regularly.

The right analysts can help you with strategy, marketing, product, business development, and sales — if you become their customer.

Tips from the horse’s mouth

Biggest thing is to accept that you need help, and more importantly, where you need help. - Steve O’Grady (RedMonk) // @sogrady

(1) Have a realistic perspective on what your place is in the ecosystem, competitive landscape. (2) Analysts are not cheerleaders. (3) Analysts there to give constructive criticism so tell you your challenges and deliver a solution (not just saying you suck). - Vanessa Alvarez (ex-Forrester) // @VanessaAlvarez1

(1) Make sure your talking to the right analyst — everyone’s time is wasted if your not talking to the right guy. (2) Show understanding of your limits, no startup is going to solve everything, understand your limits & sell what makes you different. (3) The best thing you can show me is actual product, not powerpoints (but I’m a tech analyst). - Gunnar Berger (ex-Gartner) // @gunnarwb

Get your story straight. What market are you in, and how are you different there? You probably won’t create a market for yourself. - Jenny Sussin (Gartner) // @JSussin

Don’t say, “Oh, you’re a woman. We just assumed you weren’t technical.” Really nothing beginning with “Oh, you’re a woman…” Also, the startup should assume the analyst understands the area they cover. Explaining the basics is a waste of time. - Lydia Leong (Gartner) // @cloudpundit

Do your homework. Don’t waste time brainwashing (doesn’t work). Understand that my goal is not trashing you but protecting my clients. Don’t expect that I suggest or recommend slideware to my clients. - Alessandro Perilli (ex-Gartner) // @a_perilli

Whenever I speak to traditional vendors, they are always interested in partnering/acquiring disruptors. Make [my] list. I WANT to hear from more startups. Rarely hear innovation coming from “traditional players”. Show me how you solve real probs. Be prepared, you only have one chance to make the first impression. Have seen some terrible presos from startups. - Rick Holland (Forrester) // @rickhholland

I have clients (end user & vendor) who tell me they want to hear about you. Some want to partner, etc. Others may participate in a beta. Use briefings, twitter, email, LinkedIn messages, informal chats via phone, and meet up at an event/conference. - Heidi Shey (Forrester) // @heidishey

Keep it real. No ass kissing BS. - Chris Wolf (ex-Gartner) // @cswolf

I loved hearing from founders who were pissed off about the way something worked/cost/etc and how they wanted to fix the problem. Get the problem space and market failures identified before feature/function or speeds/feeds or at least understand that I could help validate/refute/ adjust the start-ups assumptions on that front. - Abner Germanow (ex-IDC)// @abnerg

Why should a customer talk to you? Don’t play to the analysts ego! - Matt Eastwood (IDC) // @matteastwood

If you don’t understand the value of analysts, find a trusted third party who does and ask them. - Donnie Berkholz (451, ex-RedMonk) // @dberkholz

Unfortunately, a lot of people see analysts as an extension of marketing #wrong! - Floyd Strimling (Platen Report) // @platenreport

Why? Messaging review, collateral review, product strategy, competitive analysis, trends, futures. - Jonah Kowall (ex-Gartner) // @jkowall

Shed assumptions, reach out and touch someone. (Not all) analysts bite! - Jarod Greene (ex-Gartner) // @jarodgreene

The more forthcoming you are, the better. If you’re just giving us marketing BS, save your breath. - Wendy Nather (451) // @451wendy

Analysts are usually micro or macro focused. Figure out which type they are. Act on your goals for interacting with them, not theirs. - Michael Cote (ex-RedMonk, ex-451) // @cote

Don’t tell me how you are special for reinventing the wheel. Highlight competitors and what makes you different/worthwhile. - Trevor Pott // @cakeis_not_alie

Do you have time to keep track of the market? You’re not working hard enough. Hire us. - Merv Adrian (Gartner) // @merv

Make it a regular conversation instead of a PR pitch at the time of need. Medium has changed. With blogs and twitter, more non traditional avenues are available through the “independent” analysts — easier access to these analysts than the traditional ones. Journalists prefer a quick check with them than the trad path to trad analysts. - Krishnan Subramanian (ex-analyst) // @krishnan

Don’t be shy. Just reach out and build a relationship with us. - Ben Kepes (independent) // @benkepes

Be open. Inform with proof points. Do it often. - Eric Goodness (Gartner) // @EFGoodness

Quick answers to questions don’t guarantee inclusion, but slow answers guarantee exclusion. - Eric Knipp (Gartner) // @erichknipp

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