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.
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).
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.
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.
Marketing: Message development, testing, and segmentation —
Product: Roadmap and strategy —
Business Development: Strategy and tactics —
Sales/PMM: Pricing and packaging —
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.
In the typical analyst model, there are two fundamental forms of interaction you can have with them:
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
What you can do if you brief an analyst well and regularly:
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:
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.
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:
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. :)
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.
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