Most industries have ‘analysts’ who track and report major industry trends, key customer needs and vendors offerings. While some analysts may work individually, most industry analysts work for ‘analyst firms’. The larger analyst firms employ specialists in a broad range of market segments and technologies, thus combining multiple disciplines to create comprehensive market reports. Analyst firms that managed to build a powerful brand in specific industries have a lot of influence on the market, and are a force to be reckoned with. Analysts exercise their influence in several ways: quotes in the media, published reports, conferences, and one-on-one engagements.
Analysts are often quoted in media articles. Most editors who cover a specific industry tend to call an analyst and ask him or her to comment on a recent development in the market. For example, if a vendor makes a new product announcement, editors who wish to report on the announcement are likely to contact an analyst and get his/her perspective on the product. This is also true when an article is written about a particular industry trend; an analyst will likely be asked to contribute his views to the specific media piece.
Market reports are another important vehicles for analysts to exercise their influence. Most analysts firms regularly publish reports on specific markets, individual vendors, and customer needs. Some of these reports may be free, while others are available for a fee. Analyst firms also conduct independent market surveys and the results are included in published reports. For certain market and technology categories, analyst firms may publish an annual report on the “state of the industry”. Such reports may also include vendor rankings and recommendations. Analyst firms also publish quantitative reports, which include market sizes, growth rates, and vendors market share.
Conferences are another area where analysts exercise their influence. They are often invited to give a talk, publish a paper, or participate in a discussion panel. Attendees often consider the messages communicated by analysts in such conferences as far more “objective” than vendors’ presentations. Some of the largest analyst firms also hold their own conferences on specific industry topics. Naturally, what analysts communicate in conferences is often echoed in the press and media.
Lastly, analysts spend a considerable amount of their time doing one-on-one engagements with customers and vendors. Discussions with customers help analysts gain deeper insights into the market needs. By gathering feedback from a large number of meetings, analysts can develop a comprehensive view of customer needs and priorities. These individual engagements are also an opportunity for customers to seek advice from the analyst, based on his/her broader view of the market. The individual meetings with vendors help analysts understand the current state of the art in technology and solution development. Some vendors use the opportunity to probe the analyst for feedback and advice on their product roadmap.
All in all, analysts can have a major influence on your product or service success. A favorable analyst quote in the media lends credibility to your offering; positive ranking in an industry report definitely helps buyers choose your offering; and you’d naturally like analysts to recommend your product or service next time they meet with a customer executive. So how do you get analysts on your side?
Analysts Relationships (AR) should be an important part of your marketing plan. Investing in AR will go a long way to support your marketing efforts. As the name suggests, it is about building relationships with analysts, so make sure your AR efforts are ongoing and done with a long term view. Here are several guidelines for you to consider as part of your AR initiative.
- Know your analysts: every industry has its own list of analysts and analyst firms – take the time to find out who they are. Simply scan articles in the trade press, press releases, conferences agendas, and industry related reports. You should identify the individual analysts who are the ‘movers and shakers’ in your industry.
- Establish a dialog: analysts are not reclusive people. They constantly seek to form relationships with key customers and vendors. Find the right way to introduce yourself to the analyst – by email, phone, or in person (e.g. at a conference).
- Listen first: leading analysts have in-depth perspective on the industry. It is definitely worth listening to what they have to say, before stating your own views. Remember that mediocre analysts also have an ego, and while you may not fully appreciate their opinions – then certainly do. So be humble, and listen first.
- Avoid hard selling: analysts listen to numerous vendor pitches. Most of them can spot a “story” when they hear it. Be genuine in your interaction with them; share the supporting evidence for your views on the market. Be open to a discussion and be prepared to change your mind if need be.
- Seek advice: analysts may be in a position to provide you with valuable feedback on your product or service plans. They have insights into what your competitors are doing, and have ongoing dialogs with multiple customer executives. Soliciting their input on how to positioning product can both help you, and gain their trust.
- Become an information source: analysts are thirsty for genuine knowledge about the industry. As a PM, you have access to information about customer needs, technology trends, etc. Plus you know your product and service better than any analyst would ever do. Maintain integrity and build the rapport so that you are viewed as a trusted information source.
- Engage early and often: don’t wait till the moment you announce a new offering to disclose it to an analyst. Keep in mind that they wish to be part of the process, and have access to “inside information”. It is recommended that you provide analysts with “non disclosure” updates early on. Get their feedback on the direction of your product and service development. By the time you announce it, they should be fully on board.
Naturally, you should determine the type of proprietary information you share with analysts and the timing. Leading analyst firms are well aware of the need to protect the confidentiality of information they receive from customers and vendors. However some 2nd and 3rd tier analysts may be less stringent about it. What to share with whom and when is a fine line to walk. AR specialists can provide you with specific background on individual analysts and recommend the appropriate “rules of engagement”.
Beyond relationship building, there is also the “pay to play” approach. Most analyst firms will author custom reports for a fee. These reports may include “product reviews”, “customer success” stories, or “industry trend” analysis. While in theory none of these custom projects should influence the independent industry reports the analyst firm produces, in actuality they can sometime help. It is therefore recommended to consider commissioning selected analysts to author “whitepapers” that show case your product or service.
Since “commissioned whitepapers” are a known industry practice, their objective value may vary in customer eyes. Some analysts firms are reputed to be fairly objective even with commissioned whitepapers, and are therefore considered a “seal of approval”. Other firms are known to write whatever the paying vendor asked for, and the value of having their name on the whitepaper is significantly lower. This is where an AR specialist can help guide your time and money investment.
The role analysts play in the success of your product or service may vary depending on the market and the industry you are in. In the information technology (IT) industry for example, analysts play a major role. Some analyst firms (e.g. The Gartner Group) are considered a major source of information and their industry reports guide the decisions of key customer executives. If your industry is similar, then consider analysts relations as a critical part of your job as a product manager.
AR specialist can help with introductions and provide you with individual background, but it is up to you to build the rapport, the trust and the information exchange with the analyst. And when the time comes, these relationships will produce a major return for your product or service.