I recently wrote about the role Analyst Relations plays in business and communications strategy. The responses to that blog clearly underlined the influence analyst-driven content has on making or breaking sales.
I regularly speak to vendors who tell me that placing well in a Gartner Magic Quadrant provides the single biggest boost to their sales and pipeline. With those reports publishing roughly every 12-18 months, it is easy and to understand why vendors work hard on making sure they show up well. But for every vendor I speak to who does appreciate the value of published research, I speak to a dozen more who don’t yet have a well-oiled machine for handling research requests and aren’t sure where to start, or why they should.
So, where to begin?
Benchmark research vs. ad hoc reports
Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is infamous in the tech world. With 128 of these reports on Gartner’s publishing calendar for 2018, customers and prospects are able to easily compare and contrast a whole spectrum of vendor products and services. Forrester has its own benchmark report – the Forrester WaveTM – and there are dozens of others including Ovum’s Decision Matrix and Everest’s PEAK MatrixTM. The reason these reports carry so much sway is, for many tech buyers, they do the job of vendor long and shortlisting for them.
But not all published research will benchmark one vendor product/service against the next. And not all sit behind a paywall either. I recently spoke to the team at Freeform Dynamics who have looked at how businesses engage with analyst content. Let’s face it, many small and mid-sized businesses don’t have regular access to expensive Gartner research, and they rely on free-to-access content to inform their thinking. Lots of firms publish open content regularly, and many that do charge for research access often still have excellent blogs with rich free content. CCS Insight and Forrester are both good examples.
Key takeaway: Vendors should think about analyst reports in the context of your buyer profile. If your customers are large enterprises, they are more likely to be making key purchasing decisions based on benchmark research, and also consulting, from major analyst firms. Generally speaking, smaller customers won’t always have the luxury of this type of research access so may be looking for other sources of insight which don’t sit behind paywalls. This means any good Analyst Relations program should incorporate analysts from a variety of different firms, not just the ‘big three’.
How to feature well in a benchmark report like a Gartner MQ
There are many misconceptions out there about this topic. The most frequent that I personally encounter are:
- Only vendors who are Gartner customers have the chance to brief analysts, so of course they show up better in Magic Quadrants (rip and replace ‘Gartner’ for ‘Forrester’ etc. etc.)
- These benchmark reports are ‘pay to play’ – that’s how you feature as a Leader.
- Starting an Analyst Relations program will improve my company’s position in [X benchmark report].
- We only want to be the ‘Leader’ – any other position is not good.
All of the above are categorically wrong.
Let’s start at the top. Analysts are vendor neutral market experts. Technology buyers expect them to have a holistic view – including knowledge of all vendors – in the market they cover. It is reasonable to expect that any firm will spend more time speaking to their vendor customers, but those analysts will absolutely invest time taking briefings from vendors who are not their clients too. It is in their interest to understand all vendor strategies – product roadmaps, go-to-market approach, key customers and partnerships etc. etc. – and not only those who pay them. Vendors have to meet certain criteria to appear in benchmark reports, and their performance against certain weighted categories ultimately determines their position. That has nothing to do with whether or not the vendor is or is not a paying customer of the firm.
As for benchmark reports being ‘pay to play’, this is an absolute no no. No vendor can pay for an advantage. For firms like Gartner and Forrester, access to these reports is a big reason that customers – both vendor side and tech buyer side – pay for their expensive research access. They also make significant revenues from vendors licencing these reports for sales and marketing purposes. If this content was proven to be flawed by being pay to play, it would be worthless.
Moving onto point three, the harsh reality is that a product or service will place on a benchmark report based on how good or bad it is. A company could invest all the money in the world on an Analyst Relations program, and they could be speaking to analysts every week, but if their offering is still lacking or immature, its placement won’t necessarily improve over time. The role that an AR professional can and should play is a) to manage the complex and very time intensive process of feeding into a benchmark report, and b) to build long-term relationships with analysts which includes understanding their perspective on a particular product or service. Having this understanding will allow them to manage business expectations ahead of a report being published. The AR pro can also challenge analyst perspectives where they might be wrong. Having tangible evidence to sway the analyst’s opinion is of course critical here. Unless you’re engaging with the analyst community regularly, it is very difficult to spot and course-correct mismatched perspectives.
The final point is an interesting one. So many businesses believe that being a ‘Leader’ in an MQ or a Wave (or any of the other benchmark reports) is the be all and end all. Realistically, some buyers unfortunately do make vendor selections based on who gets that top spot. But that isn’t the right way to use a benchmark report. If we look at Gartner MQs specifically, a ‘Niche Player’ might have the best features in a certain area, making that vendor the perfect choice for a tech buyer who needs those specific features. Gartner’s own FAQ on Magic Quadrants also notes that vendors who move from Niche Player to Leader are “likely to be outperforming the market and its competitors over time”. That’s absolutely not a bad place to be.
Key takeaway: How your product or service feature in any benchmark report is ultimately determined by the strength of that product/service. Regular discussions with industry analysts through a sustained Analyst Relations program will ensure that analyst opinions of your capabilities are fair and accurate.
Navigating the world of major analyst reports can be complex, but it is absolutely worth the time investment. Having third party written content which accurately reflects your businesses products and services can be gold dust to any sales or marketing organisation. Do remember though that the journey to featuring in an analyst report – whether it be a benchmark report like a Gartner MQ or otherwise – is just the start. Making sure it is seen and shared is just as important.
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