Technology Companies and IT Analyst Relations
The second in a series of three blogs by Judith Rothrock, President of JRocket Marketing, covering Vendor Strategy, Analyst Relationship Cultivating &
Brand Propulsion Opportunities.
What’s the Best Path Forward?
Cultivating a program of healthy, productive and long-term technology analyst relationships is no longer a “nice-to-have” part of the marketing mix for IT companies; it’s a visibility, branding and sales prep requirement. It’s particularly useful in this age of social media and digital disbursement, when even one analyst’s opinion (good or bad) about your company can be almost instantly replicated to literally hundreds of millions of viewable impressions (or eyeballs, in ad industry slang).
So what’s the best path forward for a marketing department to cultivate a great analyst relations (AR) program that delivers measurable results and that dovetails to specific stated corporate objectives?Marketing heads undertaking AR for the first time need to move forward with caution: AR practices and success rates have changed MARKEDLY over the recent past. So, if you do a Google search to study up, you’re likely to see a lot of search-engine-optimized “hits” from large analyst firms, promoting expensive reports and/or outsized research services. That’s simply not the best way forward for nimble, budget-minded smaller and mid-sized technology companies:you’ll easily spend $50,000-$100,000 or more without blinking and you’ll have precious little return for that spend.
Following are three pieces of advice that will optimize both your AR results and your return on your investment in programs aimed at AR. And they do involve both analyst relationships AND setting specific measurements that deliver quantifiable results (covering the analytics portion of analyst relations).
ADVICE POINT #1: Understand That Not All “Influencers” Are the Same — Analysts Are Different
Analyst relations was once part of the public relations mix; meaning that analysts were considered to be just another one of the marketing mix six target audiences (defined as employees, customers, prospects, partners, investors and influencers). Influencers are those people that can influence a market’s perception of a company and/or swing business toward (or away) from a company. Included in this catch-all group called influencers are folks like:
- IT industry consultants (who provide selection/implementation/integration-type services to IT industry buyers)
- Trade group associations (for example, vertical market organizations like HIMSS in the healthcare industry)
- IT industry analysts (the group we are focusing on in this article)
Right away, an astute and experienced marketer can easily recognize the challenge of trying to create any one program targeted to an influencer audience: These are very different targets with very different needs, even though they are often lumped by most marketing plans into one program. However, if you are new to marketing and have been recently assigned this role, consider these examples:
- A reporter cares about news that is fresh, unique, and impactful; in the IT industry that could be a merger of two significant companies, the launch of a groundbreaking product/service, new studies that show interesting IT/business trends, etc.
- IT industry consultants care about IT industry buying patterns/uptake so that they can mold their service practices around them. IT consultants are in business to make a profit, and they are going to adjust their business models/practices to focus on companies that can deliver the most return with the fewest resource expenditures (like employee hiring/training) around larger industry infrastructures (i.e. like Microsoft, SAP, Oracle).
- Vertical industry groups care about hearing marketing messages that an IT vendor is very experienced in successful installations in that field, proving that vendor understands the subtleties of the legislative/compliance, economic, competitive, market forces and any other elements unique to that industry.
- IT industry analysts care about the identifying/forecasting/analyzing/reporting of IT buying patterns, technology or product/service breakthroughs; changing IT adoption trends; breaking news about large IT vendors, and unique technology advances.
ADVICE POINT #2: Don’t Expect Retractions/Corrections on Reports You Don’t Like
IT analysts are in the business of rendering opinions about technology and guiding/giving their advice both to the buyer and/or vendor communities. Meaning: Their opinion is their opinion and they are under no obligation to change that opinion if they write something about your company you don’t like.And in case you’re tempted, don’t even think about suing or seeking damages from an analyst firm for what you consider a damning report/ranking/rendering. Many have tried and all (that I know of) have failed. Worse, you’ve ruined any chance of recovering the relationship and you can bet that any OTHER analyst firms will not want to write about you either.
So the net take-away on this advice point is: don’t get mad and direct that anger at the analyst; it’s a no-win “fatal error” in analyst relations. There are paths to getting some sort of relief in the way of a follow-up article that can mitigate the situation … or in improving your relationship going forward. These are the steps:
- If you haven’t done it yet, invest in an aggressive AR program (but see ADVICE POINT #3 below), and dedicate significant, ongoing time with that analyst (and other analysts), educating them on your company, solutions, etc.
- If you have been working with this analyst in a continuing ongoing way, had clearly provided all requested information in advance of a report being published and you still feel you got an unfair shake in a given report, call and have a constructive conversation. But if you declined to give information based on “corporate policy” or any other reason, you have no legitimate/constructive resource this time. If you want improvement, change your policy (for example, some companies won’t release customer counts or revenue stats, leaving the analyst to guess at them, and then they get angry when they are either left out or misrepresented); or change your analyst team; or change your programs, because they aren’t working.
If you want great AR, always approach an analyst from a position of RESPECT. Technology analysts are super-smart, super-technical/analytical people who know the broader competitive landscape. Their business model is aimed at understanding/comparing/contrasting technology vendors and reporting/advising companies regarding those comparisons. This doesn’t mean they are infallible or 100% right all of the time, and they can’t know everything about the industry ALL of the time. This is doubly true if you haven’t invested (consistent) time in educating them on your company and in building out the relationships that lead to trust on both sides.
Advice Point #3: Don’t Use a Non-Technical, Junior Level Employee or PR Agency as Your Interface
The classic mistake that an IT vendor can make is to send the junior marketing/PR person lamb into the analysts’ lion’s den: meaning, don’t have your company/product/launch presented to industry analysts by someone who doesn’t understand technology or the IT marketplace.
I speak from first-hand experience and can tell you exactly how bad this can go down for both the company and the young marketer. When I was in my 20s and transitioning my business reporter and consumer marketing experienceinto a new IT marketing job at Control Data (now named Ceridian), I was called on to clear up a “marketing problem” with a large analyst firm that happened to be headquartered nearby. My boss at the time asked me to contact them and “get them to retract or fix” a less-than-favorable report that had been written on the company.
This seemed like no problem to me! In the news/reporting business, articles are retracted or corrected every day when proof is given of a mistake. However, to my surprise and shock (and to the surprise of many client companies that I engage with today), it doesn’t work like that with industry analysts. (See prior section “Advice Point #3”). Worse, when the analyst grilled me about technical specifics of the disputed parts of the article, I was left exposed and floundering for my lack of technical and competitive knowledge. It was a lesson I never forgot, but a mistake that is often repeated by companies everywhere, according to the analysts.
The point is: analysts don’t want to deal with PR people or marketing people who aren’t deeply technical AND competitively up to date. This is particularly true if you are challenging that analyst’s viewpoints. Don’t tack AR responsibilities onto your PR program or agency. This is a responsibility requiring deeply experienced technology marketers who know how to market/spin your company’s story to its best advantage.
One final point that was made in VENDOR STRATEGY: There is NO substitute for face-to-face meetings and the careful building of sincere personal relationships. If you want to succeed at cultivating long-lasting and positive analyst relationships, leave the analytics and “pitching” aside for a portion of your meetings. Get to know them beyond their capacity to “help you” and enjoy the process of getting to know and like them personally as well — their hobbies, their families and what makes them tick. The common ground you find there will lead you to a harmonious balance between the business and personal side of your work day, and can lead to trusting, lifelong friendships.
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Contact JRocket Marketing (www.jrocketmarketing.com) or me directly at email@example.com to learn more about how to negotiate, structure and leverage these sales supporting analyst programs.
About the Author:Judith Rothrock is President of JRocket Marketing since 2001, and the recipient of more than a dozen marketing awards.The company was recently named as a finalist against marketing firms 1,000 times its size at the Creative Media Awards, held January 2015 in New York.
To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.