Analyst Relations – The Power of Inquiry

19 April 2010

In the world of politics when people say ‘we need to have an Inquiry’ alarm bells tend to ring. Usually it’s because something’s gone badly wrong, the media’s on the warpath and someone in a position of responsibility is under pressure to explain their actions in public. Inquiries are often viewed as a ‘bad thing’. But this is not always the case…

 

The word has much more positive connotations within the technology industry. Amongst technology decision makers the phrase tends to spread enlightenment and hope rather than fear and buck passing. Analyst Inquiries tend to be much more positive than their political equivalents (and are by definition confidential). Inquiries with analyst firms such as Gartner, Forrester, IDC and many others provide invaluable insights on a wide range of potential problems.

 

Technology decision makers who subscribe to an analyst house can hold private Inquiries with that firm’s analysts to get the latest insights and advice on whichever technology issue, purchasing decision or strategic decision they may be grappling with. Correctly conducted, the insights and intelligence gained through them can have a tangible impact on a company’s strategy, choice of technology vendor and the shape of their future technology implementation and execution.

 

Hill & Knowlton’s own proprietary research has found that just over half of Tech Decision Makers say personal experience, WOM and industry analyst coverage are their most important sources of information when identifying a short list of technology providers. Inquiries can help identify a target analyst’s likely perceptions regarding a specific offering or vendor. The analyst Inquiry is therefore a powerful tool from a product marketing and industry market intelligence perspective. It is for this reason that Hill & Knowlton’s global AR practice has always placed top priority on maintaining a broad base of subscriptions to analyst houses, including Inquiry rights as standard.

 

So, assuming you are about to have your first Inquiry with an analyst, what should you do to maximise the value gained?

As a rule, the following are a good guide to how to approach an Inquiry:

 

·         Thoroughly Map Questions to Your Business Objectives – your time with the analyst is limited so ensure that the key areas you need insight on are covered adequately and in sufficient depth. Also try to logically link questions together so that there is a natural flow to your inquiry

 

·         Clearly Outline Requirements When Booking – when arranging the Inquiry with the analyst firm clearly outline the topics you wish to discuss. A confused brief can lead to an Inquiry with the wrong analyst, so double check your requirements. Also try to provide advance questions for the analyst to review prior to the call

 

·         Research Your Analyst If they don’t seem to be relevant, make a judgement call on whether pressing ahead is a good use of their time (and yours). There may be another analyst at the same firm who is more suitable. Also get to know the analysts you speak to, research their background (Oh we went to the same university … oh she’s a wine enthusiast … etc.)

 

On the call itself:

 

·         Discipline and Focus – Be courteous, be prepared to steer the flow of conversation if required and keep a careful eye on the clock as Inquiry time is typically short

 

The above points are by no means definitive – as stated earlier no two Inquiries are the same and flexibility is often required – but they will provide a solid starting point for an Inquiry. Hill & Knowlton has Inquiry seats with a number of analyst houses and we frequently conduct Inquiries that can provide impartial feedback that can positively influence go-to-market strategies, product development roadmaps and business implementation.

 

If you have any questions about best practice when dealing with analysts, or would like to hold an Inquiry with an analyst on a specific area please feel free to contact Hill & Knowlton’s Analyst Relations team for more details.  May all your Inquiries be insightful ones!

 

 

 

 

Outsourcing AR

16 March 2010

Forrester’s Ellen Carney recently blogged about a bad experience she had during a start-up’s briefing to her. In this blog post [Outsourced AR Isn’t Making The Connection To Their Sales Enablement Value] she says: “When I asked the agency rep, who in this case had the title “Vice President and Group Director” what role they had in helping their client with the content, he told me that he just passed on to me what the client had sent to them.”

It’s probably not wise to abstract to all outsourced AR based on this lousy interaction. Is outsourcing AR to an agency team that doesn’t understand what analysts are looking for, doesn’t have inquiry access or doesn’t know how to use it a bad idea? Yes, that’s a bad idea. And it goes beyond inquiry access – if your agency doesn’t understand what analysts are looking for in a briefing and how to present information at various stages of interaction that should be a red flag.

But AR teams like the one at H&K – ones with paid-for access to analysts and their research – can ban incredible asset for analysts seeking to deepen relationships with vendors. By being advocates for analyst value, H&K has helped many analysts gain access to executives on high-value topics with many of our clients. It’s all about proving the win-win by showcasing the value analysts have in the form of insights as much as market impact.

While I agree that presentations need to appeal to an analyst at the phase of the relationship, many analysts I work with prefer the opportunity to show a value-add to deepen relationships with analysts. What has your experience been with analysts and sharing information before it is finalized? Would love to hear about your experiences.

Grappling with the Cloud – What the Analysts Say (and why their opinion matters)

05 March 2010

Cloud. It’s the word that won’t go away in IT circles. If you believe the hype it’s a new approach to technology that will redefine the way we deliver and consume IT. If you don’t, cloud is not a new concept, but a rebranding of various technology services, processes, practices and strategies that have been evolving for several decades. 

 

The top line concept is relatively simple: Exact definitions vary, but Cloud Computing is effectively a metaphor for computing over the Internet. For example, instead of a company hosting their IT on their own PC or sever internally it is managed and delivered by a third party supplier. Effectively their IT is hosted in a virtual ‘cloud’ of external servers.  The IT industry has argued itself silly over various technical definitions, opportunities and problems with the concept of cloud. A lot of communications in the market around cloud has come from the vendors. In quite a few cases we question whether these messages have really contributed to clarifying what these services actually bring to customers.  

 

Where do analysts fit into this debate?

The topic of cloud computing is ripe for debunking. Analysts have been playing a key role in this – constantly outlining the various technical and strategic options for companies – and contradicting technology vendor’s marketing claims when they break step with reality. Analysts are particularly important to the cloud debate for multiple reasons:

 

Firstly, they are advising their clients (IT decision makers of every stripe) on IT matters every day – they are intimately familiar with companies day to day challenges, and how they can be solved.

 

Secondly, they talk with a wide range of technology vendors, and are frequently discussing the various ins and outs of trends. Vendors have a reputation for slinging mud at each other and spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about each other’s respective offerings. The analyst industry originally grew out of a desire to counter the rising tides of vendor hype. If anyone can tell you the real deal … it should be an analyst.

 

Lastly, because analysts gain access to technology developments before they even hit the market (and technology adoption rates can take several years to filter through to the mainstream) they are in the know well before the media. Analysts are rightly lauded for their independence – their influence can sometimes make or break a multi-million pound technology deal. Analysts have too much to lose if they become compromised by hype, so you know they will give you an honest answer to a straight question.

 

Cloud – New or not?

Most analysts have been around for a long time. They have heard it all before. The Application Service Provider (ASP) was the original poster child for ‘IT over the Internet’ back in the early 90s. The technology wasn’t up to scratch, so it never really took off. Prior to cloud many people got hot under the collar over Software as a Service (SaaS) – the same basic concept but delivered on a multi-tenant basis. SaaS has itself now been subsumed within a wider ‘theoretical’ cloud model which also includes hardware, applications and storage.

 

Much of this is a question of vendor positioning. There is an argument that ‘true’ cloud computing is globally scalable in nature – and requires the kind of resources and reach that only the likes of Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! can provide. Although many smaller, and less scalable, vendors would dispute this in their own cloud definitions. It’s also true (up to a point) that here have been several technological developments – virtualisation and web-orientated architecture for instance – that allow Internet resources to be used much more effectively by enterprises. Cloud is more pervasive than most technology topics because it embraces so many IT touchpoints. For example, a recent Inquiry H&K had with Gartner on virtualisation contained a healthy portion of focus on the topic of cloud – due to the role of virtualisation in supporting private clouds.

 

The analyst team at Freeform Dynamics have eloquently made the case that cloud is essentially a slightly tweaked IT approach to the old problems that IT has always grappled with – a view I am very sympathetic to. Dale Vile, Research Director at Freeform Dynamics called a spade a spade when he recently wrote in the Register that,while this discussion about styles of IT service delivery might be new to some, it certainly isn’t to anyone who has moved in senior IT and business management circles.”  His colleague Jon Collins, Managing Director and CEO at Freeform, added, “I think some vendors are being taken by surprise by the fact that Cloud just equates to IT done right.”

 

The good folks at Freeform are certainly not alone within the analyst community in arguing this point, indeed it’s probably fair to say that the majority of analysts arguably support this view. These kind of pragmatic ‘sanity checks’ from analysts are very welcome indeed. Such analytical doses of reality help the IT community to keep its feet firmly planted on the ground – dealing in the world of the possible rather than just focusing on the aspirational promise of tomorrow’s ‘next big thing’.

 

Cloud Adoption – Where it’s really at

More than ever the waves of FUD need to be countered – cloud particularly needs to be put into context. Although it is topping most of the ‘hottest’ technology lists for 2010, caution is justified. Broadly speaking analysts are advising a wait and see approach to adopting cloud services.

 

The analyst firm Gartner produces yearly Hype-Cycles, in effect market barometers which track technology adoption and market penetration. Coincidently, the latest Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies places cloud computing at the ‘peak of inflated’ expectations. This indicates that the technology has become as hyped as it’s going to be. Over the next two years the topic will slide into the ‘trough of disillusionment’ as customers begin to discover problems and issues with the implementation of cloud services.  This doesn’t mean the technology has failed; merely that it has reached the most difficult period in its lifecycle. As a general guide Hype-Cycles are a strong, but not infallible, method of tracking technologies and the right time to implement them. I’ve oversimplified the intricacies involved in Hype-Cycles slightly (but that’s a whole other blog post…)

 

Over the next year or so it will be bumpy ride for cloud computing enthusiasts.  Indeed, the words of caution from analysts have been circling for some time. According to a pan- European and American  survey[i] , conducted by the analyst firm Forrester, 49 percent of respondents recently decided not to implement cloud services due to ongoing security and privacy concerns. More questions are being asked over the ‘pure play’ approach to cloud, this trend will increase.  Such candour is well come as IT decision makers are risk averse at the best of times and rightly want to know their investments are justified (and will pay off).

 

The Real Future of Cloud

This is the part where I own up to having a vested interest in the debate. Several of my clients are actively involved in a hybrid approach to cloud computing which is known as Software+Services (S+S). The S+S model is championed by Microsoft, and other technology partners such as Mamut (a pan European software provider focused on SMBs). Both of whom – I’m very proud to say – are clients. Their approach is an evolutionary one to cloud.

 

In a nutshell S+S is a model which embraces both traditional on premise IT and the functionality provided by the cloud – letting the user decide whether they want to use online or on-premise functionality, or a combination of the two. It’s a salient approach as, in reality, most companies will use a mix of traditional IT and cloud services. Over the next few years the wider IT industry will come to acknowledge that cloud is not an ‘all or nothing’ proposition.

 

Indeed, for many businesses cloud is not an either/or debate – reality is rarely so neat and tidy – and there is a fine line to tread between business agility and retaining resiliency. In most of H&K’s conversations with analysts to date the feedback on S+S has been very positive. Whilst analysts won’t necessarily endorse one IT delivery model over another, many of the analysts the H&K AR team have spoken to agree that the future IT environment will be a heterogeneous beast. In our view, such an environment favours Software+Services. It lets the user pick their flavour of IT at their own pace. And in the end, cloud hype or no, it’s the user’s preference, and the IT facts on the ground, that truly matter.

 

If you are interested in starting a conversation with analysts or would like to discuss technology trends with the AR team at Hill & Knowlton then please do drop us a line.

 


We’re hiring!

02 March 2010

The analyst relations team is looking to hire an Assistant Account Executive. Full details are here and we look forward to hearing from interested candidates.

We have a great team working with fascinating clients, ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies and this is a great opportunity to learn the Analyst Relations ropes!

Want the inside track on our US team? Follow @jayandersen, @fortyninergrant, @kevinfong and @ruthbusbee on Twitter.

Great IIAR Event Last Night…Despite the Rain

22 January 2010

Last night IIAR hosted its first meeting of 2010 in Silicon Valley hosted by Cisco. Despite the torrential rain in the Bay Area, about 25 AR professionals made the trek to network, socialize and hear  Carter Lusher with Sage Circle present on “Trends in the Analyst Ecosystem.”

In addition to talking about the firm acquisitions such as AMR and Burton a topic of discussion was what is an analyst these days with Carter supposing that analysts have contractual agreements with end users and vendors. The group also explored ways to use Twitter in AR programs and several Twitter AR pro’s were there including Peggy O’Neill, Rob Hilsen with Genesys,  Kathleen Schaub with Sybase,  Jessie Freund with Cisco.

The next meeting is in March…watch for an announcement date from IIAR and hope to see everyone there.

GigaOM Continues to Innovate

13 January 2010

GigaOM Pro made another interesting announcement today when it unveiled a program targeted specifically at Analyst Relations professionals. Their new program gives verified AR pros complimentary accounts and full access to market research and reports. The program also allows AR folks to communicate directly with world-class analysts on reports about their companies. I view the news as a positive sign for the AR profession as GigaOM appears to recognize the critical role that AR can play in raising the profile and business value of analyst research, and the importance of strengthening the relationship between AR and analysts.

The move reminds me of RedMonk’s open-source business model, but GigaOM looks to be taking it a step further with the inclusion of analyst interaction. The likely aim is to develop strong and lasting relationships with vendors with the hope of engaging them in consulting gigs. If you are an AR pro I can’t think of any reason to not take advantage of this offer as GigaOM is producing some interesting research on cloud, green, mobile, and the digital home. They are also building an impressive roster of analysts including Clint Wheelock, Rachel Happe, Dan Taylor, and Chetan Sharma.

The devil will be in the details but it will be interesting to see how GigaOM rolls this out!

The Complexity of Predictions: Hedging Your Purchasing ‘Bets’ for 2010

22 December 2009

As another year draws to its close, brows furrow in concentration across the silicon embedded hills and valleys of the technology industry. What’s in store for the year ahead? Which technologies will rise and which will fall? Yes its predictions time once more.

Technology predictions are a tricky call for even the most informed expert to make – so much can go very wrong or very right. For analysts it can be a particularly difficult task – even with all the data they have at their disposal. True, few other individuals have so much privileged access to data from such a wide variety of sources – but then again few other industries are as complex as the technology sector. Analysts have the best view of the industry, but as they and the wider industry knows, they can only hit the nail on the head on so many occasions. Very few things are for sure in the technology sector.

One prominent analyst recently shared the following insight with the H&K AR team, “We are occasionally wrong, but we are often right. Even when we are wrong, it is often because we are a barometer of what our clients think.” It’s a nicely put summation of an analyst’s dilemma. Analysts have their own sophisticated insights on what’s likely to happen – but these views are informed by and built upon layers of data provided by others. Often they can be uncannily prescient, at the same time they are heavily dependent on their client’s experiences. Some have said that an analyst is ‘only as good as what they know and who they heard it from’.  Analyst’s clients are uncertain about 2010 and are looking for reassurance and guidance on their purchasing choices.

Analysts will have many interesting and informed views on the performance of a number of technologies in the market place. Will companies delay their internal server refresh for another year or will they take the plunge and invest in the latest server architecture? Will they turn outwards to the cloud for costs savings or will they prefer to retain their data on premise for security reasons? Will they consolidate their software and licenses or will they look to make IT savings elsewhere in the business?

In 2010, analysts will doubtless make some safe predictions as well as some more risky ones.
We can even make a few of our own – albeit without access to the same data the analysts have. For cost control reasons Virtualisation is certain to continue growing, the continued rise of mobile applications remains a pretty safe bet and cloud will no doubt continue to be hotly debated – even if actual adoption rates vary wildly across vertical markets. But amidst all the wider uncertainties one thing is certain – it’s never been a more challenging, or interesting, time for the analyst community.

If you are interested in engaging with the analyst community, or would like to discuss the possibility of leveraging the upcoming wave of prediction reports, why not get in touch with the team here at H&K.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-12-07

07 December 2009

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Gartner Buys AMR: A Tasty Post-Thanksgiving Meal

01 December 2009

Big news broke this morning in the analyst relations world as Gartner announced plans to acquire AMR Research. Founded in 1986, AMR is an industry-recognized thought-leader in vertical industries (including automotive, manufacturing, and utilities), ERP and supply-chain advisory and research. The firm has done an admirable job establishing end-user peer forums, which bring together customers for member-led and analyst-facilitated teleconferences, summits, and webcasts. The deal is not particularly surprising as the two companies have been rumored to be in talks for the past few years.

The deal brings additional depth to Gartner’s vertical practices. Recently the relative strength of some of Gartner’s vertical groups has been in question among the AR community. Even as recently as Fall Symposium, Peter Sondergaard voiced Gartner’s intentions to strengthen certain of Gartner’s vertical practice areas and this deal is a strong move towards that goal. For AMR, the deal provides expanded global reach, research capabilities, and operational infrastructure. For customers of IT research advisory services it removes one alternative to Gartner which continues to dominate the landscape. Or there is the potential that the acquisition creates a vacuum and allows a smaller firm to raise its profile as an alternative to the Forrester/Gartner/IDC triumvirate.

It will be interesting to hear more details about the deal, including how much overlap exists between the two firms client-based. We will be attending Thursday’s Gartner AR Community Webinar teleconference to get the scoop.

We expect to see some layoffs or departures leading up to the closing of the deal. If you work with any AMR or related Gartner analysts, it would behoove you to reach out to them and your sales reps to get a temperature check on the deal and how it may impact your work with them. H&K AR is happy to provide additional assistance and guidance here.

Analysts can’t have all the fun…

20 November 2009

In late October 2009, one of my clients held its first Investor Day in years, and H&K was right in the thick of scheduling, planning and supporting the much-anticipated event. The day marked my first time witnessing an Investor Day firsthand, and more importantly, the day’s events gave me a glimpse into what it’s like to walk in an analyst’s shoes for a day.

Both financial analysts and industry analysts were invited to the two-day event on-site and at a nearby hotel. H&K supported AR efforts during the event, overseeing the analyst roundtables and accompanying the 25 industry analyst that attended the show, including key business watchers from Gartner, Forrester, IDC, Ovum, Yankee and CCS Insights.

A cocktail reception the night prior to the Investor Day was held at the company’s headquarters, which allowed me the rare opportunity to meet analysts I’ve only ever spoken to over the phone. What an experience it was to finally put a face to a name I’ve seen on bylines of research reports and whose bios I’ve read to the point of memorization. While meeting through face-to-face interactions is essential to building strong analyst relationships, many often settle for periodic phone calls and exchanging long email chains. I took advantage of the chance to check out the various product demos, ask detailed questions to the execs, and helped myself to the catered food at the event. After tasting the first bite of lamb shank, I began to think analyst life wasn’t half bad after all.

The following day, the Investor Day presentations took place at a local swanky hotel. Executive roundtables for industry analysts followed the general session allowing analysts to get a deeper dive into their research areas with business unit executives. Hearing executives outline their strategy and products first-hand was enlightening, but interacting live with some of my favorite analysts was the icing on the cake.

What surprised me the most was how down to earth everyone was. Not to downplay their influence in the market, but I came to the realization that while analysts may make their living off understanding back-end technologies and wireless spectrums, they still share similar interests with you and I. I thoroughly enjoyed conversations around vacation plans and debates over the best local steak houses, but the epiphany really hit me when a flood of analysts rush off to watch Game Two of the World Series at the conclusion of the event.

Most interesting of all was observing the analysts interact with one another, especially those from competing firms and different coverage areas. Here I expected analysts to feel more of a rivalry between firms, but I didn’t sense anything other than the friendliest of competition when over 20 analysts from different firms piled into a banquet room to mingle with each other and product execs. I noticed analysts from the various firms greeting one another as if they were long time friends – and some are. At that point it became clear just how small the analyst community really is.

Over a dozen executive handshakes, a pocketful of analyst business cards, and a couple foot blisters later, I got a glimpse into a day of analyst life and both the work and play that accompanies it.

-Kevin