Wednesday, 6 June 2007

AR Classics: Priming the Analysts With Targeted Messages

This article by Bill Hopkins appeared in the Software Marketing Journal in 1998, just after he had joined KCG from Smart Technologies, a developer of Web-based applications. Before Smart, Hopkins launched and served as research director for the Gartner Group's marketing knowledge and technology service.

In you walk, a software vendor with a hot new product, four days into a two-week, five-city product launch press and analyst tour. In your battered Targus bag resides the collateral you have sweated over for the last six months, with the new company mantra, ink still drying, plastered across the front. You have a color notebook with The Demo carefully loaded and primed. Despite the fact that you have the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of an entire company on your shoulders, you are relaxed and confident. This presentation will be a breeze because you know it will strike a chord with the analyst you
are meeting, and more likely than not, that person will be receptive to your new product.
Magic? Not really; it's just a matter of doing your homework.

Using analyst input on product development and launches is one of the most powerful
tools marketers have at their disposal. Business software is unique in the high-tech
marketplace in the number, power, and influence of industry analysts. They know the
market at large and what the competition is doing. They set the direction of the existing
market and mandate the creation of new ones. And, because potential customers and the
press look to analysts for validation of new products, analysts can make or break a
launch.

The hard part is figuring out how to build a relationship with them. Most analyst firms
exist to inform potential purchasers of technology about its strengths and weaknesses, not
to help vendors with their marketing efforts. Even if a nonclient vendor can get in the
door, the analyst has no obligation to provide information or answer a single question.
Still, by approaching the right analysts in the right manner, with proper positioning and
meticulous preparation, marketers can get the input they need to ensure a well-received
product launch.

Finding a Sympathetic Ear
The first step is targeting the analysts that are most likely to be interested in your new
company or offering. The larger the analyst firm, the more likely it will have multiple
analysts covering the same broad markets. In particular, integrated or cross-functional
products are far more likely to span across multiple analysts, and in some cases, multiple
services, than those that fit neatly in a particular niche. Most enterprise applications, by
definition, have their own processes, structure, and rules that are unlikely to align with
most analyst firms' product categories. To find the right analyst or firm, focus on whether
their research and presentations are relevant to your message and positioning and, at least
for starters, go after the ones that will take less evangelizing and education to support
what you're doing. And if your company isn't new, find out which analysts have covered
it in the past and what they've had to say.

In most cases, the time to start this process is before or during the product development
stage. While many software companies wait until launch time or just before, it's
impossible to build a successful product without knowing what constitutes success for
that product category. Most analysts have published their criteria for a successful product
in the market areas they cover. If they have not, ask them; they will usually be forthright
in giving their assessment of what constitutes a winning product. Some product managers
use analysts as almost an extension of their staff, involving them from day one on
virtually all aspects of their product's development.

While many marketers position their products as new or part of a new category, use
caution in taking this approach. Unless you have truly happened upon a miracle, the new
product or category is probably a niche, offshoot, or branch of an existing one. Make sure
that the initial contacts and briefings position the product or category by highlighting
where it is similar and complementary to ones that already exist. Better yet, couch the
new ideas or products within the context of the analysts' current research. Analysts can
help build critical mass for a new category, not only by adopting it as their own, but by
allowing it to exist within the framework of a market they have already defined. A new
category is successful only when the rest of the marketplace--including analysts, the
press, competitors, partners, and user organizations--has adopted it.

Develop a value proposition that is tailored to each analyst you plan to see. Despite the
time and resources it involves, it's perfectly conceivable to have a separate and distinct
value proposition and presentation that fits the issues of every analyst you have targeted.
The worst thing a marketer can do is deliver the exact same presentation to each analyst.
The chances of coming up with a "least common denominator" story that will make sense
to each analyst are practically zero.

The Pitch
Determining how much time and effort to expend on getting analyst feedback before the
launch depends on how unique the product is and whether it satisfies a new target market.
If it is a completely new product or in a new category, analyst input should be a top
priority.

If the launch is for an upgrade or version release, such feedback is somewhat less
important. Any analyst presentations should focus on the additions and changes that are
truly newsworthy and not just enhancements for current users, unless the modifications
address an issue that the analyst community considers a huge problem and wants to see
fixed. If the release doesn't contain such significant modifications, it may be best to
instead dedicate resources to educating the installed base at launch time.

That said, don't wait until the launch to conduct analyst briefings. One or two months
prior to launch is time to revisit the analysts who were involved in the development
process. First, this is an opportunity to present the fruits of the company's labor and gain
valuable insights on how well its marketing is working. Most analysts will be more than
happy to give constructive criticism not only of the product, but also of the marketer's
presentation and delivery. Second, if you have an established relationship with an analyst,
or if he or she has covered you in the past, the analyst may actually feel blindsided if not
given a prelaunch preview.

The prelaunch presentation should be as short and succinct as possible. The best ones
contain fewer than 10 slides and very little hype. Don't spend more than two minutes or
two slides of a presentation on the marketplace. Even if you think your market is new or
you are defining it, resist the urge to make it the focus of your presentation. Most analysts
probably know the particulars better than you do.

Orient the presentation toward clearly stating the business case for the product first, then
explaining the technology that makes it possible. Stick with a brief overview of the
company that includes size; number of employees by function; and financial stats such as
revenue, profits, and future plans. Follow with an explanation of the value proposition
and provide a brief product and architecture overview. Wrap it up with compelling case
studies and always include beta customer references.

The goal is to engage the analysts and entice them to ask questions about the company
and product. Be aware that vendors are seldom allowed to get past the third or fourth
page of their presentations before an analyst has them off on a tangent. Don't stray too
far. Most analysts will respect marketers who politely answer their divergent questions
and then hurry back to the main point. And don't blatantly disagree without conceding
their point first. A simple "That's true, but..." works far better than "No, that's not the
way we see it."

Going Public
At the time of the launch, when most vendors conduct the traditional briefing tour, be
sure to include all of the analysts involved in the prelaunch phase as well as any others
that cover the product area. Now is the perfect time to invite analysts you've worked with
to include other analysts from their firm that they think may be interested. For a general
briefing, the more analysts present, the better.

Unlike the prelaunch presentation, general briefings should be standardized and fixed. In
this phase of the launch, consistency is paramount: each analyst being briefed should be
getting the same message. Always include as many stories as possible from customers
and beta users. Most analysts will question the validity of a product launch if the vendor
doesn't or can't talk about somebody who is actually using the product.

Be prepared to give a short, concise demonstration that highlights and showcases new
features and competitive advantages of the product with a compelling business metaphor.

But do not bring it out of the bag unless invited. Most analysts--and members of the
press, for that matter--really have no interest in seeing a product demo, especially if the
vendor has done a good job outlining why their clients or readers would care about it.

Follow-up is probably the most overlooked part of the briefing process. Most marketers
get too busy in the months following a launch to check whether the message stuck. But
after spending countless hours and thousands of dollars in preparing analysts and the
press for a launch--anywhere from $10,000 for a very small one to $100,000 for a
category launch--it makes sense to follow up on a regular basis. Postlaunch contact
provides an opportunity to reinforce main points, present additional success stories and
case studies, and share the results of the launch, quantitatively if possible. A successful
follow-up program should ideally lead right into the next product cycle. Always
remember, what you are sustaining is a long-term relationship, not just a product
launch.

Sidebar: Paying the Piper: Why, When, and Which Firm to Retain

Sooner or later, the question arises. Should we retain one or more of the analyst firms,
and if so, which one? Vendors come up with all kinds of reasons to become or not
become a customer of one of the analyst firms. Most of their fears boil down to one
simple misconception: "If I don't become a customer, there is no chance they will write
about us."

Plenty of vendors who do not purchase subscriptions get more than adequate coverage
by the analysts. Conversely, purchasing a subscription is no guarantee of exposure.
Becoming a customer opens up more opportunity to engage the analyst and gain
exposure, but I have personally felt the sting of spending $20,000 to retain one of these
firms and then sitting by for the entire year, waiting for the research to flow.

The top tier of analyst firms-- AMR, Forrester Research, the Gartner Group, and the
Meta Group--generally write about topics based on inquiry volume on the subject,
market importance, exposure to the topic, and gut feel. Note that with the exception of
inquiry volume, these criteria are qualitative, not quantitative.

A subscription to one of the top-tier analyst firms has two practical benefits. The first is
timely, regular, and accurate research on the market and competitors. The second is the
license to engage analysts in two-way communication. Not only do they have to listen to
what clients have to say, but clients have the contractual right to ask them questions as
well. The number and scope of the questions is usually regulated by contract, but almost
all have some form of inquiry built in. For nonclient vendors, analysts are only obligated
to sit and listen--provided that those vendors pass their tests for topic relevance. Analysts
are under no obligation to pass along information or spend much time answering
questions.

When choosing a firm to work with, remember that though their influence may arguably
be similar, their methodologies and modus operandi vary greatly. When initiating full
coverage of a new vendor, the Gartner Group, for example, will typically produce two
notes of two pages each. The first is a company note detailing the overall organization;
business model; sales, service and support capabilities; and prognosis on future growth,
strengths, and weaknesses. The second is a product note that outlines the physical
makeup of the product, its architecture and how it works, strengths and weaknesses, and
recommendations about what types of organizations (if any) should consider purchasing
it.

Other firms such as Forrester or Meta usually speak about specific organizations within
the context of a broader market piece or "technology watch." Depending on the nature of
your product and what you are trying to accomplish, one method may be more in line
with your goals than another.

The bottom line on retaining an analyst firm: Retain it for its research, for establishing a
dialogue, and for ensuring a more successful product launch by having better intelligence
on the market and competitors--not because you think it will influence their mentioning
or writing about your company or products.

3 comments:

alan pelz-sharpe said...

An interesting piece from the archive - just shows how much things can change:

Quote: Most analyst firms
exist to inform potential purchasers of technology about its strengths and weaknesses, not
to help vendors with their marketing efforts.

The exact opposite is the case in 2007 (just look at the revenue/business model of most analyst firms today).......

Anonymous said...

Please tell me why you are posting an article that is 9 years old. Do you not have any more recent thoughts?

ARonaut said...

Hello Anon,

This has historical significance but we'd love to hear your views!