Have you ever submitted a vendor briefing request? For those of you who have, and for those who have yet to experience this joy, here’s a humorous and (perhaps only slightly) exaggerated description of the process and some insights into why AR people always seem to struggle with it.
What’s clear is that analysts and executives alike don’t know or care how complicated the process is and don’t appreciate AR folks sometimes …. especially when it goes wrong. I’m sure we all have stories of briefings going wrong before they have even started – because the dial-ins don’t work, or there’s a troublesome time-zone challenge, or because the IP-based telephone network decides to crash.
One AR’s worst-case scenario was to selflessly schedule a briefing in the only slot that suited everyone else – even though it fell while he was on holiday. “Finally” opening the call at one minute past the hour led to a barrage of sarcastic comments: he felt that was not the time to mention that he’d just run a mile down a mountain in Italy to get back into cellphone coverage range.
For another AR veteran, mountains also came into it – as he needed to step out of his skis and into a one-hour strategy briefing at the last minute, when a colleague was taken ill and unable to chair a call. The request came in during a ski-lift ride, five minutes before the allotted call. Although the call itself was memorable, the content fades …
Anyway, here’s a quick look at what we’re calling the Hype Cycle of VB requests:
1. You are at the Technology Trigger and send a briefing request, completing a form that contains many redundant fields, such as the email address and direct line of your executive(s). Of course you give your own phone number instead – and are reminded of when you last needed to queue all day for an official document from a Government administration office.
2. Or – you fill in the form on the Gartner website, meaning you don’t have a trace of what you asked. The web Gods might not be smiling on you today and you may need to fill in the form more than once before you get a confirmation.
3. You then receive an automated reply saying they’ll get back to you in 3 days. You get assigned a briefing request number. Meanwhile the coordinator forwards the email to all the analysts you named – as a calendar request (oh, the irony) asking them to respond within 48 hours. That’s it. No value-add, except to sometimes introduce a mistake on the timezone, especially during the spring, when the US and European clocks don’t go forward on the same date. The VB team doesn’t usually even bother formatting the info in the body of the text.
4. You reach the Peak of Inflated Expectations when the VB team comes back with slots after only 48 hours … but you start to slide almost immediately, when you realise that of course none of the slots on offer matches one you suggested. That means a whole new email chain as you’re doing several briefing requests at once, you’ve lost the context and need to dig through a bunch of older messages to investigate what the request was about.
5. You reply with more suggested time slots. For “the sake of simplicity” you’ve switched to EDT even though you’re based in London and working on BST, and the analyst is in Italy on CEST.
6. VB team coordinator comes back 48 hours later with some more time slots, usually none of the ones you suggested. If you ask for two analysts in a single call you may get two different calls. If you ask for 3+ analysts in a single call, you are an optimist, a masochist, or possibly both.
7. Repeat steps 4, 5, 6 until you finally find time slots that suit everyone. This may sometimes take up to a couple of months, by then the need for a briefing will probably have disappeared, the product or service will have launched, and you’ve not only done the other briefings but also finished checking the write-ups, the white paper, and the quote for the press release.
8. You confirm the time slots.
9. Vendor Briefings tells you the slot has gone, or that no single analyst is interested. This is despite you having heard first-hand from your Tier 1s that they want the briefing, but as they don’t have control of their diary, this needs to go through the official channels. Welcome to the Trough of Disillusionment.
10. Repeat steps 4, 5, 6, until you find time slots that fit everyone, then step 8.
11. You finally get it all scheduled … and a few days later, your executive cancels because he has to go to an urgent customer meeting. Welcome to the trough of disillusionment.
12. Repeat steps 4, 5, 6, until you find time slots that fit everyone, then step 8
13. At last: you’ve got a final confirmation and you’re on to the Slope of Enlightenment, or so you think. The time-zone is in EST. But you don’t always get a calendar invite because it would be way too simple for every analyst firm to adopt best practice. Any firm that does send one – such as Forrester – gets brownie points here.
14. By now 3-4 months have passed. Your product is on the market but you’re still standing on the Slope of Enlightenment.
15. You get to the briefing on time, and you’ve even sent the deck in advance (well, 5 minutes is still “in advance”, but sod it if you know the analyst is at an airport).
16. You try to dial-in but realise you were sent US and Canadian access numbers (plus a link to other numbers, which takes time to look up). This is despite everyone including the analyst being in Europe, as you indicated in step 1. You dial-in and get an error message: the toll-free bridge only works for callers from the USA. You abandon the vendor’s bridge and send out your own numbers – in a frantic exchange of emails. Your executive thinks you’re incompetent, the analysts wonder why AR people are such idiots.
17. Rinse and repeat.
18. Your exec asks why you’ve briefed everyone, including Hurwitz and Associates, but not Gartner. You help yourself to another large G&T.
Sounds familiar? Then congratulations, you’ve reached the Plateau of Productivity.
Learning points for VB teams
- Don’t act like a Government Department. We know that handling VB requests is an overhead but it also impacts the analyst brand and customer satisfaction (we know about the Chinese Wall between research and sales, we’re AR professionals). But it’s a necessary cost to running your business, as analysts rely on information asymmetry. Here, we are taking away the brownie points awarded earlier to Forrester because they are pushing analysts into consulting (by virtue of metrics management) and try to condense briefings into 30-minute slots.
- Make it easy. Include context. Send a calendar invite. Instead of giving us the email addresses of the analysts (like we didn’t already know them), include them and us on a calendar request and embed conference call details.
- Do a customer satisfaction survey among AR pros to see how you could improve the service. For example, AR pros have been known to groan out loud when they get assigned the “wrong” coordinator, because they know chaos will ensue
- Try to automate where it makes sense. For instance, set-up a tool to provide “open slots” for briefings to “qualified individuals” (having a Gartner sign-on and having registered as AR pros, but not necessarily Gartner clients) on a portal on your website. This would speed up the system by enabling ARs to do a first pass by checking free/busy times – just as they are checking their executives’ schedules.
- Stop sending ET times to everyone (when youmean either EST orEDT) by the way the norm is UTC) and check for times using free, web-based tools such as the meeting planner on timeanddate.com or worldtimeserver.com.
Advice to AR folks
- Don’t swamp the VB team with un-targeted briefing requests over the wall. They always advise you to name as many analysts as possible. Don’t do this. You will not get the two you really want.
- Make the subject explicit and clear. Say why analysts should care and what they’ll learn.
- Agree briefings with analysts beforehand when possible. Make sure you remind them you’ll be working it through VBs. Points mean prizes!
- Convert the Word form into a template email.
- If you get stuck and are a Gartner client, schedule an inquiry. You’re not supposed to but it works.
- Make a note of the reference numbers and add them at the bottom of your emails
- Look at tools to help scheduling such as Tungle.me or Doodle.