The hype cycle of Vendor Briefing Requests

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.

 

Related posts

 

 

By Simon Jones (LinkedIn, @mrnesjo, blog) and Ludovic Leforestier (LinkedIn, @lludovic)

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11 Responses to The hype cycle of Vendor Briefing Requests

  1. dominicpannell Friday 18th May 2012 at 13:27 #

    Very nice piece. Sadly, it’s a pretty accurate summary of the time-wasting vendor briefing process. Good tips at the end – I wonder if any analyst firms take heed.

  2. Rob Hilsen Tuesday 29th May 2012 at 21:05 #

    Great stuff, if only to be read by “AR” eyes. While I don’t doubt many organizations need to schedule briefings (indeed, many executives expect them), I continue to question their usefulness when compared with all the other (better?) uses of time. On top of the challenges outlined in your fantastic graphic there are challenges around what gets sent in advance and what gets communicated when the meeting finally happens. If you play by the rules then most briefings are designed as one-way presentations from the vendor to the analyst; there’s little opportunity in the moment to gather useful feedback. Also, since most briefings are virtual I suspect analysts often multi-task during the call so there’s the added challenge of making sure the analyst(s) is following along and actively engaged.

    At RightNow we very rarely requested briefings choosing instead to selectively schedule briefings when we received the request, and by finding more productive and satisfying forms of communications. Here’s the crux of it: analyst firms don’t want vendors scheduling briefings; analysts don’t like taking briefings (unless they’ve requested it…and usually then when it relates to a client Inquiry); and my team had other ways of filling their days.

    Again, great graphic… I’d use this when counseling against a plan that included too many unnecessary briefings.

    • Ludovic Leforestier Wednesday 30th May 2012 at 09:40 #

      Hi Rob

      I somewhat disagree with you. Reactive briefings are OK but you still need to proactively reach out. Of course, briefing are only the third stage of an outreach campaign after targeting and then approaching the analysts to “sell” them the briefing.

      • Rob Wednesday 27th June 2012 at 09:43 #

        Hi Ludovic. While I whole-heartedly agree and fully support proactive outreach I disagree that going through an analyst firm vendor briefing is the best way (or even a necessary) way of doing it.. with the exception of connecting with 1) hard to reach analysts, and 2) first-time briefings. After that my advice is to be proactive and to be smart(er) about engagement: advisory days, Inquiry calls, emails, blog responses, event attendance, dinners (breakfasts if you’re hanging with Carter Lusher), and Twitter and Facebook posts all serve the same purpose. It’s my experience this type of proactive interaction creates stronger, more memorable, and longer-lasting OPPORTUNITIES FOR INFLUENCE because the analyst generally WANTS to be involved. A mere briefing strategy relies on 30-60-minutes of scheduled time usually via conference call or a hackneyed Webinar presentation built around PowerPoint slides, and could be the analysts fifth or sixth call of the day – not exactly optimal conditions for anyone.

        Rob

      • Ludovic Leforestier Wednesday 27th June 2012 at 11:25 #

        Rob, agree with you there (but was not to give my tricks of the trade to all 😉
        There is though a more troubling aspect: the VB process is dysfunctional and puts non-clients at a dis-advantage, which in turns can impact negatively independence. Also, it’s the source of much frustration and time wasted. I still use VB mostly because using the tactics above often mean analysts potentially don’t get measured.

      • hypatiaresearch Wednesday 27th June 2012 at 15:18 #

        Gentlemen:

        I must weight in here on the issue of “non-clients” as articulated by Ludovic

        “There is though a more troubling aspect: the VB process is dysfunctional and puts non-clients at a dis-advantage, which in turns can impact negatively independence.”

        At present, 100% of our Hypatia G2M Enterprise Access licenses are purchased solely by end-users. Vendors are allowed to purchase our research for syndication only AFTER our primary research studies are drafted.

        As such, all software vendors and service provides we evaluate become clients AFTER the results of evaluations are completed. In this manner, Independence and objectivity is maintained for the benefit of our end-user subscribers.

        Best,
        Dr. Leslie Ament
        Vice President, Research & Client Advisory
        Hypatia Research Group, LLC, Calculating ResultsTM
        Office: 781-862-5106
        Email: [email protected]
        Corporate: http://www.HypatiaResearch.com
        Store: http://store.hypatiaresearch.com/

        Hypatia of Alexandria (c.370-415 AD), a professor of astronomy, mathematics and philosophy, invented several scientific devices–the astrolabe, plane-sphere, and hydro-scope (hydrometer). These instruments were used to calculate the distance between planets, the position of visible stars at any time of the year, and the gravity of liquids respectively.

  3. hypatiaresearch Wednesday 30th May 2012 at 15:43 #

    VERY interesting. We encourage vendors to contact us for briefings in advance of product releases, partnership announcements, etc….in addition to our requesting briefings in advance of planned research. btw–NONE of us multi-task on briefings–we don’t want to miss a thing! Best, Leslie Ament, VP Research, Hypatia Research Group

    • Ludovic Leforestier Thursday 31st May 2012 at 13:42 #

      Hi Leslie, thanks for your response.

      It’s duly noted and we’ll run a quizz next time we brief Hypatia 😉

  4. Ludovic Leforestier Wednesday 25th September 2013 at 11:28 #

    At long last, it seems that Forrester has just started using http://www.meetme.so/ for inquiries and briefing. Well done guys, just send me a cheque for the original idea I blogged back in 2008!

  5. Ludovic Leforestier Monday 9th December 2013 at 12:27 #

    And Gartner followed suit with an in-house tool. Seems to work fine so far…

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