[Guest Post] Analysts are treated inhumanely

By: Duncan Chapple, Consultancy Director at Loudhouse 

This is an independent opinion piece submitted by an IIAR member and AR professional – it does not represent the official views of the IIAR.

Analyst relations (AR) programs have a substantial opportunity for improvement. This month I’ve been reviewing ten years’ worth of data from the Analyst Attitude Survey, which Loudhouse Research and Lighthouse AR co-produce. Around 700 analysts have taken part in the survey and, after around 180 analysts downloaded the summary last week, I’ve also been thinking over comments from them. What I’ve seen is that there’s a real opportunity to work smarter and more strategically.

Needless to say, most AR teams are having a harder time of things than they were. Analysts are now more demanding. Spokespeople are less forthcoming. While all AR managers understand that their reach is primarily a function of their resources, not every team is investigating how it can punch above its weight – or what is holding it back. One great example of that is the reticence to use social media to support relationship-building. While a tiny percentage of AR professionals are over-egging social media massively, many more turn a blind eye to social media. The challenge, of course, is to work out what kind of social media activity fits the analysts you are prioritizing, both in terms of sharing insight and building rapport. It’s much easier to disregard all social media use, saying that it’s not worth the investment.

By sharing best practices, we can reach our goals more effectively. AR becomes more accountable and more effective when it has clearer objectives. The traditional approach to that is share of voice metrics, which the IIAR recently profiled in a teleconference. However, I feel it is better when AR teams use balanced scorecard approaches that help them collect a comprehensive overview of analyst relations activities as a process with demonstrable measurement of sales and marketing benefits. That means setting multiple objectives: some that are meaningful to the business, and thus drive their accountability; others that focus on the quality and volume of AR ‘inputs’, and which taken together help to force AR teams out of the narrow range of traditional metrics (e.g. number of emails sent, number of mentions, or hours of analyst time).

The best AR programs build real relationships with their top influencers. Therefore the AR process also requires an understanding of how the analysts see the wider industry environment. Understanding of the analysts’ research agenda is one prerequisite of helping analysts to meet their goals. AR professionals need to consume much more of the information that analysts consume. By doing so, we can start discussions from the real world rather than one company’s internal reality. That’s important for two reasons.

  1. First, AR can deliver much more value to the business by feeding the individual and collective analyst agendas back to spokespeople and other colleagues. If the firm doesn’t address one of the analysts’ priorities, then it probably relates to a vulnerability which can impact future marketing activities. As a side-benefit, it’s also hugely rewarding for analysts when spokespeople show that they are aware of an analyst’s research (and personal interests).
  2. Second, weaker AR programs are less aware of the analysts’ agenda; that’s reflected by numerous symptoms. One is ‘broadcast’ email blasts that are not cherry-picked.  Another, more generally, is the weakness or absence of personal relationships between analysts and AR professionals. These frail personal relationships are especially toxic when companies pass through periods of bad news. Too many AR professionals define analysts only by what they do, rather than who they are, and sadly do not make the effort to connect personally with the analyst.

It’s dehumanizing when AR professionals recognise neither an analyst’s individual research priorities nor what’s important to them personally outside work. Both are required to give analysts what they are looking for both rationally and emotionally. That sort of connection makes AR easier and more satisfying on both sides. The absence of this sort of relationship-building inhibits the flow of information and, because that makes analysts less likely to recommend solution providers, thus decelerates and derails the procurement process for analysts’ clients.

The fact that 700 analysts have contributed to the Analyst Attitude Survey give a sense of the frustration and impatience that many analysts feel with the community. The power of their feedback is a vital tool for AR managers arguing internally for the added resources need to treat the analyst community’s long tail in a more humane way.

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7 Responses

  1. “It’s dehumanizing when AR professionals recognise neither an analyst’s individual research priorities nor what’s important to them personally outside work.”

    Dehumanizing? REALLY? Seems like a rather strong word to use for the idea you are putting forth.

    As defined:
    1. To deprive of human qualities such as individuality, compassion, or civility: Example: slaves who had been dehumanized by their abysmal condition.
    2. To render mechanical and routine.

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  2. Hi Gerry. Yes, it does seem harsh but sadly that’s the reality that some analysts experience from some vendors.

    This month I’ve interviewed dozens of analysts, almost all of whom explain that some vendors are simply unresponsive to them. Vendors send some analysts communications which are quite unrelated to the analyst’s interests. “Totally disconnected” is one comment I heard about AR. “Won’t answer questions” is another. “I don’t trust them as far as I can thrown them” was another analysts’ comment.

    One very senior analyst said to me that some “firms have a disease: the fake candor of saying a lot, but actually telling you nothing”. In those circumstances, analysts have to navigate their way around the AR team.

    And, to pick up on your definition’s use of the words mechanical and routine, that also reflects the experience of many analysts. One of them told me that (in their opinion) vendors only value analysts who are part of their machine, and who repeat what they are told. Another analyst said to me “Analysts who agree are being selected by vendors to provide spin on their messages. The others get ignored. I’m being manipulated and fed spam. Analysts are reluctant to write the truth if they see a vendor is being destructive. The truth is rarely written about some vendors, because then the analysts are ostracized”

    Others mentioned that they are reached out to only through bulk email. Their experience is that AR is delivered mechanically, by mail merges, not by people.

    I hear the same thing being justified by vendors. In some cases they explicitly decline to communicate with some analysts.

    Of course not every firm is like that. But one of the advantages about our survey is that analysts can speak to us more candidly than they can speak to their clients. While it’s painful to listen to them, it is certainly true that some analysts feel they are being treated inhumanly by some vendors.

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  3. Analysts don’t have a ‘right’ to receive anything in response to a request, but nor do they have an obligation to spend time interacting with a vendor on that vendor’s own agenda.

    The reality is that I get told ‘no’ occasionally when I ask for something from a vendor, but equally I sometimes say ‘no’ when asked invest an hour listening to a vendor story if it’s either not relevant to my current priorities or I suspect it will be a pitch rather than a conversation.

    In a world of limited time and resources, open and objective qualification is necessary on both sides of the fence. As part of this, it’s incumbent on the requesting party to make their case for time and access.

    The thing that wastes time is when either party is going through the motions. What really makes me sad is when I hear analysts say that they are only attending some briefing or event because they need to be ‘seen to be there’. The concern often expressed is that if they don’t attend, they won’t be invited to subsequent meeting opportunities or will be otherwise ‘cut off’.

    A lot of games are played in this whole area, sometimes encouraged by targets based on questionable metrics, and sometimes as a result of silly power plays. Either way, it helps neither vendors nor analysts.

    In my opinion, a key component of effective AR is qualification and proactive brokering so valuable conversations stand more chance of taking place and low value exchanges are minimised.

    Sadly, though, AR often doesn’t seem to have the power or influence in either direction, and I would be interested in whether anyone else feels this. On a related point, I have always wondered where AR should really report into organisationally so they have the necessary power and backing.

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  4. Where-ever AR reports to, there are upsides and downsides. When AR is driven through the PR team, it often performs well in pushing out the product story. When in reports into strategy, it gives the strategic story strongest. So the key thing is to establish the real priority mission of AR, which might be about clarifying or internalising insight, or about driving sales, or a few other things. Sadly, it’s often not decided on the basis of business value, but of feudal fiefdoms.

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  5. [...] This post first appeared on the IIAR blog. [...]

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  6. To Dale and Duncan’s point, I’ve seen in many cases -either because of workload / priorities or because of lack of experience / gravitas-, AR managers retrenching behind the “email wall” and not picking the phone up, therefore not able to figure out how they can help analysts and arrive to a win-win situation.

    Simply put, they don’t get the “R” in “AR”. Sadly I’ve also seen senior AR people not doing the human aspects very well, or at all ; so bad practices can come from the top.

    When personalities and management aren’t to blame, there’s the political aspect. By workload / priorities (above) I mean catering for internal stakeholders vs. the external audience. Analysts don’t pay AR salaries and sometimes don’t recognise AR folks who go out of their way to help.

    Finally, a junior AR / PR-type won’t have the gravitas to play the devil’s advocate and argue in favour of the analyst before top executives.

    Bottom line: all the above have to be mitigated, the best practice is to establish a personal relationship with analysts. It doesn’t need to mean being a yes-man (a “no” can save time and a relationship) but it does interacting. This applies to analysts as well BTW…

    Now, pick-up those phones.

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  7. […] This post first appeared on the IIAR blog. […]

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