[GUEST POST] Key Requirements for Vendors When Briefing Software Analysts

DrNatalie%20Headshot%20color[1]By NataliePetouhoff from Constellation Research.

In any given week, analysts hear many pitches. What may not be apparent is “How engaged is the analyst?” So if you are a vendor, how do you engage an analyst? First, don’t be one of those people who is more interested in getting through all your slides in the short period of time you have with the analyst versus really having an engaging conversation with the analyst.

Slides are important as a visual representation of the product and / or services, but more important is the conversation that happens between the vendor and the analyst. Presenting a slide deck where only the vendor presents and the analyst has no time to comment or interact, is not engaging and doesn’t really help the analyst understand your software.

Most analyst have been listening to vendor pitches for years. And after a while they all sound very similar. The only way often times an analyst can grasp what is new or different, is if the vendor has really done their homework prior to presenting to the analyst and can articulate the following things in the first three slides:

1. What does your company do?

2. Who are your top 5 competitors?

3. Why is, what you are offering, so different and so much better those top 5 competitors?

Analysts don’t want a linear presentation with the history of the company, with how many employees… We don’t really always believe when vendors say they have “displaced” this vendor and that vendor. If all the vendors who said they displaced another vendor were true, then no one would have software.

What we want, as analysts, is to quickly assess in the first 5 minutes is “Why am I listening to this presentation?” (Besides the obvious, which is, it is our job to take vendor briefings… )

The issue is that most vendors don’t really know the answers to the top three questions. Why? Because it takes a lot of work to do a SWOT analysis, to understand what your company does and to be able to message that in a unique and interesting way.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve seen nearly the same slide deck from different vendors in the same week, month or year. What I mean by this is that the content on the slides – even though they are different vendors — is very similar. So if the vendor can’t tell me why they are different, better, unique… it makes it very difficult for us, as analysts, to describe to end-users of software why they should consider a particular vendor over another one.

It’s up to the vendor to really do the SWOT analysis and know your competitors and how you are different or better than your competitors. What I find is that most vendors don’t spend the time to do this exercise. The issue is that when a vendor doesn’t do this, the presentation doesn’t really inform the analyst what they need to know to help recommend them to their network of end users. Which is part of what a vendor wants – they want the analyst to know enough about the vendor to make a recommendation to their end-users so the vendors can make more sales.

The net-net is that the analyst’s attention is not captured in the way that the vendor would like or perhaps thinks that is happening during the briefing.

The solution? Before briefing an analyst, make sure that your first three slides are about:

1. What does your company do? What problem(s) in a company does it solve? Who does it solve those business problems for? What roles? Do you know what keeps that role up at night and why does your solution solve their problem(s)?

2. How does your software solve that problem for that role? What are the details — the how to’s –how does the software solve those issues for that role better than any other software company?

3. And why is your software able to solve those problems differently and better than any other competitor? What is your competitive edge?

I hope that vendors that want recommendations to buyers take the time to either go through this exercise themselves or get help to create conversations and presentations that do engage analysts. If vendors are able to do this, they will make the conversation between the analyst and the software vendors richer, more productive and in the end, both parties will end up with what they both want – analysts to have a clear picture of the marketplace and the vendor to get more sales.

 

About the author

Dr. Natalie Petouhoff (bio, @drnatalieLinkedIn) is a Vice President and Principal Analyst at Constellation Researcg focusing on the integration of traditional business strategy and operations with social / digital business transformation at scale by using the latest trends in software that result in increased customer and employee engagement and major shifts increased revenue and decreased costs. Prior to this she was a Forrester software analyst and change management consultant ta PWC.

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7 Responses

  1. This is good advice, though I would also add that ‘fit’ from a buyer perspective is about more than just solution attributes. Very often, people buy because they feel the supplier understands them better than the competition. Indeed, I would always recommend going with a vendor or service provider that you feel comfortable with (provided the offering meets functional and future-proofing criteria) even if it doesn’t tick as many boxes as the competition. Not only will they be more pleasant and satisfying to work with, but they are also more likely to prioritise things that are meaningful to you in the future.

    For this reason, I personally put a lot a lot of emphasis on the empathy factor. It’s not just about defining a role, for example, but about whether you define ‘the problem’ or the ‘the opportunity’ in the way a person in that role would in a given context. For analyst firms that do a lot of primary research (as we do), it’s pretty obvious when a vendor is not tuned into to the ‘real’ concerns that operations professionals, architects, business analysts and business stakeholders articulate when we research what’s important to them.

    All too often, the problem definition is a simplistic rehash of the latest macro industry trends and imperatives promoted by big analyst firms. We affectionately call this the ‘Gartner boilerplate intro’ – e.g. for most of the last year or two it has been about mobile, social, big data and cloud, with IoT thrown in lately for good measure. This is akin to talking about it being important to drive shareholder value – it’s not wrong, just meaningless until you drop a level or two to specific things that buyers can relate to.

    My big pet hate with vendor presentations though is when spokespeople make statements about the market then can’t clarify what’s behind those statements. If you are going to put an ‘attention grabbing’ market-stat in front of an analyst that isn’t from a credible/recognisable source, then make sure you can back it up. Data from agency polls used to generate propaganda and press headlines is not market intelligence, and you are asking for trouble if you put that stuff in front of professional researchers.

    My last piece of advice is actually pretty simple. Make sure your spokesperson actually believes what you are asking them to present. Sometimes as an analyst, you are obviously talking to someone who knows their stuff, but the slideware behind them is just not credible or misses the point. The turning point in some briefings has been when I have said “Both you and I are experienced enough to know that it’s not as simple as that – can we talk about what really happens in the field?”. You then ditch the charts and have productive conversation.

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  2. Both analysts merely underline the key fact that tech vendors rarely invest enough time or money in interactor training. If anyone gets in front of an analyst and doesn’t know ALL these basic points plus dozens of more advanced techniques to explain business benefits and differentiation, then God help them, and their employer.

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  3. To be clear, though, it’s more than about simply training the messenger. The problem is sometimes more to do who is defining the message in the first place and how. A game we sometimes play is trying to figure out who the message is aimed at when it clearly isn’t the customer. Sometimes it’s investors, sometimes it’s Gartner, sometimes it’s the media. Each of these often wants to hear different things to both each other and the mainstream customer.

    It is generally possible to resolve these differences and/or to develop pitch variations for each audience, but you need to do this in a joined up and consistent manner as experienced analysts develop a nose for incongruity. It’s often useful to think of a consistent core of substance that can be surfaced through different lenses which each filter and emphasise different elements.

    And when it comes to spokespeople, while a minimum level of communication skill and discipline is required, I would much rather be presented with someone who has knowledge, experience and integrity than someone who has been trained in advanced control and manipulation techniques. If they inadvertently say something they probably shouldn’t have done, or mis-speak in some other way, a good analyst will always ignore or clarify as appropriate.

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  4. It’s about more than interactor training. Indeed as I have indicated, the spokespeople are frequently less of problem than the material they are asked to communicate. It’s often about ensuring that those putting together the messaging do adequate preparation and consider a broad enough range of inputs along the way. Analysts can clearly help with message development and/or sanity checking for resonance with target audiences (many of us offer such services), provided you use more than one firm to capture different perspectives (preferably one big one and at least one smaller one).

    Something worth reiterating is that smaller firms will often provide insightful feedback during briefings, which is goodness that vendors miss out on when they exclude interaction with boutiques from their AR programs. The smart AR professionals know how to get the most from both commercial services and FOC input from the analyst community as a whole. Sometimes it makes sense to deliberately blur line between inbound and outbound AR activity.

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  5. Let’s be clear here – analysts that get hundreds of end user inquiries per month need exactly what I described and – yes Dale – they need a good story and a good delivery. Interactors are responsible for content too. What the true AR process is about is communicating relevant end user success stories – not speed and feed comparisons or essays on futures that get sold to vendors themselves.

    There is no manipulation in this process at all. Good interactors know how true RAS/End User analysts make money and how to help them do their job.

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  6. (Apologies for serial commenting – I thought the first comment had got lost as it had not appeared for a couple of days after posting.)

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  7. Has anyone read a book called “UP and to the RIGHT: Strategy and Tactics of Analyst Influence”, by ex-Gartner analyst Richard Stiennon? I enjoyed reading it, but it’s quite a few years since I was personally a RAS buyer and Gartner client, so I would be interested in opinions of how well it reflects the Gartner of today.

    In any event, even bearing in mind that it’s just one guy’s view, it does include some useful snippets for feeding into the discussion on this thread.

    For those who don’t know the book, Stiennon provides his perspective on how Gartner works, the services it offers, and the hectic lifestyle of Gartner analysts (to which Stephen refers in a his previous comment). The main point, however, is to provide guidance to IT vendors and service providers on how to engage with Gartner and ultimately how to influence your position in relevant MQs.

    Based on his experience managing a number of MQs himself, Stiennon advocates a comprehensive, inclusive and integrated approach to engagement, stressing the importance of a sound business strategy, clear understanding of the market, and effective messaging/positioning, all feeding into an objective ‘MQ plan’ that is supported from the very top of the organisation (hence it’s more than about simply training spokespeople). The importance of the interaction between analysts, bloggers and journalists is also highlighted, as is the role of social media in the influencer ecosystem.

    It all comes across as being quite sensible.

    Coming back to main topic of this thread, when Stiennon talks about the detail of what’s important when preparing for and executing briefings, it gels with the stuff in Natalie’s post and my subsequent comments. It is also consistent with the general experiences analysts exchange with each other when we compare notes on vendors. What you can take away from this is that experienced/objective analysts are generally looking for similar things in an introductory briefing, regardless of firm size, business model, and so on.

    When it comes to briefing content, while Stiennon calls out the power of CIO referees, the point is made that experienced analysts take customer-related claims made on PowerPoint slides with a pinch of salt unless they can be corroborated. That’s certainly a principle we work to at Freeform Dynamics, and for good reason; customer stories are often scrubbed and ‘optimised’ significantly as they go through marketing and approval processes. So use them to illustrate value and practicality (especially if someone in the briefing can talk from first hand knowledge of the account), but back them up with broader insights into your product or service, how you take it to market, and how your business/solution is evolving against the backdrop of the market and competitive landscape.

    Picking up on this, Stiennon’s view appears to be at odds with one of the earlier comments in this threat. He claims that Gartner analysts are typically very interested in the crunchy specifics of *how* a solution helps customers, especially if it does it in new or unique ways (to one of Natalie’s main points). This is consistent with my experience at analyst conferences and group briefings, at which category specialists from big firms often seem particularly keen to get down and dirty on features, speeds and feeds. Whoever is right, it’s probably wise in an introductory briefing context to field a product or service expert who can answer detailed questions as necessary, even if your primary objective is to get higher level messages across from your CEO and to present customer proof points. Analysts generally don’t believe in magic – they like to understand the principles, mechanics, etc that underpin the value.

    Anyway, I mention Stiennon’s book because it helps put some of the commentary in this thread into perspective. I should probably say, however, I don’t agree with some of the (analyst) practices he outlines (in fact some of what’s described appals me if it’s true), but it is a well-written and entertaining read. As I said, I would be interested in views from the AR pros out there on its currency and worthiness in general.

    In the meantime, yes train your spokespeople, yes cite your customer successes, but you need to think and prepare more broadly than that if you are going to engage and impress industry analysts. Credible substance and specifics are as important as good presentation, and if you are not ready, then you shouldn’t brief.

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