What makes a good analyst event?

The IIAR’s teleconference in July focused on vendor analyst days. One point everyone on the call agreed to was that the most influential analysts go to vendor events for face-to-face meet ups (one-to-one sessions) with a vendor’s top execs who are impossible to get time with at any other point during the year. If this is the case, why is it that the internal management at many vendors prioritise the big sessions at an analyst event instead of making more time for one-on-one sessions and for networking?

Yes, one-to-ones are the most valued by analysts but not always practical; in the worst case, they should be reserved for analysts that fit into an AR programme’s top priority list or specifically address a knowledge gap for an executive.

At a recent analyst event that I attended, a senior analyst at a global research firm said he “can always tell the junior analysts because they ask questions during a Q&A that give insights into their research agenda. If you notice, it’s rare that a senior analyst will ask questions in a group setting.” It could be that senior analysts get more time with vendors which results in other ‘junior’ analysts having to ask more questions.

For some vendors, the one-on-one issue is addressed by encouraging an open analyst discussion with senior executives. However, US and APAC analysts or a vendor’s management team may not be comfortable with the European-style of analyst debate.

Another technique that some vendors are resorting to is announcing major news at analyst events. Sometimes analysts won’t travel to events simply for one-on-ones if they have already been talking to executives on a regular basis. [For tier-one vendors, analysts never seem to have enough time to pose questions to C-level execs.] Announcing news at an event can result in greater analyst attendance and generate more interaction with the analysts. However, this PR-driven strategy has pros and cons. With regards to the latter, treating analysts like journalists can be a risky proposition for AR managers trying to manage the expectations of internal management.

With analysts less willing to travel and seeking ROI for being out of the office, addressing the balance of content and interactive sessions can make the difference between a passable event or a really great one.

For the analysts who read the IIAR’s blog, here’s your chance to let AR managers know about the do’s and don’t’s for vendor AR events. With more virtual analyst events happening (i.e., webinars and Telepresence), is the dominant model for an analyst event changing? Please share your thoughts on analyst event format/agenda, logistics, location, content and duration.

9 thoughts on “What makes a good analyst event?”

  1. Analyst event one-on-ones are a terrific opportunity if the AR team and the analyst are aligned on what conversations will be of most value – to the analyst. That sounds self-serving, but hear me out. Analysts have agendas. Helping them execute those is in AR’s interest. At the general session, you’ll have the chance to tell the big stories you want them to hear, and if you’re lucky, some will pick those themes up – maybe even revising their agenda to accommodate a powerful new idea.

    One-on-ones are different. They allow depth where the analysts are going deep, and they are the best opportunity to showcase your differentiation, your success and your vision.

    Sound obvious? Good. (If not, we can have a different conversation.) But there is a frequent, and very annoying, flaw in many event agendas. At the past few vendor events I’ve attended, I have been put at a table several times with people I didn’t know, had never heard of, and who had absolutely nothing to do with my research agenda. I have no idea what the organizers thought they were gaining by doing so, but it’s “AR as PR” thinking at its worst. Know your analysts. Know their agendas. If possible, align well in advance. And let them know what you’re thinking before you try speed dating with your spokespeople.

    1. Merv makes a really important point here about the importance of trying to match analysts’ agendas with available execs in 1:1s.
      I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to submit my areas of interest in advance of attending an event, only to find that I’ve been scheduled to attend multiple meetings with execs to whom I have nothing meaningful to ask or say…it’s almost as if the vendor feels that everyone’s “dance card” needs to be filled, regardless of fit.

  2. I agree with Merv, but also understand the challenges that vendors have in meeting the balance between one-on-ones and the broader presentations, and break-outs. One firm piece of advice I do have is: don’t have the one-on-ones before the general sessions! If you do that we end up hearing the same content twice (a few vendors have done this in the past few years).

    I certainly don’t agree with the comment r.e. “junior analysts ask questions in the Q&A sessions” – some analysts use this opportunity to promote themselves or their company, others just ask good questions, and yes – some junior (and senior) analysts ask stupid questions too! And to be honest, the analysts I can remember asking questions at the last few events I attended were typically some of the most senior analysts in the room (if you define senior as years of experience anyway!).

    I personally enjoy the small group interactions – I LIKE the idea of having a discussion/debate with a group of diverse analysts who are all coming at an issue/market from a different angle – there have been plenty of times when “the whole was greater than the sum of the parts” – and both the analysts and the vendors got something good ideas out of the discussion. I do appreciate that this is not everyone’s cup of tea though – and that some people like to keep their cards close to their chest.

    Getting the balance right with customers at the analyst events is hard. As analysts we love to hear the “real stories” behind the marketing – but I have not yet seen a vendor pull this off successfully (either they have no customers, or the ones they have there are not that relevant – for me anyway!).

    Ultimately, good analyst events are ones with the most relevance to the analyst. Broad, general sessions tend to add little value, and one-on-ones that are not suitable for the analyst tend to be a waste of time. So Merv is spot on with his comments r.e. understanding the individual needs of of the analysts (why is it that we get a survey at the END of the event and not before it?).

    One other comment I will make concerns the “social” element of the events. As an AP-based analyst who once worked in Europe, I have attended a lot of great, memorable events – ones where the vendors made an attempt to not only inform, but also entertain the analysts (IBM’s Asia Pacific analyst events are really the benchmark for this). The recognition that not only are we analysts but we are also social beings – and we enjoy being social! I am not suggesting they need to go to huge lengths – but something more than a buffet dinner is usually nice – and the more memorable the entire event, the more likely we are to remember the content!

  3. I read Ed’s piece on ‘what makes a good analyst meeting’ with interest. I disagree with one part of it. The piece says “At a recent analyst event that I attended, a senior analyst at a global research firm said he “can always tell the junior analysts because they ask questions during a Q&A that give insights into their research agenda.” It also states “If you notice, it’s rare that a senior analyst will ask questions in a group setting.”

    I think this is naive to say the least and smacks of a junior analyst bitching about others.

    A good analyst, one which considers the relationship with the vendor to be a two-way relationship, would and should ask questions in an open session which prompt a vendor, offering them the opportunity to clarify an item which has been poorly portrayed or likely misunderstood by the audience. They do so regardless of their current agenda. A smart vendor hearing such a question from a senior analyst should pick up the friendly prompt and respond according.

    Why does the analyst do this? Because it helps the vendor to prevent potential positioning errors and/or it helps the vendor to position its differentiators more succinctly.
    But it also helps the analyst to do his/her job. If the vendor does not take that opportunity then it is often more telling than if it does. It is sometimes easier for the vendor to ‘lipstick’ an answer in private to the satisfaction of the analyst’s challenge. In open forum it has to remember what was said in private sessions. As a result the analyst learns from the response when the vendor is put on the spot in open forum. If it doesn’t answer then it can suggest that the vendor has more to hide or isn’t clear of its position, in which case the analyst follows-up the question in the 1:1’s.

    I personally get fed up with analysts being silent in multi analyst-sessions and I’ve been doing this job for 10 years so while I’d like to be considered junior, I’m rarely the youngest in the room nowadays.
    The vendor has often spent a lot of money and effort on the event and to me it’s rude not to interact and provide some stimulation and value wherever possible during the Q&A. If anything such interactions can stimulate my agenda.
    Anyone that knows me knows that I have to work hard to restrain comments in sessions. (I here a chuckle from a few reading this). It’s in my nature and I make no apology. It reflects my passion for the subject matter. I believe vendors value that passion.

    I remember going to a Deloitte event in the UK once. There was the Deloitte management team working their hearts out to deliver a message, yet only myself and a couple of other analysts bothered to say anything in response to their questions, yet there were 15 or so present. Either the other analysts had little to add and derived their own opinion from those that did speak, or they thought that they gained power by being quiet because the vendor then has to chase them for comment. I think it’s the former. Senior analysts do not have to guard every opinion as if it’s the only one they possess.

  4. As an analyst, I have found that one-on-one sessions are the most valuable of all for obvious reasons.
    Global open sessions are usually valuable too, in a different way.
    Furthermore, I do agree that it is both diplomatic and polite to engage with the organisers in an open session.
    Finally, the worst compromise is the “few analyst to one vendor executive” session. Mixing competiting analysts in a “small” room with access to the vendor’s executives satisfies no one.
    If a vendor is serious about such an event, it is best not to compromise in such an unsatisfactory manner.

  5. Ed nice piece, a few additional comments, there is huge value for a vendor in having to give general sessions in that it forces senior execs/comms team to work out what the external messages/key strategy of the company really is, in a one to one situation it all depends on where the conversation goes. Additionally the content created can then be re-used when new analysts come on board.

    In addition there is the value of involving customers and partners in these sorts of events. It adds a totally different dimension to proceedings.

    Finally from an AR professional’s perspective although a challenge to organise as you have to cover EVERYTHING from ensuring the CEO’s internet connection works to having a strong grasp of ALL logistics. There is nothing more satsifying than pulling it off 😉

  6. Good post Ed. Analyst events are something that we analysts should treat as a privilege, as there’s a lot of time and money that goes into making them happen. For them to be at their best, for me, there needs to be an exchange of value. If the analyst is only there to get answers to their specific question, to serve their own research needs, then something is missing. The analyst should also be providing value to their hosts, in return. Whether that’s delivered via questions in 1:n sessions or in 1:1 sessions is a different matter. I know from some of the 1:1 sessions that I’ve attended over the past 4-5 years that some of the executives would have been reluctant to talk about some subjects in a group session. There are also some research ideas of thoughts that I’d really rather debate with an executive in a 1:1, rather than sharing the ideas with competitors – or at least not until the ideas have been more properly baked.

    It’s a difficult topic but for me the basic tennet is that both sides need to get value out of the event, and both parties need a style of interaction that they’re both comfortable with.

    BTW – videoconference sessions really, really don’t work for me.

  7. Good thread and a well balanced set of opinions. I agree with Nigel Montgomery’s observation that where appropriate questions ought to be asked that give the vendor a nudge to correct or reposition something. This in my view is not simply an exercise in pandering to a vendor, it is also a “hand someone enough rope and see what they do with it” moment.

    1:1 meetings are great in theory, In practice however the vendor exec’s can often become meeting fatigued by the process of being herded from one meeting to the next with no time between. If any meaningful meeting preparation had been done on either side it is often rendered useless by the fact that by the 5th or 6th 1:1 the vendor exec probably feels like it is all just a blurry parade of faces.

    For the record seeing as it has already been referenced – videoconferecing and other technologies don’t always work for me either. However I strongly desire that vendors examine ways to open up effective interaction opportunities utilising various forms of communication technology as the economic, opportunity, and ecological costs of long haul travel diminish the attractiveness of attending events in distant places.

  8. If a vendor I was following closely chose an event to make a major announcement that Iwas unaware of, I’d be pretty pissed off. If I have been covering them closely enough, and they thought I was worth it, then I would have hoped that they would have taken me in to their confidence before the event (which is generally the way that things do happen). The analyst event gives them a chance to show how their end-user messaging has been finalised, and to give any final details that may not have been available before then. This should be done with one main tent session, and then break out to small groups and one-on-ones.

    The vendor really should be regarding any analyst event as a two way street – if there are 10, 20 or 100 analysts there, then there is a lot of analyst intellectual property waiting to be mined. Presenting at us means that a vendor gets little in return – plus, we as analystsget very little of real use to us. Using the event to sit down and get a few hours discussion with a group of analysts should result in value to both sides.

    Smaller break out sessions can work – if the AR people make sure that analysts with the same essential agenda are in the same groups (i.e. don’t mix number counting analysts with more analytical analysts, don’t mix hyper-techies with business advisors).

    One-on-ones are generally great – they give the chance to get down deep and dirty, and really enter in to meaningful discussion. For us stuck over here in Europe, we often only get to exchange emails and the odd telephone call with US-based execs, and the chance to sit down for 45 minutes wih these people gives much better capabilities for a real interaction.

    And, agreeing with others, I have found that videoconferencing just doesn’t work – patricularly where it’s a vendor presentation to a group. It becomes something far more akin to 1970’s Open University (sorry – a UK reference). Most people I have spoken to rapidlyswitch off from really paying attention – but stay on-line to make sure that their name is registered as an attendee.

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