Receiving a request for information (RFI) from an analyst firm often triggers two reactions among analyst relations (AR) professionals––first, the thrill and gratification of having the business on the radar of a relevant analyst; and second, the anxiety of responding to the RFI with comprehensive and accurate information.
Analyst-firm RFIs are complex beasts. Managed well, they can be a technology/service provider’s (TSPs) gateway to the much-coveted “star” ratings, rankings, and mentions in analyst firms’ research. On the contrary, poorly managed RFIs can end up misinforming analysts, leading them to build an inaccurate analysis of your company.
Responding to RFIs takes a lot of diligence, but the process can be simplified and made more manageable. Here are eight things you can do to ace RFIs and minimise the overwhelm.
1. Nominate a Single Point of Contact to Lead the RFI Process
This removes the need for the analyst firm to reach out to multiple stakeholders within your organisation individually, and channelises the RFI processes. The recommended single point of contact, ideally, is you––the AR manager––who can rally all relevant stakeholders within the organisation to address the RFI. However, in the absence of a dedicated AR team, one may nominate an RFI leader from the marketing team (generally, a market intelligence or a category manager) or the AR agency one works with. The key point is to introduce the analyst firm to the specific individual, whom your organisation has authorized to be their single point of contact.
A common mistake is to press the nominated point of contact into completing the RFI single-handedly. It is impractical and hurts the RFI quality, since cross-team collaboration is required inevitably to compile the requested information (more on this in Point 6 below). An experienced AR manager understands the nuances of the RFI, and guides the relevant stakeholders to provide the most appropriate, high-impact, and accurate information.
2. Decide Whether or Not You Should Participate in the Given Research Study
The next essential step is to determine whether the research for which you have received the RFI is relevant to your organisation. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Will the research cover the core business(es) of your organisation?
- Which other technology/service providers will participate in this research?
- If the research involves competitive analysis, does the methodology ensure an apples-to-apples comparison, so that niche players are represented correctly when compared with large, diversified ones?
- How will the information you share be used?
- Is the firm willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)? If not, what is their policy about protecting the confidentiality of the information you share?
- Will you receive an executive summary of the report if you are not the analyst firm’s client?
- How important is the analyst firm to your AR program?
- Can the RFI deadline be met?
The last point about RFI deadlines can be a key deciding factor for many technology/service providers. Matt Durham, Vice President and Head of Analyst Relations, SAP says, “At SAP, we find the turnaround time required from our friends in the analyst community is often insufficient to truly give the work the focus it deserves”.
If a tight timeline is the only thing keeping you from participating in research, request the lead analyst for an extension. More often than not, the analyst will accommodate your request and give you a few more days to complete the RFI––your participation is important to their work!
3. Request the Lead Analyst to Run You Through the RFI Structure
A kick-off call with the lead analyst to go through the RFI is an absolute must, and there are four reasons why you should schedule one:
First––an RFI typically follows the analyst firm’s proprietary template and methodology, which may be difficult to navigate without the lead analyst’s guidance. The analyst can explain the RFI’s structure and essential methodology to you. The discussion may be shorter in the case of repetitive RFIs, focusing primarily on the key changes from the previous round.
Second––it gives you an opportunity to clarify the context of any ambiguous questions, and be on the same page as the lead analyst.
Third––it also gives you a unique opportunity to suggest changes to the research methodology, based on your direct experience and observation of market dynamics. Analysts find such feedback quite useful, especially when they are launching new research programs.
Fourth––you can ask the lead analyst to point out the critical, ‘must-answer’ questions. Not all questions in an RFI carry equal weight in the final analysis. Some are meant to aid an analyst’s ‘supplementary’ understanding of your business, and not included in the final research document. You may want to follow the 80-20 principle and prioritise the core questions, however, make sure that you do not cut corners in providing the requested information. In fact, it helps your organisation to share more information than is asked for (see Point 8 below).
4. Understand the Difference Between the Various Definitions Used by Your Organisation and the Analyst Firm
Ever wonder why different analyst firms often come up with different market sizing figures for the same market segments? That’s because they follow different definitions. For example, your organisation may define a small business by headcount (say, less than 500 employees), whereas an analyst firm may define it by revenue (say, a revenue of less than US$1 million). The term ‘semiconductors’ may mean just ‘semiconductors’ to your business, but an analyst firm’s definition may also include embedded software.
What’s the consequence? There’s a fair chance of your leaving out certain portions of an RFI unintentionally, thinking that they are not applicable to your business, thereby under-representing the great work your company does. Worse still, you may decide not to participate in research without fully understanding the key definitions and context underlying the RFI.
The difference in the definitions of markets, technologies, customer segments, and industry verticals is one of the leading causes of confusion between analyst firms and their clients. The only way to resolve this is both analysts and technology/service providers devoting sufficient time to understanding the subtle differences in the definitions they use.
5. Establish a Mechanism to Handle Repetitive/Similar RFIs
Another challenge that technology/service providers face is the need to extract data and information in multiple formats, often repetitively, to comply with the different definitions and RFI structures of analyst firms.
“Analyst firm research on capability assessment or benchmarking is probably the best bellwether for both buyer and provider communities. However, a pertinent challenge is rallying the internal organization to invest their time and prioritize RFIs among their other jobs of responding to client requirements, live pursuits, etc. And when there are five analyst-firm RFIs on the same capability, then it becomes five repetitive efforts by the same team”, says Madhusudan Menon, who heads global influencer relations and alliances at a leading multinational BPO.
While there is no simple solution to this, there are certainly a few things that you can do:
- Automate report generation for the repetitive portions of RFIs
- Check if the lead analyst is open to other (possibly quicker) forms of input, such as interviews with a few key stakeholders from your company
- Maintain an ‘answer bank’ for commonly asked questions (such as company’s business description, stance on general industry trends, unique value proposition, financial data, office locations, employee count, etc.)
- Limit your participation to a few selected RFIs
- Ensure that you have adequate AR resources
6. Identify the Key Stakeholders and Secure Their Cooperation
Even with a centrally coordinated approach, RFI management tends to depend on a large number of stakeholders. Here are a few examples:
- You need the finance team for your company’s financial data sliced and diced by multiple parameters
- You need the sales and delivery teams to get information about the key projects
- You need the strategy team to articulate the company’s roadmap for the next 12-24 months
- You need the marketing team for information on positioning, messaging, and campaigns
- You need the corporate communications and client relations teams to obtain client testimonials
- You need business-unit heads to brief analysts
- …..and the list goes on
Go through the RFI in detail and map the different stakeholders you will need input from. Then reach out to them, set clear expectations about the info you require and get them to commit to a definite deadline to revert to you. This deadline must be defined by *you* and, ideally, should be 3-4 days before the one set by the analyst firm. The objective is to allow you some time for a very vital step in the RFI completion process––that is, checking the completed RFI for inconsistencies, and making corrections as necessary.
7. Establish a Process of Checks and Validation
You must have a formal process of checks and validations to ensure that the information shared in RFIs is current, accurate, and supported with evidence if needed.
There must be at least two levels of checks and validation––first, by the individual or team who is providing the content for the RFI, and second, by the nominated RFI leader.
It is important that the stakeholders supporting you in the RFI process are authorised by your organisation to do so. The key question to ask is whether the information they have provided is final and accurate, or needs to be reviewed by another senior manager in their team. Once this is resolved, the final round of checks must come the AR Manager or the nominated RFI lead. Check for the completeness of information, accuracy of facts and figures, and review by the relevant managers.
At all times, ensure compliance with your company’s policies about what can be shared with external parties. Pay attention to the clauses governing the sharing of case studies, client testimonials, financial data, and any other information that is deemed confidential and not supposed to be shared with an external entity even under an NDA.
8. Provide Additional Insights Beyond What the RFI Seeks
Earlier in this article, I mentioned that it helps your organisation to share more information than is asked by an analyst firm. Here’s why: most of your competitors will complete the RFI in a more or less similar ‘question-and-answer’ way. While that forms a good base for the analyst to draw conclusions from, think about other questions that the RFI doesn’t ask, which might position you differently from the competition.
- Does the RFI focus on a point service, while your organisation is already busy building an ecosystem around it? Talk about it with the lead analyst.
- Have you mastered a niche, even though you are not a market leader? Take some time to explain your specialty to the analyst.
- Do you have unique cases studies, client testimonials, and success stories? Share them generously, drawing analyst’s attention to those you want to highlight.
- Did you secure a big win just outside the time frame that the RFI looks at? Add a note about it.
- Does your sales performance have notable troughs and crests? Explain the key reasons behind them.
It may appear that most analyst-firm RFIs are after the “what”, “who”, “when” and “where” aspects of your business, while in reality, the analysis scrutinizes the “how” and “why” aspects even more closely.
There is room for creativity in responding to RFIs, and it can set your organisation apart from the competition. How does your organisation handle analyst-firm RFIs? Share your best practices in comments below.