I’ve been leading B2B tech product marketing teams for more than 20 years and I’ve seen how easy it is to fall into what I call the “content trap”. We’re constantly creating new content to fuel our campaigns, to keep things fresh and interesting for our audiences. We try new messaging, new content types, new offers. It can be fun and exciting.
But it’s a trap because in our haste to create new content, we do the easy thing – start writing about how our product or service is newer, better, different. That kind of content might help generate awareness amongst buyers, but it fails at generating something much more important: Credibility.
The Lack of Credibility
In B2B tech, the buyers are smart people, technical, and skeptical of being marketed to. They know that the next white paper or infographic my team creates is self-serving, and worthy of their skepticism.
There are two sources of credibility available to marketers – customers and industry analysts. Your buyers listen to what their peers are saying about your and your competitors’ solutions, and they pay attention to what the relevant analysts are saying. How to be great at customer references is a discussion for another time. Today, I want to address analyst relations.
I constantly drive my teams to set aside the time required to make sure that the industry analysts have a thorough understanding of our solutions. It’s hard work. It can take months to help an analyst really “get it”, compared with how easy it is to just sit down and start writing a new blog post yourself.
Whatever your level of experience in working with analysts, I’d like to offer you some tips that I hope will accelerate your becoming a black belt at analyst relations (AR). I call these tips, “The 7 Ups”.
1. Face Up
We marketers have to face up to the fact that we have a serious credibility problem. Here’s the crux of the matter: all of the content that we create that consists of us saying nice things about our product lack credibility. There’s simply so much reason why a company could be tempted to lie or exaggerate. I’m not suggesting that marketers stop creating white papers and data sheets. But I am saying they can’t rely solely on them. We have to face up the fact that we need customer references, and we need analyst coverage. We need unbiased perspectives.
As I write this (November 2019), a good example is how one company, Illumio, devotes a lot of their home page real estate to their analyst coverage instead of their home-grown content.
2. Brush Up
In order to be successful at analyst relations, you need to brush up on the analysts, who they are, what they do, what they expect from you. You’ll find analyst profiles on their firms’ websites, but don’t forget to check their LinkedIn profiles too.
The first and most important thing to brush up on is this: which analysts do your buyers actually listen to? Devoting time to educating the wrong analysts, analysts who don’t actually influence buyer’s purchasing decisions, is a waste of time. It’s so easy to simply assume that you need to engage with just the big firms, like IDC, Forrester, and Gartner, and miss the fact that your buyers might value the insights of one of the smaller firms.
I’ve worked with some CEOs and CMOs who think that analyst relations consists of responding once a year to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant survey. That’s not analyst relations. I’ve worked with some very smart people who think that the four quadrants in a Magic Quadrant are: Leader, Fail, Fail, and Fail. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the report.
Have you ever read one of the longer analyst reports, like a Forrester Wave, from cover to cover? I know a lot of marketers who never have. It’s so tempting to flip to page three and look at where the dots are in the chart and ignore everything else. But you need to brush up on what the analysts are really saying, and what their reports are really about, what they’re intended to explain, all of it.
3. Team Up
If your company has a dedicated analyst relations manager, make sure they become your new best friend. I’ve seen firsthand how powerful it can be to have great teamwork between product marketing and analyst relations.
Your analyst relations manager has a strategic role to play, and will develop and drive the game plan for which analysts to work with and how often. They’ll maintain a calendar of your planned product announcements, industry conferences, and analyst report publication dates, and they’ll make sure to get you in front of the right analyst at the right time. That’s when you spring into action, with the messaging and positioning, the slide deck, speaking as the subject matter expert.
Develop a true partnership with your AR manager. You should be talking with each constantly. Don’t be shy about asking your AR manager questions. Have you just read a research report about your product category authored by an analyst you haven’t heard of before? Ask AR about that, and make sure they know of the new analyst too, so they can assess whether or not you need to start meeting with them. Conversely, ask your AR manager to come to you whenever they think they’ve found research that could be relevant to you, so you can read it and decide if the report really touches upon your category.
4. Measure Up
Next, you and your AR partner need to decide how you will define and measure success. Analyst relations is not just sitting around talking to analysts. Like any other aspect of marketing, it can and should be measured, and tracked over time, so you can assess your progress, and demonstrate value. (And you will be challenged to demonstrate value by senior executives!)
If you’re just getting started, you can keep things simple. Spend your time making sure you know which analysts matter, and developing your messaging; you can go back and build a sophisticated tracking system later. If your company has an AR manager, they’ll already know what to track.
The most basic metrics you’ll probably want to start with are cadence (how often are you speaking with an analyst), perception (does the analyst view you favorably or not?), and outcome (are you being included in their reports and how do you rank against your competitors?)
Each of these metrics can have several sub-metrics – it can get very detailed! If you’re interested in developing a more complete and sophisticated approach to measuring your AR efforts, there are resources out there like this webinar from Spotlight.
5. Beef Up
So now you’re working on the analyst deck in advance of a briefing. You may be tempted to use the customer presentation that you created for Sales to use. Do not. There is no bigger mistake. That sales deck almost certainly contains marketing hype and fluff, and you can’t bring that to an analyst meeting.
You have to really beef up the content of the analyst presentation. You need to eliminate the hype. You need to have tangible proof points to back up your assertions about your product’s capabilities and differentiators, and why customers value them. Examples of “beefier” content include customer case studies with quantifiable success metrics, customer research findings that analyst firms may not have access to, and statistics you’ve collected about your customers and product that are not publicly available.
Remember, you’re speaking with an analyst, not a sales prospect, and the analyst knows more about your product category than you do.
6. Show Up
As I’ve already said, analyst relations isn’t a once-a-year activity. It needs to be something that you and your AR manager think about daily. Once you find the key analysts for your product category, you should probably be speaking with them three or four times a year.
“Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me you desire a fig, I will answer that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” – Epictetus
Unlike some aspects of marketing that are completely under your control, and where you can see results in days, analyst relations doesn’t work that way. It takes time to brush up on the analysts, and book meetings with them. Most importantly, it takes time to establish a relationship with them, one where they trust the information you provide, and see value in it.
Remember that analysts track dozens of vendors in your category, and handle inquiry calls from hundreds of clients, so they’re not going to have total recall of what your offering does after just one meeting. It’s been my experience that it can take three or four meetings before the analyst really gets it. You just have to keep meeting with them so that your story sinks in.
It’s called analyst relations for a reason – the key is to build a relationship with the analyst. If you treat it as an occasional, transactional thing, you’ll fail at building that relationship and your AR efforts will suffer.
I know you’re busy – tons of content to create, sales enablement, product launches and so on – but when your AR manager asks you to take an analyst briefing, the correct answer is always “yes”. Your partner in AR will give you an “analyst interaction prep” document with logistics (date, time, location, etc.) and a refresher on the analyst (their sentiment about your product) and what the goals of the briefing are. If you’re at a small company and don’t have an AR manager, be sure to do this prep work yourself. This Spotlight webinar shows you what you need. (Skip ahead to 19:10).
7. Shut Up
I’ve saved the most important tip for last: shut up. I know how excited you are to brief the analyst on your announcement. You have just thirty minutes and so much information you want to convey. It can be very tempting to just jump in and start telling your story.
I beg you, do not do this.
There are two big problems with this. The first is that you can’t build a relationship if you do all the talking. The analyst won’t say anything, but inside, they’ll be rolling their eyes, wondering why you’re talking at them instead of with them.
“One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears.” – Dean Rusk
More importantly, you’re hurting your company if you do all the talking. Yes, you obviously know more about your new product than the analyst, and nominally, the reason for the briefing is so you can tell the analyst about it. But your product is the only thing that you know more about. The analyst knows more about the product category, your competitors, the buyers, and emerging trends. If you do all the talking, you are squandering a chance to learn important insights.
Ask uncomfortable questions. Ask questions that will surface what the analyst sees as your weaknesses. Ask…
- If the analyst agrees with the hypothesis that underpins your product roadmap
- Do they agree on the size of the market opportunity?
- Do they think your offering is truly differentiated?
- Will their clients find real value in your value proposition?
- What is their input on your product roadmap and vision?
- What do they think about the way you’ve segmented the market?
- What do they think your sweet spot should be,
- What do they think your biggest weakness is?
- What one change do they think you should make (GTM, product roadmap sequencing, packaging, pricing, etc.)
To Sum Up
I’ll sum up by asking all of you to take at least one action today that will improve your skills at analyst relations and that will make your product more successful.
- Face Up: emphasize customers and analysts in your content strategy
- Brush Up: read a Magic Quadrant cover to cover
- Team Up: take your AR manager out for coffee
- Measure Up: set measurable goals
- Beef Up: create b.s.-free presentations just for analysts
- Show Up: book an analyst meeting now
- Shut Up: listen, learn, and build relationships