[GUEST POST] Ode to the Solo Practitioners and Boutique Analyst Firms

Peggy O'Neil for the IIAR>

I recently caught up with an old friend who has been a solo practitioner analyst for decades. He was venting as only an analyst can about how too many analyst relations programs only deign to work with large traditional firms such as Gartner, IDC, etc. Boutique analyst firms and solo practitioners are frequently shunned by vendors who, while they might need to prioritize Gartner because of their unquestioned end user influence, have not reserved any bandwidth to work with the smaller outfits.

I listened in sympathy as we discussed the important role and value proposition that solo analysts bring to the tech ecosystem. After I hung up, I decided the conversation was worth replaying for other analyst relations managers as I do notice a tendency that every time our tribe gathers, AR managers spend too much time complaining about being Gartner victims and not enough airtime goes to working with other analysts, particularly the overlooked solo players.

If you’re running a successful analyst relations program, it’s a well balanced one. Yes, of course you need to spend time with Gartner. But you’re doing your company a disservice by not allocating time and budget for other firms. 

Here, in no particular order, are some reasons why you need to diversify:

  • Even if Gartner is squarely in your corner, it always helps to have additional validation. Sure, you’re a leader in the Magic Quadrant, but if you’re also a leader in IDC’s MarketScape, Forrester’s Wave, Nucleus Research’s Technology Value Matrix, Constellation’s ShortList, Bloor’s MarketUpdate, Ventana’s Value Index, that shows it’s not a fluke.
  • I guarantee that if you’re a leader with Gartner and your competitor is not, your competitor is working with these other analyst firms in an attempt to counter Gartner. Why not defang your competitor and also meet them in this battlefield?
  • The smaller the firm, the easier it tends to be to work with. Solo practitioners in particular are great as they own their own business. All you need to do is persuade one person, rather than a team of people about a particular policy, deliverable, pricing, etc. 
  • Solo practitioners in particular tend to be the fastest in delivering projects. Maybe it’s because they own their own business and time is money, but they seem to execute extremely quickly and reliably.
  • Solo practitioners are reasonably priced as they’re not supporting a large overhead. 
  • Solo practitioners and smaller firms tend to have large followings in social media and are active in social media. They have undeniable influence in this arena.

And let me dispel one common myth – that this crowd is pay to play. The good ones are not. The intellectual rigor and integrity of these analysts are equal to any of those in the traditional firms.

The problem with large analyst firms who serve a large base is that they are frequently unwilling or unable to do shine a light on topics that may be of vital importance to your company but not to a broad base. The boutique firm and solo practitioner can help you highlight issues that the large guys will ignore. That doesn’t mean they’re willing to put their good name on whatever paper your marketing department wants. The boutique firms and solo practitioners have very similar policies about avoiding competitive attack pieces, outlandish endorsement, editorial independence.

This is the crowd who will pay attention to your new product launches, your smaller acquisitions, and laud arcane differentiators for your company if you engage with them respectfully. Nor is it always about coverage. I have one analyst who makes a fine living doing training and education classes. He checks in with me every now and then for refresher material and I’m satisfied that he’s helping spread the word about Informatica to his students. Another influencer works with many CIOs – that’s good enough for me. Another is very influential in the applications world while Informatica has always been well known in data land. All of this is good reason for me to keep them abreast of Informatica and not ignore them when they need occasionally request updates. They don’t write about Informatica regularly, but I know they’re influential in their spheres.

One of the reasons why analyst relations managers shun boutique firms or solo practitioners is that they feel unsure about how to measure their influence. And the industry isn’t helped by the fact that there are charlatans out there, as anyone can call themselves an analyst. Two big criteria to filter out the pretenders are: 

  • How focused is the analyst’s coverage? If this analyst or firm is covering EVERYTHING, and just riffing off the press release of the day, their influence is necessarily scattered across EVERYTHING which is then naturally diluted. Seek out those analysts who are really focused on your market.
  • How long has this analyst been covering your market? If this analyst has been around for a long time in your market, he or she has brand recognition, has built a following, and therefore has influence.

Over the years I’ve had analysts pop up at my doorstep asking for time and attention, promising to feature Informatica in its coverage, give us our due, and after I invest time and attention it devolves into a thinly veiled attempt for business development. If I can’t sign up as a client, then I never hear from them again.

That’s fine. It’s worth the risk. Analyst relations is a long-term game. Our charter is to work with as many influencers as possible, not just three or four analyst firms. If you’re only working with the usual suspects, you should engage in some soul searching about you and your company’s bandwidth and focus, as strong performers have the energy and time to not just do the bare minimum but go beyond.

I’m interested to hear who are your favorite boutique firms or solo practitioners to work with and why? What are the benefits you’re seeing in working with this group? Any great stories to share with other analyst relations managers?

Peggy O’Neill (@PegONeillLinkedIn) is Vice President, Industry Analyst Relations at Informatica. 

This blog is dedicated to the solo practitioners who have been following Informatica for MANY years – Tony Baer, Tim Crawford, Barry Devlin, Joseph Di Paolantonio, Mike Ferguson, Josh Greenbaum, Andy Hayler, Claudia Imhoff, William McKnight, Hyoun Park, Neil Raden, and Aaron Zornes to name a few.

Other blog posts by Peggy O’Neill

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