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How Startups Can Leverage Industry Analysts - Like Gartner and Forrester - to Go Big

An article for founders and other executives focused on how to maximize growth by leveraging industry analysts

Throughout my career as a CEO and earlier, when I was in Product Management or a marketing leader, I managed to gain significant value and greatly amplify company success by working closely with industry analysts. Building and managing these relationships is an art — not a science. This article shares some of my personal playbook to help you achieve some of the same success.

First, I am surprised how many startups and even larger companies fail to leverage leading analysts and miss out on tremendous benefits and opportunities. It is not a topic often written about and a helpful “how-to” guide is long overdue!

When your early-stage company feels like a mouse in a market of giants, leverage analysts to cost-effectively amplify your market presence.

First… Why Listen?

  1. Learn from my experience: I have managed to get into several magic quadrants, be profiled as a cool vendor, influence new investors, and closed millions of dollars in new business as a direct result of industry analyst support, so this article could make a big impact if you read along.

  2. There is upside for your company: Support from industry analysts can help reduce friction when you raise capital, provide legitimacy when you are selling your products to new customers — and significantly impact your valuation when your company is acquired. In short, analyst support helps secure a seat at the table whereas otherwise, you might not have been considered.

This is an article for founders and other hi-tech executives focused on how to maximize growth by leveraging industry analysts. Analysts are — after all — a significant part of go-to-market engagement and success.

First, Who Are They?

Gartner is the largest firm by a significant margin with over 2,000 analysts

Professional industry analysts are firms composed of experts in specific industries. They make money by publishing research, advising clients, and holding events. Analysts have been a major part of the industry as buyers need to understand the complex and rapidly changing vendor landscape. In this article, I will focus on hi-technology company analysts. To be more specific, analysts cover SaaS, software, hardware, and cybersecurity, but this advice is broadly applicable to industry analysts.

Companies that buy and use technology products look for guidance and advice from analysts and will pay for analyst research or meetings to obtain guidance on selecting the right technology and vendors. Reviews from industry analysts are having a growing impact on purchase decisions.

Vendors that make technology must find and establish relationships with the right analysts so they get included in their published research and potentially recommended to prospective customers.

Examples of large analysts in the IT space include: Gartner, Forrester, and IDC. When I say IT, that includes the following: SaaS, Cybersecurity, and Enterprise software. The differences are dramatic when we compare revenue per “analyst.” Gartner generates more than $1.1 million per analyst, some 70% higher than Forrester, and more than 200% higher than IDC!

Note that there are a plethora of others including small boutique firms such as 451 Group, Frost and Sullivan, and countless others. In my opinion, market share and influence are most impacted by Gartner, and the significantly smaller — Forrester. Focusing on niche firms has not been a “needle mover” for many vendors- as they say,” go big, or go home”. To add context, Gartner is the largest firm by a significant margin with over 2,000 analysts. Forrester is the second largest firm and even at that size, their annual revenue is equal to Gartner’s year-over-year growth ($500m vs $4 Billion). Conversely, most boutique firms have less than 30 analysts, and therefore, limited ability to influence the market.

How Analysts Benefit Companies

With a little bit of marketing, any vendor can portray themselves as something they’re not. It’s the analyst’s job to protect your company from situations like that and provide accurate, in-depth assessments about vendors, as well as verify their claims. Analysts help provide independent verification — so that you can be sure that the vendor that claims to be the best at what they do, really is. Analyst reports are great third-party validation that your company and products are as good as you say they are.

Another source of value for companies is how analysts serve as their a “concierge” for buying in the technology space. Businesses only make buying decisions periodically, and there is no way for them to keep up with the intricacies of the technology market, such as what the newest tools are, what trends are coming into play, what challenges should they be concerned about, and what technologies they should consider.

Analysts can offer excellent 1:1 coaching. If your company needs more clarification about a report or recommendations that fit their specific needs, they can call the analyst who wrote it and have a confidential conversation. Analysts’ core responsibilities include providing decision-makers within a business with guidance regarding how to solve their challenges and ensure that they make great buying decisions with the technologies available in the marketplace.

Why Do So Many Companies Fail With Analysts?

Isn’t it just “pay to play?”

  1. Falsehood: “It’s just “pay to play” — one of the most common reasons companies (especially early-stage) fail to engage with industry analysts, is that they feel they are paying just to “get into the game”. — this is inaccurate!

  • Online approach: Gartner’s Peer Insights started back in 2015 and has grown steadily. The site offers free, peer-driven ratings and reviews of software and services covering over 150 technology markets and 1,000 vendors with well over 500,000 reviews. You can make quick progress on this site by inviting your customers to write reviews of your product. These reviews help you expand your company visibilities, make sure you have a compelling CTA here, such as a link to a trial. Second tip: use quotes and reviews in your marketing. Research indicates that social proof increases conversion by over 30%. Takeaway, this is FREE, so leveraging this resource is a “no-brainer”. Finally, these reviews are viewed by — and influence — analysts when they write research about your company, so you are best advised to invest here.

  • Engage 1:1 with analysts for free: You can brief and engage almost any industry analyst without subscribing or paying. Analysts are interested in learning about new companies and find value in these interactions. Discovering and writing about hot new companies and technology is part of their value. In addition, you can get feedback from the analyst and learn from your interaction — these are symbiotic relationships and should be viewed as such. Most Gartner “Cool Vendors” are early-stage companies who haven’t paid a dime for the relationship, so don’t allow this sentiment to hold you back. Note that many of the smaller — lesser known — firms are only pay-to-play and should be avoided. It is these poor business practices that detract from the value that can be gained by the more mature firms like Gartner.

2. It is too expensive — While membership to Gartner or Forrester can cost $50,000 annually or more, these same firms offer special pricing for early-stage companies which is more affordable. In addition, subscription packages are often negotiable, and you can easily swap “research” for webinars, and other co-marketing activities which can help with lead generation and creating near-term ROI for your investment. Last, research shows that many marketing programs and MQL’s fail to convert, so consider whatever you may spend to create analyst influence as part of your lead generation plan.

3. It’s too early — I recently spoke with a CEO at a disruptive security company with several million dollars in ARR. When I asked about the analyst relationships, he responded that it was “too early.” This is a company entering a multi-billion dollar market with a better “mousetrap”, and having the support of industry analysts could be a massive growth driver. Relationships take time to build, and I would argue that it is never too early to start building these important relationships.

4. “They don’t understand our market” is another common reason for avoiding engagements with analysts. Industry analysts have their own informed viewpoints and your current market view or approach to a market may differ. Don’t let this dissuade you, it is your responsibility to educate the analyst on your strategy, positioning, and approach. Sometimes you can educate them on how your views differ or realize there may be an opportunity to adopt some of their beliefs and thus get aligned with their viewpoints.

How to Succeed in 3 Simple Steps:

  1. Develop and document a strategy — while this sounds obvious, I have yet to encounter a company that has a cogent strategy for effectively engaging with analysts. As you create one, communicate your strategy and ongoing execution to ensure that your team is aligned. This should include:

  • What you are looking to gain from the relationship

  • Identities of possible analysts to build relationships with. Stack rank analysts and not just firms by influence, alignment of views and potential to gain leverage.

  • Define the lexicon of possible activities with each analyst (once you identify the right analysts, go beyond the standard inquiry and briefing. (see number 3 below for more details)

  • Clear ownership! Define who will own the relationship. I find that relationships relegated to manager-level team members aren’t as successful as those where executives are involved; analysts appreciate access to key executives. Ideally, a manager should coordinate all activities with constant involvement from executives.

  • Refine your messaging and positioning and align it horizontally and vertically across your organization so there is one voice.

  • Nail the vendor briefing. Continually practice and improve.

  • Put together a 30, 90, 180-day plan of attack including a calendar to track conversations, key learnings, and results.

  • Avoid : Boutique analyst firms who lack influence in the market, and also junior analysts with no clout at larger firms

  • Follow up often with analysts and proactively send stories from the field such as customer wins, new product use cases, and any interesting statistics. This will keep you top of mind and greatly increase your chances for being mentioned in research as well as gaining favor with the analysts you grow your relationship with.

  • Remember, it is a journey, not a sprint, don’t expect great results in a quarter. This will be an ongoing investment that can yield tremendous results.

My "Magic Quadrant" for Influencing Analysts

Determine where you want to invest to build meaningful relationships, and where you want to “keep warm” relationships that are less strategic.

2. Involve your C-Suite and Key Stakeholders — The more involved your team is and how much you invest in the relationship will determine the return on investment. Treat your investment like a financial bank account — only here it is your “influence” bank account. The earlier and more you put in the more you will get in the long run.

Identify the team members — especially the busy executives from your company — you plan on involving, their respective roles, and the commitment you’ll need from each.

Listen as much as you talk.

  • Analysts have a wealth of knowledge that very few can replicate. Many often spend 20–30 hours a week advising top-level buyers at the world’s top organizations which amounts to hundreds of conversations a year. Incorporate this knowledge and what you learn into your strategy and roadmap planning.

If you enjoy being the person who is “always right”.. put that sentiment aside and focus on listening and learning. Teams that disagree with analysts and spend time arguing usually have poor outcomes!

  • It is ok to disagree, but don’t argue or dismiss their advice. The worst thing you can do is be ‘blacklisted’ by an analyst or worst have them have a negative view of your organization in any way. Keep it civil and professional and do not make any grievances public. Worst of all, never attack the analyst personally.

3. Pick the right activities — use your time efficiently and effectively.

Involve analysts as a “virtual team member” and engage on strategic topics (roadmap, acquisitions, positioning, joint events)

  • One of the best activities is to invite analysts to speak with your customers. You can ask your customers to proactively engage with your analyst, or arrange a call to let the analyst hear a case study or feedback from an actual project involving your products. This is a welcome break from their daily calls and allows them to hear from an actual customer and not your own team.

  • Activities like joint webinars are great, you can commission analysts to create an ROI analysis of your top customers, invite them to speak at your customer conference or even an internal strategy meeting. Note: While these activities don’t ensure positive coverage, it’s a great way to involve them in your strategy and build a meaningful relationship. This should be across all of the firms you plan to influence.

If your analyst has a strong vision you align with, consider having them speak at a company strategy meeting or even with potential investors or board members.

  • Continually follow up on progress with your analyst and make them be part of your strategy as well as execution.

  • Provide constant feedback on how they are enabling you to grow and exceed your goals. Analysts very rarely get any feedback after a call ends. Providing this input will build long-lasting bonds.

Where to go for more help?

I am passionate about Go-to-market and love seeing when a “technical innovator” becomes a “market leader”. If you have any questions after reading this article, drop me a line.

If you liked this story, or learned something new, please share it with your network. You may also enjoy some of my other recent articles: Is your Go-To-Market Failing?, Do you Really Have Product-Market Fit? and Product-led Growth article, which spread virally….Why Your Marketing Plan Sucks. Thanks for reading!

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