Should AR run Influencer Relations?

When analyst relation appeared as a community, in the 1980s, a lot of AR specialists were focusing on both consultants and analysts. The first edition of Efrem Mallach’s book, for example, was billed as a guide to ‘corporate consultant relations’. Over the years these two audiences have become separated out. Today, few programmes are focussed equally on analysts as on consultants.

For those AR professions to aim to cover both communities, there are a number of difficulties.

  • Targetting. Trying to build out a list of consultants (not those who work for analyst firms) is tricky. There is no central resource for such a list, and even listing all the consultancy firms would be hard.
  • Segmenting. There’s a big difference between them.
  1. independent consultants,
  2. those from strategy consultancies such as Bain, Booz Allen Hamilton, Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey,
  3. implimenting advisors that not only advise enterprises on what to buy for different applications but also install it, such as Accenture and IBM,
  4. the separate consulting practices of the analyst firms (Gartner, IDC, Forrester) which in some cases come close to functioning like separate businesses.
  • Effectiveness. AR tactics often don’t work with the strategy firm because of the emphasis that some of them place on ‘cross training’ consultants across a number of industries. Some of them think that flexible generic skills are more important than deep industry knowledge. Furthermore, the implimenting advisors are often commercially tied to providers, and are partisan sales partners rather than independent technology recommenders. The analysts’ consultants often base their findings and methods on the analysts’ research (especially at Forrester) and therefore the consultants are often not open to divergent opinions.
  • Opacity. These organisations are totally different from each other, as will be their information gathering habits, their relative centralisation and their real independence. Many of them are also massive. The process of mapping those organisations and opening up discussions inside them would be substantial. Let me give you an example. We did a study recently to see which non-analyst consulting firms were being used an European market segment. These are the firms that were mentioned most: Accenture, ADV, Aliamis, Axial 38, Barnet, Buratech, Capgemini, Clevisa, CMN, Consultec, DB Consulting, Ehexalis, Ernst & Young, IBM, Indra Avsys, InfoTech, Orbys, Rauffeisenbank, RBI, RD Consulting, SchaafScorpion, Siberg, Telecom Matra, Unitronics, ZP Informaticas De Asturias. The resources needed to work across that scope that would be an order of magnitude greater than those needed for an analyst relaitons programme

Of course, analysts and consultants position themselves similarly, and as a result customers struggle to tell them apart. There seems to be a fine line between the research analysts and consultants, and the line blurrs more and more. Their clients think they both serve the same purpose – gather input on products/trends, write reports, talk to service providers/enterprises about the trends/products/reports, and help determine the best buys for the buck.

Despite this superficial blurring of lines between analysts and consultants, there is a fundamental difference. Analysts follow their own research agenda, and their findings are largely independent from the interests of the vendors they follow. Advisory consultants are often tied to commercial relationships. If you ask a big consultancy what ERP system to buy, they will pull out a massive evaluation deck of slides, but just point to you one of the three systems they resell: small, medium or large. The close relationships are famous: Accenture, for example, and Siebel.

I think that is why many vendors see consultants as a separate community and have set up programs to deal specifically with their needs. Despite the superficial similarities, AR tactics do not work with consultants who are getting an introduction fee from your competitor, nor do they work with consultants who will never again work on your technology. Because a thimble of lemonade can’t sweeten an ocean, neither can the average AR program stretch to cover the massive range of independent consultants. Finally, if analysts’ consultants are dependent on what the analysts say, then good AR should be working with those people already.

Trying to work both angles only makes sense in one way: the information AR shares with analysts is very applicable to the consultants as well. However, consultants’ recommendations are not effected by that sort of vendor information in the same way analysts are. That means that AR tactics cannot ‘bring home the bacon’ in the way that AR can, and in turn that means that AR managers trying to influence consultants will not be as successful.

Our experience is that for most firms, other than those with the most substantial commitment to consultant relations, influencing analysts is about strong channel management linked to the broad availability of information to the whole market, especially through your website and media relations programme.

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