Forrester Research principal analyst R “Ray” Wang recently wrote this note with Christopher Mines and Emily Van Metre. In it, Wang hopes to pursuade analyst relations professionals, technology marketers, sales leaders and management professionals to increase the credibility of AR with colleagues working in product teams and other corporate functions. This is such a key issue that Lighthouse runs a full day master class on this topic alone. However, having been analysts ourselves, we find that the analysts’ perspective is vital but incomplete, since it often lacks the insight that comes from identifying those threats to internal credibility on the vendor-side that analysts often do not see. The guidance given by Wang and his colleagues deserves a wide audience, and with Forrester’s permission, we publish it below. It was originally published by Forrester late last month: it remains under Forrester’s copyright. Next week we’ll publish a comment on the article.
Analyst relations (AR) professionals often face challenges in establishing or improving credibility among product teams. Hectic schedules, limited resources, and incessant pressures to “influence” analysts often leave AR professionals with limited opportunities to strategically determine how to improve their credibility among product teams. Hence, AR professionals are often perceived as extensions of public relations or corporate marketing organizations and as lacking the product expertise to accurately convey product strategy or understand the technical underpinnings of the solution. This report focuses on five best practices for earning credibility with product teams.
CREDIBILITY MUST BE EARNED
Product teams face a barrage of requests from sales, development, and marketing. Concurrently, AR professionals face a barrage of external analyst requests that require product team support for completion. For AR to grab a larger share of product team members’ attention, leading AR professionals must successfully establish credibility and trust among those teams.1 However, the process requires proactive engagement, upfront planning, and a series of successes over a period of time. Forrester identifies five steps that leading AR practitioners found improved their credibility among product teams:
- Step 1: Improve visibility among product teams. Move beyond the paper alignment of AR plans with product team agendas. Success requires AR professionals to be visible to key team members so that the product group sees analyst relations as a key component of the team. Engage with the product teams in an ongoing and frequent basis to identify areas in which AR can immediately assist and provide value. Some examples of participation include weekly status updates at management team meetings, participation in key product strategy and management meetings, and attendance at major product team events. Proactively provide updates on upcoming events, analyst firm news, vendor evaluations, briefing opportunities, analyst press quotes, competitor news, analyst-influenced sales wins, and internal reporting metrics.
- Step 2: Demonstrate proficiency in the coverage area. Credibility among product teams requires basic technical knowledge of the product combined with marketplace understanding. Learn the product, technology, and customer base. Identify friendly product team members and seek internal briefings around key technical concepts, product road maps, competitor differentiation, and features. Review research from analyst firms on related topics to bolster existing knowledge.2 In addition, Forrester recommends reviewing requirements documents, sitting in on product demos, and evaluating customer case studies. Through this process, the AR professional begins building a knowledge base and, more importantly, trust among product team members. In some cases, AR programs align with the market intelligence teams, which enhance credibility among not only product teams but also sales organizations.
- Step 3: Strive to become the information nexus. With so much access to syndicated research, industry media, and analysts, AR professionals are in a position to lead as information brokers. Strategies include not only delivering screened research to the targeted product team members, but also demonstrating product knowledge by authoring executive summaries catered to the team’s perspective. Other best practices include taking advantage of research-alerting features from the major analyst firms to automate the delivery of research and compiling summaries at least once a week to key stakeholders. Take time to identify AR wins and highlight successful analyst interactions as they make their way into research reports and analyst quotes in the media, as based on pre-briefings. As a side benefit, many AR professionals discover an improved knowledge base after two months of delivering summaries.
- Step 4: Prepare the product team for success. Proper preparation by the AR professional not only improves the likelihood of interaction success, but also builds confidence in the AR program. Prior to any engagement with an analyst, set up a 30-minute prep call or meeting with the product teams to address agenda items and mitigate concerns. Use this time to set expectations and frame success factors, such as relationship building, vendor selection guidance, and evaluation planning. Leading strategies include providing a recent bio listing coverage areas, summarizing previous interactions, evaluating summaries of currently published research, highlighting key messaging points, conducting a mock Q&A session, and reviewing analyst idiosyncrasies. In addition, keep the team apprised of major dates for analyst reports and events.
- Step 5: Invest in deep relationships with the targeted analysts. While addressing product team perceptions represents one part of the equation in establishing credibility, relationship building with key analysts represents the second and more critical piece. Product team members rely on the AR professional to develop professional relationships, establish back-channel communications, and keep analysts abreast of corporate and product announcements. Most AR professionals recommend keeping analyst outreach efforts natural while respecting analyst contact preferences. In addition, reach out to analysts to seek information around current research agendas, travel schedules, and opportunities to engage with product teams around strategy. Best practices include providing analysts with regular updates around product road maps, management changes, wins and losses, partnerships, and general strategy.
PRODUCT TEAM CREDIBILITY REMAINS A KEY PILLAR IN AR SUCCESS
In many organizations, product teams and AR professionals lack mutual understanding and visibility into key processes, priorities, and roles. However, once product teams embrace the AR professional as an extension of the team, earned credibility improves the response to analyst requests, including vendor evaluations, customer case studies, and product briefings. More importantly, upon establishing trust, AR professionals find opportunities to engage in long-term strategic analyst relations programs, such as perception turnaround campaigns, product launch support, and focused analyst outreach.
1 Product teams include members of product management, product development, and product marketing roles.
2 Within Forrester’s research base, Topic Overviews provide an excellent starting point to begin the understanding of a new area of coverage. See the August 8, 2006, Topic Overview “Topic Overview: Enterprise Resource Planning.”