Forrester’s mistaken advice flies in the face of experience

Tekrati founder Barbara French and Forrester’s Kevin Lucas have different views on the alignment of AR to sales. Forrester argues that even though many AR professionals say that their focus is facilitating sales,  instead their goal should be whatever the business finds to be of value: that could be sales, or not. Because it’s very hard to show impact on sales, Forrester’s guidance is that AR managers should stop making a rod for their own back.

Barbara notes that effective AR has been centred on sales since the late 1980s. While connecting AR to sales is a challenging and ongoing task, AR is able to deliver sales and it should.

Forrester’s views reflect those in a paper, AR’s Graveyard: Unmet Sales Commitments, which is now free on the Forrester website. It’s worth every penny. The paper explains that organisations that have sales-related targets have trouble meeting them. Such targets are met by half or more in three out of every five firms using such methods; the remainder either don’t know, or fall short of their targets. However, the data don’t quite reflect the language of the paper. How could sales-related measurements be a “graveyard” if two-thirds of firms continue to use them? If it was a graveyard, would not much firms’ AR programmes share some common negative outcome?

Forrester’s opinion is that sales-related targets should not be voluntarily used by AR managers because such targets are not only hard for many AR managers to meet, they also are hard to prove measurably.

Lighthouse recently surveyed around two-dozen AR teams about the way they evaluate analyst relations. Around 60% currently track sales recommendations in some way, and 14% had previously tracked sales recommendations. Although it’s widely used, there are other methods that are more widely used. Most firms use more than one measurement, including the big four methods. We recommend the use of multiple methods, used by balanced scorecards. However, firms report that they are putting more effort into tracking sales recommendations than they were.

Tracking sales recommendations rates as one of the three most useful evaluation methods  – but it is also the most difficult. However, our research shows strongly that AR managers felt that the added value of that information was quite in line with that difficulty. It is worthwhile.

Do Forrester’s views reflect a mistaken positivism? Because AR managers find it hard to track the impact of AR on sales, perhaps it cannot reliably be thought to exist? If you can’t reliably prove it, is it then it’s a dangerous fiction?

We think not. What Forrester’s paper does not chart (although a bit of subtraction uncovers it) is that 38% of firms who track bids involving an AR element do so successfully, in addition to the 31% who can do it half the time. While the difficulty of this task is not trivial, that means two-thirds of firms can track most bids involving analysts. The business value of that data, even of 10% of that data, is obvious to most AR managers.

Co-operation is central to our IDEAL Audit, which helps AR organisations to improve. For AR to generate more sales recommendations, analysts need to able to allocate more effort to building personal relationship in which vendors co-operate in helping to meet analysts needs. That requires a lot of resources. However, resources are not enough. Most analyst relations effort is wasted because it’s not focussed on the influential analysts. To make AR support the business,AR managers need to focus on the analysts who are influence sales.Compare to not doing that at all, doing it 20%, 40% or even 60% of time is just fine. Even incomplete or imperfect information about which analysts are influencing the sales process will help you to focus effort and increase your firm’s ability to win sales. If you don’t make the first steps, you’ll never get there.

However, there’s a further flaw in Forrester’s positivist reasoning. Since sales metrics are hard to meet, it argues, don’t aim for them unless the business sets them. However, the reality is that AR teams are the key agent in educating the business about what analyst relations can do. Many business managers have incorrect ideas about analysts relations because they do not have the same deep experience of the analyst community that analyst relations managers have. Spontaneously, how will the business managers develop the idea that AR should have a goal of tracking ways in which AR is driving sales? Especially, we might add, if those managers are consumers of Forrester’s research?

Our opinion is that in a recessionary period buyers of analysts’ services will look for analysts’ support with increasing frequency. Because ICT buyers need to make the right choices to survive the recession, vendors need to ensure that their AR resources are focussed on helping their customers – and that means focussing on the analysts who influence ICT buyers. Doing so is not only in the vendors’ interests, but it is also in the interests of analyst firms and their clients. AR is the unique agent, able to provide insight into analysts’ influence, and into the range of the methods that AR can use to drive and measure results. Giving up that notion of agency, and transforming AR into the simple object of partially-informed colleagues” understanding, conceal the reality that AR is part of the business and, therefore, AR has to be a participant in the discussion over what goals serve the business’s goals.

Despite Forrester’s guidance, most AR teams will continue to drive profits, not only costs, and we support that choice.

Duncan Chapple

Duncan Chapple is the preeminent consultant on optimising international analyst relations and the value created by analyst firms. As the head of CCgroup's analyst relations team, Chapple directs programs that increase the value of relationships with industry analysts and sourcing advisors.

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  1. January 14, 2009, 11:04 am

    […] to address concerns over whether some influencers are useful in driving sales. See here, here and here for a summary of the […]