AR people don’t want to hear it, but AR’s stakeholders think Gartner’s new report on analyst relations is on to something. Gartner says B2B marketing’s transformation poses a break-through opportunity for analyst relations (AR) and advisor relations. An October 2020 report says: “By 2025, 40% of analyst relations functions will be renamed to better represent the function’s objectives, impact, and value”.
The report, Tech Providers 2025: The Transformation of Analyst Relations, comes when many marketing and communications functions are struggling to help their businesses to decode and record messages to and from analysts and other stakeholders.
More than 50 AR leaders discussed the report in an AR Forum webinar on 10 November organised by Sarah Shamouelean and Robin Schaffer from the Analyst Observatory at the University of Edinburgh Business School. I was also on the panel.
AR has a unique potential to play that sort of messaging role, but AR people are divided by Gartner’s prediction that it will. Indeed, there are very few other candidates. Social media teams are often pure execution, with little opportunity to generate market foresight from analytics. Product leads are often focused on technical tasks and do not have enough customer understanding and empathy.
These messaging-driven insights help the direct sales organization to show the path to recovery. B2B firms can create digital markets, engagements, and discussion while building their reputation by focusing on those messages rather than selling undeviatingly. Analyst and TPA firms are critical for building these discussions and new markets. These intermediaries help customers identify the right tech companies and remove risk from the current purchasing process by addressing the changing market context.
Too many traditional marketers act as if markets will get back to normal and are not open to the profound transformation of B2B communication that is unfolding. Career paths are based on a marketing practice that needs to reshape rapidly. Events and ambient advertising are dying. Sadly, many marketing leaders are focussed on defending headcount in a context where the relevance of many marketing functions is at issue.
At the heart of this is the challenge to ensure market listening and customer advocacy guides the sales process – beginning to end – in the future. All the major analyst firms (in particular, Forrester, Gartner, and IDC) have started to outline the challenges:
- How can marketing contribute to sales enablement?
- Who owns budgets?
- Where is the responsibility for connecting the dots?
- How can firms invest and create an ecosystem where social data, new business, owned assets and earned content can be linked to the sale?
- What analyst and TPA firms are the right partners to nurture and own markets?
Given the market’s acute disruption, it’s not very odd that marketing people are not more entranced by these questions. Marketers spend lots of time trying to get back to normal rather than fix the sales pipeline’s bottlenecks. Partly, it is a swim lane issue: people stick to their immediate responsibilities. However, the risk is that sales enablement and business development will grow while marketing teams shrink because of how differently executives value them as revenue generators.
While marketing teams are stumbling, it’s astonishing that there are so many new AR roles now advertised globally? Many firms now realize the need to invest in AR. The chart above shows AR people do not think that the AR will transform its role, as Gartner predicts. The chart shows that AR people view the challenge more cautiously than our stakeholders. You can see the results in context at http://bit.ly/ARin2025 where AR stakeholders on LinkedIn have given their feedback on Gartner’s forecast. People are split somewhat evenly between supporting Gartner’s view, or even going further, on the one hand, and those who do not. Interestingly, most AR people think Gartner’s wrong, but AR’s internal clients (Competitive intelligence, executives, marketing, product, PR, sales, etc.) think AR will rise to that challenge.
AR has always been a role that supports all other parts of the business. AR’s cross-business unit collaboration, which includes marketing, social, PR/Comms, sales, sales enablement, business strategy, C-level stakeholder management, etc), makes senior AR execs positioned to take a leadership position at the table as companies transform on the road to economic and pandemic recovery
In some organizations, AR and TPA leads have always been at the hub. They work with all parts of an organization, often connecting the dots even within marketing departments. In other organizations, AR execs have a glass ceiling and are seen only as meeting arrangers. Other AR execs are strategists, big thinkers, understand customer empathy and are close to the firm’s leaders. These different settings perhaps influence whether or not AR can make this transition in your organization.
One obstacle to AR growing its value is that competitive intelligence is a commodity in some firms. Competitive intelligence teams are often delivering historical data rather than market foresight. CI colleagues are sometimes seen as stat-hunting and chart-making people who cannot distinguish between high-quality and low-quality research providers. AR has the ability and expertise to combine insight, foresight, and relationships and bring it to bear on the sales cycle.
Few AR people can try to support sales well. Many lack sales experience and don’t really know how they work or their language and methods. The AR person is outside the strategy discussion while the product person is inside. However, AR tests products and new solutions in briefing and rolls out formally to the analysts. The insight and intelligence gathered there are invaluable but often squandered.
Of course, if you want to drive sales, hire a salesperson. Gartner seems to say that if you want to enable sales and market-making, then allow AR to make this transition. AR can help use data and insight to create markets and stimulate customers. Do you accept what Gartner says? The AR community is divided. Join the discussion in the AR Forum group on LinkedIN.