IBM has, for decades, been one of the best companies at analyst relations in any industry. A major part of the mythology of analyst relations is made up of stories about IBM, and the resources it expends on analysts relations. In fact, considering the size of the firm, IBM actually punches above its weight.
A large part of this is simply because IBM has taken analysts seriously, for a long time. Let me give you an example: when I was an analyst at Ovum I ended up with a passing interest in MQSeries. The MQSeries team took the time to invite me, and a few other Ovum analysts, out to spend the whole day in an open-ended conversation about their technologies. Most firms would simple have identified the two heaviest hitters, and given them an hour. IBM was patient enough to invite everyone who had an interest (after all, it took no time of the IBM people’s time). They were also classy enough to hold the discussion on a yacht off the Isle of Wight, where I grew up.
But, in fact, IBM’s success is much harder to maintain. Firstly, analysts expectations of IBM are now very high. Second, every one of its its competitors put more effort into analyst relations than they did. Put together, that means IBM has to work very hard, almost impossibly hard, to keep clear blue water between itself and its competition. It’s an astonishing accomplishment that they are able to maintain their lead. Furthermore, the comments from analysts give a flavor of what’s really happening: IBM is calmly maintaining its lead by maintaining a laser focus on helping analysts to answers their clients questions (rather than only talking about news releases). John Simmons’ blog has cited some of the analysts comments in a recent Asia-Pacific study conducted by Lighthouse in Asia/Pacific. I’ve listed the comments below.
- “With dedicated local and regional AR resources (as well as some worldwide resources who interact with Asia/Pacific analysts) and focus on multiple market segments, IBM was praised by some analysts for its professional and proactive approach to analyst relations, and was generally regarded as understanding the role and importance of industry analysts. “
- “I find the people that they use to fulfill my enquiries are very easy to work with, maybe they’re more seasoned, less sales-oriented, have a more mature approach, less blinkered.” Principal analyst
- “I deal with them less this year than last year, but they are still there reaching out to say “what can I do to help your research?”” Research director
- “IBM is probably the best. Consistency in terms of staff, the structure’s well-defined, clear lines of contact, sophisticated understanding of my needs.” Research vice president
- “IBM. They take you seriously right from the start. They don’t feel they have to get a list of the customers you’re working with before they give you information. They’re much more aware of the analyst’s role. They don’t overload you, most of the time. I can get on the phone and they will find the right person for me to speak to – it may take some time, but they will do it. They’re very good at honing in on what you need, what’s useful.” Principal analyst
- “They have an analyst relations website so I can log in and self-service. Some product groups are better than others at keeping up the relationship.” Research director, Malaysia
- “IBM is professional. They have AR people under the communications department, several AR people. I can get business and product information from these people, so I think they have good internal communications. I get an instant response to my request for a meeting with their product managers.” Principal analyst, China.
If anything, these comments under-estimate the quality of IBM’s analyst relations. For example, Lighthouse recently surveyed 80 telecoms analysts to see which firms they are most confortable commenting about: IBM was one of the top 2 vendors, even beating firms like Nortel and Alcatel, even though IBM’s core business is not telecoms. It’s an astonishing accomplishment, and one that builds on the contributions of hundreds of people over many years.