I had an interesting comment in an email recently:
Why does Lighthouse emphasise cross-cultural differences so much? I think a lot of people will be offended by the way you call attention to these differences, especially since it comes across as stereotypically anti-American. More seriously, some people will think that you’re suggesting putting analysts in little boxes to reflect the countries they live in, and not giving analysts a global view.
It’s useful to answer this comment here on the blog, because these are complex and uncomfortable issues for many of our readers, including our competitors. It comes down to three questions:
- Should you determine what you say to an analyst based on where they live? (no.)
- Should you adapt what you say to reflect the countries an analyst follows? (yes.) and
- Should you understand the differences between your national culture and the analysts’ national culture? (yes.)
1] Should you determine what you say to an analyst based on where they live?
No. Compartmentalising analysts on the basis of where they live would be a poor strategy. However, we don’t think that geography is irrelevant.
The key task with analysts is really to identify how they work: a great paper to read there is Get Ahead of Analysts: the four business modes of industry analysts (order it off our homepage). A subsequent goal is to identify what each analyst’s interests are: what priorities they place on different geographies, vertical markets and research areas.
2] Should you adapt what you say to reflect the countries an analyst follows?
Yes. Although it’s easier for you to tell the same story to each analyst, it is more effective to relate what you say to the analysts’ specific interests. That requires taking the time to understand the interests of each analyst. It’s especially hard to get analysts to accurately describe their geographical focus, but it’s important. Many EMEA analysts who follow Europe, for example, really only follow the four or five largest national markets. A US-based analyst with a global brief would want to see if your firm has proof of any claimed global ability to execute. However, many US analysts with ‘global’ remits spend 90% of their time researching the US market or speaking to US businesses. Furthermore, an analyst following just one segment of the market will appreciate it if you understand what she or he does, and adapt to it: a comprehensive presentation of your firm’s full offer would suggest to some analysts that you didn’t pay attention to what they follow individually.
It’s crucial to really research analysts seriously, so you can choose how to adapt to their individual interests. It’s a good idea to focus your discussions with an analyst on what she or he focusses on: it’s vain and arrogant to only focus on what your firm wants to say.
None of this is about treating analysts differently when they come from different countries; we favour speaking to analysts about the countries and segments they focus on, rather than the countries they have little or no interest in.
AR professionals’ jobs are getting harder. Despite the greater resourcing and support for analyst relations, many professionals are simply not listening to what analysts are really saying. Instead, many professionals are still controlling the conversation and trying to bridge the conversation back to what they feel most comfortable about. That’s understandable, and not necessarily caused by laziness: some AR professionals make a conscious choice to only pay attention to a handful of analysts, hoping that the rest can be palmed off with generic one-way broadcasts.
Americans like to say that chickens come home to roost. Compartmentalising analysts by their location is just as dumb not respecting the different information needs of analysts.
3] Should you understand the differences between your national culture and the analyst’s national culture?
This is not straight-forward to everyone. Some people feel that it’s wrong to treat people differently. Others feel that there is no geographical element to AR because the techology market is global. However, what businesses have found is that there are differences in business cultures. What academic researchers have found is that it’s most effective to act in the awareness of those differences. What Lighthouse has found is that these differences involve very different ways of analysts’ working in different regions of the world.
If you ignore these differences then you run a risk: if a European speaks to an American analyst as if he were a Briton or a German then they run a risk of a bad interaction. The American may expect half as many slides and twice as much verbal acuity. The American will not, perhaps, appreciate that you are working in the manner that is effective at home: she or he may simply think that you’re slightly freakish.
Many Americans are deeply uncomfortable with the idea that they should adapt their behaviour. But American men wearing casual sandals to a business meeting in Europe (I’ve seen it) send a message about their firm, the content of which they may be only partly able to anticipate, and we have found that spokespeople can create disasters by lacking cultural sensitivity. Whether or not you adapt your behaviour is your choice.