You’re thinking it, aren’t you? You wonder if paying analyst firms will improve your placement in comparative reports, get you included in other reports, get you mentioned in speeches, and recommended when analysts talk to buyers. You don’t want to insult them, but you want to know. Isn’t it all pay for play?
We have clients that have multiple analyst contracts and others that have none, and I can tell you the answer is 100 percent… sort of. If you invest in the firms, you will see an improvement in the results. But to be clear about my terms, when I say “pay” for play, I mean pay attention. When I say “invest” in analysts, I mean invest your time and intelligence.
Analyst firms have ways for you to spend money and enjoy the benefits of their hard-won brand equity. You can sponsor events, buy reprint rights, bring an analyst to your customer event, even buy custom research, and more. You can not simply buy better representation in syndicated reports.
What you can do is use your subscription to an analyst firm to increase your access to analysts, better understand their thinking, know what research they have coming up and ask them what you need to improve in order to impress them (and by extension, your prospects). Or don’t sign a contract with a firm, but do the work required to help them understand your market and business. This is the real investment that pays the dividends some think comes from a fat check.
If you want to improve your standing with the analysts, there are several ways to do so, and they all take some kind of investment:
1) Invest no money, and minimal time: you are putting together marketing materials anyway, right? Do you have a list of analysts that cover your market? Get one, and package that content on a quarterly basis and send a newsletter to those that would be interested. Not only will it keep them up to date on your progress, but it serves as an archive over time so when a client asks them about you, they can quickly pull together information to share.
2) Invest no money, but a bit more time: all major firms will take briefings, even if you don’t have a contract. Put together a calendar of regular briefings, even if it’s just once a year. Most firms have a form you can fill out to request a briefing, and it only takes a second with your favorite search engine to find them. Here are Gartner’s and Forrester’s. The personal attention of a senior executive is irreplaceable in building understanding between your company and an analyst, even if they fundamentally disagree on some issues.
Beyond briefings, some firms publish their research calendars on their websites, and knowing who is publishing what and when allows you to be in the right place at the right time with a briefing or sending relevant content. Finally, some firms offer reports for free. Some other reports are available online from companies that purchased reprint rights. If you aren’t reading them, you are at a distinct disadvantage versus competitors that are.
3) Invest money and time: having a contract with an analyst firm gives you far greater access to the analysts and their plans. This is where the time commitment becomes substantial, but with far greater impact. Contracts give you the right to regularly query analysts and read their reports. Adding inquiries to your schedule of briefings means you can ask all of the burning questions, including “what are our competitors doing that we’re not?” “What research do you have coming up and how can we help?” “Why didn’t we do better in that report?” and “What do you think of our new offering?” Let your imagination run wild. Very little is off the table.
You may note I didn’t include “invest money but no time.” That would be a huge mistake. The contract negotiation and maintenance is handled by a separate organization in the major firms, and the analysts won’t even know you’re a client if you don’t make use of the benefits offered by that contract. There are firms that allow you to sponsor reports and get content alongside research, but that won’t change the analysts’ understanding of you in and of itself (unless your paid content is exceptionally educational).
In discussing this topic with other people in analyst relations, I have been reminded of two cases where the situation starts to look like pay for play, and they’re worth discussing. The first is fairly straightforward: a salesperson, or even the analyst you’re meeting with, stops the conversation to discuss the various paid services they offer, including white papers, case studies, vendor profiles, etc. I make the distinction between these content firms and actual analyst firms because you are paying for their compositional skills rather than their analysis.
The line may get muddy at the fringes, but in my experience, if these firms would be considered analyst firms, they’d still be third-tier at best. There’s potential value in having these companies write for you, but it falls outside the bounds of analyst relations to make it happen, and I wouldn’t recommend spending AR budget on it. It’s a marketing piece, and should be treated that way. It won’t generate its own interest, because anyone who follows that firm’s content likely knows the terms under which it was created. Analyst firms lead with independent analysis, and protect their brand carefully by making paid content obviously sponsored, to the extent they will do it at all.
The second is less clear, but important to consider in this context: the case of the very persuasive account manager. This is the person who makes things happen — pushes for that briefing the analyst declined, works you into a report you might have been excluded from or helps to minimize bad coverage. Part of your paid relationship with a firm is an advocate internal to the organization, and they are mostly very good at their job. This stuff happens.
I don’t want to downplay how useful account managers can be, but there are practical limits to what they can do. The structural separation of account management and analysis in the major firms means that while an analyst might feel bad for an account manager losing a big account, they care more about their integrity as an analyst. The model evaporates quickly when analysts are seen as partial to clients. Account managers may be very good advocates, but they are just that. The analysts are still judge and jury. If you and your account managers don’t impress them, you don’t win these battles.
So, yes, pay the analysts. Pay them with your time, attention and expertise. Pay them with access to your customers. Pay them with care in how you communicate with them. And if you can afford it, pay them for the access you can use to deepen their understanding of your company. The benefits go far beyond better placement in reports. You will have the benefit of hearing from people that talk to your prospects all day. You will improve your marketing, sales, and product development. You will have better-qualified leads, and more of them. It’s the kind of play that’s worth paying for.
This is an extended version of an article by Greg Wind.