9 Practical Tips for Startups to get Traction with Analysts
Once technology startups close their first few enterprise deals and increase revenue to millions of dollars, they often want the analyst community to recognize their innovations and give them their rightful standing in the marketplace. However, few companies know how to engage analysts effectively, are unclear on whether they should even strive to gain analyst recognition, and if they do engage, are uncertain of budgets needed to attract them.
Much has been and can be said about how to get into the analyst reports such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant. However, we are going to keep it simple. This blog is based on our experience of successfully having placed companies into the Gartner Magic Quadrant and the cool vendor report. In each case those goals were achieved within 12 months, and in each case, prior negative analyst perceptions had to be overcome.
In our experience, these are ten key elements to successfully engage the major technology analyst firms such as Gartner, Forrester, Sirius Decisions, or 451 Research Group.
- Clarifying competitive differentiation and customer value-add
Analysts’ provide advice, market overviews, and vendor assessments to large corporate clients who rely on the key firms to absorb and implement needed technologies. Those corporate clients also account for most of the analysts’ fee intake. This creates a need for analysts to be objective. Their advice has to deliver results for their clients and not push certain vendors.
Most startups are reinventing some technology, while most of their enterprise clients must manage their needs effectively with existing and established technologies. As such, it’s very important for startups to prove that their new technology works and delivers results so that they can be considered for purchase.
This means startups must really examine why they are better than their competition and why they deserve special recognition. When doing this, it’s important to not think inside-out or express overly technical explanations of how something is done under the hood but think outside-in about what is the big problem that this technology solves more cheaply or effectively than the existing alternatives.
To think through your technology’s differentiation, it can help to invite your buyers to comment on the efficacy of your product before engaging with analysts. Carefully listen to objections they might voice. If they voice any objections, chances are that analysts in their surveys hear the same feedback. When preparing for analyst conversations, any objections should be examined, and counterpoints formulated.
- Conducting thorough research
When a clear, outside-in formulation of benefits has been created, it’s important to research all the prior artifacts written by analysts on the relevant technology space. We recommend reading all significant publications from at least 3 but preferably 5 years back. This provides an overview of which vendors make it into the analyst firm’s reviews, how long they stay there, and which ones progress or fall behind. This analysis communicates patterns and trends that are important to understand prior to engaging the analysts.
Also, this research creates familiarity with the terminologies and technical trends in a given space. When talking to analysts they will expect familiarity with the terms and trends for a given sector; not knowing those leaves room for misunderstandings. On the other hand, knowing where to slot in a new technology and offering concise explanations of where it fits and how it improves legacy technologies within the familiar frameworks of a sector will heighten the chances that your innovation will be included.
- Ensuring compatibility with analysts’ frameworks
This leads to an often-quoted problem startups face when communicating with analysts, especially if it’s for the first time: “They just don’t get us”. That usually means one of two things: Either they get it and the startup just doesn’t like to hear the answer, or the startup team hasn’t explained what they do and why they’re better than existing technologies in terms and concepts the analysts can understand.
The majority of analysts are open to listening to a new pitch; part of their value-add to their clients is advising them of emerging new technologies that should be watched in the marketplace before they can go mainstream. This may not mean they are now ready to recommend switching a client’s infrastructure to a new, unproven technology. The stakes and hurdles for such recommendations are high.
If the startup has studied the analysts’ prior publications, they will have a clear understanding of how they view the world, whether they’re open to new technologies, and what their likely objections will be. It behooves the startup to understand the mental frameworks the analysts operate within so their solution can be offered as compatible with or logical extensions to their existing ways of thinking.
Analysts are overworked, covering dozens or hundreds of companies with little available time. The easier the startup makes it for the analyst to comprehend their technology within the available timeframe, the higher the likelihood they’ll get recognized properly for what they have to offer. That’s best accomplished meeting them where they already are conceptually, and then taking them from there on a clearly communicated path.
- Understanding each analyst firm
Each of the three major analyst firms covering technology spaces have unique approaches. Gartner is the clear revenue leader. The other two analyst firms tend to be more willing to consider startup solutions, and the 451 Research Group pursues new technologies most readily. Besides being part of their strategic focus, this also mirrors the economic reality that most startups initially can afford, with Gartner’s larger required financial footprint being out of reach for many startups.
Understanding the role that the various analyst firms play helps with the selection process, and with providing them with the most suitable information and descriptions.
- Empowering a capable, intelligent team
In two of our most recent information security clients we appointed dedicated teams with clear roles and accountability to speak with the analysts. The team members were selected for their ability to formulate, present and defend a nuanced, sophisticated point of view about our technologies and the marketplace.
Analysts are intelligent with a bias toward scientific, structured approaches, and they tend to be well read. To engage them in a meaningful debate their counterparts at a startup have to be able to meet them as intellectual equals, be able to present well, and handle a live debate on the merits of the presented technology without becoming defensive or insecure.
The more expertise the startup team has, the more the analysts will listen.
- Creating and rehearsing a killer presentation
A company’s narrative is always told with the aid of a presentation and usually a product demo. It takes days of preparation. Consider all possible objections that might be raised. Prepare the presentation by telling the narrative over and over again, usually to those outside of the company. Monitor whether there are comprehension issues and where formulations are unclear. Based on an efficient, easy to understand and defensible narrative, outline the PowerPoint deck and create the first draft.
We have found that going through days and hours of presentation rehearsals is tremendously helpful for fine-tuning the story. Phrases get optimized, timings rehearsed, presenter skills honed and improved, and so on. The pressure on the team is intense, but that is the only way they’ll survive a tough analyst encounter.
Then, of course, is the product demo. Most speakers present their products as if they had to walk through the user interface from left to right or go through a typical user interaction or installation process. However, that is sub-optimal as it exposes the viewer to all the pauses and transition steps required to go from one part of the product to another.
Instead, define 4 or 5 product vignettes that support the larger presentation narrative. For example, you can bring up a simple dashboard screen, or a screen that shows off a key product strength. When presenting the product, you can have all those screens ready to present so that the demo presenter can jump from one screen to the next without having to confuse the viewer with lengthy screen changes and meaningless transitions to another part of the product.
This way the product demo supports the larger narrative that might be designed to drive home 3 to 5 key points about the technology vs. showing off every feature of the product. The presentation and the demo should be designed to be absorbable by an outsider, so concentrate on a few key messages.
- Being visible at key events
Once the team is in place and the company’s narrative has been created, it’s time to expose the analysts to them. This means attending key conferences, scheduling briefings with analysts as well as phone calls, and arranging for informal meetings at tradeshows. Armed with an understanding of the analysts’ prior writings, the team will engage them in knowledgeable conversations that are partly social and partly informational.
Analysts are people and they want to have fun too, so establishing a personal rapport is just as important as ensuring an intellectual discourse. You can make a point of meeting them in informal settings such as cocktail receptions, and quite often that allows you to resolve differences more effectively than could have been done in formal meetings. And the analysts will have you in good memory for the next time you meet.
- Leveraging analysts for thought leadership activities
Once we had established contact with the various analysts, we quickly developed a sense for which ones to partner with, and who would be available for marketing purposes. Especially well-known analysts have great drawing power. We have seen webinar attendance often double simply by being able to get a known analyst to co-present.
However, beyond help with marketing, analysts are great sources of insight about a marketplace, competitors, as well as your own startup’s standing within it. Even if their opinions aren’t super positive, they can be solid sources of insight into the surrounding landscape, technology trends, or emerging customer preferences that should be taken seriously.
- Effectively managing analyst engagements
A lot is at stake when engaging with analysts. For example, after we managed to get one of the security vendors into Leaders section of the Gartner Magic Quadrant, our salespeople reported higher conversion and closure rates because of the credibility with enterprise class customers. Plus, the direct costs associated in dealing with analyst firms quickly reach the six figures. With that much at stake, not having the needed project management in place risks wasting money or worse not getting the needed analyst traction.
In addition, first impressions matter. A prepared startup team will create a much more favorable impression than the one that misses calls and appointments, is ill-prepared, or behaves unprofessionally. All behaviors are seen by analysts.
When executed tightly and insightfully, a program to gain recognition by the analyst community can be a major boost to a startup’s marketing efforts. However, it requires sophistication, professionalism, and the cash to sustain an engagement program. And the willingness to listen to and absorb feedback, even if unpleasant. While challenges abound, the payoffs are significant in terms of growth, market recognition and thought leadership.