How to turn analysts into advocates (and nail bigger bids as a start-up vendor)

By Jonathan Tee

Analysts influence on vendor shortlists

Tom hears his firm didn’t make the vendor shortlist.

Again.

He looks out the window and wonders. What’s going on here?

His company’s product is solid. Technically it kicks the butt of his competitors. Feedback from customers is stellar.

Yet when his firm bids for work with larger firms, too often it fails to make the shortlist.

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This time, people in the procurement department were the roadblock. Uncomfortable shortlisting a company they hadn’t heard analyst firms discuss. Despite the enthusiasm of their developers.

Tom ponders how to get analysts talking about his firm. Could that help it get onto more shortlists? And win more of those tantalising enterprise contracts?

It’s not so hard once you've grasped what analysts are looking for.

Ready to find out?

Into the mind of an analyst

In the early 2000s I worked as an analyst at telecoms advisory firm Analysys Mason.

I experienced first hand the central role of analysts on corporate procurements.

For example, a manufacturing firm engaged us to help it select a supplier for its new wide area data network. I helped the firm:

  • Assess its needs (e.g. technical specifications, service levels)
  • Decide the evaluation criteria for its invitation to tender (ITT)
  • Identify a short list of companies to invite to bid
  • Evaluate the bids received
  • Pick a supplier.

Let’s focus on the shortlist here. How did I draw this up?

I knew the vendors that made the shortlist well.

Many had briefed me over the years. I knew their analyst relations teams.

But did I only consider those vendors I’d had briefings from? Of course not.

I was constantly researching. Emerging technologies. New suppliers. New services from existing suppliers. I would pour over vendor websites to understand what they offered:

  • What were their strengths? Their weaknesses?
  • Who did they target?
  • How might they alter the direction of the market?

I would look for example customers. Scour annual reports. Devour white papers. Hungry for insight.

Which companies did I consider for the shortlist?

Only those which, based on my research, I believed met the evaluation criteria.

Those who hadn’t made their case to me through briefings or content?

Not a chance.

Analyst clout in enterprise procurement

Analysts firms live at the intersection of vendors and larger  business technology buyers.

As Richard Fogg, of B2B technology PR agency CCgroup notes:

[I]ndustry analysts are one of the single most important ‘channels’ for securing a place on a B2B tech RFP longlist… Industry analysts have a critical influence on the development of longlists.

Analyst firms range in size from the big guns – Forrester, Gartner and IDC – which cover multiple sectors to boutique specialists like Constellation Research or Crisp Research. They sell research and advisory services directly to vendors. And they use their expert view of the vendor landscape to guide larger firms across the terrain when buying technology.

Because analyst firms advise larger companies they are key influencers for vendors selling to larger companies.

Have you heard the a16z podcast episode: What Startups Should Know about Analyst Relations from VC firm Andreesen Horowitz? I recommend a listen. The discussion crackles with insight.

In it, Michael King, enterprise product marketing director at GitHub (and former Gartner analyst and research director), points out:

The analyst is talking to the people that you want to sell to. The analyst is talking to the people that are buying your technology or that are going to buy your technology.

And Stacy D’Amico, partner at Andreessen Horowitz and former Gartner client director, notes out the larger influence of analysts on bigger firms:

The analyst can be a conduit to help get your message out to the people you’re trying to sell to, the clients, your target audience… If you’re selling to anyone of any size… analysts become important as influencers throughout your deal cycle.

The end user of your product may be a developer who values your product. But analysts still hold sway with other key influencers and decision makers within larger companies. With procurement. With the CIO. With the CEO. So even if a developer is keen to buy your product, any of these other influencers could block a purchase if your company’s not known to them.

As Aneel Lakhani, product marketer and former Gartner analyst, argues in the a16z podcast:

Developers don’t read Gartner reports. However, developers have bosses. Oftentimes they have CIOs. They have CEOs… Their bosses are [talking to Gartner] and the procurement departments are and their CIOs are and all of the people sitting on top of them are. So if your developer comes in and says “we want to use x” and they look at the magic quadrant or they have a conversation with the analyst and they go “Who?”, then you’re in a worse position than your competitor who has had that conversation.

Of course larger vendors have the scale to engage directly with analyst firms through dedicated analyst relations teams. If you’re a smaller vendor you might not have the resources to establish a dedicated analyst relations function. Is it then not possible to engage analysts? Sure it is. But you have to work smart in creating content precisely targeted at what analysts need to know.

Want to know how to make your content useful to analysts?

Favoured dishes (and detested ingredients)

Champion Communications, a PR consultancy, makes the essential point:​

[A]nalysts should be a persona in [your] B2B marketing inbound strategy.

So what do they want to know? What content resonates with analysts?

Let’s get inside their heads and see the world through their eyes.

Analysts assess what impact a new vendor, technology or product will have on existing markets. They answer questions such as:

  • How might this market develop?
  • How quickly?
  • What impact will this new technology have?
  • Who might gain market share? Who might lose out?

When an analyst encounters your company she’ll look to understand, for example:

  • What problems does your product solve?
  • How does it solve problems differently to existing products on the market?
  • Which kinds of company are you targeting?
  • How is it different from similar products from other vendors?

Imagine, for a moment, being an analyst and reading many vendor reports.

You’re constantly exposed to vendor claims of being ‘market-leading’, ‘disruptive’, ‘innovative’, ‘best-in-class’. What do all these meaningless phrases achieve? They strew a swathe of mud in front of the analyst. They slow her down. They hinder her from reaching the point where she understands what you really do.

Why would you want to do that?

Analysts rapidly develop a visceral dislike of hype, jargon and waffle. Or, as Aneel Lakhani puts it in the a16z discussion:

An analyst bullshit detector is very highly tuned.

But analyst love to hear examples. Stories of living, breathing customers using your product. Grist to feed into their next report.

And especially in an early-stage market, your knowledge as a vendor is rare currency to analysts. You have at the coal-face experience of working with early-adopter companies. Hard-acquired insight that helps analysts get to grips with the realities of emerging markets.

So explain how your product works in a backgrounder white paper. Offer case studies of your customers. And be prepared to play the long game. Because you’re unlikely to be mentioned by an analyst after first contact.

But become a persistent fixture in their mental landscape and you boost the chances of an analyst mentioning your company. In a report. In an interview with a journalist. In discussions with your target customers.

From stumbling block to cheerleader

Want to win more enterprise sales?

Make analysts part of your content marketing.

Shine on their radar. Answer their questions. Let them become your advocates.

And look forward to cracking that next shortlist.

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