GUEST POST by Derk Erbe – ‘Magic Quadrant: Don’t Obsess, Don’t Ignore’

This Guest Posting was first published on LinkedIn by Derk Erbe, EVP at Kea Company. Many thanks for allowing me to re-publish.

Even with a host of blogs and other forms of social media, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant remains the IT market’s most highly visible piece of commentary. Because the Magic Quadrant impacts billions of dollars of corporate IT purchases, some tech vendor executives put too much emphasis on “moving the dot”, which drains resources from the overall AR plan. Other vendors decide to ignore Magic Quadrants, missing an opportunity to leverage an effective marketing channel. Neither approach is 100% appropriate. In this post, we provide background on the Magic Quadrant and suggest that vendors take a middle approach between obsession and indifference.*

It is not uncommon for a KeaCompany strategist to hear the following comment from an analyst relations (AR) manager: “Our execs – or even board of directors – have made improving our position on the Magic Quadrant THE (not ‘a’) goal for AR.” While ignoring the Magic Quadrant (MQ) can be perilous to a vendor’s top line, too much emphasis on a MQ can drain scarce AR resources from influencing all the analysts covering your particular market. The downside is that AR won’t be able to develop counterbalancing relationships with analysts in other firms, leaving the vendor dangerously reliant on Gartner and the MQ for positive analyst coverage.

We think it’s time that vendors take a balanced approach to the MQ.

Snapshot of the Magic Quadrant
The MQ is the most famous and enduring industry analyst signature research. It was developed by Gideon Gartner, Mike Braude and Doug Cayne in mid-1980s based on Boston Consulting Group’s “2 by 2″ graphic from the 1960’s. The purpose is to offer a snapshot – not a definitive view – of a technology market. It acts as a visual “Strategic Planning Assumption” tool and covers all markets: software, hardware, services.

Around 1993, Gartner’s Editorial Department unilaterally decided that it would no longer permit analysts to use the phrase “Magic Quadrant” to describe this research graphics on the grounds that it was neither a quadrant nor magic. Needless to say, this caused an uproar throughout Gartner, especially in the Sales force. Why?

The MQ truly is magic… for Gartner

The MQ is branding, marketing and selling magic for Gartner. Even in the early 90’s it was becoming legendary. While Gideon Gartner bemoans the dominance and misuse of the MQ, it is valued by the IT executives that use it every day.

Yes, the Magic Quadrant can impact billions of dollars of IT purchasing decisions. Often it is used to select which vendors can bid on a particular project, either formally (e.g., only Leaders are added to a short list) or informally (e.g., the IT decision makers think “hmm, this vendor doesn’t have that great of a position on the MQ so let’s just leave it off the short list”).

However, even though it is pervasive and has a high impact, the MQ is not the only game in town. Other analyst firms (e.g., Forrester with its Wave) have high visibility research deliverables. Furthermore, even though Gartner is the largest analyst firm, not every buyer of technology is a client of Gartner. Gartner’s CEO Gene Hall often says on their quarterly earnings call that it is only in approximately 20% of global enterprises with US$1 billion or more in revenues. And even in those clients, Gartner has not penetrated every part of the company. Finally, Gartner is not influential in every market covered by a MQ.

* Are you having trouble convincing your executives to take the middle approach between obsession and indifference? Kea Company’s insight on the Magic Quadrant can be a valuable tool in your education campaign about the appropriate approach to take.

Kea Company Technique
* Investigate how the Magic Quadrant actually impacts your market segment
* Educate your executives about the real role of the Magic Quadrant in your market and with your customers and prospects
* Develop, communicate and execute a plan on an appropriate campaign to change or maintain your company’s position(s) on the relevant Magic Quadrant(s)

Bottom Line
While Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is the signature IT analyst deliverable and has tremendous influence with buyers of technology products and services, IT vendors should not become obsessed with moving their dots. It is critical that executives and AR managers take a realistic appraisal of their situation in regards to any particular MQ and devote only the amount of effort proportional to the potential return.

This post is one in a series about tech vendors and their relationship with the Gartner Magic Quadrant. In addition to this series, there is a Kea Company Guide to the Magic Quadrant that helps research consumers – whether enterprise IT managers or vendors – make appropriate use of this most famous and misused research deliverable.
For those AR managers needing much more depth than what is appropriate please contact us at Kea Company and we can have a conversation on how to provide more depth and breadth on this critical topic in the IT industry.
With this series I want to build on the excellent work that Dave and Carter did at SageCircle. The MQ is relevant today and many tech vendors struggle to get their strategy right. This alone is enough to warrant further exploration of the topic.

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Crunching the Numbers – Behind the Scenes of an Analyst Briefing Campaign

It is quite easy to talk about the qualitative aspects of analyst relations, but when it comes down to the numbers, things tend to get more confusing. Measuring has become a holy grail of business operations and a lot of times things that can’t be measured in terms of ROI get discarded quite quickly. For this reason a lot of effort has been put into finding ways to measure the impact of analyst relations on the success of the business. By tracking the number of leads and deals generated or influenced by analysts and by tracking the number of analysts’ mentions a company gets in research publications, the media or at public speaking events most vendors have by now come to understanding the value of analyst relations for the business. Looking at the individual analyst this could mean the following: A typical research report (e. g. a Magic Quadrant) from a major analyst firm easily attracts thousands of readers throughout the year it is published in. At the same time it is not uncommon for an analyst to have around 500 inquiry calls per year with a significant portion of these focusing on vendor/product selection related topics. On top of this the analyst will probably write a blog, tweet, engage in social media, give interviews to the media and will speak at several events throughout a year. By adding up these numbers the potential exposure for a vendor created by a single analyst can easily add-up to several thousand contact points with relevant prospects.

But what about the effort that has to be put into reaching the right analysts? When we are talking about ROI we often forget to thoroughly analyze the ‘Invest’ part of the equation. In many cases the executive at a vendors presenting in the briefing only sees the time spent talking to the analysts but has no understanding of the time and effort required to identify and engage the relevant analysts before a briefing can take place. Obviously this is not all that is required to make a successful briefing happen but for this post I will disregard the strategy planning and content creation which of course is a major part of any analyst relations program. At Kea Company we initiate, plan, organize and execute several hundred briefings each year. This gives us a unique understanding of the logistics that are happening behind the scenes of an analyst briefing campaign.

Sometimes finding the right analysts to talk to can be like searching for the needle in the haystack: There are about 10.000 IT analysts in roughly 800 analyst firms focusing on more than a hundred different technology areas and verticals. So narrowing down the field can be quite a daunting challenge. What I did for this blog is to look at our Analyst Tracking System to get some solid numbers based on our real world experience. Of course these numbers are only averages and there is quite a wide spread around this average depending on technology area or vendor focus (e. g. rshutterstock_159743897egional or vertical). So let’s focus on our example vendor ‘Average Tech Corp’ who is briefing 25 different analysts per year. What does this mean in terms of identifying and engaging analysts before this can happen? First of all you have to do a search (e. g. via the internet by visiting all the analyst firms’ websites) to do an initial screening and create a pool of potentially relevant analysts. For ‘Average Tech Corp’ this means he ends up with 400 analysts who seem to have some connection to the topics which are relevant for this vendor. After a more in-depth session spent on reading the bios of these analysts and by taking a look at their focus areas this field gets narrowed down to 200 analysts. A more in-depth screening (e. g. by reading their blogs, browsing through their recently published research and by studying their research agenda) narrows down the field to 100 analysts who are relevant for ‘Average Tech Corp’. Full of enthusiasm the Analyst Relations pro at ‘Average Tech Corp’ reaches out to each of these analysts with a tailored briefing request which highlights the relevance of ‘Average Tech Corp’ for this particular analyst. After exchanging some more emails and finding out that some of the analysts have changed focus, left the company or are about to retire next week he ends up with 25 agreed briefings for ‘Average Tech Corp’.

This effort probably took about 400 hours and required some prior knowledge of the analyst space and as mentioned doesn’t include the content and strategy side of the analyst relations program. Also providing feedback and input for research publications requires additional time and effort. So is it all worth it? Yes, definitely: Cycling back to the beginning of this post: Each analyst can result in more than 10.000 qualified contacts with your target audience. So the 25 analyst briefings have the potential to greatly increase your marketreach making analyst relations one of the most efficient tools in the marketing mix of a technology vendor.

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How cool is it to be a Gartner Cool Vendor

Originally posted on BramWeerts.com: Non-Academic Views:

What have Box, Dropbox, Nest, Evernote, Cloudera, Palantir and Instagram have in common?

They where all named a Cool Vendor by Gartner in the past five years.

So, what happened to the Cool Vendors?

We have surveyed the 1250+ tech companies that where nominated Cool Vendor by Gartner in the years 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The reason for our survey is that we are interested to evaluate the impact the designations had on their business – and how they work with industry analysts.

Respondents are 193 CMOs and CEOs of these emerging technology companies from all over the world. A big thanks for their candor and collaboration! The results provide a unique view of the business impact and perception of analysts’ value to emerging businesses.

Background for this is our big interest in the business value of Analyst Relations. So what is business value? In our opinion all…

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Building credibility to boost sales with IT Analyst Relations

When talking to IT vendors eager to grow their business I usually come across a number of common challenges they face. One of the biggest issues which lies outside the companies (as opposed to e. g. finance requirements to fund the growth or adding enough skilled people to their workforce) is that once they are moving out of their comfort zone they are facing prospects that are much more skeptical than those in their home markets.

It seems to be a common pattern that vendors manage to grow to a certain size (depending on the size of their home market this is often somewhere between five and twenty million dollars) and then start thinking about ways to expand further. This often is when they are confronted with the ‘real outside world’ for the first time. Before this they managed to successfully leverage their network, or simply were the vendor with an office location closest to where the customer was. This kind of home advantage usually works up to a certain point. You might be able to successfully sell to new clients based on recommendations from your network to 2nd degree connections but that’s about where it stops. When you are dealing with prospects who have never heard of you and who don’t have any other obvious connection path (be it geographically or personal) to your company the selling gets much tougher. Obviously the first thing any vendor will do is to bring his USPs to the attention of the potential buyer. But be honest: How many competitors are out there who are making similar claims in regards to their or their solution’s capabilities? At this stage it doesn’t matter if their (or your) claims are true because at this stage the only thing that matters is the question of who is going to get the chance to proof their claims either by further demonstrations, POCs, trials or ideally by closing the deal.

A similar challenge vendors are facing is connected to the deal size. A lot of customers are willing to ‘risk’ a limited amount of money on a new vendor or a solution that is new to the market. With increasing deal size this inclination to take some risk quickly declines which is why smaller or new vendors often fail to win the larger deals in the market. This is also true in regards to the ‘business criticality’ of a solution. Buying something that is a nice to have from a new vendor is much easier than buying a solution that is business critical or security relevant from an unproven source.

Credibility wins business.

With markets where there are typically multiple vendors offering multiple solutions for a problem the buyer needs to significantly narrow down the field of potential suppliers. So being on the short list for further evaluation must be the primary goal in the early stage of the sales process. This is where the topic of credibility comes into play. When competing in their home markets a vendor is virtually guaranteed to get a place on the short list. Once competing outside: Not so much. Credibility means that a potential customer has enough trust in the claims you make about your company and your solution to give you the chance to prove yourself. Having credible sales people goes a long way towards that goal but obviously they are very hard to find. In addition some customers will never accept anything coming directly from a vendor at face value.  Also references help to generate trust, even though the effectiveness of a reference quickly declines when they are not meeting the criteria a specific customer is looking for. This can include the requirement for a reference from the same country, the same vertical or of similar size – or ideally all of this at the same time. And of course if you were not lucky enough to acquire the right mix of reference customers in your home market this only brings you back to the initial problem of getting new customers in the first place. So the question remains how to best handle the credibility issue.

Influencers create credibility

This is where influencer relations has its place in the marketing mix. People like journalist and industry analysts make their living from evaluating technologies, vendors and solutions. Industry analysts in particular are heavily involved in advising technology buyers in regards to their vendor selection and short list creation. With industry analyst groups such as Gartner, Forrester, IDC and Ovum influencing between 40% and 60% of commercial technology sales their market reach is much bigger than anything a midsize vendor can hope to achieve on its own. This means that being mentioned by analysts – either in written research or in 1:1 inquiries – will open up indirect access to many potential customers. Coverage in official research publications is the most powerful tool for your sales people and your marketing materials to demonstrate that your technology, company, products and service offerings and methods are highly recognized and credible.

Analysts are writing about your market, whether you like it or not. Being pro-active in reaching out to analysts gives you the strategic advantage of being able to influence their research by providing them with the insight they need, when they need it. Analyst Relations is not a billion dollar club. It is critical that analysts are well informed of your company strategy, products, and services. This needs to be an ongoing process to maintain a top-of-mind status, especially for a vendor that aims for higher name recognition and company growth. Early engagement with analysts is a great way to get analyst buy-in and top-of-mind presence to increase credibility and in turn to secure your place on the short list and to boost sales.

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‘Best Practice’ Ingredients in Analyst Relations

In any business environment the phrase ‘best practice’ sooner or later comes up when people are talking about planning, execution and measurement of business activities. According to Wikipedia “a best practice is a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark. In addition, a “best” practice can evolve to become better as improvements are discovered.”

So the concept is fairshutterstock_94678012ly straight forward but to establish what actually constitutes best practice in a specific context is anything but easy. In addition even knowing what the ‘best practices’ are doesn’t necessarily meant that you know how to actually implement them in your specific environment. In today’s blog post I want to look at ‘best practices’ in the context of analyst relations.

Getting started with analyst relations can prove to be quite a challenge if a company does not have any previous experience in dealing with analyst companies.  The number of analysts who are covering a specific technology niche is usually limited so it is very hard to just get started and learn to do the job while you are doing it. Chances are that you will end up making some serious mistakes which – given the limited audience size – will prove to be very hard to correct. I have listened in, and helped prepare dozens of vendor presentations and analyst meetings. It is fair to say that the range of professionalism I have seen varies greatly. So working out the ‘best practices’ on your own will mean that you are taking quite a risk with the reputation of your company.

Now, what do we do when we don’t know what to do? Right, you hire an expert who knows how things need to be done. Well, based on my experience this is not what will actually ensure that you are executing ‘best practices’. Knowing what works and what doesn’t and understanding the agenda of the various analyst firms and the individual analysts only helps to a certain degree. In my opinion ‘best practice’ in analyst relations is not based on finding that one magic bullet. Doing analyst relations this way is a static approach that amounts to pushing (un-customized) information in the direction of your target analysts without really building a relationship. It is my opinion that the ‘best practices’ for a vendor are a very individual thing that depends on the available resources (time, money and expertise) a company can „spare“ for analyst relations, the technology niche the vendor is active in and the agility of the vendor (both in terms of innovation and in terms of growing the business). Only when balancing these factors will you be able to come up which an analyst relations program that will not only reach the analysts but will actually convince them. Having worked with many vendors throughout my time at an analyst firm and now as an analyst relations consultant I have seen some good and quite a few bad examples which have brought me to the conclusion that there is no way you can completely outsource your analyst relations program. Any truly successful analyst relations program will always be a highly customized joined effort which combines the know-how of the analyst landscape with the specific inside knowledge about your company. More than anything this means that ‘best practices’ in analyst relations are based on building the right team with both internal and external parties and staying flexible enough to adapt to changes in the market and analyst perception.

So if you are willing to compete in the field of analyst relations, make sure that you are well prepared and have all the resources in place to win the game. Trying to find the right way without staying engaged will not be enough when you are competing on a global level and when messing things up might mean that you won’t get a second chance to fix things.

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Killer products (don’t) sell

Of course they do. Didn’t we just manage to convince the first 50 customers to buy our solution? Yes, you did. But now ask yourself what the reasons for closing those deals were. What were the parameters involved in getting your customers to evaluate the products in the first place?

In many cases a product convincing a customer to buy it is only the last step in a long row of interactions. For your company to be short listed and considered for a proof of concept workshop or product trial your will have to pass many gates along the way. First of all you will have to get some visibility in the market. And yes, those 50 customers will help you spread the word about your solution but usually this kind of word of mouth marking runs dry after you have saturated your local market. It is very hard to fuel your growths outside your comfort zone with purely recommendation driven marketing. There are many reasons for this. First of all your network (and that of your current customers) will be limited to a certain type of connections. This means you will likely be going in circles when it comes to regional markets, verticals or other customer parameters. You can check on this by looking at your current customer base. If you are successful in a specific niche you can leverage this to saturate that niche. But in the end a niche is a niche and you will need to break out of your niche to fuel your company’s growths for the coming years. Once way to do this is to hire people with access to target groups you want to address. But left to their own devices they will still lack the support and credibility needed to successfully sell your solution. This lack of supporting noise is often the reason why sales efforts fail even though you’ve hired top performers who successfully sold into the same market segment before.

Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty sure that your product has some unique features which will let it stand out among the competition. But this is a claim that your potential customers will hear from most of the vendors out there. Even those features that you believe are unique to your solution might be available from some competitor elsewhere (a competitor who is obviously also relying on his “killer product” to do the selling for him – or otherwise you would have heard of him right?). One way to stand out from the competition and to circumvent the issue of “not being one of the big players with a reputation” is by having known and trusted market experts do the branding for you. This includes convincing editors, industry analysts and other thought leaders of the quality and innovation you are bringing to the market. It is much more likely that your customers will make their shortlist decisions based on an unbiased analyst’s opinion than on what your / your competitors’ sales people suggest. In addition the market reach of those influencers will be much greater than what you can expect to create by yourself in the short term.

It seems to me that the opinion that it only takes a good product to be successful in the market is especially strong in the technology sector.  In high-tech markets many companies and solutions are driven by continuous innovation. In addition many of these companies have founders with a technical background who are keen to innovate and improve what they have built. It is very easy for technology start-ups and emerging vendors to fall into this trap. The initial success of their solution in combination with fresh venture capital money on the table make it easy to underestimate the challenges (and costs) of breaking into new markets. So when you are growing your company please make sure that you give your products the chance to get evaluated by the customer. Spending all your money on product innovation without doing a good job in sales and marketing won’t work. Equally just sending out more sales people and expecting them to generate the trust needed for successful completion of a sale is pretty much doomed. Last but not least doing marketing and generating leads without a proper sales team to follow up on those leads and without a product to fulfill the expectations you have created won’t make sense either.

So if you are planning to succeed you should try to integrate your product development, marketing and sales efforts to leverage the synergies and to make sure that you don’t create any bottle necks. Influencer Relations with its sub-disciplines of PR, analyst relations and social media marketing can help you to align your efforts by not only giving you more visibility in the market, but also by providing a feedback channel and a 3rd party perspective on your products. So if you truly believe that you have a killer product I encourage you to give it the chance to sell itself – not only to your customers but also to those influencers out there who will in the end shape the way your solution and your company is perceived in the market.

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“I will do it myself.” – Why ‘trial and error’ is not a good idea in analyst relations.

If you think back on the many occasions when you’ve heard this phrase, or for that matter used it yourself – how many times has it been a good idea to give it a try yourself first? Trying something implies that there is the potential to try again if the first attempt fails, or where it is possible to get professional help to get something done after trying once it becomes clear that it isn’t something that can be done “on your own”.

There are some occasions where trying is certainly a valid option. You can try to cook your dinner and if it fails you can still order a pizza. But trying to fix the brakes on your car might not be such a good idea if you don’t exactly know what you are doing.

When it comes to running your business it is in most cases not such a good idea to rely on trying. This is probably one of the reasons why you have job interviews and do your due diligence when you hire someone to work for your company. You want to be sure that the person you are hiring is qualified and experienced enough to get the job done properly.

So how come there are so many people willing to take on the risks involved in engaging external “influencers” on their own without any previous idea of how to get things done?

I am not saying that getting analyst relations wrong is going to threaten your life or the very existence of your company, but it is certainly an important part of building your brand and shaping the perception of your company in the market. So you should better be sure how to get things right.

As in most cases involving interpersonal relationships it is the first impression that counts the most. You probably would not consider sending a junior inexperienced sales rep to an important client. So how come you are willing to approach the handful of relevant analysts for your technology niche without making 100% sure that you understand how the game is played?

I have listened in, and helped prepare dozens of vendor presentations and analyst meetings. It is fair to say that the range of professionalism I have seen varies greatly. Chances are that the analyst you are talking to is covering a large number of vendors and has listened to a huge number of companies trying to “sell” the superiority of their solution. Part of that sales process is also the level of professionalism you are showing in the way you engage with the analyst community.

So if you are willing to compete with your competition in the field of analyst relations, make sure that you are well prepared and have all the tools at hand to win the game. Trying to get it right will not be enough when you are competing on a global level and when messing things up might mean that you won’t get a second chance to fix things.

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