The goal of marketing in every industry is to engage customers and influence perceptions. The difference in the B2B technology space is that third-party analysts play a major role in this process. Firms such as Gartner, IDC, and Forrester Research arose with the proliferation of digital technology in the 1980s, and they are now as influential as ever. Your customers are always looking for external validation of your offerings before they buy, and industry analysts can be valuable connections due to their deep understanding of their covered industries, the companies involved, and emerging business trends.

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This influence is based partly on the analysis that analysts provide, but even more important is the objectivity that they maintain — you can’t “buy” favorable analyst coverage of your company with trips, tours, or favors. You have to earn it by understanding analysts’ needs and helping them do their work. That’s why an effective analyst relations strategy is an important part of category leadership.

TCV recently hosted a webinar on “Best Practices in Analyst Relations” with Peter Sondergaard (founder of The Sondergaard Group) and John Vincenzo (CMO of Silver Peak), in which we discussed the analyst landscape and lessons learned from experts in the field. In this post, we present the essential elements of a successful analyst relations (AR) strategy. You’re probably employing some of these strategies already, but the elements across all these lessons are mutually reinforcing, so it’s worth revisiting and looking for any gaps in your own analyst relations program.

Element #1: Organize and Focus

A coherent analyst relations strategy focused on the research firms with the best coverage for your industry is our first focus. The larger firms present most of the information you would need to qualify them on their websites. You can gather the rest of the information you need through inquiries directly to the firms and by talking to peers.

  • Take a long look at firms that are interested in your company (or already providing you with advisory services), and then widen the search.
  • Don’t overlook smaller, boutique firms that have dialed in your customer base as their target market.
  • You ultimately want to engage with several firms that you can manage operationally but that also have enough market influence to move the needle on customer perceptions. Analyst firms themselves consider 5 to 10 to be a good range.

Once you identify the firms you’ll focus on, form an internal team for each one. Each team should include a representative from marketing, sales, and product, alongside a senior executive sponsor. Any of these individuals might serve on more than one AR team.

Your CEO is implicitly on every team, because analysts will expect the CEO to lead key meetings early in the relationship.

Element #2: Cover the Analysts That Cover You

Success with your AR program requires knowing the analysts better than they know your company. This is easier than it sounds. Given that these firms have been tech and marketing experts for decades, they have some of the most informative websites in the world. In addition to reading public-domain information, subscribe to their research reports and read all relevant analyst coverage of your market every quarter.

As you read, pay attention to these three characteristics of the individual analyst and/or their firm:

  1. The metrics and examples they emphasize
  2. How they present quantitative data
  3. How they present narrative examples of vendor solutions

Knowing these attributes will enable you to develop your presentations (datasets and case studies) in a way that aligns with what the analysts do themselves. The analysts will interpret your data and examples more quickly and intuitively, and it can’t hurt if they notice that this was precisely your intention.

Also pay close attention to the cadence with which analysts conduct research and publish reports. It’s like knowing your customers’ purchasing cycles: You want to be just ahead of the curve, never behind it. Knowing the calendar also helps you schedule regular, timely meetings with your target analysts, both formal and informal. You want to keep analysts current with your products, performance, market developments, and future growth opportunities.

Element #3: Ace the Test

One of most important components of analyst relations, especially with a firm new to your program, is the “vendor briefing” (see example in the TCV presentation). According to Gartner, a vendor briefing is “a research tool for industry analysts, and an opportunity for an IT vendor to present its products, services, and business strategies to analysts who cover the vendor specifically or a related technology or market.” Briefings typically amount to a presentation to the analyst by the vendor, so the onus is on your company to ace the test.

Like growth equity firms, analyst firms hear pitches on a constant basis. Here’s how you can gear up to stand out:

  • Present your company as vividly as possible, with the CEO leading your internal AR team.
  • Adapt your pitch to the analyst’s preferred briefing agenda (if they publish one); skipping an element they consider important makes it look like you didn’t care enough to prepare.
  • Work in references to the analyst’s own reports or perspectives, to show that you’re already thinking along with them.

As often as you can within the briefing agenda, emphasize differentiators, unique attributes, and trends that are tailwinds for you. You want to be a shining example of what the analyst firm recommends to your customers.

At the same time, however, be realistic. Analysts consider themselves clear-eyed experts on market dynamics — with good reason — so don’t oversell your market position, TAM, or growth prospects.

Two final tips about the vendor briefing:

  1. Before you go in, make sure your website is up to date, particularly regarding reference customers, so the analysts find the same story online as they heard in the room. If an analyst has never heard of you, these references are gold dust when analysts perform initial due diligence.
  2. During the briefing, listen carefully. The analysts may not talk much, but what they ask or mention can give you valuable insights.

Element #4: Leverage Everything

One of the key benefits of a strong AR program is that it can increase your ROI on other marketing efforts. Here are just a few suggestions for how to make that happen:

  • Industry events: analysts attend the same conferences as your company, so arrange to meet them both at the venue and outside of the venue for more confidential (and more informal) conversations.
  • Product roadmaps: analysts love these and know how to use the information without compromising anything proprietary.
  • Case studies: if they’re worth creating for your customers and prospects, share them with analysts as well; better still, develop future case studies to fit analyst perspectives, which are carefully attuned to your customer base.
  • Customer reference system: if your reference customers are amenable, consider making them available to analysts — especially to smaller analyst firms seeking a wider reputation.

Element #5: Keep It Human

We’ve been talking about analyst firms in this article as a shorthand. The reality is, you’ll be dealing with one or a few human beings at each firm. So, relationships matter.

  • If someone on one of your internal AR teams has good personal chemistry with an analyst, put them in first chair.
  • Most firms develop young analysts into senior roles at a steady pace, and regularly rotate senior people into new roles, so treat junior analysts respectfully from Day One — they won’t be junior for long.
  • Work new people into your own AR teams as well, and don’t neglect diversity.

It is also important to play fair. Each party has its own goals and success factors. Sometimes it may feel frustrating that your customers listen to analysts as much as (or more than) they listen to you. That doesn’t mean you can’t lean into areas of natural alignment. For example, you both want thriving markets for innovative companies that make the world work better.

When you have the flexibility to do so, alert analysts to upcoming changes in your business or markets that could impact the timeliness of their publications. It’s also worth your time to give analysts praise or constructive feedback on their reports, because they too are competing hard for every dollar of revenue out there — and you’re their target market.

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the authors and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This presentation is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that any such investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this article see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.