AR I Knew Ye Somewhat

Recently I departed the walnut-lined hallways (ha, paperboard cubicles actually) of IT Industry Analyst Relations for product marketing, and therefore, no longer being an AR hack, have decided to pass on IIAR board reelection.  However, I strongly encourage AR professionals to participate in the IIAR:  You need an industry body that acts as your combined voice of AR with analyst firms and a safe place to share best practices.  The IIAR is not-for-profit and has only one goal – to help the AR pro.

My connection with AR is not completely severed – I will continue to lean on Gartner, Forrester, IDC, etc., for market intelligence.  But strictly in terms of AR, I am off the beat. It has now been over 15 years since I shifted out of product development/management into the analyst realm. How are things different than they were 15+ years ago when I first stumbled into IDC as a development tools analyst?

The More Things Change, the More Things Change, 5 Things Specifically

  1. The Digital Analyst:  The Internet and Mobility revolutionized so many things, including AR.  Today analysts’ phone numbers, emails and Twitter handles litter my smartphone, and tweets and blog posts pop up like weeds in an untended lawn during a dry July, and social web sites and blogs crawl with contacts out of the analyst ranks.  Hey, there were online communities back pre-1995; remember Compuserve?  It is still there!   Back then if you wanted to find tech influencers, there you went.  Today you go to FB, LinkedIn, or all kinds of “open” .orgs or other communities sites – and analyst sites of course which were not existent pre-1995.  This has led to the near death of analyst firm physical libraries.
  2. Coverage Overlap:  Because Internet/mobile enable and reward convergence, the circles of coverage are not as discrete as they were during the “client/server” era.  Overlaps due to the nouvelle technologies have forced analysts to think more outside their historic boxes.  Analysts who stubbornly remained totally in a silo have lost some ground.
  3. Analysts Doing Research, Researchers Doing Analysis:  Pre-1995 analysts were either IT advisors or statistical geeks, but those boundaries are blurred.  The qualitative analysts are somewhat more quantitative, and vice versa.  There is still room for improvement on both sides of that equation though.
  4. Sprouting of Small Analyst Firms:  Pre-1995 there was the big two, but today Forrester is usually included as tier-1, so now there is the big three – plus a few thousand others.  Today there are many independent analysts and very small firms, enabled by social media and the ability to type quickly on a mobile device – I think small fingers are a help to indie analysts
  5. PR Masquerading as AR:  Pre-1995 AR was more often aligned with product management, product marketing, sales and/or strategy/executive.  Today AR is more aligned with PR, and often treated like an adjunct to PR.  In my opinion, though, the best AR programs are balanced, and treat all of these constituencies with equal attention and budget.  Show me an AR program that follows in the trail of PR and I will show you a vendor who is unnecessarily losing battles of influence in the sales cycle.

But Some Things Stay the Same… 5 Things Specifically

  1. Pay-for-Play Remains Unchanged:  Several analyst firms have addressed it,  but blatant quid pro quo has not disappeared despite the occasional hypocritical piece written about it by someone in the media.  Heck, some “analysts” are nothing more than 3rd party marketing sites for their vendor customers.   Some day maybe I will name names, but suffice it to say that money to say something nice about vendors is still a legitimate business model.  Gartner remains quite pure though, even if they treat vendor customers like customers today, more respect and less disdain – thankfully.
  2. Relationships First:  A glass of wine still beats a Tweet, or email, or other electronic communication.  You want to form a trusted relationship with an analyst?  Spend some time face-to-face, make the human connection.  I don’t care if you have the most sophisticated social media listening technology in the world, it can’t compare to a handshake, a smile, and a genuine conversation.  Don’t forget we are in this together.
  3. Research wins:  Not every day, but the analysts and analyst firms who really have a survey leg to stand on will stand the longest.  Those that do their homework and share their findings in easy-to-digest fashion were around pre-1995, are around today, and will be around when the “Cloud” is considered legacy.
  4. Gartner is still #1:  Gartner’s imminent demise has been predicted for years. Some have said that peer networks or social media will destroy Gartner. Sorry, I don’t buy it.  Gartner seldom falls asleep at the switch, and they still possess, by far, the largest cadre of strong analysts.  Follow how Gartner has adapted over the past 5 years and you have to take your hat off to them.  But damn they are expensive.
  5. Get a Haircut, Wear a Suit, Take a Shower:  Okay, after lauding Gartner I have to make a complaint that is 15 years old:  some Gartner analysts are poor consultants, so spend your SAS dollars carefully.  Some of them never acquired the chops that professional consultants possess.  Gartner Consulting has those chops, but many Gartner analysts lack those chops.  I think Forrester is in the big three today largely because they hired analysts who could truly consult; who could dress, converse, carry themselves professionally and socially.   Some of those excellent Forrester analyst/consultants burned out because Forrester realized how yummy the margins were on a $10,000 per day consulting gig.  Some of those analysts went out on their own, figuring they could charge around the same amount, and sop up the overhead for themselves.  Maybe that is why some Gartner analysts remain untamed as consultants, but if I were Gene Hall I would require my analysts to attend consulting finishing school.

And with that, buh-bye AR, and thanks to the few CMOs out there who actually appreciate AR – you are an unfortunate rarity.


Gartner Wields the Most Influential Influencers, Though They are Peers, Not Analysts

A Glimpse into Peer Connect

Every AR person knows that many of the most influential analysts in the information technology industry work at Gartner.  But analysts are not the most influential influencers out there, peers are – IT buyers and practitioners most trust the insights of other IT buyers and practitioners who have been through similar buying and implementation processes. The historical blockades to peer-to-peer exchange, however, have been (a) finding qualified peers and (b) providing a safe harbor for peers that prefer to remain anonymous in order to participate.

Some influence management thinkers have recently opined that, on the back of social media, Gartner and other top industry analyst firms could be rendered obsolete by “peer networks” or “expert networks.” In fact, already several quasi-analyst and analyst entities are heavily using the digital networking-centric approach, most notably Focus and Wikibon. And other top tier analyst firms like IDC and Forrester have tapped into the community network effect, for example see IDC Insights Community.

Gartner, however, isn’t so easily leapfrogged. Witness Gartner’s Peer Connect, a tool available only to Gartner for IT Leaders customers offering a private, peer-to-peer information exchange environment, beyond the reach of vendors and consultants. Even Gartner’s own analysts cannot participate directly, though they may introduce topics of discussion.

Peer Connect leverages Gartner’s ability to tap into a plethora of qualified IT peers out of its existing customer base – at no additional cost to its IT customers. Gartner has dealt with the privacy concerns of some of the IT peers by offering an anonymous self-profiling option that still exposes industry, company size, job role, vendor experience, plus past and current projects. Thus, a Peer Connect user could search for a peer with a profile that matches “enterprise architect in healthcare with revenues over $250m currently or recently involved in an Oracle CRM project.” Once an appropriate match is found, the resulting interchange may be conducted email-to-email if both parties are not anonymous, but if either party wants to remain anonymous the interchange takes place through protected digital collaboration where the email addresses are blocked.

Gartner doesn’t hard-sell Peer Connect. There is a modicum of marketing collateral for Peer Connect on, and it is buried in the general concept of “Peer Networking.” The Gartner IT salesperson may certainly discuss Peer Connect during the sales process, but Peer Connect isn’t a prospecting feature – Gartner still leads with its research and analysts. The Peer Connect community is entirely self-selecting; there is no pressure for a Gartner for IT Leaders customer to join the Peer Connect community.

The genesis of Peer Connect goes back to 2006 when Gartner IT end-user surveys revealed the desire of Gartner’s IT customers to directly share each others’ experience and expertise. Specifically, users wanted to exchange tactical experience, and to obtain help answering detailed questions that an analyst would not typically be expected to answer. The initial Peer Connect rolled out during 2007 giving IT customers an exchange mechanism with which to register, profile themselves and to list projects they worked on – and to search for those individuals that could answer specific questions. Since then Gartner has constantly enhanced Peer Connect, adding what we now refer to as social media features, and has improved the search, profiling and security aspects. Peer Connect has not only been popular with Gartner’s IT users, it has also driven research topics for the IT Leaders platform.

What does this mean to an Influence Management or Analyst Relations professional? In a B2B community like enterprise IT, peer communities provide a layer of insulation for actual IT practitioners beyond advertising, blogs, research, media and other 3rd party opinions. Like Gartner, vendors should consider embracing the concept of peer networks by giving customers and prospects direct access to one-another without interference by the vendor. Vendor-oriented user groups have been around for decades, and are the progenitors to peer networks. Perhaps the most notable example is IBM Share which goes all the way back to 1955 (!). The vendor’s attitude should be to support, facilitate and where it can, without being intrusive, learn from these groups – but providing a safe harbor for honest exchange and sharing of best practices counts as the primary goal.

What of other research and analyst firms that use a similar approach? To me there is quite a difference between “expert networks” and “peer-to-peer” simply because “experts” are difficult to qualify. How does an expert receive the title of “expert?” Is it self-proclaimed? Is there a hidden agenda to sell the “expertise?” Are “experts” blessed by some 3rd party “expert of experts” who in fact has little expertise in any particular area of IT?

As suggested by the Enterprise IT Influence Mountain at the top, IT people trust other IT people first and foremost. A tip of the hat goes to Gartner who understands that IT expertise doesn’t begin and end with analysts, and for providing a safe harbor of exchange for its IT customers, helping overcome the “ease of access” hurdle that typically limits sharing between peers.

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