5 Worst Practices for Managing AR Headcount

Last post, in response to a friend’s question about how to size an AR team, I offered some criteria for consideration. This time let’s turn the equation around and discuss worst practices that often lead to wrong-sizing and related performance issues with AR.   Here they are in no particular order:

1. Early Stage Vendor Leans on Agency PR to do AR: The analyst relationships required to establish interest in an early stage vendor among the sometimes cynical lot of industry analysts requires trust – where the AR person obtains the proverbial “seat at the table” with the analysts. PR agencies often over-depend on social media, hard pitches, or analysts who only play to the media. The by-product is the start-up flies under the radar of the analysts with sway with real customers or potential partners. Emerging vendors are better off with a part-time AR contractor, or letting a product manager or product marketing handle the AR work; it more important to be real than over-hyped during the early stages.

2. Too many AR bodies in a single market: I know of a vendor that competes in a single market, but has 6 FT AR personnel on staff. They have splintered their market so far that they end up confusing analysts, while spending more on headcount than any AR ROI metric could support. For most IT markets a vendor vies in, you need one AR lead, and one or a half-time backup if it is complex or covered by many analysts, or if you believe in back-ups (I do). The revenue and/or geographic diversity has to be there to support that additional requirement for AR bodies for a single market.

3. The wearing of two hats – AR and PR:   Pretend an AR team has 9 full time bodies, but 6 of them have PR backgrounds, and the PR team constantly dips into that well of expertise to handle PR body shortages – which seem endless. On paper you have 9 AR heads, but in reality you might have 1 or 2! Why 1 or 2? The remaining AR types are so over-burdened by covering for those donning PR frocks, the AR types fry. I know of several cases, names omitted to protect the guilty, where this was rampant, and the AR program struggled even on blue sky days.

4. Drawing an exclusive correlation between revenue and AR headcount: Often AR team sizing discussions begin and end with relative revenue. However, a $30b vendor with a single product line sold primarily through channel might get away with a two decent AR people. A $10b vendor with several billion dollar product/service lines, mainly selling direct and taking AR seriously may legitimately require 7 AR people. Revenue is a factor, but it is not the only factor.

5. Forgetting about corporate: Pretend an IT vendor earns $5b in annual revenue, while competing in 3 distinct markets. One might guess that 3 to 5 headcount is needed, one lead for each market and maybe one or two junior folks acting as back-ups and handling operations. Ah, but what about STRATEGY?! What about the most influential analysts in the world who don’t just focus on a single market, like Crawford Del Prete of IDC, Ray Wang of Constellation, Rob Enderle, a bevy of the Gartner fellows, Ted Schadler or Chris Mines of Forrester, etc.? What about green, giving, R&D, sales, marketing, finance, operations and board structure and performance? An effective AR program has somebody, often the lead or one of the senior-most AR types, who handles the “corporate” role. Often that “vision” rating depends or is influenced by the effectiveness of a corporate AR practice. If the analysts never hear from the senior executives about strategy, vision and execution at the corporate level, the analysts will assume the worst (i.e. there is no strategy, vision or execution), which is never the right approach.  So the worst practice is to not factor in headcount to handle the corporate AR functions.

5 Criteria for Right-Sizing AR Teams

[Note:  This was also posted on the Insitute for Industry Analyst Relations blog, see:

An AR friend of mine recently asked if there was a formula or guideline for right-sizing AR teams.  Unfortunately, there is no simple formula to the staffing question, but off the top of my head there are five factors that contribute to determining a reasonable headcount model for right-sizing an AR team, whether full-time employee or 3rd party agency or contractors:

1. Enterprise focus: Vendors that have more of an enterprise focus will tend to need to more AR staff per revenue dollar than consumer-oriented IT vendors. E.g., IBM, which is essentially 100% enterprise focused, would likely have more AR headcount/revenue than say Acer which sells plenty of PCs to consumers.

2. Sales model: Vendors with a higher percentage of sales through a direct sales force will tend to require more AR headcount/revenue dollar versus vendors that depend heavily on an indirect channel sales model. Why? Because direct sales is more directly impacted by IT buyer influencers, like Gartner and Forrester, than through the channel.  There is nothing like your own sales force calling the AR team and saying, “Hey, Gartner is in this deal, and…”

3. Product/service Diversity: Vendors with more diverse product lines tend to require more AR headcount/revenue than vendors with vendors with less diverse product/service lines. For example, say there was a pure-play storage vendor, and competing vendor who offers both storage and security.  Everything else being equal, the latter firm (storage and security) would tend to require a few more AR headcount because of a more diverse product line.

4. Geographic Diversity: Vendors with a true global reach will tend to need more AR personnel, just for geographic coverage purposes. E.g., say there were two 2 billion/year revenue enterprise-oriented vendors with similarly diverse product lines and similar sales models; but one has geo splits of 60% US, 35% EMEA, 5% APJ. The other vendor has 40% US, 35% EMEA, 25% APJ – you might expect another headcount to support APJ at the latter vendor.

5. AR Program Model: I like to think of AR programs as coming in “small, medium and large” models. That doesn’t indicate the headcount, but indicates the role of the AR team in the overall context of the vendor, thus:

· Small – An AR program that basically chases PR: AR has little budget, analysts are treated as an extension of media, there is little market intelligence buying; minor analyst event spending; little to no spending on analyst advisory or custom research projects. The “small” AR model usually has AR reporting into PR, or into a very PR-oriented head of Corporate Communications.

· Medium – An AR program focusing on core AR work versus media: MQs, Waves and market share are treated seriously.  However, analyst advisory and research projects are relatively few and far between, and AR plays a minor role in co-marketing, events, or market intelligence buying. Most of the spending with analyst firms does not come from the AR budget, though the AR team has a enough discretionary budget to capture the interest of analyst firm account managers.

· Large – AR is treated as a strategic element of sales/marketing: Perhaps more than 50% of the all spending on analyst firms emanates from the AR budget, and the AR team carries strong influence on other analyst-related spending like events and custom research projects. AR is directly involved with market intelligence buying, is front-and-center in analyst firm negotiation, and senior management and the strategy team at the vendor are willing to engage with top analysts.

Naturally the “large” model will yield more AR headcount/revenue than the small.

In summary, IT vendors that are (1) enterprise-focused, (2) largely use a direct sales model, (3) have diverse product/service lines, (4) are geographically diverse and (5) take AR seriously and empower it as a strategic function should carry more AR headcount/revenue than similarly-sized vendors that do not exhibit that criteria.

This simple 5 criteria analysis only scrapes the surface.  Plenty of other factors go into determining headcount, such as how important are metrics to the AR team?  Does the AR team maintain internal and external web portals, or participate actively in social media (versus just as tracking tool at vendor AR events)?  Does the AR team travel extensively?  Is the team heavily weighted AR experience-wise to one end of the scale or the other (in theory more experienced AR people should be a little more efficient and effective per headcount)?  Does the AR team work with a wider set of influencers and experts, or only strictly industry analysts?

Next post will focus on 5 gotchas for wrong-sizing AR teams.

V3: It’s All About the Analysts

There is a kind of Google out there in the realm of IT industry analyst firms, a purveyor that turns the successful models of the “Big Three,” Gartner, Forrester and IDC, on their proverbial ears.  This little firm does not market itself very much; it rather eschews the “branded analyst firm” approach where analysts largely become subsumed in the one-to-many brand-first approach, hoping for margins that impress boards and investors.  Rather it aims for some simple values:  It purely focuses on serving its affiliated analysts and helping its affiliated analysts service their clients.  Maybe you have heard of “V3.”

I challenge you to find V3 on the Web:  The URL is actually not www.v3.com but www.valleyviewventures.com – like International Data Corporation goes quite strictly by “IDC” these days, but the URL just hasn’t been changed yet.  You will not be awed by the V3 web site, but that doesn’t matter one iota to Fred Abbott, V3’s founder, who says with utter sincerity, “It’s all about the analysts.”

Fred started V3 in 2002 out of his home after working in sales and sales management at places like Gartner, Giga, IDC and Hurwitz for two decades.  Fred didn’t have any grandiose business plan, didn’t crawl up Sand Hill Road with a Powerpoint and an open palm.  Instead, during the dot-com bust a few analysts who had gone independent were looking for someone else to handle the sales and contract management aspects of their fledgling businesses so they could concentrate on being analysts.  Ever-well-connected Fred agreed to help them out – simple as that.

Five years into V3s slow-growing but flourishing role of acting as the business development and contract management arm for independent IT industry analysts, Linda Ziffrin joined Fred at V3.  Linda’s background is in selling HR applications, and she spent seven years at PeopleSoft during the 1990s. Fred had the desirable problem of too much work to do, so Linda stepped in to help.  Today the amiable, easy-to-do-business-with yet highly effective Fred and Linda, a.k.a. V3, act as the sales arm, either wholly or partially, for some of the most famous and influential analysts in the world including: Rob Enderle who is the most quoted industry analyst in the world; Charles King who writes much of and facilitates the widely distributed and read Pund-IT, Roger Kay ranks as one of the most oft-quoted PC experts; semiconductor guru Jim Handy; and Altimeter Group which houses an exclusive club of top analysts such as Charlene Li, R “Ray” Wang, Jeremiah Owyang and Michael Gartenberg.  This is just a partial list of V3’s affiliates.

Unlike the Big Three who drive their brand at most opportunities, Fred, instead of looking for scale and geographic reach, looks to work with analysts “that could use a little help” and particularly with analysts who like to collaborate with other independent analysts.  Check out Pund-IT at www.pund-it.com and you will find many of the other analysts in the V3 sphere authoring IT industry perspectives.  Fred and Linda also prefer to work with analysts who prefer to market themselves rather than a brand.  Yes, Rob Enderle’s company is “Enderle Group” but everyone in IT has heard of Rob Enderle.  Similarly Charlene Li, Ray Wang, and Jeremiah Owyang made Altimeter Group, not the other way around.  Do many know that Roger Kay’s official research company name is Endpoint Technologies Associates?  Not sure, but many know of Roger Kay.

Just how important is V3?  Well, if your primary metric of “influence” are press citations by analysts, then we might have to change the “Big Three” into the “Big Four.”  Mind you that I believe that the realm of AR has become too PR-centric, probably because the other arenas of influence plied by industry analysts, namely IT buyers and investors, treat interactions with industry analysts with strict privacy.  It is virtually impossible to measure, for example, the number of short list placements an AR team won for a vendor by doing better work than the competition.

But regardless, the “analyst in the press” metric is certainly helpful in measuring analysts in the media communications channel, and here the V3 affiliated analysts shine.  According to tracking of “tech analysts in the media” by IT Memos’ reports (see http://memos.itdatabase.com published on April 6, 2010), V3 had the #1, #3, #6, #9 and #10 most quoted analysts over the past six months.  Gartner had three of the top 10, Forrester one of the top 10, IDC zero.  In fact, if you look at the 50 most quoted analysts from the IT Memos report V3 affiliated analysts reaped 1196 quotations, Gartner had 977, Forrester 612 and IDC 368.

I cannot vouch for IT Memos’ technique.  For example the analyst quote counts were associated with an analyst, and a firm like IDC gets quoted extensively for market share and forecast statistics without naming an analyst.  In fact, another metric IT Memos tracks called “Firm Mentions” resulted in a Gartner runaway with 6978, IDC was second with 3935, and Forrester third with 3308.  The next closest IT analyst/research firm in terms of mentions (IT Memos included firms like “Goldman Sachs” in their list – not sure that was intended, but I am ignoring those counts) was iSuppli way down at 1304.  So at least in terms of analyst firm branding as measured by firm mentions the Big Three are indeed the Big Three.

But in Fred Abbott’s model, who cares about firm mentions?  The V3 brand doesn’t show up at all but the affiliated analysts are at the top of list!  Fred and the independent analysts are doing things differently, and it is working quite well thank you.  Give credit where credit is due:  V3 is right up there with the Big Three in the named analyst quotes metric (note that IT Memos didn’t know that many of the top analysts they listed were V3 affiliates, or at least didn’t report it that way).

Hey industry analyst, tired of getting paid a straight salary for traveling extensively and performing pressure-packed consulting sessions that your firm charges out at $1000/hour or more?  Even if you are making a healthy salary, your cut is maybe $100/hour pre-tax.  These consulting sessions yield gross margins that would raise the eyebrow of even a Larry Ellison.  Analyst, think you have enough connections, credibility and savvy to go out on your own, and either gain better control over your time, your research agenda or how much of that consulting day fee you actually keep?  Fred and Linda will charge you straight 15% commission for your work, and you don’t have to stick your nose into too many of the business details, you get to primarily focus on being a superior analyst.

Do you think you have what it takes to impress Fred and Linda enough for them to take you on?  Fred doesn’t ask for a business plan either.  He will talk with you, help you figure out your approach for no fee, and he and Linda only get paid if you are successful.  As Fred said in my interview with him, “With a new analyst we can try it out for a few months and see if it works.  What we try to get them to understand is that it is all about them, not V3, that marketing themselves is what is important.”  I find it deliciously ironic that V3’s affiliates include some of the most sophisticated analysts at wielding digital marketing and social media, yet Fred keeps V3 down to a bare minimum – no V3 fan club on Facebook last I checked.

Just as open source bedeviled the purveyors of proprietary Linux and Windows, Fred’s antithetical approach has to have some folks at the Big Three scratching their heads.  Despite dubious attempts to tie-up analysts with non-competes (which do not apply in California so not coincidentally Cali happens to be the home of many of V3’s top affiliated analysts), to mix in events and consulting, to outsource some of the lower end research jobs to places like India, to acquire strong niche firms, the Big Three have not undercut the quiet march of V3 and independent analysts.  V3’s straightforward, honest approach has turned the industry analyst community 90 degrees.  Why?  How?

“It’s all about the analysts.”– Fred Abbott, Founder and President of V3.  How refreshing.

Mainframe Beats Cloud with a Roll of DICE

It is taking me awhile to scan all the big IT vendors to determine the types of R&D projects that seem to be in vogue these days, but along the path I’ve wondered what the “D” side of R&D is developing in these days.  If you want a full treatise on developer technology preferences and trends you really should look to Evans Data Corporation (“EDC”) http://www.evansdata.com/ who has been the niche research provider extraordinaire for everything having to do with development for as long as I can remember.  Even when I was a development tools analyst for IDC in the mid-1990s I looked with envy at EDC’s in-depth research.

But I didn’t have the time or money to work with EDC, so I cheated instead:  The other constant at least here in the USA in terms of metrics for the developer community is DICE – http://www.dice.com which has been the most prolific job site for IT types since, well, also as long as I can remember.  In a fit of curiosity I developed a long list of IT related keywords around technologies, applications and roles mainly, and put them up into the DICE jobs search in mid-December, 2009. (more…)

What’s New As Sun Goes Under?

I love sunsets, most of us do. My front deck in Belmont, CA looks due west and every night if we aren’t fogged in or it isn’t cloudy, and here in the hills of Belmont that is about 2/3rds of the days, we are blessed to witness the sun dipping over the low but lovely Santa Cruz Mountain peaks that separate Half Moon Bay from Silicon Valley – plenty of Creamsicle skies. Since I haven’t purchased a Cisco Flip yet and so haven’t recorded a sunset from my deck yet (note to family:  a missed holiday gift opportunity), I am sharing a short sunset I found on YouTube of one of the loveliest spots on earth, Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard.

But I do not at all enjoy Sun Microsystems dipping over the the horizon of the IT landscape. When the Web exploded during the mid-to-late 1990s Sun was a darling of the new echelon. Their commitment to R&D resulted in a best-of-breed trifecta that included their own chips (Sparc), operating system (Solaris) and programming environment (Java). Add the fact that they “got” the Web in terms of vision evident by the prescient “the network is the computer” tagline and Sun basked in several years of notable success.


Innovation and Influencer Overload? What to do?

December 30

In my search for organizations directly involved in the IT innovation ecosystem, I Googled for hours by scrambling search word permutations like “IT Innovation” or “IT R&D” or “Information Technology Innovation” etc.   The results were a little disappointing:  Little truly specific to “IT Innovation” bubbled up, though the Web swarms with sites about “Innovation” in general.  So I spent some time perusing those sites.  It proved rather overwhelming and nearly fruitless – it was a painstaking process to separate useful sites from site fallow, dead or merely short stabs at discussing how important or cool “innovation” is.  There were so many “innovation” (not “IT innovation”) sites out there that there were several “innovation” aggregation sites – sites about innovations sites.


The ITIF: Watching the IT Innovation Forest

December 22, 2009

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation – ITIF – is a Washington D.C. based non-profit think tank, about 3.5 years old, acting as an analysis and commentary source for technology innovation policy. The staff consists of mixed bag of techies, legislative and policy types. The board (interestingly there is a longer list of board members than staff members – could only happen in D.C.) includes two senators and two congress-people as honorary co-chairs. As eye-catching as the extensive and influential board are the “Affiliated Experts” which boasts real-world IT luminaries like Irving Wladawsky-Berger who was a leader in the realm of IBM’s innovations for nearly four decades.

Why care about and track this innovation policy think tank? As ITIF states, “…the mission of the… ITIF is to help policy makers at the federal and state levels to better understand the nature of the new innovation economy and the types of public policies needed to drive innovation, productivity and broad-based prosperity for all Americans.” Think of ITIF as a powerful advocate, educator and policy voice to help push forward the “innovation economy” with a focus on IT.


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