A Creative Thinking Exercise for AR Managers

BarbaraAnalyst relations, Industry analysts, influence

Certain analyst relations “best practices” are living on borrowed time. They are out of sync with the structures of expertise within the analyst community. They are also out of sync with the dynamics of analyst influence among high tech users. Following is a simple exercise in creative thinking that can help you start breaking free of handed-down AR behaviors, practices and assumptions.

Step 1: Picture The Situation.
Picture yourself in a typical launch kick-off team meeting. Assign yourself the product/service that will be launched. The launch power brokers are gathered together. Each weighs in with his or her top suggestions and time/budget/workload issues. All attention turns to you for comments on an industry analyst relations plan.

Step 2: Walk through the normal response.
Now, most of your team players are expecting your usual discourse on Tier 1-2-3 analyst targets, message testing candidates, written research targets and press reference targets. They are so familiar with your template that most are counting the minutes until they can speak again. The rest are checking email, rejoining an IRC, or looking for proof that they know as much about analyst relations as you do. As for you? You have a strong sense of deja vu. Push through it again in this imaginary situation.

Step 3: Walk through an expertise-based response.
This time, replace your normal response with a response based on the actual roles of analysts both as researchers and as influencers. You do not simply append an AR proposal to the marketing/PR calendars. The game is to identify the analysts, timeline, budget and engineering/marketing inputs you need in order to build a viable AR plan involving three types of analysts:

  • Oracles: These are the analysts that backfill or validate your existing market research that justifies this new initiative. These analysts look into the past, present and future to tell you whether this new product/service will fly, and if so, where it will take you. They tell you in general terms what your prospective market looks like, cares about, and wants to buy. They also tell you if your competitors are likely to push you off the runway. In short, these analysts inform your business strategy with macro-level, research-based intelligence. Six weeks ahead of press launch is more than a little late to consult the oracles.
  • Wizards and Rainmakers: These analysts have earned credibility among one or more of your carefully segmented customer constituencies. Instead of looking out into the market, they look deep into your product/service. They point out your jewels, fillers and holes. They run your product through their labs, conceptual frameworks, focus groups and/or research panels. They tell you which features are hot and not. They give you a sanity check on your pricing and support plans. They reveal the dynamics of the decision making process–for your particular type of product/service–within your particular prospective customers and partners. They help you figure out how to communicate most effectively about your organization and your new initiative to the specific market segment in which they wield influence. In other words, these analysts inform your product/service and go-to-market strategies with micro-level, community-specific research- and contact-based intelligence. When do you bring them in? That depends on how serious you are about market success/resonance/obstacles and accommodating point-of-decision intelligence.
  • Pirates: Sooner or later you want to play with the pirates. These are the analysts who basically derive their research agendas and positions from other sources, including other analysts. You can be agnostic about the existence of analyst pirates. If the pirate label bothers you, then think of them as merchant marines. Either way, your interest in them is their power to carry ideas and opinions to new audiences, or repeat ideas and opinions with fresh spin. Some have tremendous influence within key user or demographic groups. They are important assets in reinforcing and extending your organization’s reputation, anytime from long before your launch to long after.

Last Step: Populate and postulate.
Playful labels aside, the first challenge for you is to decide which analysts belong in each group. Your second challenge is estimating the timeline for your plan, plus costs and other resources. Your third challenge is in envisioning how you would manage the impact of this level and type of interaction, on your analyst relationships and internal relationships. Your final challenge is envisioning how this approach to AR would redefine your own role in your organization.

Do you know your customer targets and their decision processes well enough? Do you know which analysts would wear which hats?

The idea of this exercise is to begin examining your analysts and relations programs from new perspectives.

This exercise helps you think differently about analysts in terms of:

  • Expertise: Which analysts have which type of expertise? Who performs primary and secondary research and towards what type of strategic or tactical discovery? How in tune is an analyst with purchase decisions?
  • Services: When do you employ an analyst service, such as a research panel or test lab, to obtain the most benefit to your organization? Is it after the product/service has been defined, or upsteam in the lifecycle? What service deliverables are offered and what indicates accuracy?
  • Outputs, Outtakes & Outcomes: Whose opinion carries the most weight with each link in your prospects’ purchase decision chain? How do you structure analyst relations so that a growing percentage of favorable outputs, outtakes and outcomes are natural by-products, rather than the sole focus, of your relationships?

So what?
Why do this type of exercise at all? Because breaking free of entrenched best practices is not easy. Yet, it is vital for analyst relations managers to begin the process of re-inventing their own professional best practices. Many analyst relations practices have been in place for more than a decade. Meanwhile, fundamental aspects of high tech markets have changed.

The 1990s-style analyst influence model–theTier 1-2-3 model and its derivatives–is based on generalities and assumptions that no longer hold true. For example, a Tier 1-2-3 model of influence does not take into account the current decision processes of high tech buyers. Changes are evident in how buyers evaluate products and services, who makes final recommendations and decisions, and who influences these people along the way. These changes are re-shaping media buyer practices. Why not AR practices?

In addition, the Tier 1-2-3 model and its requisite three-step outreach plan–message test, pre-announce brief, post-announce brief–undercut the value of analyst relations professionals. This approach forces intelligent, skilled relationship managers to be perceived as glorified logistics administrators.

Finally, this old approach is creating bottlenecks that increasingly frustrate and limit the analysts. It forces them to bypass analyst relations altogether in order to convey meaningful intelligence and advice to vendor organizations at the most critical junctures.

Simple, playful exercises such as this one can propel your AR strategy to the next level.

Now, in case you are wondering: I do not go about classifying analysts as oracles, wizards and pirates on a regular basis. That would be silly. Visualizing them in the hats–well, that’s another story.

Reprinted from Tekrati