You want to know how to put together a successful response to an analyst firm’s survey questionnaire? We’ll tell you, in the next five minutes.
You want to know how to get that woman from Gartner to see your business in its best light? You want the Forrester guy to suddenly understand what makes your company special?
Just line up right here.
The only thing is, you’re not going to like some of the answers. And some of the others are just boring to implement and very hard to get exactly right.
Because the secret is there are no secrets. If you sat down with a sheet of paper to brief yourself on what your survey submission should be like, you’d probably come up with much of what you need to focus on in the first five minutes.
After all, the analyst needs to make assessments and judgments about your company and its capabilities, including comparisons with competitors in your market. That means asking questions to gather details, dates, and numbers, and forming views on the short and longer term potential for your business.
So it makes sense for you to ask yourself why a particular question has been asked. What is the analyst looking for? What do you want to get across? There may be questions that could logically be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No”, but that clearly require a much more detailed answer. If a survey question asks “Is your company profitable?” or “Do you have plans for future growth?”, you should certainly accept the invitation to say rather more.
In the same way, there will be other questions where the analyst is trying to get at basic information that is regarded as essential, such as overall sales, revenue growth, payroll numbers, and territories covered. These have to be recognized for what they are. They are key items, and evasiveness or disinclination to give any answer at all will likely be seen as signs that you have something to hide.
Who, what, when, where, how?
You wouldn’t, for example, say that you had several customers and quite a lot of employees and that you operated in multiple geographies, would you? Would you? I’ve seen exactly that phrase, “multiple geographies”, offered as an answer in a recent draft survey response. Someone hadn’t thought it through. Someone hadn’t realized that such vagueness is calculated to convince the analyst you are covering something up and that your international sales team is really working out of a shack in Albany and a disused red telephone box in London.
Faced with a standard question like “Describe your typical sales cycle” you will win no points for answering “Lead, prospect, technical evaluation, recommendation, approval, purchase order.” That may be logical, but it’s not what the analyst is looking for. The more generic and colorless your answers are, the less you are going to stand out.
Try this harsh test. Take your draft response document and remove your company and product names. If you read what’s left, could it apply just as well to your competitors? If so, you need to work harder to tell a distinctive story.
Think about the numbers you are writing down. If the real numbers that apply to your business are horribly unflattering, you may have to find some way to dress them up or avoid revealing them in all their stark nakedness. But don’t get caught trying to hide them completely.
Analysts are used to having to push for more. So if you’ve submitted a survey response that says your company is part of a larger group and doesn’t, as a matter of policy, reveal its sales revenues or payroll numbers, you can expect to be pressed for just a little more detail. And if that’s not forthcoming, please don’t believe the write-up alongside the Magic Quadrant is going to position you as an excitingly mysterious, enigmatic company with a great future. Whatever your product’s virtues, whatever your company’s actual prospects, you are going to get dinged and marked down for the lack of openness.
The truth – but your version
So you must put forward numbers. Real numbers. And that means numbers that you didn’t make up. People who have actually lied outright to the research and advisory companies’ analysts risk being embarrassed and exposed. But what happens more often is that companies massage their figures – counting services as product revenue, for example, to pump up the numbers. That’s OK in Year 1. But what happens in Year 2 if service revenues are down and you can’t do the same again? Analysts are not impressed when a new finance director or CEO is forced to mutter “I don’t really know where they got the figures from last year.”
Generally speaking, you can choose which numbers to divulge and which ones to hold back. There’s no rule that says you have to volunteer information that hasn’t been asked for and that shows your company in an unflattering light.
The same goes for details about who your customers are. Suppose you were unlucky. If your big corporate customers in past years included Enron, WorldCom, and Lehman Brothers and your recent history is tied up with Blockbuster, American Airlines, and Eastman Kodak, you may want to avoid the odor of doom and failure that names like that would imply. Leave them out. Mention Apple and Google if you can. If you can’t, stick to naming your more obscure customers. There’s little kudos to be gained from an association with a household name, if that household name has just collapsed into bankruptcy.
Analysts need evidence
Analysts are looking for evidence, not least because they know they may one day need to justify their ratings and what they write about you and your competitors. They want examples. Just saying “Many customers use our products to speed up production in manufacturing industry” won’t really cut it. Again, vagueness is your enemy and facts are your friends.
As you continued the process of briefing yourself on what your survey response should be like and how to handle the analysts, you’d soon hit on other key issues.
You’d note that locking horns with analysts over matters of opinion was a loser’s game. You’d spot the opportunity to put your points across strongly by preparing a top quality slide deck for analyst briefings. You’d focus on the prime importance of new evidence that tells of positive progress over the past 12 months and points to a convincing vision for the future.
And that’s about it. That’s pretty much all you need to know to get the best out of your Magic Quadrant or Forrester Wave assessments.
So good luck. You’re on your own.
Unless, of course, you’re shrewd enough to realize that doing all this stuff, and getting it right, is going to be a lot easier said than done. The devil – as always – is in the detail. And that detail, that precision fine tuning, is what The Skills Connection’s MQ Tune-Up service is here to help you with. We have the detailed background knowledge that comes from decades of service inside the Gartner organization, in the very part of Gartner that deals with Magic Quadrants. And we have a proven 5-step process that ensures you are prepared and equipped to put your case to the analysts in ways that will achieve the best possible outcome. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are we on target? The last thing we want is everyone agreeing with what goes into this blog. After all, if you don’t disagree with some of the points we’ve raised, we’ll be forced to be more and more provocative, and who knows where that will end? So let us have your thoughts. Do you think the research organizations are swayed by the amount people spend with them? Or do we get the assessments we deserve? Shoot us down and have your say.