Burning The Influence Straw Man

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Carter Lusher, Director AR Analyst Relations at HP: “Today there are the established firms (e.g., AMR, Forrester, Gartner and IDC) that have been around since the 1980’s that on the surface have not changed all that much. Then there are the insurgents like Gartner alumni Vinnie Mirchandani at Deal Architect and James Governor of Redmonk with his Monkchips blog who claim that that they are becoming just as influential as the dinosaur firms. As a consequence, we in the AR community should pay just as much attention to them as old firms.

Hmmm. What’s a poor simple AR practitioner to do? First off, are the established firms really ignoring new media and are the insurgents really innovative users of new media?…

The insurgents are using blogs, but making relatively little use of other forms of new media that I can find. For instance, Redmonk as a podcast, but it has only had three episodes since May 1st. Plus, it is really difficult to find evidence that they are influential whether by directly impacting HP’s sales deals or broadly impacting market perception. The insurgent bloggers all want me and other AR professionals to take it as an article of faith that even though there is no proof that they are influential. That is nice, but they all demand hard proof from HP and other vendors about our claims. Isn’t it a little inconsistent of them to want to be exempted from providing proof? However, my early research is that IT executives are reading blogs – more on that in a later post – so the insurgents aren’t completely full of hot air.

For those that might be curious, I did indeed appreciate the irony of being alerted to a post questioning our influence and, indirectly, importance, by an email from the questioner himself. It was a mass email, true, but still. Worth a chuckle.

At the risk of treading on James’ toes here, because these kinds of debates are more his bag than mine, I thought it worth responding not because I disagree with Lusher but because I do not. The entry to me is a straw man, and the real disconnect in our thinking is more subtle than he’s realized, I think – or at least acknowledged.

To begin with, I’m a bit puzzled about his foundational assertion. Like Vinnie, I’m not quite sure what he’s referring to when he argues that we claim that we’re “becoming just as influential as the dinosaur firms.” I don’t recall making that argument. If anything, I have made the point that we were not. But memories being what they are, maybe I’m forgetting a bombastic claim from the past: if you can find one, please do point to it in the comments.

More crucial, however, is the disparity between his definition of influence and ours. Without consensus on parameters for the word “influence,” after all, the debate is entirely academic.

Fortunately, Lusher has provided us with some. From my reading of the above, HP’s Analyst Relations department defines influence as the ability to impact sales deals and the less precise “market perception,” saying “it is really difficult to find evidence that they are influential whether by directly impacting HP’s sales deals or broadly impacting market perception.” The metrics, therefore, by which analyst influence is to be gauged are impacts on either sales or market perception. Perhaps that’s a position influenced by the fact that Lusher spent six years at Gartner – a fact which, as an aside, might merit a mention in that piece – but one shared by at least one other very large technology vendor.

It is, of course, HP’s prerogative to prioritize their time according to this set of criteria. And if resources are indeed scarce over at HP – Lusher says that “this is a really serious issue because we do not have unlimited resources and have to prioritize our efforts” – we can probably save each other some time by agreeing that by this measurement, RedMonk is of no importance whatsoever. If you’re judging firms by their ability to directly impact sales, we are every bit the third tier firm that our larger, better heeled competitors are reportedly claiming us to be.

Validating that assertion is that fact that approximately zero of our clients – and for whatever else that may be said about us, we have some folks that make good money in the technology business on the roster – has engaged with us for the purposes of influencing a sale. Not one.

So why do the IBMs and Suns of the world choose to engage with us? Or, at the other end of the spectrum, the Canonicals or the MySQLs? You should feel free to ask them, but my guess is that part of their answer would be that influence is really a function of audience, and our audience is not that of Forrester, Gartner, IDC, et al.

Our belief is that the process of technology adoption and acquisition is being fundamentally reshaped by a variety of market forces, including open source and software as a service – a belief that HP does not appear to share. We do not argue that top down acquisition and purchasing is not of great relevance from a marketing and sales perspective, but rather that the success of Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP indicate to us that bottom up adoption is increasingly taking its place beside it. Which, in turn has implications on the sales cycle: influencing the bottom up adoption of a technology by developers is a significantly different – and more difficult – proposition than influencing the purchase of a CIO. Both are important, but they’re very different, requiring different models, different tactics, different language, and different economics.

In other words, while we readily concede that our larger industry analyst counterparts own the measurable influence mindshare for enterprises (whether that’s a good thing is a question for another day), we do not believe that their business models or areas of focus necessarily translate to identical influence with the communities and individuals that fuel bottom up adoption. And conversely, while we own little influence in top down adoption scenarios, we do believe that we’ve earned some small amount of respect and thereby influence amongst the rank and file. For evidence of that claim, we could point to Google ranks and some very smart and influential people that choose to link to us, but the one I like best is the quote sidebar from our About page. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Lusher and I agree, then, more than he might have believed when he originally penned the entry. But I doubt that he would have anticipated the why.

P.S. While Lusher graciously acknowledges our usage of blogs as a media channel, he expresses some skepticism regarding our actual embrace of new media types, saying “for instance, Redmonk as [sic] a podcast, but it has only had three episodes since May 1st.” Very true, but not for the reasons expected: we simply haven’t found the mechanism yet to integrate our various activities. We all Twitter quite a bit, we actually have done quite a few podcasts over that time period, most notably our “Monkcast” joint venture with ZDNet’s David Berlind, and Cote and James have absolutely gone to town with the video cameras over on RedMonk TV. The point is taken however: we need to find a better way to collect and present our various appearances in new media channels.


  1. Great post Steve, the point you make about influence being multilevel is very valid indeed. However, when Carter challenges you to provide proofpoints of your influence, it would be nice if you did not conform to the stock answer AR Professionals get from analysts analyst: name dropping.

  2. name-dropping? where is that exactly in this argument? you mean pointing to references? when we cite customers and so on is that just name-dropping?

  3. Steve , did not even get that email you did -)

    The job of AR is to shield their managements from too transparent, uncontrolled a conversation…hmmm…wait till they go to press conferences with Scoble peppering them with Twittered questions from his 7,000 person network…


  4. Vinnie, this is funny: a briefing-flash-mob. Not sure if the vendors will all like it as there are some implications on NDA’s for most briefings, but the idea is delirious.

    James, analysts always rubbish logo pages, which is the same as name dropping. My comment was not to rubbish Steve’s point, but analysts need to help AR folks to make the case for independent analysts. As Carter said, we have limited resources, unfortunately.

  5. […] The influence of the independent analysts has been a point of conversation across a handful of analyst and AR blogs this week. My vote for the most insightful post goes to RedMonk Stephen O’Grady, Burning the influence straw man. […]

  6. […] A few days ago, James Governor, prompted by a Carter Lusher’s post and the subsequent response from Stephen O’Grady, tried to find out if Redmonk (one of the insurgent analyst firms) was becoming just as influential […]

  7. […] subject of the changing nature of IT advisory and influence. Vinnie has already responded, as has Stephen, who refers to Carter’s argument as a straw […]

  8. […] October: Early in the month, I attended Adobe MAX in Chicago. Fortunately, a friend from college and I found a Red Sox friendly establishment to watch the opening game of the playoffs (Josh Beckett dominating start). Though it took me a while, I finally figured out how to get a Jawbone bluetooth headset working on Linux. The one and only Red Sox playoff game I attended was won on a monstrous walk off home run by Manny Ramirez. With no other choice, I conceded that Fall had arrived. Interestingly, I found myself using some of the Linux eye candy. Productively. Unsurprisingly, I was pleased when the Red Sox secured a berth in the World Series. Game 1 I watched in Maine, Game 2 in Boston, Game 3 on the plane to Denver, and Game 4 in Denver with a friend and my cousin. And in case you haven’t been keeping up with current events, the good guys won. To close out the month, I tackled the question of analyst influence. […]

  9. […] can be true of those who watch analysts as well, which is what makes SageCircle unique. At the core of the company are two analysts, Carter […]

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