tecosystems

A Few Suggestions for Briefing Analysts

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One of the things that happens when you’re a developer focused analyst firm these days is that you talk to a lot of companies. The conversations analysts have with commercial vendors or developers about their projects are called briefings.

Whether the company or project is large or small, old or new, there are always ways to use our collective time – meaning the analyst’s and the company/developer’s – more efficiently and effectively. Having been doing this analyst thing for a little while now, I have a few ideas on what some of those ways might be and thought I’d share them. For anyone briefing an analyst then, I offer the following hopefully helpful suggestions. Best case they’ll make better use of your time, worst case you make the analyst’s life marginally easier, which probably can’t hurt.

  1. Determine how much time you have up front
    This will tend to vary by analyst firm, and sometimes by analyst. At RedMonk, for example, we limit briefings with non-clients to a half hour, a) because we have to talk to a lot of people and b) because very few people have a problem getting us up to speed in that time. It’s important, however, to be aware of this up front. If you think you have an hour, but only have half that, you might present the materials differently.
  2. Unless you’re solving a unique problem, don’t spend your time covering the problem
    If the analyst you’re speaking with is capable, they already understand it well, so time describing it is effectively wasted time. If there’s some aspect of a given market that you perceive differently and break with the conventional wisdom, by all means explain your unique vision of the world (and expect pushback). But a lot of presentations, possibly because they originated as material for non-analysts, spend time describing a market that everyone on the call likely already understands. Jumping right to how you are different, then, is more productive.
  3. If you’re just delivering slides and they’re not confidential (see #4), do not use web meeting software
    If you need to demo an application, web meeting software is acceptable. If you’re just going over slides that aren’t confidential, skip it. Inevitably the meeting software won’t work for someone; they don’t have the right plugin, a dependency is missing, their connections is poor, etc. The downtime while everyone else is waiting for the one meeting participant to download yet another version of web meeting software they probably don’t want is time that everyone else loses and can never get back. Also, it’s nice for analysts to have slides to refer to later.
  4. Don’t have confidential slides
    If you’re actively engaging with an analyst in something material, a potential acquisition for example, confidential slides are pretty much unavoidable. But if you’re doing a simple product briefing, lose the confidential slides. It makes it more difficult to recall later – particularly if a copy of the slides is not made available – what precisely is confidential, and what is not. Which means that analysts may be reticent to discuss news or information you’d like them to, due to the cognitive overhead of having to remember which 5 slides out 40 were confidential. When it comes time to present confidential material, just note that and walk through it verbally.
  5. If you spend the entire time talking, you may miss out on the opportunity for questions later
    It’s natural to want to talk about your product, and the best briefings are conducted by people with good energy and enthusiasm for what they do. That being said, making sure you leave time for questions can gain you valuable insights into what part of your presentation isn’t clear, and – depending on the analyst/firm – may lead to a two way conversation where you can get some of your own questions answered.
  6. Don’t use the phrase “market leader,” let the market tell us that
    This is perhaps just a pet peeve of mine, but my eyebrows definitely go up when vendors claim to be the “market leader.” This is for a few reasons. First, because genuine market leaders should not have to remind you of that. Second, what is the metric? Analysts may not agree with your particular yardstick. Third, because your rankings may not reflect an analyst’s view of the market, and while disagreement is normal it can sidetrack more productive conversations.
  7. Analysts aren’t press, so treating them that way is a mistake
    While frequently categorized together, analysts and press are in reality very different. Attitudes and towards and incentives regarding embargoes, for example, are entirely distinct. Likewise, many vendors and their PR teams send out “story ideas” to analysts, which is pointless because analysts don’t produce “stories” and are rarely on deadline in the way that the press is. What we tell clients all the time is that our job is not to break news or produce “scoops,” it’s to understand the market. If you treat analysts as press that is trying to extract information from you for that purpose, you may miss the opportunity to have a deeper, occasionally confidential, dialogue with an analyst.
  8. Make sure the analyst covers your space; if you don’t know, just ask
    Every analyst, whether generalist or specialist, will have some area of focus. Before you spend your time and theirs describing your product or service, it’s important to determine whether or not they cover your space at all. Every so often, for example, vendor outreach professionals will see that we cover “developers” and try to schedule a briefing for their bodyshop offering developmental services. Given that we don’t generally cover professional services, this isn’t a good use of anybody’s time. The simplest way of determining whether they cover your category, of course – assuming you can’t determine this from their website, Twitter bio, prior coverage, etc – is to just ask.
  9. Asking for feedback “after the call”
    In general, it seems like a harmless request to make at the end of a productive call: “If you think of any other feedback for us after the call, feel free to send this along.” And in most cases, it is relatively innocuous. Another way of interpreting this request, however, is: “Feel free to spend cycles thinking about us and send along free feedback after we’re done.” So you might consider using this request sparingly.
  10. Don’t ask if we want to receive information: that’s just another email thread
    There are very few people today who don’t already receive more email than they want or can handle. To make everyone’s lives simpler, then, it’s best to skip emails that take the form “Hi – We have an important announcement. Would you like to receive our press release concerning this announcement? If so send us an email indicating that you’ll respect the embargo.” As most analysts will respect embargoes – because we’re not press (see #7) – asking an analyst to reply to an email to get yet another email in return is a waste of an email thread. Your best bet is to maintain a list of trusted contacts, and simply distribute the material to them directly.

Those are just a few that occur off the top of my head based on our day to day work. Do these make sense? Are there other questions, or suggestions from folks in the industry?

13 comments

  1. On point 9, another phrasing would be: “so, can you give me some free stuff?”

  2. Really great points, Stephen (and Cote). Like Cote I see #2 a *lot*. Like you, I do see #9 a fair bit, but my sense is that a lot of it isn’t really trying-to-get-freebies, but just people not really thinking about it.

    1. Agreed on the “not thinking about it,” hence me not really ever rebuking the request…and trying to type up that point to educate people on how we make money and, hopefully, be a little more understanding 😉

      1. Also agreed. I raise #9 for precisely that reason, in fact: I don’t see it as a deliberate attempt to get something for free, but rather a result of the fact that analysts like myself haven’t explained how it can come across.

        Hence the above 😉

  3. Thanks for publishing this – and guilty on all counts over the years, sorry! I’ll be forwarding to my collegues as required reading.

    1. No reason at all to apologize! It’s equally our fault for not mentioning this prior, just figured it might be helpful. Cheers!

      1. Yep, really helpful and doing the ronuds in my corner of IBM. Talk soon.

  4. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the situations in which you are finding yourself with #9. If an analyst’s currency is information and knowledge, aren’t these people giving your briefings “topping up your tank” so you can go sell that knowledge to someone else? It doesn’t seem that far fetched that the person giving you something you are going to sell (knowledge of the industry) would expect a bi-directional, proportional flow of value.

    1. Sure, that’s true. The issue is more when, every five minutes, people stop and want input. Asking for input at the end, or casually is fine – most analysts, myself, can’t help themselves. The problem is more in misunderstanding the “products” available. Giving deep, consultative input is part of what analysts get paid for, so at some point in briefings there’s a line of “well, I (the analyst) have been talking for about 20-30 minutes of this 60 minute call…this should really be a paid engagement.”

      To compare it other consultative domains, if I had an accountant spend 30 minutes giving “feedback” on my annual tax returns…I should probably pay them.

      Granted, as I hope I made clear, this is a pretty minor thing and, as you point out, there’s much nuance to when it’s good and bad.

      The broader point this raises is “what’s the point of a briefing?” For most people, it’s a marketing exercise, getting the word out about their company/product with the hope that the analyst will help promote it by mentioning it, writing about it, etc. In those situations, the “bi-directional flow of value” can be dodgy; these are usually the ones where people ask for the most feedback (I always feel like there’s some cheap mind-trick they’re doing where if you get someone to agree with you/think it’s their idea, they’ll be more of a fan of it). In the case of 451, since we write a lot (and many analysts write a report for every briefing they get), there’s a PR reward-cycle here for doing briefings.

      There are other briefings that are more along the lines of what you’re saying, just “syncing” up between two people about the product/etc. at hand. This is the kind of briefing (I’d still assume) that has much value with RedMonk: you want to run it by them and see how they react to it, get involved in their ongoing prattle about the space, and hope to get some feedback; at least that’s what I did when I was at RedMonk.

      Again, the point of my griping is that there’s a certain line where getting “feedback” turns into actual consulting work, like “bullet proofing slides.” Perhaps that’s also part of the quandary around me complaining about it: can you really do anything valuable in an hour chunk? Well, yes, you can completely pull apart and redo a presentation in that amount of time. You can point out deficiencies in the pitch, point to partnerships and missed opportunities, and give an overall “review” of the subject at hand.

      I often think of that scene in Pattern Recognition where they have Cayce just sit down and react to products and logos they’re about to release. Seemingly, that should be a free service, but it turns out giving those quick reviews and reactions is her core business. The value to her customers is avoiding releasing crap products.

      Of course, if you don’t think the analyst (or whoever you’re talking to) at hand provides feedback worth paying for, then no problem, really. But if there is value in it, paying for it is always encouraged.

      1. Ah. Got it. Like all healthy relationships it’s a balance of value. Reading your answer I can totally picture the “do my work for me” demands you might get.

        Side note: I’m glad to know I’m a superior briefer in this regard! 😉

        1. In addition to what Coté covered above the other issue for me is the “after the fact.” It’s one thing to solicit feedback while we’re both on the call; many analysts, and certainly those of us at RedMonk, are happy to provide some gratis feedback during a briefing because we generally like to be helpful and because, as you note, it’s good to provide something back.

          Asking for feedback *after* a call, however, is essentially a request for an analyst to spend further time, outside the bounds of the designated call, providing feedback for free.

          Which again, isn’t usually a big deal, but I raise it above only because I don’t think most people who ask for it actually think through the request from the perspective of the analyst.

  5. Agree with all this. I’d add:

    Send materials ahead of time. When you send it 5 seconds in advance of the briefing, we’ll waste 5 minutes while it’s rattling around the pipes. Worse: I may be taking the call on my cell at the airport.

    I’d add to #7 that a lot of PR people seem not to even understand the basic business models of analysts–which leads to other problems you list.

    Be familiar with what an analyst has done. Not so much in the semi-creepy reiteration of what’s on the flickr page but stuff that they’ve written which may relate to the briefing. (Also makes the whole thing seem less shotgun.)

  6. I suspect I’ve been guilty of a few of these faux pas over the years! This is going straight to the top of my “How not to waste an analysts time” guidelines for spokespeople/SMEs.

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