Industry Analyst Dirty Pool (Recognize It, Then Get Over It)

Last Updated Jul 12, 2007 1:53 PM EDT

Love 'em or hate 'em ... analysts play an important role in guiding the buying decision making process in your industry. At least some percentage of your customers values their advice. The trade press look to them for perspectives on emerging markets. Regardless of your personal disdain for the analyst game, it's one that marketing has to play. I used to fly into a rage about the lack of ethics governing the industry analysts, but at a certain point in time I realized what a waste of energy it was.

These are the sorts of dirty pool tactics that I've seen so commonly employed by [certainly not all, but many of] the analyst firms to impose their will (i.e. squeeze dollars) out of the vendor community:

Label you "embryonic" (or worse) in a report: When the largest analyst firm labels your company or product "embryonic" in a report, you're immediately on your heels. How do you ascend into a more prestigious position in the next report?

What they want you to do: Get your check book out. When a vendor starts paying an analyst firm that previously disrespected them in a report, they seem to "magically" ascend the ranks in future reports. It's almost as predictable as the laws of gravity.

Before you do anything: Weigh the influence of said analyst firm's opinion. Just because the analyst firm is prestigious, that doesn't mean the individual analyst covering your area is necessarily respected. Encourage your sales folks to ask existing / prospective customers to what extent they factor that analyst firm's research into their buying process. If there is a direct correlation, perhaps (as much as you might hate the idea) it's worth putting resources into creating a better outcome. If there's zero correlation, don't waste your time / money.

Beat you up in the initial briefing: The big analyst firms in particular are famous for this. The first time you talk with them they invariably poke as many holes in your product, your story, your expertise as possible.
What they want you to do: Submit. It's the sort of basic training approach: they beat you down psychologically so that they can build you up (if you become a paying client, of course).

Before you do anything: Check your ego. Yeah, it sucks to listen to 45 mins' worth of skepticism about your product, your business model, your expertise, etc. But instead of getting worked up over it, make careful note of all of the criticisms so that the next time around you can demonstrate progress (and anticipate those questions from other analyst firms ... not to mention customers). Don't feel like you have to answer all of the criticisms on the spot. It's ok to say that you'll take the criticism under advisement and get back to them later. Realize that it's very possible that the analyst you're speaking with has other clients that are your competitors, and they may be projecting their problems onto your company to get useful information out of you (that they can, in turn, play back to your competitors as "advice").

Shamelessly plug your competitors in industry press: Despite the fact that you have a better product, more customers, etc. â€" one of your industry analysts bends over backwards to give kudos to your competition (coincidentally-- *gasp* who's their paying client) in the press, and you never even get a mention. The same analyst also has their own blog or column with a leading trade publication, in which they relentlessly plug their paying clients (sometimes with the disclaimer that they are clients, but many times without).
What they want you to do: They want vendors in the category to view them as omnipresent. They want to be viewed as the gatekeeper to the discussions, the trends, etc. that are guiding your industry. If confronted they will recite voodoo "church / state" language that makes it sound like there isn't a direct correlation between $ and coverage -- but wink, wink.

Before you do anything: Realize that you likely have access to these venues without the help of this analyst. That journalist who's continuously quoting the analyst and omitting your company from the stories? â€" contact him / her directly (politely point out your marketshare and relevance and seek an introductory briefing -- going at them with accusatory tone will get you nowhere). That publication that runs the analyst's advertorials about your competition? â€" there's not a whole lot you can do to stop that, but you can balance it out by getting publicity elsewhere.

Lure you in with flattery then get real nasty when you don't play along: They come in over your company's info@ address talking about how compelling they find your company / product. They write a report and mention you favorably (you can't believe your good fortunes, it's too good to be true!). Then things get real ugly after they ask you to pay for the reprint rights (and you decline) and you politely (after the 8th call) ask their sales guy to stop hounding you. The next time they mention you in a report they're suddenly very bearish on your product and impact in the market.
What they want you to do: Cower and pay. This relenting pressure can all go away so easily, if you just hand over a (very reasonable) fee on a recurring basis.

Before you do anything: This type of behavior tends to be very specific to the lower-tier analyst firms. Sometimes the right outcome in these situations is to never, ever respond to another inbound email from the analyst firm (after that first response, they'll never leave you alone). Make sure to document the correspondence and include the rest of your team in the decision on how to deal with these jokers moving forward. This isn't something you want to go alone on â€" because this type of analyst firm would have zero qualms with hanging you out to dry in a subversive note to your CEO or investors. (more experienced PR folks can spot this type of predatory behavior and snuff it at the very onset â€" it's usually the vendors that have someone green in marketing that get scared and taken for the long con)

My opinion is that analyst firms that charge vendors for relationships cannot truly objectively comment on the industry. Period. They spend most of their time on the phone with their paying clients (and are the most familiar with their products). They give the lion's share of their coverage to paying clients. The whole structure of the system is to reward people that pay them and either overlook or outright punish folks that do not.

But as a marketing person, you can either cry about it, or just take the whole thing with a grain of salt from the get-go. The important thing is (when these things are happening) to recognize them for what they are, and not go off the deep end trying to "fix" the analysts' perception. At that point, you're already in a deficit position.

btw: If you have any stories or cautionary tales re. analyst relations, send them to me. I'll publish the good ones.

(image by Stephen Dowling from flickr creative commons)