Why create an annual AR plan?
Annual planning is the backbone of a mature AR program as it enables a thoughtful, coordinated foundation for activities throughout the year. Annual AR plans are intended to ensure organizational alignment on program goals, budget/resources, and expectations across stakeholder/participant groups. They tend to answer questions such as:
- What are our most important AR goals this year?
- How will we measure success?
- Do we have the appropriate budget and resources to achieve our goals?
- What AR needs are met within our fixed vs. variable (discretionary) budget?
- How are stakeholders expected to contribute to the program?
- How will we communicate progress and outcomes?
At Spotlight we often find our clients’ AR goals evolve somewhat throughout the year, so we have an annual planning cycle for all clients and tend to do some form of quarterly review for many. By setting a foundational plan at the beginning of the (fiscal or calendar) year, we can ensure we’re anticipating program needs and minimizing reactive decision-making for the months to come.
Defining annual program goals
The adage “begin with the end in mind” definitely applies to annual AR planning – if you’re not sure what you’re trying to achieve with your AR program, it’s tough to determine the right strategies and tactics.
We work with clients to define a set of key program priorities, or initiatives, (usually three to five), which may change somewhat from year to year based on overall business goals. The key to effective AR objective-setting is understanding organizational goals and then backing into how analysts can help to achieve them – for example, if you’re looking to launch a new offering but unsure whether it meets buyer needs, leveraging analysts’ insight on the market is a great place to start.
Examples of common AR initiatives include:
- Solidifying market leadership in XYZ category
- Proving differentiation among a competitive set
- Evolving the product/services road map based on analyst input
Each of these initiatives will likely align to a subset of relevant analysts based on their research coverage, audience, client base and background. It’s then helpful to define specific program tactics, such as facilitating regular analyst briefings with customers, that support one or more initiatives. These tactics will in turn inform a detailed engagement plan for each quarter.
Determining an annual AR budget
Another key driver of annual planning is the need to establish (or update/confirm) the program budget. Budgetary needs are likely to shift from year to year depending on a company’s research firm subscription contract cycle, research firm events, sponsored research needs, and needs for internal/external resources for program strategy and execution. Often the program budget will be established well ahead of the fiscal year and will need to be continually refined as things change. For many of our clients, flexibility has been the name of the game in 2020, given swings in the economy and cancellations and/or virtualization of most remaining events due to COVID-19.
Key components of an AR budget generally include:
- Analyst firm subscriptions
- Report reprint rights
- Fees for sponsored engagements with analysts
- Analyst firm event tickets and travel expenses
- Resource costs (internal and external)
- Associated marketing/thought leadership investment
It’s a good idea to revisit annual budget plans on a quarterly basis, even during relatively stable economic cycles, to ensure ongoing alignment with the organization’s needs and goals.
Determining resource needs
Many newer AR programs are lightly resourced and therefore unable to fulfill all AR program needs and aspirations. The key is to align current resourcing with realistic goals and look for ways to incrementally grow the program over time.
Considerations for determining AR resource needs include:
- Program goals (programs with more aggressive goals require more resources)
- Number of key analysts (those most relevant to your company’s area of expertise)
- Number of ranking reports you participate in
- Overall activity cadence (volume of interactions with analysts)
- Stakeholder expectations for reporting and knowledge share
- Overall organizational complexity (more stakeholders and diverse needs equates to more alignment, education and communication)
In general, the more activity you need to support and the greater the complexity of the organization, the more resources will be necessary. Because AR requires time from key product and practice leads as well as buy-in and budget from the executive team, it’s necessary to have a central point of contact to manage program strategy and execution.
Additional AR program resource needs include:
- Subject matter experts (SMEs) to populate portions of a ranking research survey
- SMEs to prepare content and lead/contribute to an analyst briefing
- Administrative support to schedule program interactions such as inquiries and briefings with analysts
- Leadership to provide input into the program strategy, AR initiatives and desired outcomes
Spotlight generally recommends a crawl-walk-run approach to developing AR program maturity over time, with resourcing being a critical component of ensuring success.
Planning for annual ranking research
Another driver of annual planning is evaluation research. Spotlight’s larger and more complex clients may have five to 10-plus ranking reports (such as Forrester Waves, MarketScapes and Magic Quadrants) per year. Planning for resources to be available to manage data-gathering and content creation for each report is critical, especially if several reports are overlapping.
In addition, evaluation reports require strong relationship management with report authors year-round. Because of the importance of these relationships, we develop individual engagement plans, called “offseason” plans, to ensure consistent, purposeful contact with key analysts. By plotting these activities out across a six- to 12-month period, we can inform stakeholders about resource requirements as well as dependencies on other initiatives such as product launches and capability expansion.
Getting started on your annual AR plan
As outlined above, the best place to start is by determining your program goals and ensuring stakeholders are on board with the program direction. Once you’ve solidified your key AR initiatives, secured budget and resources, you can dive into the details of quarterly engagement planning and evolve your program as needed based on results. Good luck and feel free to contact us if you need support or guidance along the way!