Imagine this: One of your key analysts defects from the industry analyst ranks to take a new position with a vendor. But it’s not just any vendor – it’s one of your main competitors. Sound scary? frustrating? If this hasn’t already happened to you, there’s a decent chance it will sooner or later.
We might even see such movement increase in 2021 as well-funded, rapidly growing vendors – that are striving to differentiate – look to analysts, for their experience and wisdom, as strong candidates for leadership positions in product, strategy, and/or marketing. Sometimes such vendors can make offers to analysts that analysts simply cannot refuse, as the saying goes.
When an analyst leaves the research world for the vendor community, it’s natural for vendors and analyst relations pros to raise questions. It’s fair for vendors to have concerns about the information they shared confidentially with the analyst – be it via one evaluation report or over the course of years of engagement. AR pros can quickly find themselves trying to explain to their executive leaders why it won’t be catastrophic that the analyst who knows the vendor’s pain points, roadmap, and strategy now works for a rival vendor.
The good news is analyst firms – especially the big three of Gartner, Forrester, and IDC – do everything they can to protect confidential information upon the departure of an analyst. It can’t be 100 percent foolproof but it typically works, for a variety of reasons.
The Half-Life of Vendor Knowledge
One of the simplest and best reasons vendors shouldn’t panic, even if the departing analyst spills trade secrets, is how quickly information evolves. Especially in today’s world, yesterday’s current understanding quickly becomes incomplete, if not obsolete. Also, remember how many other vendors the analyst kept tabs on? And how the analyst wanted more frequent updates from you / never remembered your details as perfectly as you hoped? Analysts are wicked smart, but there are only so many brain cells to retain all that information.
Honor – By Contract
When industry analysts start as analysts, most (especially those at the largest firms) are required to sign a kind of contract or code of conduct agreement that applies to confidentiality of information and / or conditions of employment. One example, in summary, says that the employee / ex-employee may not use or disclose confidential or proprietary business information learned in the course of employment. These agreements apply to analysts even after they leave their posts as analysts, which they are reminded of upon their departures. Of course, it’s probably unlikely that Gartner would actually take an ex-analyst to court if these terms are violated after leaving Gartner. But an ex-analyst who breaks that contract certainly would eliminate any chance of returning to that analyst firm. Perhaps, too, any chance to work for other analyst firms down the road.
Honor – By Reputation
Simpler and perhaps more noteworthy than a contractual obligation is the ex-analyst’s reputation. He or she has spent years cultivating respect for his or her integrity. Why trash that right away by revealing confidential information? They know that to misuse confidential information would prevent them from ever being able to return to an analyst job, let alone work for any other vendor. Even if he or she has zero desire to boomerang back to analyst life, it’s still a matter of professional reputation. Also, as tempting as it might be to think that an ex-analyst got that fancy new job with your competitor because of a shady promise to divulge insider information, remind yourself that it’s far more likely that the analyst got the job because of his/her expertise in market trends and end-user needs.
How to Air Your Concerns
Should this situation happen in your world, the best course of action is to raise any concerns early with the analyst leader who managed the departing analyst and who will hire a new analyst to take over the coverage. Odds are the manager will genuinely listen to your concerns and reassure you about the ex-analyst’s obligations and code of conduct. You’ll also have the chance to offer your thoughts on how coverage of the category might evolve in new hands. Perhaps you’ll even have people in your network who might be applicable for the position to put on the hiring lead’s radar. Quality candidates for analyst positions do not grow on trees, so most hiring managers appreciate thoughtful ideas or even introductions.
When a new analyst is in place, engage early and often. Fostering awareness and relationships will help everyone – from your leadership to your speakers – move on from whatever fear, uncertainty, and/or doubt is swirling about the ex-analyst and focus on the fresh opportunity with the new analyst.