The Case for Insights-Driven Analyst Relations

by Andrew Hsu

September 9, 2020

Case Studies

The Case for Insights-Driven Analyst Relations

If you’ve felt a measurable increase in the amount of pressure placed by the C-suite on AR teams to prove channel worth, you are not alone. We’ve seen and felt it, too. In response to this pressure, we’ve seen AR leaders shift the focus of their programs to be almost exclusively outcome-driven. 

The downfalls of outcome-driven AR

When an AR team embraces this type of outcome-driven approach, the success of the program is measured by driving movement on the Earn-side of the AR value equation (i.e., Earn vs Learn). These measures include (but are not limited to): 

  • Improving placement in Magic Quadrants, Forrester Waves, and IDC Marketscapes
  • Increasing share of voice in syndicated research
  • Maximizing leads and deals
  • The successful creation of new coverage categories

While these outcomes are very important to us, we’ve found that solely taking an outcome-first approach to achieving these goals has a number of inherent weaknesses:

  1. It creates contentious one-way relationships with analysts. 

    When the emphasis of your program is primarily focused on getting analysts to buy into and repeat your go-to-market message, conversations with them become very one-sided. Analysts get frustrated because your firm doesn’t show a willingness to listen and your execs get frustrated when analysts won’t repeat what they are told. This puts your AR managers in the impossible position of building a relationship that neither side wants. 
  1. It surrenders a significant portion of value from the channel

    A well-informed analyst community covering your firm and industry is an invaluable source of market insight. If you don’t prioritize the discovery and sharing of analyst insight, your firm misses out on a big chunk of visibility to the market (e.g., What are your prospects asking analysts? Which of your competitors is gaining momentum? How do your products compare?) 
  1. Its measures of success are largely out of AR’s control. 

    Waves and MQs largely measure the strength of your firm’s offerings; new category creation is a reflection of the readiness of a new market;  share of voice in research is heavily correlated with the size of your firm; lead counts speak to the strength of your marketing organization, and none of these are within the AR team’s direct domain. We think it’s frustrating, and even dangerous, to have the worth and efficacy of your AR program be measured by things out of your control. 

So, how can we adjust the way we do analyst relations to counteract these weaknesses? 

The case for an insights-driven approach

We’ve found the solution to these challenges is to shift our primary program focus towards the deliberate uncovering and sharing of analyst perspective. We’ve been calling this shift in program philosophy Insights-Driven Analyst Relations

Over the last few years, we’ve been using this insights-first approach to achieving AR outcome, and the results have been very promising. It has become clear by embracing a more insights-driven approach, our clients are forming healthier and more productive relationships with the analyst community, they are winning more visibility and support from leadership, and to our delight – they are producing even better traditional AR results.  

Why we know this approach works:

  1. It builds more productive relationships: 

    By prioritizing the gathering of insights from analysts, the relationships with analysts retains a better back-and-forth informational balance. Analysts feel more actively involved in counseling your firm and in turn, they become much more receptive to hearing the claims of your speakers. On the flip side, business (sales, product, marketing, etc.) leaders become accustomed to seeing the analyst community as a source of market intelligence and stop seeing analysts as the just unfair graders of evaluative reports.
  1. It empowers better AR planning and doing: 

    In this approach, AR managers gather all the perceptions that key analysts hold about your company, your competitors, your prospects and your market. With this information in hand, planning the next interaction becomes simple. If the analyst has valuable feedback, make sure you hand that information to business partners that need to hear it. If the analyst holds a misperception about your firm, make sure you schedule an interaction and prep the right content to clear up the misunderstanding. 
  1. It enables better measurement: 

    Neither activity counts nor MQ placements reflect whether an AR manager is doing good work. In this approach, you track whether AR managers are:
  • Actively uncovering and capturing analyst perception (countable)
  • Actively shaping analyst sentiment over time (measurable via perception audits)
  • Actively sharing the right intel with your business partners (trackable)

In short, you can track whether you’re doing the things that give you the best chance at creating outcome. 

How to tell if you’re an insights-driven AR program

Almost every AR program we encounter at Spotlight exhibits behaviors that are at least insights-informed, but not always insights-driven. Programs that are insights-informed often discover nuggets of wisdom and feedback during analyst interactions, but AR managers are only sharing those findings with the business sporadically. These programs gather analyst perspective, but not systemically; these programs share what they find, but not consistently. 

The programs that gain the full advantage of being insights-driven exhibit additional characteristics that insights-informed programs do not: 

  • Their activities differ: AR managers in insights-driven programs are systematically gathering analyst perspectives, they analyze insights to identify themes and trends, they develop initiatives to reshape analyst perceptions, and they provide continual input to key stakeholders for decision making. 
  • Their success measures are different: AR managers in insights-driven programs are measured on the completeness of their intel and perception discovery, their ability to improve analyst sentiment over time, and the degree to which they inform sales, marketing and product. 

Should your program make the shift?

Like any wide-reaching change, making the shift from being insights-informed to being insights-driven requires substantial organizational commitment. It requires a different way of thinking, a different way of doing, a different way of counting, a different way of interacting with the business, and even different tools. We know that making the shift is hard, but we also know it’s worth the effort. 

An insights-driven approach doesn’t just get better AR results, it transforms AR from being just a reputation shaping function into also a critical business intelligence function. And in making that transformation, it changes AR from a business function that describes your firm’s past accomplishments into a business function that actively contributes to your firm’s future success. 

If you think your AR program could benefit from making the shift to a more insight-driven approach, I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. Or, if you’re just looking to learn more, join us for Spotlight’s next webinar on Wednesday, September 16.