Both sides of the mirror: Product Marketing and Analyst Relations

I’ve had the unique career experience of having been both an industry analyst (with Forrester Research) and a product marketing leader (with Informatica, Okta, and Lattice). This means I’ve experienced what works and what doesn’t work from both sides of the analyst/vendor relationship.

As with any relationship in life, the best way for product marketers to understand and influence industry analysts is to lead with empathy and try to imagine walking a mile in their shoes. So here’s a snippet of what may happen in a vendor briefing call.

Product marketer perspective: My first briefing to a new analyst

I’m excited, but a bit nervous to do this briefing. This analyst is really respected by our customers, and it’s important that they like and recommend us. It would be amazing if they chose to write about us, and maybe even include us in the next version of their vendor evaluation (e.g., Magic Quadrant, Wave, MarketScape, etc). I hate to put a lot of pressure on myself, but my whole company is counting on me to make a good impression so I better be thorough and ensure they know everything that makes us great! It’s too bad my boss, the head of product, or our CEO couldn’t make it.

Okay, here we go. This is the first time I’m using this analyst deck, I hope they like it. I have 60 minutes, but it’s only 35 slides so I should have plenty of time to get through it, with the remaining 15-20 minutes for a demo.   

Introductions out of the way, time for the differentiation slide. This is where the rubber hits the road, we are the first, best, and only vendor whose product can do these things – they’re going to be amazed. No real comments, but they’re probably just absorbing all of this. Let’s keep going. Slide 8, time for the product roadmap and portfolio deep dive. They’re going to be shocked at how many products we have, I bet they only thought we did that one thing we’re best known for. But time getting a bit tight, let me rush through these slides to get to the demo. 

The analyst asked me a few questions about our customer use cases and who we most often compete against. I gave a few examples but didn’t want to get pigeonholed, so I told them that we’re a horizontal platform that can solve almost any problem, and because of that we don’t have any real competition. That should protect us from being perceived as too narrow.

Cranking through the demo – analyst seems to have tuned out though. No questions, and I can tell they’re looking at their other screen. Maybe they’re dealing with some kind of fire drill? Hopefully they got the main messages though and will be open to a follow-up briefing. It’s so hard to tell what they thought, they barely spoke except for a few random questions.

Analyst perspective: My briefing from a new vendor

Alrighty, getting ready for my next briefing. It’s my 10th briefing this week, and I’ve already had 15 inquiries, and it’s only Wednesday afternoon – I need to space these out a bit more!   But my notes doc is open, and I’m logging into the Zoom. I’ve been hearing more and more about this new vendor from my customers, so I’m really interested to see what they’re up to and if there’s a ‘there there!”

Looks like only one person on the call, introduced themselves as the head of product marketing. Sounds good, but too bad no one from the product organization or leadership team on the call. Since it’s still a relatively small company I would have liked to ask a bit more about their overall strategy and viability.  Maybe the presenter will cover those in their pitch, but if not I won’t put the product marketer on the spot – their leadership team should be answering those questions.

Seems like a nice person, a bit nervous so I’ll be patient with them to help them get comfortable. Here they go with the slides.  Wow, started super high level with only 2-3 slides about the market problem, then went immediately to their differentiators?  Oh sheesh, these are the same differentiators I saw from my last 9 vendor briefings. They’re listing these things that they’re best at, but not spending any time providing proof points to help me believe them.  Unfortunately sounds like marketing proof points vs validated proof points backed by customers, data, or some other 3rd party. They seem eager to keep presenting, so I’ll hold off on questions – maybe they’ll provide those proof points in the coming slides.

Oh my, why so many bullet points – my eyes are glazing over!  And they’re just reading the slide to me – please don’t do that, I need a conversation not a narration! Okay, they’re diving into their product portfolio already. I stopped them to ask about their primary use cases and competitors to get a better sense for where they specialize and how I can position them in the market. They shared some examples, but didn’t clarify if that represented the majority of their customers. Instead, they said they can do everything? If they do everything, it really means to me that they do nothing.They need to focus and highlight that 80/20 rule of where they are most often winning deals and where their customers are happiest. I wish there were more customer use cases and win stories here to make it clearer what they’re doing. They just keep talking and aren’t taking a breath to let me ask any questions. Too much content here for just an hour. Let me check my emails for a bit. Wow, this Wordle is tough today…

Anyway, this is a briefing, not an inquiry. So I’m not really going to go off on a tangent and answer questions I haven’t been asked. And they seem eager to get to the demo. Really hard to get excited about seeing a demo when I don’t even understand why customers care though. 

Seems like they’ve got a lot of raw materials that could lead into a decent business, but I’m leaving this briefing not really sure I understand them any better than I did before. I get that they are competing in this space, but no proof points of where they are uniquely adding value to this market. Hoping the next time I meet with them they’ll have some more clarity of what’s going on in their actual business vs just the pitch. But unless I hear from my customers that they want to learn more about this vendor, I don’t think I can take too much bandwidth to consider them.

Recommendations for delivering a great analyst briefing

I wish I could say that the scenario above was an extreme example, but for me as an analyst it was often the norm. Over time as I gained more experience as an analyst, I tried to recognize when a briefing was going in the wrong direction and learned to interrupt and redirect briefings that were not adding value.I did this both selfishly for me, but also to let the vendor know that I wasn’t getting what I really needed with the hope that that transparency and candor would be a win-win for both of us. More often than not the vendor was really appreciative for that feedback and the briefing morphed into an awesome conversation. On rare occasions, the vendor would become defensive and I would then shut down and just let them do whatever they wanted to do – but I was clearly disengaged at that point. 

I wish I could say that all analysts are patient and nurturing, wanting nothing more than to teach product marketing and analyst relations teams how to influence them, but they do have day jobs. As hinted above with the hamster-wheel volume of briefing and inquiries analysts must manage, not to mention that they need to generate research, many analysts don’t have the bandwidth to provide guidance to vendors that may be off-track.

With that in mind, here are some tips for product marketers and analyst relations teams to get the most out of your analyst briefings:

  • Do your research about the analysts. Read their research, blogs, and social media posts. Understand what topics are most interesting to them and get a sense for any bias or preconceptions they may be bringing to the briefing so you can prepare for any objection handling with compelling proof points.
  • Convince members of your leadership to join the briefing. Not only does it show the analyst how serious you are about educating them, but it could open the door to questions that could provide telling market or competitive intelligence that would not be asked without C-level participation. 
  • Presentation skills 101 – less slides, more conversation.  If this is your first briefing, lean heavily into who your company is, what unique problems you are solving, and the customer proof points that validate that what you’re saying is reality. You can provide a high level overview of your portfolio, but focus more on your product strategy and vision, and less on your feature/functionality.  If the analyst is interested, you can always send additional slides or data sheets that dive deeper into your products, but don’t assume they want that level of depth in the first call. 
  • Same goes for a demo. If you want to demo, consider a 5 minute “fly over” that highlights something unique like user experience, integrations, or design. But don’t assume an analyst will want to go deep on an intro call. If you get the sense from your research into the analyst that they love the technical details, simply ask them if they’d like to include a demo before you prepare the briefing!  
  • Check in with them throughout the presentation. If they’re not asking questions or appear disengaged, stop presenting. It’s not an inquiry so you shouldn’t expect them to provide advice, but you should absolutely be asking them if what you’re presenting makes sense, feels credible, is differentiated, or is lacking anything that would be important to them.
  • Leave time at the end. Ask about their research agendas, and what their priorities are for the year.  If they mention any research that sounds relevant for you, offer to participate, introduce them to customers, and support their research in any way you can.

For more advice and insights into how product marketing and analyst relations teams can improve their analyst engagement, please check out my article, “Product Marketing and Analyst Relations: A match made in the upper right.”

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