Money in envelope
You’re a realist, right? You know there are things you can do, investments you can make, that will help to make your company and your products more visible to Gartner and the other research and advisory organizations.

You know the rules. You’re certainly not supposed to be able to buy research coverage and favorable assessments in the Gartner Magic Quadrants or the Forrester Wave. But if you had the budget, and the determination to be noticed, there are some things you could do that might help you get onto the analysts’ radar.

Many firms sign contracts and become clients of the research companies. They make sure they have regular contact with the relevant analysts, so they can build easy, trusting, familiar working relationships. They sponsor events. They invest in buying analyst time for strategic advisory days. They talk to the analysts and send them news and announcements about the company and its triumphs.

In short, one way and another – and often at a considerable price – they interact with the research organizations and the analysts who take a specific interest in their product areas.

It makes sense. It’s probably inevitable, in the real world, that companies need to think about making this kind of effort. Whether you like it or not, this is how life is.

But that is not the whole story. Nothing like it.

You think no-one else thought of that?
We meet a lot of hopeful people in our line of work. They’ve invested in making sure the analysts know they’re there, through contacts, shows, and SAS days, and they think that means a good assessment is in the bag. They think they’re ahead of the game.

But they couldn’t be more dangerously wrong.

It is vital to recognize that this is a game with two distinct phases. The pre-assessment phase is important, but it is not the assessment. When it comes time for your assessment cycle, the analyst has to play by a pretty strict set of rules – and so do you. What you do at the time of the formal assessment is absolutely critical.

It is how you assemble your evidence, answer the questions, respond to the survey, handle the briefing call, and finally negotiate essential amendments to the analyst’s draft that will determine your success. All your preliminary work in the pre-assessment phase may help you get to the starting line in good shape, but it won’t give you an extra yard when the gun goes off. Once the race starts, it’s what you do next that counts.

All assessments are relative. They are a genuine race. If you have a good year and every one of your competitors has a great year, you lose. Your dot travels backward. That’s how the system works.

If no other company in your sector put in any of this pre-assessment effort, you might gain a relative advantage. But the bad news is this: everyone else in the market had the same brilliant idea. Most of your serious competitors have been doing the same relationship-building activities as you. Some may even have spent more and done them better.

So there’ll be no flying start for you. But, equally, there’ll be no flying start for them either. When the assessment cycle comes round, there’s a process that takes over. And if you handle it right, you will get the credit you deserve.

Today’s analysts need reasons to believe
Whatever tales people might have told about how things were done in the past, today’s research organizations are very keen to ensure they can justify the judgments they make.

A couple of years ago, Gartner found itself in a US District Court in Northern California, fending off a lawsuit from an email archiving company that claimed unfair Magic Quadrant positioning had cost it millions of dollars. The case was thrown out by the court, but it must have strengthened the Gartner determination that every MQ should be defensible under the closest scrutiny. Today’s assessment survey documents need to be thorough and complete. Every decision and judgment needs to be supported by an audit trail that can be checked back and referred to as possible evidence.

The fact is, these days, however much attention you have paid to building relationships and opening channels, you can’t do without a robust and realistic assessment strategy and a properly structured response. You need all the right evidence, and you need a strong, clearly differentiated story.

That’s what the big players hire their analyst relations teams to produce – and, in the main, they do it well. The quality of formal submissions from the big corporations these days is generally impressive, reflecting the substantial investment that goes into preparing them. Perhaps the only advantage the smaller company enjoys is the fact that a passionate, committed CEO may, in the end, produce a more relevant and realistic document than some young analyst relations expert who knows how to apply all the tools and techniques but does not have a core understanding of a specialist market.

It’s the assessment, stoopid
For far too many smaller companies, focusing on pre-assessment relationship-building distracts attention from the crunch point that lies ahead. Assessments are hard work, and they call for serious preparation. I’ve seen the bodies – the train wrecks and dashed hopes that litter the field in the wake of badly mishandled assessments.

I’ve seen the damaged careers, too. I’ve seen the dots go backward and the comments that certainly didn’t say what the friendly analyst was expected to say. I’ve heard CEOs asking angrily “Why did we spend all this money getting close to the analysts, just to end up with a result this bad?”

Ultimately, there’s no magic and no short cut. Pre-assessment activities guarantee you nothing. If you don’t have a strategy for the formal assessment cycle and a strong, distinctive story to tell, no amount of cozying up to the research companies is going to solve the problem.

And actually, that’s how it should be. Because if we had research companies that were unduly influenced by the attention and money companies lavished on them, no-one but the biggest, richest vendors would ever get a look in.

 Are we on target? The last thing we want is everyone agreeing with what goes into this blog. After all, if you don’t disagree with some of the points we’ve raised, we’ll be forced to be more and more provocative, and who knows where that will end? So let us have your thoughts. Do you think the research organizations are swayed by the amount people spend with them? Or do we get the assessments we deserve? Shoot us down and have your say.