It’s no surprise. For small and medium-sized firms, going through the complete Magic Quadrant or Forrester Wave assessment cycle is always going to be a tense and nervy experience. But after the preparation, the effort, and the waiting, many are bound to end up disappointed.

Not everyone can be a Leader. Leadership status would be meaningless if too many companies shared that sought-after positioning in the upper right quadrant.

And, though there’s room for more research to quantify just how much commercial difference a good assessment makes, we all know that it can change a company’s fortunes in a matter of months.

So it’s inevitable, in the aftermath of publication, that many vendors will be unhappy. And, at some stage, every one of them is going to wonder just how fair and objective the whole process has been.

Yes, it’s biased in favor of bigger corporations

There are a lot of issues to be unpicked there – and we’ll come back to several of them in the next few months. But, for now, let’s start with the most basic question of all.

Does the whole assessment process have a built-in bias against smaller companies?

Let’s put it another way. Does being a small or medium-sized firm mean that you will always be pushed aside or trampled underfoot by the Oracles and SAPs, the IBMs and Microsofts, the HPs and the Salesforce.coms of this world, the big players that seem to take their places in the Leaders quadrant almost by right?

Well, there’s no point sitting on the fence about this. The answer’s yes, unless you take specific action to avoid it.

Let’s be clear. We know the research and analysis industry inside out and backwards. Our first seven employees have a total of 80 years’ Gartner experience between them. And we know how it all works.

There’s no deliberate bias. There’s no payola, pay-for-play, glad-handing, back-slapping trading of favors here. No bribery. No corruption.  No you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours. It’s all a lot subtler and more innocent than that.

It’s more a question of who is there in the analyst’s eyeline all the time. Who is seen at every conference? Whose product launches are unmissable in the trade press? Who makes the news with acquisitions and government contracts? Whose products, because they are known and recognized by everybody, provide the vocabulary and benchmarks for every discussion within your sector?

It’s nothing half a million or so couldn’t fix

These are all factors that are best addressed with the application of vast marketing budgets, running into the tens of millions of dollars each year.

But there is one other, equally important factor, that is not so obvious to the outside world. These companies have almost constant interaction, at all sorts of levels, with the research and analysis organizations. And they employ dedicated teams of analyst relations specialists to make sure that keeps on happening.

You don’t have to be Oracle to have your own analyst relations squad. Maybe three or four full-time staff, if they knew what they were doing, could deliver all the exposure you needed. But how many smaller firms can afford the fully-loaded costs of employing three or four extra people? What are we talking about? Maybe a half-million dollar budget line. Maybe a bit more.

If you have the luxury of this kind of dedicated team, with a decent budget for implementing the ideas that seem important, you can pretty well guarantee getting the right people from your company in front of the right analysts at the right time. If you don’t have the money and resources to act like this, you’re facing an uphill climb.

The smart alternative? Bring in the specialist skills you need

The fact is, the bias against smaller vendors is there, baked into the system. It’s a huge, unintentional bias – and we’ve seen plenty of instances of conscientious Gartner and Forrester analysts deliberately working to counteract its effects.  But that’s not something you can rely on.

What you can do – and this is why The Skills Connection developed its unique MQ Tune-Up program – is make sure you have access to the skills and thinking that those costly inhouse analyst relations teams confer on the big players.

We can’t level the playing field completely and put you toe-to-toe with SAP or Salesforce. But we can draw on our industry background to help you plan and prepare for your analyst assessments.

We can coach you and test your arguments, tell you in advance what evidence you’re going to need, and help you fill in the questionnaires. We can roll up our sleeves, create winning slide decks, and help you develop demos that tell clear and memorable stories. We can give you access – on an affordable, part-time basis – to some of the shrewdest award-winning analyst brainpower the industry has seen.

If your company is destined to grow, maybe you can afford to wait until sheer scale puts you into a position to compete for the Leaders quadrant. If you’re in a hurry, we can help to tip the odds in your favor right now, over the months leading up to the next MQ or Wave.

 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. Are we being unfair when we say there’s a huge bias in the way assessments are done? Shoot us down and have your say.