“Sorry, we can’t install your software until next year as all our support staff have met their installation scorecard quotas and are now busy now doing other things. Thank you for your call. Goodbye.”

Not much of a come-on, is it? When was the last time you told one of your customers that? Never, I hope. In fact, you may already be starting to worry about my sanity. But wait a second. This is pretty much the message Gartner and other big research organizations put out to their clients every year.

“I know you have a strategic need for advice for your 2013 plans, but the relevant analyst has met his quota of SAS days and he’s not doing any more site visits till next year.” It sounds like a joke. But it’s not at all funny. Perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself. One of our clients did just last week.

Are these people mad? Is there any sense in turning down revenue dollars because an analyst’s time allocation scorecard says it’s time to do something different?

Actually – bizarrely – the answer is yes. There is a certain logic behind it. But, frankly, it’s not enough to justify continuing the practice.

This strange situation is the price the research organizations tell us we need to pay for maintaining a proper independence between analysts and sales.

It’s Not Our Problem, It’s Theirs

Every analyst firm I have worked for has faced the same conundrum. If you incentivize analysts to be responsive to customers, you risk having them chase dollars and creating a lack of research objectivity.

On the other hand, if you don’t incentivize them, they start behaving like academics (like prima donnas, some might say) and acting against the best commercial interests of both the research firm and its customers.

And this is not the only time management problem the analyst firms face. The other big one is the perennial difficulty of balancing the work. Every company wants to earn consulting dollars and satisfy clients’ custom requirements. Yet, at the same time, everyone expects them to publish plenty of research and berates them whenever their output starts to drop off.

So does that mean the customer just has to sit there and accept the way it is? Maybe the analyst is king. Maybe if he refuses to get off his throne, we just have to accept it.

I think not. This is not a new issue for the analyst firms and it’s about time they got it figured out. It’s their problem, but why should it be ours, too?

As a customer, your first practical step is to recognize who does care about you at the research firm.

It’s not the analysts. It’s sales you need to talk to (either your own sales rep or your rep’s boss). Sales people have a reason to care. And if they are any good at their game, they know which buttons to press to get the analysts paying attention. They also know that this is a way for them to get something they want from you – early renewal, perhaps, or an uplift to the overall contract.

They know that. And, now, so do you.

Time to Stop the Nonsense

In the longer term, this is an issue the analyst firms are going to have to address. Everyone talks about being “customer-centric” and wanting to deliver “the best customer experience”. Today, though, the reality is that it’s all talk and no action.

Effective analysts already know how to meet their clients’ needs and produce enough research without compromising their objectivity. Ask the myriad of small research firms who have to achieve this or die. Or ask the handful of top performers at the biggest of the behemoths, who also know how to work this magic, seemingly effortlessly, day in, day out.

In the end, it’s all about training analysts effectively and creating analyst scorecards and incentives that genuinely put clients first. That shouldn’t be impossible. In fact, given the will to tackle it, the problem could be solved quite quickly.

We should all be demanding that the research organizations get a grip on this today, and never accepting that it’s reasonable for the analyst’s scorecard to take precedence over the customer’s needs. After all, would you put up with that kind of service in any other context?

 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. Have you been squeezed out by the demands of your analyst’s scorecard? Have you had to lean on sales contacts to get the analyst time you need? Have your say, and send us any practical tips you’ve discovered that we can share with our readers.