technology analyst 101 for startups - how
At Gartner, I spent a fair bit of time with startups. Many of whom didn't know what to do with analysts. Now that I'm other side of the table, here's a 101 on tech analysts for startups.
Tech Analyst 101 for Startups
Part One - introduction to analysts / what they do
Part Two - why you want to talk to them / what they can do for you
Part Three - how to engage with them / what you should do with them
Part Four - wrapup / tl;dr and tips from analysts
Part Three - How
What not to do
The tendency amongst startups, especially those that outsource AR (analyst relations) to PR firms, is to treat analysts like press and try to get written up. But most of what analysts write is behind a paywall and targeted at very specific audiences. Also, nothing you do can make them write about you. They don’t win by writing about you, unless of you’re worth writing about. In which case, it’ll happen anyway if they know you exist and why. So setting "getting into such and such report" as the goal is basically a colossal waste of time. :)
What to do
In the typical analyst model, there are two fundamental forms of interaction you can have with them:
- Briefing: Any vendor can brief an analyst—no $ or being a client required. Briefings are one-way, you -> analyst. They can be requested by your or the analyst. As an analyst, I used to request many briefings with startups that I heard about through the grapevine or read about elsewhere.
- Inquiry or advisory: You must be a client. Inquiries are two-way, you <-> analyst. You get to ask questions, get feedback, have a dialogue, drill the analyst on their views.
No matter what, you should always brief the right analysts about what you do and any significant changes in your business. "Significant changes" include things like new funding rounds, new notable customers, major product updates, upcoming announcements. The right analysts are the ones whose coverage area(s) overlap with whatever you do or are adjacent influencers. For example, if your product is a mobile only SaaS CRM app, you probably shouldn’t brief an analyst whose primary coverage area is supply chain management. Figure out what analysts cover through their profiles, published research, LinkedIn profiles and what they're talking about on social media.
What happens when you brief an analyst well and regularly:
- You stay in the front of mind when the analyst is thinking about the market space you operate in and they might write you up in a research note as an example or even in a list of vendors to watch or something.
- When one of your potential customers (that you might not even know about or be targeting) asks about or is looking for something like what you do, the analyst is more likely to suggest they have a look at you or mention you.
- When a customer you are trying to land asks the analyst whether they should consider you, they have something to say other than “never heard of them, try this other thing that’s getting some traction instead”.
- When a potential acquirer (that you might not even know about) asks about or is looking for something like what you do, the analyst is more likely to suggest they have a look at you or mention you.
- When a VC or other investor-type asks about you, the analyst has something to say other than “never heard of them, but I know this other thing that’s in the same space that’s getting traction.
- When the press ask the analyst about your market segment, the analyst might actually mention as an example.
- When the press ask the analyst about you, the analyst has something to say other than “never heard of them, but I know this other thing that’s in the same space and getting traction”.
What you can do if you brief an analyst well and regularly:
- You can refer potential customers to them for an objective 3rd party gut check
- You can refer potential acquirers to them for an objective 3rd party gut check
- You can refer investors to them for an objective 3rd party gut check
- You can refer press to them for quotes and an objective 3rd party gut check
If you choose to become a paying customer of an analyst firm, you can do inquiry—which basically means you can call up and ask questions, send in documents and get them reviewed, etc. The major benefit to inquiry is that you can ask all kinds of questions and get serious, sometimes useful, answers.
All the things that I put under the heading “What analysts can do for you directly” in Part Two they can only do if you’re a paying customer:
- Help with message development, testing, and segmentation
- Help with product strategy and roadmap
- Help with business development strategy and tactics
- Help with pricing and packaging
Color outside the lines
You don't have to only follow the typical analyst model and use the formal channels. Reach out on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. You should be building awareness and interest in what you do through those channels before, or in conjunction with, formal inquiries and briefings.
If you are selling into any kind of business that is NOT another startup or at the bleeding edge of technology, there is an analyst out there who has influence on your customers.
Figure out whether your customer, investor, acquirer, or press base overlaps with that of any given analyst firm. Brief every analyst that it might. The more overlap, the better and more regular the briefings should be.
What to include in your first briefing:
- Company overview, founding team, investors, investments and total investment amount
- Vision, mission, value prop, use cases, target customer segment(s)
- Who you think you compete against, who you actually compete against, and what differentiates you
- Product overview, architecture, demo if possible (and if not, on followup); and be prepared to go deep technically if needed (bring the head of product or engineering, if you’re talking to someone like Lydia)
- Actual customers, why they bought, and any customer references that would be willing to talk to the analyst
Consider paying for a seat/license to an analyst firm only if you know for a fact that they (or particular analysts there) are influencers of (i.e. directly serve) your target customer segment.
Always brief or inquire with adjacent analysts—especially if what you do crosses categories or coverage areas. You want to get multiple angles on what you do and get yourself into the heads of whoever might touch upon your product area. Also, analyst reports get peer-reviewed inside (the good) firms; so the more analysts there are who will say good things about you, or provide support for your claims, the better.
Consider attending an analyst firm conference (e.g. Gartner Data Center) if your target customer segment will be present. I can’t speak for other firms, but Gartner conferences are attended by a surprising proportion of actual executives with buying power. I can’t imagine better qualified leads coming from any other kind of industry event.
Find out if your VC is a customer of any relevant analyst firms. Have your VC do inquiry for you! Or next time the right analyst comes by in person to visit your VC, make sure you’re in the room. :)
Most firms will do a free inquiry session as a POC (in person or on the phone). Take advantage of that. :)
Have questions? Need advice? Etc? Feel free to ping me on the twitters: @aneel