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Your pitch to analysts isn’t just about your solution

In pitches to analysts, there are many conversations going on. At one level, there’s a communication about the business solution. There’s also a conversation about the wider market and about the personal credibility of the participants. Sometimes the slides used in pitches are just excuses for the interaction. The slides are used to assess both the market vision of the firm and the adaptability if the executives to adjust to the market and conversation. The solution pitch is used to assess the ability of executives to adapt.

In the body of theory used by business sociologists, we talk about inscription devices.  Pitch slides provide, in the same way as analyst research, both a vision to be signed up to and also an entry ticket into a conversation. In our 2014 survey, we saw that pitch decks (which play similar roles to business plans in entrepreneurial pitches to investors, in explaining the business) were important. We expected people to respond to our survey by stressing the vision in the pitch decks. As the chart above shows, many analysts found that a valuable part of pitches was the broader discussion about market categories and trends. However, we were surprised to see how important presentational elements, such personal credibility and value, mattered. So, looking at the non-PowerPoint content of a pitch to analysts allows us to see other, perhaps intrinsic, qualities of valuable professionals who interact in pitches to analysts. In the pitch to analysts, of course, analysts are not prospective customers looking to buy the solution.

Both the analysts and the vendors produce artefacts that outline the vision of the market, and what it means for them, that they want the ecosystem to perform. Analysts’ research is as much a pitch as the patter of a street-trader. Market traders are providing both goods to customers, and valuable social interactions that give knowledge, entertainment, connections, status and potential access to other resources. The intrinsic object is often not the main value. When an analyst is being pitched to they are not getting a valuable product; they are exchanging information that allows both sides to produce more successfully performative visions of the future. It’s not only the knowledge of the market that is exchanged. There is a lot of name-dropping, status-building, praise and similar methods that aim to build personal rapport.

I’ve seen this first hand watching firms of different size in the same market who are pitching to the same analyst for the same study. Larger firms get an easy ride in some ways: the functionality and suitability of their solutions are less likely to be challenged. It’s easy to see why if you see how that would work in a consumer market. Certainly, analysts have to value the product or service delivery of a firm. But the range of artefacts like the Magic Quadrant shows that there’s multiple things being evaluated at any one time. Not only the intrinsic quality of the solution’s execution but also the ability of the firm to use organising visions of the future to create, explain, adapt and convince. Both the concrete and the socially-formed are the multiple levels of the valuation process. Their interplay continually reforms the different criteria being valued in pitched to analysts. Furthermore, while analysts are valuing providers through their pitches it’s also the case that the providers are also valuing the analysts.
When vendors come to pitch, there are three levels therefore.
  1. About the products
  2. About markets and how the definition of market categories are defined and how they evolve
  3. The value of the actors.

So, different things are being valued at the same time. A managerial focus will always encourage vendors to place too much emphasis on the solution, and less on the struggle to change valuation criteria. However, it’s often ignored that people are being valued, and organisations are being valued by analysts though their selection of people. We saw this in our 2014 study. When analysts are sent both slides and biographies in advance, then often it’s the biographies that are being examined most closely. Analysts know about the tangible aspects of their markets; they need to know about the future and to be able to evaluate the credibility of the people they are being pitched to by.

These aspects of personal credibility have to be contextualised. The work of assessing products and markets is real and important in, and after, pitches. But that’s clearly not the only thing going on. By shining a light on the impressions that people leave on each other, and how they are valued we don’t want to suggest that analysts are being led only by flim-flam. But it is useful to explore what is not explained by traditional narratives of pitches, which focus only on the solutions that are under discussion. My academic colleague Christian Hampel and I explored this, aiming to show that there is another conversation at work. We used the work of Erwin Goffman to try to understand the role of presentation. His approach is valuable, even if there are many criticisms of it and attempts ti build on his approach. Goffman’s work didn’t focus on very similar interactions. Much of his work, for example, was done in hotel restaurants and cafes. Unlike a waiter and a customer meeting in a cafe, both sides in a pitch to analysts bring a menu and both are trying to prove themselves through a discussion about the non-immediate future. If IBM promises a smart city, that’s not like promising a burger with fries. Analysts assume more power in a pitch than either waiters or customers in cafes. Coaching can flow both ways, even unsolicited, as vendors try to increase the favourability of analysts and to increase the influence of favourable analysts.

Goffman’s approach focusses on interactions that are physically co-located, and so a future concern for us could to understand the different impact if any of online interactions. So many pitches to analysts now happen online. Trevor Pinch, who has made a seminar study of pitches by street traders, was written a lot about the invisible technologies within the Goffman approach. John Law’s work as also helped us to better understand pitches. Ruth Rettie’s thoughts about online impression management have given us a lot of ideas, especially about the back-stage and on-stage elements of the drama being mobilised by these experts who gather in pitch meetings. When these solution providers are ‘on stage’ there are comparisons with dramaturgy that can give us some powerful, often analogous, insights.
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Kea Company acquires UK analyst relations consultancy Active Influence

Merger consolidates Kea Company’s position as world’s largest analyst relations consultancy

January 19, 2017. London — Kea Company, the world’s largest analyst relations consultancy, today completed its acquisition of Active Influence. Founded in 2010, Active Influence has helped many of the world’s largest technology companies to gain measurable business benefit from their relationships with analyst firms. Founder Richard East has become a partner in Kea Company, which obtained substantially all of Active Influence’s intellectual property and assets at the end of 2016.

Sven Litke, a managing partner at Kea Company, said: “With four acquisitions in the last five years, Kea Company has extended its leadership in the analyst relations community through its focus on analyst value. As our 2017 Analyst Value Survey shows, both the supply-side and the demand-side need help to target the best analysts. Richard East, and the Active Influence acquisition more broadly, will take our services for the buyers of analyst research up to the next level.”

Richard East, who was managing director at Active Influence, added: “I welcome the opportunity of working with Kea Company clients in building that all-important relationship with the most appropriate and relevant industry analysts.”

Duncan Chapple, the Kea Company partner who negotiated the acquisition, added: “Active Influence’s robust methodology for ranking and tiering analyst firms is the perfect engine for the data from the Analyst Value Survey. For the first time, these complex and nuanced data will be able to help companies to shift their spending with analysts to gain the most value.“

Notes

  1. Founded in 2003, Kea Company is the world’s largest analyst relations consultancy.
  2. The firm’s recent acquisitions are Daruma Concept (2012); Lighthouse Analyst Relations (2013); SageCircle (2014) and Active Influence (2016).
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Dear Optimist, Pessimist and Realist

With December here, the year is nearly over. What did you achieve over the past year? How happy are you with what you and your team have accomplished?

If I take a look at my own front porch, I can say nothing but good stuff. We have experienced an amazing year in any way possible. Loads of people contributed to our growth and success, and we’ll finally be able to say goodbye to some others who did absolutely nothing for us. In short, with a clean slate we can look forward to an even better 2014!

Optimistically we started 2013 with some great plans, and in the end it turned out to be much more than just great plans. We had a killer year! From quality acquisitions, to the first AR Forum in London with top sponsors, excellent attendees and amazing content. In 2013 we also celebrate our 10th anniversary. A year to remember by any standard, and a year people will remember us for.

As many wise people have said many times before, the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. Meaning: every company has it shortcomings. I would say we had a freakishly long list at the start of 2013, and now are down to just a couple which will be solved in time. Yet again, this year taught me that attitude is of extreme importance when thinking of a plan and realising that there are many more challenges ahead. I am glad everybody stuck together and finally agreed to grow a pair and deal with the cultural differences that one might encounter when operating on an international level.

Realistically (and no, this is not the part where you can say that I am a pessimist) 2014 will be tough. Every company likes growth, but 2013 has been a real successful year for Kea Company so far so I can imagine that it might be hard to top. We have gotten more mature, which will lead to even more focus on client satisfaction. We are able to do more in less time, and be more successful for a larger number of clients. Like I said, 2013 might be hard to top, but the Kea team has always liked a challenge so I think we’ll have a go at it!

I consider this to be my last post for this year. Call me lazy, but I feel that I have said all I had to say.

I would like to thank my family, the team, clients and God (not really) for making my life such a great space to be in. And of course next year I will tell you all that we have done it, again.

 

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Thought Leaders

Thought leaders are characterised by thinking differently about important issues. Martin Luther King was a thought leader – his vision of a society where whites and blacks could live together changed the rules of thinking and behaviour in American society. The British nurse Florence Nightingale was a thought leader. She changed the 19th-century philosophy in health care, amongst others through the promotion of the importance of hygiene. Steve Jobs is hailed as a thought leader. He changed the way we look at the use of computer technology. These three persons contributed to this world with their vision and indeed, were eventually seen as thought leaders. But what is thought leadership in an organisational context? Why should organisations want to promote thought leadership? And how do you build this? How many thought leaders do you know personally?

Since we can’t all be thought leaders, you need to make sure this will not be another overrated phrase used in today’s media. We should keep some things off the radar and only come out with those when they really have a meaning. Today I decided to check my LinkedIn connections. Forty people have the phrase “thought leader” in their profile. Some even have it with their specialties. You’ve got to love that. Please explain to me how someone is an account manager, but on the side a thought leader as well. What qualifies you as a thought leader, if you have been selling software for the past ten years? I then decided to look up some people I greatly admire, and whom I consider qualified to be a thought leader. It turns out that they hardly use this phrase, and each of them contributed greatly to the world of business today. So should you come up with it yourself or should you wait until people start calling you a thought leader?

In the space of Influencer Relations there are many people who think they have it all figured out, but I guess it is not so different in other sectors. I just want to make people aware of the fact that putting something on your resume, doesn’t automatically make it true. This works both ways of course. Why do people have such an issue with acknowledging their peers? Does that make you a lesser person in that field? I doubt it. I really think it shows that you are open for other people to be recognised for their efforts. But at the very least let us all agree that the phrase “thought leader” is not the new “Manager” or “Consultant”. That would do so many great people injustice.

 

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There’s no Such Thing as a Free Lunch

The economic theory, and also the lay opinion, that whatever goods and services are provided, they must be paid for by someone – i.e. you don’t get something for nothing. The phrase is also known by the acronym of ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’ – tanstaafl.

What is wrong with this world? Why do people talk nonsense fifty percent of the day? I am clearly fed up with this. I exactly took thirty minutes out of my busy schedule to tell this to you.

For the past twelve months, I have been dealing with Small (very small) and Medium businesses myself. It is always noble to help the people that can use it the most. I know that this is not the easiest business to conquer, but it is my own choice. In those twelve months, I had around a hundred meetings I joined myself to see if it leads to victory. I think I experienced around twenty meetings that had anything to do with a decent education and thoughts about how they wanted to work with others. So for the people who question what I just said; common knowledge on how to behave when you need something and have something to offer in return.

This leaves us with eighty meetings where you can mildly question the request up to where you walk out in fifteen minutes because their boldness is shameless. And mind you, we are clear on the phone before we jump in the car. So why do people behave like this? Why would you treat people like that? Did you miss certain education when you lived back home?

I know one thing for sure. They keep trying because there are still people out there with no self-esteem. You can’t tell me that this is normal behaviour. If you would like to receive the help, you should expect to provide something in return.  Normally money would be just fine. If you don’t like that, don’t make the call. Figure it out yourself. If you think it is all to expensive, don’t blame others, learn how to use a calculator. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

 

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How Valuable is Service?

How do you measure whether clients are happy with your service? Do we need a matrix to make sure we make it all visible, or can we just conclude that when you ask the question their response has to speak for itself?

Every company claims that they deliver the best service or say that they are all about service. But considering our growth in new clients in the past years, that doesn’t seems to be the only thing clients look for. So how good is your service and how much time should you spend on it? All valid questions, but that doesn’t make  it easier.

One thing we can all agree on, is that it differs per country. Certain countries in Asia don’t care too much about service, so selling on service in their domestic region is a waste of sales efforts. In North America service is important. In Europe it really depends on where you are and what your selling.

So if you have a base product that needs simple execution worldwide, maybe it is all in the sales pitch. Some clients care and some don’t. Apart from the location where you are selling, it also depends on your product or service. In our business it is all about communication, openness and working flexible hours. Most of all, just get it done. Fix it! It makes life simple in my opinion. So why are there still so many competitors that talk about service instead of price, when the only outcome is that clients expect you to “fix it”.

I love service myself. I think it is common sense to add it in your contract and talk about it. But maybe, just maybe, it is not the number one factor for clients to choose you.

Times change, so let me know what you think. I would also like to invite you to share your opinion on this matter in our LinkedIn group: http://linkd.in/15qzDpj

 

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How Cool is That?

Today, of all days , I spend some time in a sub par hotel in the deep south of the Netherlands. Nothing cool about that I hear you thinking, but if I tell you that this place has a 750 seat capacity, the next bit will sound like winning the lottery. I walk in, pick a good seat close to the wireless access point. When I wanted to start with my first course two people sat down next to me and started to discuss next years budget. Nothing cool about that either you might say, and I was just enjoying my meal at first. Then it became clear that they were responsible for a tech company, just over the border in Belgium. They were discussing marketing and then, you’ve guessed it, the magic words came out – “Analyst Relations”.

Now we are talking!

The second course came and I was still listening to “what should we do next year about and with Analyst Relations?” Now I am not really the type of guy that just hops on board and start taking over a conversation that is not even for my ears to hear, but then the following happened. “Look Patrick, we have some options here. We can talk to Forrester or Gartner or we can look into companies that can help us for introductions and guidance”. What else do you need to hear. And then the usual overestimating began. “What should we reserve for this?” “Well, I only see big companies doing business with Gartner and Forrester. They probably charge by the hour or you buy a retainer. We need to look smart to them otherwise we pay top dollar”.

I decided to skip the final stage of my lunch to be able to make my move quickly when the opportunity would arise. I noticed that Patrick opened his Macbook Pro to learn some stuff about research firms and his colleague picked up the phone to take care of some other, non related, issues at hand. I got up and walked towards Patrick and asked him If I could get a minute of his time. He had no problems with that at all and was just as surprised as I had been when they started talking about Analyst Relations.

How cool is that! You go somewhere for a funeral and end up with a great sales call. Some things are just meant to happen I guess. There is one last thing that I need to do today, and that is buying that lottery ticket for next week.

Enjoy the weekend.