Finding Our Category
February 11, 2020
Marketers like to boast of their skills at “category creation”. I am skeptical of most of these claims. In my world (B2B tech aimed at IT and infosec teams), I haven’t seen too much genuine category creation from vendors. It comes from buyers and industry analysts; when they agree that new solutions merit a new category, they say so, and vendors need to find their place in the new order.
What I have seen is vendors successfully create a new sub-category, based on a novel approach to an existing category, such as we did at Postini, when we made cloud-based email security a legitimate segment of the broader category. Vendors can also redefine a category by raising the bar so much higher than it had been before. To use an example from the consumer space, it’s easy to mis-remember that the Apple iPod created the portable digital music player category, but it didn’t. It simply redefined the category by being vastly better than all previous offerings.
I say all this to frame another one of my war stories, about how effective product marketing and analyst relations unleashed the potential of a startup I worked for. This time, I’ll talk about Active Reasoning.
Active Reasoning had struggled for years with its positioning and messaging because it had created a genuinely novel product that had elements of IT change management, configuration management, and GRC (governance, risk, and compliance) in it. But the company had failed to explain what the product did in a way that allowed buyers to correctly place it in their mental models of the IT solutions space.
I was brought on board as part of an executive shakeup that the company’s VCs instigated, to see if we could finally crack the code and get the company to grow before the VCs lost their patience.
The first step was to put on my product marketing hat and find a way to clearly and concisely describe the problems we solved and how we did that. It took a month of immersing myself in the product and talking to our customers before I came up with a messaging framework that seemed to work.
Next, I put on my analyst relations hat and spoke with our sales rep at Forrester. I walked them through the story, at the end of which, they said, “I honestly don’t know which of our analysts should cover you, but we’ll figure it out.” A week later, I was on a call with five Forrester analysts who covered the IT product categories that overlapped with, or were adjacent to, what our product did. I went through my presentation, explaining what the software did and how it wedded various IT operations and GRC solutions. At the end, they said we had a very interesting product that did not fit obviously into their taxonomy of IT Ops / GRC solutions. They said they would get back to me shortly. The waiting was the hardest part.
After two days, one of the five analysts got in touch with me to say that they would be the one to cover our company. Active Reasoning fit best in their research domain. In that instant, Active Reasoning fit into a product category in the IT universe, as least as Forrester saw things. We hadn’t created a category – we found the existing one that fit us best.
As it turned out, that Forrester analyst published a report two months after they had “adopted” Active Reasoning, and they had reason to mention us in the report. It was the first such recognition that we even existed!
We licensed the reprint rights to that report and armed Sales and Business Development with it. It was like a switch had been flipped. Suddenly we had more leads coming in and Sales was finally building some pipeline. More critically, as it turned out, it let our business development team explain how our solution complemented those of potential partners and acquirers.
Just six months after I joined Active Reasoning, we sold the company to one of those potential partners, Oracle, because for the first time, everyone could understand where we fit in their product portfolios, and they could see the value of the product.
Under A Cloud Of Suspicion
January 15, 2020
If you’ve heard me speak about the power of effective analyst relations as a tool for product marketers, you know how important I think it is. In my next few posts, I’ll tell you some anecdotes where AR was critical to success.
When I joined Postini in late 2003 to run product marketing, the email security (anti-spam, anti-virus) market was booming, with dozens of venture-funded entrants and no clear winners yet.
A few months earlier, Gartner had felt compelled to write something about the product category because their clients were finally feeling real pain from spam and viruses, and were confused by the proliferation of startup vendors. In the report, Gartner assessed the landscape and explained how customers could choose between appliance- and software-based solutions. They went over the key performance issues for all such products: catch rate, false positive rate, ease of use, etc.
At the very end of the report, Gartner mentioned that there were also three vendors who were offering their solutions as a managed service. Postini was one of those three. (This was before the terms “SaaS” and “cloud” were in use.) Gartner’s advice to customers was that they might consider one of the three services as an interim solution, easy to walk away from after a year, while they evaluated which of the “real” (ie: on-premises) solutions they should go with for the long term.
This marginalization of services wasn’t just a Gartner blind spot. Buyers weren’t interested in them either. By our own reckoning, something like 80% of the leads our inside sales team spoke with wouldn’t even consider using a service.
Changing our delivery method to on-prem was out of the question – the central hypothesis behind the company’s founding was that the cloud was the best place to handle email security. But Postini was early with its approach, at least as far as most of the buyers were concerned.
Shortly after I joined Postini, we hired our first PR/AR manager, Marty Tacktill. He and I realized the steep hill Postini had to climb to change the hearts and minds of buyers, so they would consider a cloud service. We knew that meant we had to change the hearts and minds of key industry analysts, including Gartner.
Because buyers were staying away from services, the company’s marketing and sales had evolved to hide that aspect of the solution, instead focusing on the metrics that everyone else focused on: catch rate, false positives, etc. The result was me-too marketing. More critically, it meant that Postini wasn’t supplying analyst firms a good argument in favor of their cloud based approach.
Marty and I immediately started an all-out push on the analyst firms, making sure we were clearly telling our story. Our message went from, “Oh, and it’s a service, sorry” to, “You’d be insane not to do this as a service, here’s why…”
We could articulate the reasons why a service made sense, and the technical architecture that made it work, at scale, securely and reliably. And we had customers who were huge fans of the solution that the analysts could talk to.
I would estimate that I spent at least 50% of my time during my first year at Postini doing press and analyst briefings, telling our story. Until we solved the problem of making a cloud service a credible approach in the minds of analyst (and, of course, their clients), no amount of white papers, demos and lead gen would increase our sales.
By the middle of 2004, Gartner saw the need to write a Magic Quadrant about the market, so great was the demand from their clients for help navigating the crowded market. By the time they sent out the survey, Marty and I had already met with them a half-dozen times, calmly explaining why we chose the cloud approach, and the real benefits to our customers.
Postini ended up being one of the four Leaders in that MQ. (And one of the other Leaders was one of the two other service-based offerings.) It had worked. We had taken the time to explain our approach to Gartner (and other key analysts) and it had paid off, albeit more rapidly that we could have anticipated. We licensed reprint right to the MQ and armed Sales with that.
We had gotten the neutral, influential, third-party opinion that made it safe for buyers to consider a cloud-based service. Suddenly, all of our other marketing content and collateral started working. A recent product comparison shoot-out that one of the tech magazines had performed, where Postini ranked in the top two in both catch rate and false positive rate, which had been essentially irrelevant earlier, was now a red-hot marketing and sales tool.
Sales started to take off, and the rest is history. In two years, we went from $10M a year in revenues to $75M, leading to acquisition by Google.
The 7 Ups of Building Credibility Through Analyst Relations
December 4, 2019
I’ve been leading B2B tech product marketing teams for more than 20 years and I’ve seen how easy it is to fall into what I call the “content trap”. We’re constantly creating new content to fuel our campaigns, to keep things fresh and interesting for our audiences. We try new messaging, new content types, new offers. It can be fun and exciting.
But it’s a trap because in our haste to create new content, we do the easy thing – start writing about how our product or service is newer, better, different. That kind of content might help generate awareness amongst buyers, but it fails at generating something much more important: Credibility.
The Lack of Credibility
In B2B tech, the buyers are smart people, technical, and skeptical of being marketed to. They know that the next white paper or infographic my team creates is self-serving, and worthy of their skepticism.
There are two sources of credibility available to marketers – customers and industry analysts. Your buyers listen to what their peers are saying about your and your competitors’ solutions, and they pay attention to what the relevant analysts are saying. How to be great at customer references is a discussion for another time. Today, I want to address analyst relations.
I constantly drive my teams to set aside the time required to make sure that the industry analysts have a thorough understanding of our solutions. It’s hard work. It can take months to help an analyst really “get it”, compared with how easy it is to just sit down and start writing a new blog post yourself.
Whatever your level of experience in working with analysts, I’d like to offer you some tips that I hope will accelerate your becoming a black belt at analyst relations (AR). I call these tips, “The 7 Ups”.
1. Face Up
We marketers have to face up to the fact that we have a serious credibility problem. Here’s the crux of the matter: all of the content that we create that consists of us saying nice things about our product lack credibility. There’s simply so much reason why a company could be tempted to lie or exaggerate. I’m not suggesting that marketers stop creating white papers and data sheets. But I am saying they can’t rely solely on them. We have to face up the fact that we need customer references, and we need analyst coverage. We need unbiased perspectives.
As I write this (November 2019), a good example is how one company, Illumio, devotes a lot of their home page real estate to their analyst coverage instead of their home-grown content.
2. Brush Up
In order to be successful at analyst relations, you need to brush up on the analysts, who they are, what they do, what they expect from you. You’ll find analyst profiles on their firms’ websites, but don’t forget to check their LinkedIn profiles too.
The first and most important thing to brush up on is this: which analysts do your buyers actually listen to? Devoting time to educating the wrong analysts, analysts who don’t actually influence buyer’s purchasing decisions, is a waste of time. It’s so easy to simply assume that you need to engage with just the big firms, like IDC, Forrester, and Gartner, and miss the fact that your buyers might value the insights of one of the smaller firms.
I’ve worked with some CEOs and CMOs who think that analyst relations consists of responding once a year to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant survey. That’s not analyst relations. I’ve worked with some very smart people who think that the four quadrants in a Magic Quadrant are: Leader, Fail, Fail, and Fail. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the report.
Have you ever read one of the longer analyst reports, like a Forrester Wave, from cover to cover? I know a lot of marketers who never have. It’s so tempting to flip to page three and look at where the dots are in the chart and ignore everything else. But you need to brush up on what the analysts are really saying, and what their reports are really about, what they’re intended to explain, all of it.
3. Team Up
If your company has a dedicated analyst relations manager, make sure they become your new best friend. I’ve seen firsthand how powerful it can be to have great teamwork between product marketing and analyst relations.
Your analyst relations manager has a strategic role to play, and will develop and drive the game plan for which analysts to work with and how often. They’ll maintain a calendar of your planned product announcements, industry conferences, and analyst report publication dates, and they’ll make sure to get you in front of the right analyst at the right time. That’s when you spring into action, with the messaging and positioning, the slide deck, speaking as the subject matter expert.
Develop a true partnership with your AR manager. You should be talking with each constantly. Don’t be shy about asking your AR manager questions. Have you just read a research report about your product category authored by an analyst you haven’t heard of before? Ask AR about that, and make sure they know of the new analyst too, so they can assess whether or not you need to start meeting with them. Conversely, ask your AR manager to come to you whenever they think they’ve found research that could be relevant to you, so you can read it and decide if the report really touches upon your category.
4. Measure Up
Next, you and your AR partner need to decide how you will define and measure success. Analyst relations is not just sitting around talking to analysts. Like any other aspect of marketing, it can and should be measured, and tracked over time, so you can assess your progress, and demonstrate value. (And you will be challenged to demonstrate value by senior executives!)
If you’re just getting started, you can keep things simple. Spend your time making sure you know which analysts matter, and developing your messaging; you can go back and build a sophisticated tracking system later. If your company has an AR manager, they’ll already know what to track.
The most basic metrics you’ll probably want to start with are cadence (how often are you speaking with an analyst), perception (does the analyst view you favorably or not?), and outcome (are you being included in their reports and how do you rank against your competitors?)
Each of these metrics can have several sub-metrics – it can get very detailed! If you’re interested in developing a more complete and sophisticated approach to measuring your AR efforts, there are resources out there like this webinar from Spotlight.
5. Beef Up
So now you’re working on the analyst deck in advance of a briefing. You may be tempted to use the customer presentation that you created for Sales to use. Do not. There is no bigger mistake. That sales deck almost certainly contains marketing hype and fluff, and you can’t bring that to an analyst meeting.
You have to really beef up the content of the analyst presentation. You need to eliminate the hype. You need to have tangible proof points to back up your assertions about your product’s capabilities and differentiators, and why customers value them. Examples of “beefier” content include customer case studies with quantifiable success metrics, customer research findings that analyst firms may not have access to, and statistics you’ve collected about your customers and product that are not publicly available.
Remember, you’re speaking with an analyst, not a sales prospect, and the analyst knows more about your product category than you do.
6. Show Up
As I’ve already said, analyst relations isn’t a once-a-year activity. It needs to be something that you and your AR manager think about daily. Once you find the key analysts for your product category, you should probably be speaking with them three or four times a year.
“Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me you desire a fig, I will answer that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” – Epictetus
Unlike some aspects of marketing that are completely under your control, and where you can see results in days, analyst relations doesn’t work that way. It takes time to brush up on the analysts, and book meetings with them. Most importantly, it takes time to establish a relationship with them, one where they trust the information you provide, and see value in it.
Remember that analysts track dozens of vendors in your category, and handle inquiry calls from hundreds of clients, so they’re not going to have total recall of what your offering does after just one meeting. It’s been my experience that it can take three or four meetings before the analyst really gets it. You just have to keep meeting with them so that your story sinks in.
It’s called analyst relations for a reason – the key is to build a relationship with the analyst. If you treat it as an occasional, transactional thing, you’ll fail at building that relationship and your AR efforts will suffer.
I know you’re busy – tons of content to create, sales enablement, product launches and so on – but when your AR manager asks you to take an analyst briefing, the correct answer is always “yes”. Your partner in AR will give you an “analyst interaction prep” document with logistics (date, time, location, etc.) and a refresher on the analyst (their sentiment about your product) and what the goals of the briefing are. If you’re at a small company and don’t have an AR manager, be sure to do this prep work yourself. This Spotlight webinar shows you what you need. (Skip ahead to 19:10).
7. Shut Up
I’ve saved the most important tip for last: shut up. I know how excited you are to brief the analyst on your announcement. You have just thirty minutes and so much information you want to convey. It can be very tempting to just jump in and start telling your story.
I beg you, do not do this.
There are two big problems with this. The first is that you can’t build a relationship if you do all the talking. The analyst won’t say anything, but inside, they’ll be rolling their eyes, wondering why you’re talking at them instead of with them.
“One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears.” – Dean Rusk
More importantly, you’re hurting your company if you do all the talking. Yes, you obviously know more about your new product than the analyst, and nominally, the reason for the briefing is so you can tell the analyst about it. But your product is the only thing that you know more about. The analyst knows more about the product category, your competitors, the buyers, and emerging trends. If you do all the talking, you are squandering a chance to learn important insights.
Ask uncomfortable questions. Ask questions that will surface what the analyst sees as your weaknesses. Ask…
- If the analyst agrees with the hypothesis that underpins your product roadmap
- Do they agree on the size of the market opportunity?
- Do they think your offering is truly differentiated?
- Will their clients find real value in your value proposition?
- What is their input on your product roadmap and vision?
- What do they think about the way you’ve segmented the market?
- What do they think your sweet spot should be,
- What do they think your biggest weakness is?
- What one change do they think you should make (GTM, product roadmap sequencing, packaging, pricing, etc.)
To Sum Up
I’ll sum up by asking all of you to take at least one action today that will improve your skills at analyst relations and that will make your product more successful.
- Face Up: emphasize customers and analysts in your content strategy
- Brush Up: read a Magic Quadrant cover to cover
- Team Up: take your AR manager out for coffee
- Measure Up: set measurable goals
- Beef Up: create b.s.-free presentations just for analysts
- Show Up: book an analyst meeting now
- Shut Up: listen, learn, and build relationships
Aventi Group Webinar
October 30, 2019
Sridhar Ramanathan and the rest of the good people at the Aventi Group invited me to do a webinar on what I call The 7 Ups . The 7 Ups are my tips to help product marketers get batter at what I consider the single most important part of their jobs: analyst relations.
I know product marketing consists of many important jobs: go-to-market strategy and plans; product positioning; messaging; content development; sales/channel enablement.
But I think the highest leverage comes from doing a great job at analyst relations. Maybe this is just my (B2B) startup mentality, but doing analyst relations right means generating everything that your marketing programs need:
- awareness (buyers read about you)
- credibility (the most important, because none of the nice things your company says about itself are credible)
- inbound leads (buyers will make inquiries after reading about you
- content (get reprint rights and arm Sales with them)
Anyway, the recorded webinar is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIt5Dy59HXA
Marketing Trends Podcast
October 24, 2019
The great people at Mission.org asked me to come on and record a Marketing Trends podcast with them. It was a real pleasure speaking with Ian Faison, and meeting the rest of the team. We discussed product marketing, and particularly, how vital analyst relations are for successful product marketing.
August 26, 2019
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jessica Ly at Regalix.tv. We discussed trends in product marketing and the ways that product marketers can get better at analyst relations.
I’ve been working in B2B tech marketing for more than 20 years, with an emphasis on product marketing. Most of my experience comes from working at startups, in a wide range of product categories: infosec, mobile, disaster recovery, interactive television, and more.
I’ve had hands-on experience in all facets of marketing, but love product marketing and have focused on it throughout my career. More specifically, I love analyst relations, the highest leverage activity that product marketers can spend time on. On this blog, I will discuss some of my opinions and stories.
You can learn more about me at linkedin.com/in/lochart/