After the game is before the game

Sonja Keerl
Every year, the release of influential evaluations like Gartner Magic Quadrants and Forrester Waves sparks intense discussions. Vendors use these reports to generate leads, while buyers rely on them to make informed decisions. But what many vendors fail to realize is that the real opportunity for improvement lies in the time between evaluations.

In sports as much as in analyst relations

Every year, the release of influential evaluations like Gartner Magic Quadrants and Forrester Waves sparks intense discussions. Vendors use these reports to generate leads, while buyers rely on them to make informed decisions. But what many vendors fail to realize is that the real opportunity for improvement lies in the time between evaluations.

Let's break it down. The placement of your dot is what matters most to executives. It signifies whether you have an advantage or disadvantage against your competitors. Being included in the evaluation alone is a mark of leadership in your category. With so many alternatives in the market, standing out is crucial.

Explaining the dots

Here's the thing: the position of your dot is relative to market conditions and the other vendors included. If it remains the same, it means you're keeping up with the pace of innovation and expectations. But if you're moving up or to the right, it indicates that you're outperforming your competitors.

There are two possible reasons for this. First, you might have done a better job in your product, go-to-market strategy, or overall vision. Alternatively, the market expectations have shifted in your favor. Understanding the evaluation criteria, the analysts' perspective, and your competition's strategies is essential for securing a stronger position in the next evaluation.

Start early by scheduling meetings with the analysts to gain insights into your rating and market expectations. This will allow you to:

  1. Articulate your strengths more effectively to the analysts.
  2. Identify missed opportunities or trends highlighted by analysts.
  3. Recognize emerging trends that analysts may not be aware of yet.

Each outcome requires different tactics, so it's important to tailor your approach accordingly. By mastering the art of analyst evaluations, you can gain a competitive edge that lasts beyond the evaluation process.

Three things you should start doing the day after your flagship evaluations have launched. (Do give yourself a night to celebrate.)

1. Articulate your strengths more effectively to analysts

Executives often complain that analysts just don't get it. But I hold these executives accountable, because if an analyst doesn't understand, it's likely because we didn't explain it well enough. Remember, analysts might not have deep technical knowledge in your field, and tech founders tend to focus too much on technical features instead of the value and benefits they bring.

To overcome this issue, you need an objective and brave person to scrutinize your responses and vendor briefing performance from an analyst's perspective. This will help you identify any misunderstandings and reshape the analysts' perception of your capabilities. But please, don't try to deceive them by pretending to have functions you don't actually have. That will only lead to mistrust and negatively impact the analysts' recommendations.

If possible, use the inquiry channel during research engagements to ensure the analyst understands your improved way of explaining your product's capabilities.

Remember, analysts are motivated to provide unbiased and truthful recommendations to their clients, based on their clients' specific needs and maturity. As enterprises choose software, analysts have the opportunity to clarify any additional capabilities or gaps in their evaluations. So the sooner you provide the analyst with a corrected narrative about your product, the sooner they can share it with potential buyers and address any gaps.

2. Identifying missed opportunities or trends

​​If you're surprised by a low score compared to other companies in your industry, it could mean you've missed a technology trend. To get the clearest feedback, involve your product leaders in conversations with analysts through your inquiry channel.

When listening to analysts, take your time and understand their perspective. It's natural to feel defensive when they criticize your product, but it's important to pick up on the nuances of their feedback. Don't rush through this process in one conversation. Validate what you hear from analysts by talking to your partner channels and trusted customers.

For younger companies, it's crucial to interpret the analyst's feedback in the context of your buyer maturity segment. Analyze whether their criteria cater to the majority or early adopters. If your strategy is to target the majority, the feedback will be more important, and you may need to adjust your roadmap quickly. This is where your product leaders, product strategists, and analysts themselves can provide valuable input through strategic advisory and inquiry.

3. Influencing future criteria

All those dots and write-ups are based on what criteria analysts have understood to make a product great from conversations with customers, buyers, influencers, partners and vendors. They also assign weights to each criterion to determine the final placement.

Gartner makes it easier for buyers than other analyst firms by providing pre-made use cases that take into account different scenarios. Forrester shares a detailed spreadsheet with their clients that you can use for further analysis. As you dig deeper into the analysis, figure out which criteria and weights matter most to your product and your roadmap for the next one to two years. Then gather data and evidence to back up any changes you want to discuss with the analysts.

Remember, your opinion alone isn't enough. You need solid proof that the whole market is moving in the same direction. Executives from your customers will always have more credibility than your own executives and founders.

When talking about criteria, start by listening openly. Ask questions to understand why the criteria and weights are defined the way they are. Share your different perspectives and ask for clarification. This will help you understand the thought process and conversations the analysts have had to form their criteria. It may even lead you to reassess your own approach.

If you have the opportunity for a strategic advisory day, focus on two or three criteria and come prepared with evidence and data to support your viewpoint. Approach these conversations with a genuine desire to understand and clarify, not to manipulate the analyst. Manipulation won't get you anywhere and it's disrespectful to them as a person and their role as a whole.

Keep in mind that your vendor opinion isn't as important as conversations with customers. So don't rely solely on your viewpoint. If you don't have a research agreement with the analyst firm, you'll have to rely on briefings with limited availability. It may take more time, but it can be done.

How can you determine if you're successful?

Keep in mind that analysts, as well as your savvy competitors, are continuously communicating and influencing in the background. The rate at which market segments change and the magnitude of criteria pivots can greatly impact your success.

Measuring success for your practice and evaluating it can be challenging because it is always relative by nature. When defining success, focus on the 2-3 criteria that matter most in your differentiation. Then, by closely aligning your analyst relations, competitive intelligence, customer success and partner network, you can significantly improve your chances of improving in the next evaluation.

After the game, is before the game: Start now.

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