Gartner’s Research in 2016: Will Gartner Become Even More Dominant? Or is it Actually Playing Catch Up?

In my previous post, I highlighted some of the key changes Gartner is making to its research – launching a new CEO focused service, increasing its categories for its peer review tool and expanding IoT coverage. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these aspects.

the-strategy-1080533_960_720From CMO to CEO: Sondergaard didn’t give much away in the recent Gartner AR newsletter on the new CEO offering: “We are looking at introducing a new offering dedicated to CEOs under the leadership of John Kost, and a new offering for CMOs under the leadership of Yvonne Genovese.”

Gartner’s clearly paid close attention to its own C-suite research which has shown that CEOs are looking to their CMOs to drive growth. In this context it’s logical for Gartner to sell to both audiences. It’s a smart play – if traditional IT organizations (the majority of Gartner’s clients) fail to adapt then the temptation for CEOs and CMOs is to build new organizations that are fit for purpose, using non-IT approaches. It’s important that Gartner can speak to these new IT budget holders as well as traditional customers.

Targeting beyond core IT isn’t new for Gartner – it has been chasing adjacent markets for some time. Marketing is just one example. Among the big three firms Forrester has had the strongest grip on the marketing audience. Since launching its Gartner Marketing Leaders practice, Gartner has clearly been angling for Forrester’s marketing clients. It also recently hired two analysts Augie Ray and Charlie Golvin, both of whom are Forrester alumni. With a head count of 17 analysts, GML seems to be growing at a steady rate. Its digital transit map is a smart way of educating clients (while also cross selling its own research). Gartner’s been aggressively hiving off anything remotely marketing related behind its GML paywall for some time now (something that I’m less than pleased about as a Gartner seat holder). So, Gartner’s clearly having some success in monetizing this space – although it’s difficult to gauge if this success is taking business away from Forrester directly.

Gartner’s clearly been working hard at evaluating how its research products need to change to appeal to a more business focused, less technical audience in general. This is something that Forrester’s also been tackling with its positioning around mobile moments and the age of the customer.

I wouldn’t bet against Gartner carving out a successful business with its CEO offering. But it’s certainly not going to have the CEO/C-Suite or LOB audience all to itself either. Other firms are aggressively targeting marketing and business audiences – Digital Clarity Group is grabbing its fair share of attention, while Constellation Research, HFS and Altimeter Group have all successfully focused on digital disruption opportunities beyond traditional IT. And of course there all the management consultancy firms to consider – the likes of Deloitte, Accenture and others. These are formidable players.

The Rise and Rise of Peer Influence: BearingPoint’s Ludovic Leforester previously raised the question of whether crowdsourced vendors are forcing traditional analyst firms to change their approach to sourcing insights – taking a more peer orientated approach. Certainly crowd sourced product review sites provide end-users with some fresh data points to consider as they select technologies. And our own research has shown that peer driven feedback has the highest influence – alongside industry analyst advice – when it comes to sharping buyer decisions on which technologies and vendors to short list and ultimately buy.

Gartner’s clearly not been ignoring this challenge as it matures its peer review offering. Sondergaard was candid that Gartner clients have been asking for change, specifically that they “need to know what their peers are doing, and they also need to have access to more data to help them be successful and make strategic business decisions.” Gartner’s ongoing investment in the peer review tool shows that Gartner recognizes there’s a gap in its traditional approach. We know from our conversations with clients, peers and friends in the AR community that it’s becoming a growing focus for vendors as well.

If Gartner succeeds in cracking open the CEO market and grabs greater influence in peer driven recommendations – does this make Gartner too powerful in the tech world? Or is it actually playing catch up?

‘Potentially’ and ‘yes’ would be my responses.

Gartner’s a multi-billion dollar firm which is highly proficient at monetizing segments – and when it decides to invest in a new area it’s historically done well. You wouldn’t bet against Gartner being very competitive vs. newer players (less marketing resources and brand presence) or traditional competitors (smaller scale, less breadth of research). But really – it ultimately depends on what value it offers CEOs, how different the service really is from competitors and how it goes to market.

And let’s not forget that scale brings its own challenges when it comes to executing consistently. Gartner’s been candid with the AR community in past Symposia that it’s struggled to scale to meet all the demands and opportunities it faces from clients, so this is an area where smaller, nimbler firms can continue to differentiate from it. Gartner is huge, so much so that its various analysts sometimes give out contradictory advice to larger vendors. For many vendors, staying on top of which analysts are appropriate is an ongoing challenge. Gartner will be internally challenged to ensure that even more focus areas – and ever growing volumes of content – does not lead to added complexity for end users who want actionable advice. Insight without a clear recommendation is a burden.

So…what should you do about Gartner’s new approach to research in 2016? Here are some starting questions that your communications and marketing teams should be discussing:

  • Reassess your Key Gartner Analysts Based on Your Target Customers: If you are targeting new types of end-user then be ready to reassess whether it makes sense to continue briefing all of your traditional Gartner analysts (and yes – this also applies to other firms as well). There may be new Gartner analysts who should be on your radar, familiar ones may be changing their focus areas as well. If you’re a seat holder, talk to your Gartner account executive and ask for org charts. If you don’t subscribe to Gartner then reach out to a seasoned AR team for advice on which analysts you should be briefing (hint: our door is always open)
  • Know Thy Gartner Peer Insights: Get smart quick on the various rules of this Gartner product. AR, sales and marketing should all work together to ensure positive customers are using the tool to share their POV on why your solution rocks. Have a peer driven reviews strategy in place to maximize your products positive visibility
  • Separate Your IoT Wheat From Your IoT Chaff: IoT is a major focus for Gartner. With great attention, comes great scrutiny – and great levels of fatigue. So don’t brief a Gartner analyst on IoT unless you’re going to tell them something genuinely new and/or useful. Put your content marketing hat on and take a fresh look at your briefing content for analysts. Oh, and if you are based in the Bay area then be sure to check out Gartner’s local briefing on Machine Learning and IoT next month.

Are there aspects of Gartner’s research that you are curious about? Drop me a line and let’s discuss.

Gartner’s Research in 2016: Three Trends Communications Teams Need to Have On Their Radar

Earlier this year Gartner’s Peter Sondergaard announced some very interesting changes to Gartner’s research structure. Simply put, the firm has reorganized its research structure along the following lines:

CIO Research, led by Val Sribar

IT Leaders Research, led by Mike Harris

Technical Professional Research, led by Gary Hein

Technology & Service Provider Research, led by Joe Baylock

Supply Chain Leaders Research, led by Jane Barrett

Marketing Leaders Research, led by Yvonne Genovese

Digital Markets Content, led by Anthony Bradley

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My colleague Jay Andersen previously wrote about the danger of over focusing on Gartner at the expense of other analyst firms (Jay’s right, don’t bet everything on one horse!) However, we should still take a deeper look at what Gartner’s up to because it will have a clear impact industry discussions and end users decisions. There are several things highlights that communications and marketing teams should note when dealing with Gartner’s research re-org in 2016:

Gartner’s Next Big Growth Market – Non Traditional IT: Gartner continues to prioritize expanding to new audiences. The firm has had its eyes set on CMOs, Chief Digital Officers and marketing leaders for the past few years, but is now targeting CEOs as well. Gartner clearly doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as just an IT shop, but a business transformation partner for the whole C-Suite. Much of its own research on bi-modal IT is about how IT teams need to evolve to survive. Gartner clearly isn’t ignoring that the bulk of its client base – senior IT decision makers like Chief Information Officers, Data Center Directors and Network Managers – are facing their own existential challenges. Gartner needs a backup plan in case traditional IT fails to evolve quickly enough to secure funding. Enter the new Gartner audiences – CEOs, digital innovators and line-of-business executives.

 Gartner’s Getting Really Serious about Peer Driven Insights: Gartner’s peer reviews tool seems to be an increasingly big deal for Gartner (and AR pros). Gartner’s adding 20 new categories this year. Net result – communications teams need to have this Gartner service on their radar.

IoT Is The New Mobile: Internet of Things (IoT) coverage is expanding rapidly. In Sondergaard’s words: “We are also looking at expanding our IoT coverage with a dedicated group of analysts who will analyze the implications of IoT at all levels — hardware, software and business, under the leadership of John Barber.” It’s probably fair to say that IoT is the new mobile for Enterprise IT i.e. it’s one of those big revenue technologies that is disruptive because it has the potential to impact both the front and back ends of the business. And traditional IT is often playing catch up with rogue IoT projects. It’s no coincidence that many mobile focused analysts are increasingly focusing on IoT. The fact that line of business and CEO budget holders are investing in IoT probably isn’t lost on Gartner either.

Beyond Digital Business? The greater focus on IoT shouldn’t come as a surprise. Gartner recently replaced its previous ‘Nexus of Forces’ narrative with a new one – The digital mesh. The intention seems to be to plot a course from cloud, mobile and analytics based digital business transformation (where many Gartner clients are focusing their efforts today) to accommodate emerging technologies like IoT, software defined architectures, machine learning and 3D printers. It appears that Gartner sees the mesh as the next step in evolving digital business models. In short, it doesn’t look like Gartner’s going to switch from talking about digital business anytime soon, even if some in the industry are experiencing digital transformation fatigue! It will also be interesting to see how much the new mesh concept resonates with the industry.

But what’s your take on Gartner’s current research direction? How do you plan to change your marketing or analyst relations strategy in response? In my follow up post I’ll dig deeper into some of the implications for communications teams.

Managing AR Risk: When a New Analyst Covers Your Segment – Part Two

In our previous blog we discussed the three kinds of analyst personas you are most likely to encounter when dealing with a new analyst: the Rookie, the Veteran and the Disruptor. Each of these three personas will have different dynamics and a slightly different approach may be required for each:

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  • The Rookie: As we previously stated, the Rookie analyst is yet to become jaded by a never ending tide of vendor briefings and PowerPoint presentations. Because they are new to the game they’ll eventually be looking to advance their own theories on the segment – but first they have a credibility and knowledge gap to overcome. You may find that they’re more amenable to fresh thinking than their more established colleagues. Brief them early, be particularly generous with sharing insights and make sure you provide them with as much access to subject matter experts as possible.
  • Figure Out Their History and Trajectory: If the analyst is very early in their working career then it pays to pay attention to their former roles, or the type of college degrees they have, as this may inform a good deal of how they approach the industry from an academic perspective. Some analysts love historical analogies, some are big sci-fi fans, etc. Buy the analyst dinner and get a sense of where they’ve come from, what interests them and why they decided to become an analyst. Listen to how they’re finding the gig so far. If they’re struggling with some of the technical insights, help educate them and go into as much specificity as is required. Analysts have to track and understand a crazy amount of technical details.
  • Open New Doors: They may already have a good roster of friendly contacts among executives, media, investors and vendors, but it certainly can’t hurt for you to offer to make a few helpful introductions for them. This can go a long way if you know specific people who they really want to meet. They’ll be hungry to source unique insights their competitors can’t – especially from established experts with clout.
  • Enjoy The Greater Access (While You Can): Unencumbered by a vendor landscape report they initially have more time to spend on multiple projects and reports than their senior colleagues, so they may be able to take more briefings than their peers. They might also have more time available for inquiry calls, so take advantage of getting on their inquiry schedules quickly while you can, before word gets out.
  • The Veteran: The veteran faces a different set of pressures to the rookie. Already established, the veteran is much in demand, definitely overworked and time poor. The name of the game here is figuring out where their approach differs from their predecessor. The answer here may be not much, but don’t assume anything. Run an inquiry immediately (their calendar is likely pretty full) to get a sense of what they want to hear about most. It’s a chance for a new beginning if there were any previous issues with their predecessor. Take careful note of any pet peeves the analyst has. Ensure you get a good sense of their preferred channels of communication and cadence for information – they’re already busy meeting new vendors and clients and now they have a new space to get up to speed on as well. If you have budget, consider running a strategy advisory session once they’ve had several months to settle into the role (but don’t leave it too long, you want to build momentum with them). Ask around the AR community for tips on dealing with this analyst. Feedback from folks who already know the analyst may help you identify (and avoid) any hot button issues.
  • The Disruptor: This analyst needs the most caution and scrutiny. Read as much of their former research as you can to get a sense of their thought process. Pay particular attention to pet theories. People are creatures of habit and if they have a past theory they may well want to bring a variation of that idea to your segment. If they are taking over a Magic Quadrant – or other type of vendor landscape report – note any changes in criteria and which capabilities they are weighting most heavily. They may change jargon, definitions and even the scoring ratios of the report. Be wary of category reinvention! If they are trying to create a new category of their own, or are merging two previously distinct segments, that’s a huge change. You may not even have that other segment’s capability in your portfolio. This can totally change the landscape for participating vendors, so pay careful attention to the details. Run inquiries early and consistently to see how their views are evolving. Ask around the AR community as well. If you get signs that they have a pet theory that closely aligns with a competitors…or that they are very dissatisfied with historical analysis of the segment…then that’s when alarm bells should ring. Ensure your exec team is forewarned and prepared for this scenario.

Ultimately, whichever analyst ‘persona’ you encounter, they will be most persuaded by the quality of your customer references, that you delivered the promised benefits, that you are a viable business and that your technology roadmap is sound.

Having trouble with a new analyst? Why not drop me a line and we can take a closer look at how to turn the situation around.

Managing AR Risk: When a New Analyst Covers Your Segment – Part One

Like any other profession, industry analysts move jobs. Sometimes they take on a new role within their current firm covering a new segment, and sometimes they leave for another firm entirely. They might also be completely new to the analyst role, having left an in-house or vendor side role.

For analyst relations (AR) teams, the arrival of a new analyst can be an unsettling experience – especially if said team had a strong and familiar relationship with their predecessor. If the analyst is going to be the new lead on a Gartner Magic Quadrant – which will have a strong impact on sales and market perceptions – the stakes can be very high indeed.

There are some typical patterns that emerge in this scenario. Much of the new analyst’s net impact will depend on factors like: how the analyst is sizing up the segment, their seniority within the firm, their personality, and (of course) the nature of their relationships with the vendors in the market. How AR assesses and responds to the new analyst will be critical.

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Here are some persona examples, based on our experiences:

  • The ‘Open Minded’ Rookie – This analyst is new to the profession and is unlikely to quickly change the firm’s analysis of the segment. They may well have an interim period while they orientate themselves on the behaviors of the various vendors. In a complex, fast moving segment the ‘watch and learn’ phase will be longer as they get up to speed on both the market’s back history and current thinking. Usually they are relatively open-minded and can be highly agnostic on how the segment is evolving. Typically they are shadowed by an older, more experienced analyst who provides context and guidance. The rookie analyst probably won’t be in charge of a major vendor landscape report right out of the gate. After a few years – and after their share of tours with vendors in the trenches – that may well change. However, if the firm is losing analysts hand over fist, they may handle more sensitive reports earlier than expected.
  • The ‘Bold’ Disruptor – Typically this is an analyst who’s deliberately looking to shake up perceptions of the space. This is either because they’re looking to make a name for themselves in this new area, or because they genuinely believe that the space is craving fresh insight. This persona can be refreshing in a slower moving segment that’s had the same analysts covering it for a long time. However, they can also be very dangerous to an established vendor if the segment is fast moving, complex and highly disputed. This goes doubly if they’re quickly taking over a Magic Quadrant early on in their new role. This analyst is likely to be favorable to vendors who they see as validating their philosophy on the segment. This is even more true if the vendor’s customer references validate the analyst’s theory.
  • The ‘Continuity Rules’ Veteran – An already established analyst who believes their predecessor pretty much had the right take on the segment’s evolution. Expect similar perspectives and research to what’s come before, with a few minor personality quirks thrown in. This type of analyst is most likely to be encountered if they’ve been co-authoring research notes alongside their predecessor. Clearly, they have no interest in nit-picking their previous interpretations. They may have taken over the role to support an overstretched analyst team.

What do you think? Are there other analyst personas you’ve encountered? In part two of this blog series we’ll give some guidance on how you can best handle these different personas in practice.

 

RSA 2016 De-brief Part 2: Are You Sure That Your Communications Strategy Is Working?

In my last blog post I outlined some of the issues attendees had with the content and direction of vendor thinking at this year’s RSA show. This may be a harbinger of things to come.

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2016 looks like it will be a challenging environment for tech and security is not immune. Some say tech is thriving with no signs of slowing down, while others caution that there are signs to be wary of. Some are sharing guidance on how to prepare if a tech bubble does pop. You can make a case either way.

Whether or not the security segment faces a slowdown, the sheer number of security startups in play means that VC firms will be increasing their scrutiny of who they give funding to. We can expect wary investors to grill start-up CEOs with questions like:

  • The large companies you plan to target are hard to get to and it can take a long time to convert them. In the meantime, how do you plan to capture customers and revenue in the mass market?
  • That’s a very specific target audience. How do you plan to effectively market to this target decision maker?
  • That’s a great feature, but how do you plan to build out a multi-feature platform that can compete for the long term? How do you plan to avoid being copied or commoditized?
  • This market is saturated. How do you plan to expand into adjacent markets?

And wary industry analysts will be asking vendors questions like:

  • Can you show me happy customers who can verify your claims?
  • Why do customers pick you over your competitors?
  • How do you make money? And how much do you make?

So, it’ll be bracing times for many vendors. 2016 will certainly be stormy for many new players as customers look for their marketing rhetoric to transform into tangible results. Credible and realistic communications, sales and marketing strategies are essential to surviving the shakeout. It’ll be a fascinating market to watch.

As for the RSA show itself – vendors can do a number of things to make RSA 2017 a much more exciting, impactful and useful event for customers. Here are just a couple of recommendations as you look ahead to what’s left of 2016:

  • Run a ‘warts and all’ RSA de-brief – Be honest with yourself on what worked well. Based on what you saw this year, what would you do differently next year? You may even want to reevaluate your overall 2016 plan, if your narrative is not resonating with target customers.
  • Immerse yourself in the customer’s world– Too much vendor messaging is gravitating towards niche segment positioning and jargon definition. Customers rarely think in terms of categories or even features – they focus on problems first and spiral outwards from there. Ensure all content marketing, PR and AR is aligned around the customer’s thought process, not a features list. Tactical steps to take include:
    • Run an analyst audit to gather up to date perspectives on any evolving buyer pain points
    • Talk to recent prospects who turned you down about why you didn’t get the deal
    • Speak to greenfield customers about what’s concerning them and prioritize listening and digging deeper on those issues, rather than going straight for the hard sell
  • Think beyond your own product’s horizon – Think about the internal politics, cultural and economic factors that the customer experiences and how this impacts their strategies, processes and staffing. These contextual business drivers will define the capabilities and characteristics they look for in a vendor.

But that’s just my perspective, and I’m keen to hear yours. What was your experience at RSA? How did it compare to previous shows? Was there a topic missing this year that you think next year’s show needs to address?

RSA 2016 De-Brief Part 1: Storm Clouds on the Horizon for Security Vendors?

unsplash_5252b10dacd20_1RSA’s U.S. conference rolls around each year, and it’s a leviathan that sucks in the focus of most security vendors in the industry. In fact, this year it may have been even larger than usual. ESG’s Jon Oltsik speculated – based on what he’d heard at the show – that attendance may have been up 15% compared to last year.

So how did this year’s event shape up? Based on the feedback I’ve heard and seen from analysts, journalists and attendees, it’s fair to say that the vendor community needs to up its game on how it approaches the event. As I’ve mentioned previously, there are a number of steps vendors should take prior to the show to maximize their impact. So – based on feedback from analysts, media and attendees – let’s look at what how the vendor community fared.

There seem to be three standout observations from this year’s show:

  • Behold My Shiny Jargon! – Simply put, too many vendors positioned around the same default terminology or used outlandish positioning. The net result was that many vendors just sounded too similar, relying on the same language too often. Or worse, their claims simply sounded too far removed from the reality customer’s experience. I asked one journalist for his perception on this year’s show – he shrugged derisively and said, “there’s a heck of a lot of snake oil selling on the floor.” Many influencers have been arguing for some time that vendors at RSA need to be more grounded with what they say. That’s not to say that many vendors didn’t have interesting things to say, but simply that many vendor insights are not always useful enough for their target audience. For example, Jon Oltsik blogged that “the industry needs a hefty helping of humble pie. We need to remember that our role is to protect sensitive data, IT systems, and business assets, not sell soap.” 
  • Security is Not Just for the Rich – Gartner’s Anton Chuvakin blogged that “a lot of the tools firmly target the ‘security 1%-ers’, NOT the mainstream.” Anton raises an interesting point and he’s not alone in saying it, either. Many other analysts, at a variety of firms, also echo this point: vendors ignore, or downplay the mainstream market at their peril. At the highly entertaining IDC Breakfast briefing one of the key buyer trends that Chris Christiansen highlighted was ongoing buyer confusion. He noted that buyers want to see simplified products from vendors that will help them take action. I would also add the observation here that simpler products are a key requirement for mass-market adoption as well. And of course, many want to see security products and services operate at scale with reliable performance. Industry analysts are increasingly apt to ask vendors, ‘if you’re tech is as robust as you say – when are you going to offer it at scale in the cloud?’ 
  • Thin Content – A consistent criticism of many vendor presentations at RSA was the over reliance on marketing-centric content and not enough specificity on the how of doing better security or insight into solving specific challenges. Customers attend events like RSA because they want to discover new insights that will change the game for them. In many cases it’s not just whether a product or architecture is right for them, but they are also looking for examples of how their peers solved a challenge, or guidance on new strategies they should consider. IDC’s Chris Christiansen stated that some early adopters of emerging security solutions ‘fail to plan for the required organizational and process changes.’ He raises a great point: This is a key part of the technology puzzle that vendors need to do a better job addressing and organizational changes and evolving processes are only going to get more important as cloud, IoT and digital continue to challenge security strategies and infrastructures.

In my next RSA blog post I’ll take a closer look at the kind of questions security startups can expect to face from VC firms and industry analysts, as well as recommendations for RSA 2017.

Let’s Talk Security: Three Critical Mistakes to Avoid at RSA 2016

Last year was a tough one (although some might say exciting) for security professionals, and 2016 doesn’t look like it’s going to be any quieter. This year’s RSA conference is taking place at the end of February and many of the finest minds in security will be present at the show, discussing the key issues the industry needs to solve.

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RSA will be very influential in setting the direction of thinking among tech buyers during 2016. For all the influence of online digital channels, in-person events are still a great way for vendors to drive awareness and buyer preference. Blanc & Otus’ own B2B technology buyer research shows that events remain highly influential when it comes to a buyer’s selection of technology solutions. In fact, our data shows that event attendance was the fourth most influential factor on a B2B tech buyer’s choice of technology solution, just behind private consultation with an analyst, reading analyst reports and word of mouth from a peer. In-person events still matter, folks!

RSA’s been getting larger every year, and 2016 may well be its biggest yet given the growing focus organizations are putting on improving security defenses. As the security industry’s flagship show, RSA’s a great opportunity for security vendors to reach prospective customers, but the sheer size of the event also makes it challenging to stand out and cut through the noise. If this is your first RSA show, here are three mistakes to avoid:

  • Doing Everything Onsite: Onsite meetings can be tricky due to the sheer foot traffic at the event. RSA veterans are painfully aware of how hard it can be to find good meeting spots. If you’re looking to brief analysts and journalists on your RSA-related announcements, then running pre-briefings in the weeks prior to the show is a smart approach. Many of the best meeting rooms will be booked out half a year in advance. Popular meeting spots like Samovar Tea House are fiercely contested. Some analyst firms are even mandating that their analysts don’t take formal vendor briefings during the show. So book your pre-briefing time with the analysts now, as Q1 is one of the busiest time of year for security focused analysts. Once the pre-briefing is done, you can still offer to meet the analyst for a quick – and more relaxed – follow up discussion over a drink at the show.
  • Guessing What Will Resonate With Buyers: Ensure your content marketing, sales and PR efforts are aligned on the topics that matter most to buyers. Security is one of the fastest moving segments of IT and the pace of change continues to increase, so buyer needs continually evolve. Many decision makers will be finalizing their plans for the year ahead, or refreshing their technology portfolios. Our advice to clients is don’t guess, research. Run inquiries with industry analysts and get a level set on what their end user clients are asking them about. Poll your customer base as well. Now is a great time to get a refresh on what end buyers care about most in 2016.
  • Indulging in Product Tunnel Vision: There’s been a lot of talk about how the hackers are in the ascendant and how security needs to change. Much of this goes back to the fact that simply layering on more and more products alone won’t solve all of the threats we face today. Part of this is architectural (how IT is designed and managed), another aspect is organizational (how security is approached by the business), and some of it is behavioral (people randomly clicking on things they shouldn’t). Many vendors make the mistake of over focusing on their new widget’s speeds and feeds at the expense of broader issues. Not only does over focusing on product features make many vendors sound the same, it also misses out many interesting, fundamental discussions that buyers want to hear about how – such as how to best organize their security strategies, teams and initiatives. In short, their needs trump your features. The shift towards digital business models only increases the importance of people and process aspects of technology success, so make sure your product narrative and messages also address people and process implications.

Each year the Blanc & Otus Analyst Relations team produces an RSA Survival Memo. It gives communications teams advice on B2B buyer priorities, how to maximize value from the show and how vendors can begin to differentiate their marketing narratives for best effect – at RSA and beyond. We’re busy working on this year’s version and if you’d like to receive a copy, please drop me a line at tris.clark@blancandotus.com

 

In The Tech Trenches: Analyst Interviews – Richard Steinnon, IT-Harvest

For our latest In the Tech Trenches interview we spoke with Richard Steinnon, who is the Chief Research Analyst for IT-Harvest, the firm he founded in 2005 to cover IT security trends.

Richard head shot3 original 213What drew you to a career as an analyst and what do you enjoy most about your role?

I can’t say I was drawn to it, I fell into it. I was approached by Gartner; they were interested in my background working on firewalls and then I learned on the job. Lots of people said to me that ‘it’s the perfect job for you.’ I must admit that I do have a predilection for analysis! There’s nothing like standing at a podium in front of 5,000 people and laying down your insights on IT.

How does your firm differentiate from other analyst firms?

Against big firms, it’s just me – so because I have to cover more territory with my research, I see it all. My research is typically things that I publish on my website and through my Forbes column, although in December I am publishing my first market research on the threat intelligence space. Clients engage me to help with strategy workshops on their product direction, help them find financing, or acquisitions. I can also assist them with their responses to analyst questionnaires – for example, if they’re working on a Magic Quadrant. I also spend a lot of time reviewing proposed laws and legislation as part of my book writing efforts.

Are you launching any new services or research?

Recently I began putting together a database on the security sector and it contains 1,450+ players, and I’m looking to estimate the revenue and gauge the participation of every single player. I’m going to start to publish research on the overall make-up of the security space – geographically and by sector, individual focus, etc. Threat intelligence will be the first report. Then I’ll look at security analytics and cloud security as well as gateway security platforms.

 Describe your firm’s client base – which type of executives typically subscribe to your services?

Like most small analyst firms, 90% of my clients are vendors. I offer them strategic insights via a retainer-based model. Typically they are executive level staff. My end user clients are practitioner level up to CIOs and sometimes CEOs.

For vendor clients I also help make introductions to help with strategic partnering. When industry happenings occur they’ll put in a call to me to get my perspective. Other times it’s for help with lead generation. I also do a fair amount of webinars and public speaking. Each year at RSA – I run a series of video interviews with executives from key vendors – those will fit in well with how I catalog the space.

I’m also actively publishing books. My first analyst-focused book was Up and To The Right: Strategy and Tactics of Analyst Influence. The feedback I had from readers regarding ‘up and to the right’ was that people appreciated being guided through the thought process of the analyst. My second book will be called Curmudgeon – and that’s about how to be a successful analyst. I’ll probably release that about halfway through next year.

I also launched my latest book ‘There will be Cyber Warfare’ in October 29. The book’s about how cyberwar will be the next inevitable form of combat and that we will experience some kind of cyber event akin to Pearl Harbor: essentially, a lost battle due to the enemy dominating the cyber domain. Ultimately, the military also has to secure the things they build. They have a cyber-command and have to talk about IT ops, just like General Motors would have to talk about it. But the military has neglected the security of the things they have made for them, just as auto companies have. In reality you have to be concerned about the products you make and scan them for vulnerabilities.

What kinds of questions are you getting most frequently from your clients these days? And what kinds of questions do you think they should be asking more often?

My vendor clients ask for advice on marketing. If you want to stand out with a marketing concept, why not take another look at doing direct mail and run billboards in key locations? Maybe consider running an ad in a busy airport. It just seems to be that the telcos tend to take these approaches now, but I think tech vendors sometimes miss an old trick there. It’s the same with the quarter page ad you see in the Financial Times. They always seem to be selling watches. Why not network security gear?

With my end user clients, it’s the same thing. Their questions are often siloed. They sometimes go straight to thinking about which is the best firewall, endpoint or network admission control solution. They should ask more about the threats and the best way to counter them. They need to get out of product decision mode and think more about defense. Things are getting so complex and putting an overarching security strategy in place first helps them prioritize the product spend better. Ultimately, folks care most about not being on the front page of the news because of a breach.

Which developments in the world of technology interest you the most today? And which key trends have not received the attention they deserve?  

For general technology, I think the hottest thing going today is in the control system. It’s like the shift forward that happened when Apple had motion sensors fitted into the iPhone – this has evolved, leading to the developments we see today with drones. That kind of technology needs a really remarkable control system. Things have progressed a lot. 3D Printing is another very interesting area – that’s all about control. Sensors are changing the world, and self-driving cars are just one example of that.

For security, one really fascinating area will be protecting industrial control systems. In many cases people are deploying all these new Internet of Things orientated controls without any thoughts to security. The effects of an industrial breach are going to be much worse than losing your homework assignment, as in some cases people could lose their lives if key infrastructure fails.

What do you like to do to relax when youre not doing the day job?

I like to drink whiskey. I definitely like reading fiction – usually that’s sci-fi or turn-of-the-century novels. I recently read the book that the Martian that the film was based on, and I found that to be great hard science. I like to re-read the Lord of the Rings books every two years. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is another favorite. I’m a big fan of Heinlein. I also like to cross country ski when I get the chance.

Closing commentary by Blanc and Otus AR: Key Takeaways

Thank you Richard for sharing your perspective. The B&O AR team has ordered our copy of your new book and we are looking forward to reading it! Richard raises some great points that vendor teams and tech decision makers should consider carefully. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Leverage Analyst Insight Early: Analysts can add the most value when shaping strategy during the formative stages. Use analyst insights early to bullet proof your product roadmap, go-to-market messaging and acquisition strategy.
  • Marketing, Embrace the Physical: While it’s essential to leverage traditional digital trends – and smoothly incorporate them into your communications strategy – you sometimes can’t beat the personal touch in the physical world. Traditional direct mail is now so under-used by B2B marketers that the vendors that do it well might have a much better chance of standing out than was the case in the past. As was highlighted in our updated tech decision maker study, it’s essential to marry both physical and digital channels to accelerate the sales cycle. Physical still matters, folks!
  • Run your Own Recon, Learn Front Line Lessons: It’s been said that when generals plan their new strategies they always end up planning to fight the last war. Avoid that mistake, look backward and Run analyst inquiries often to keep up to date on new approaches and lessons learned, as well as what is (and isn’t) working for customers.

Surviving Conference Season: How to Thrive Via Digital AR

Digital Board
Credit: ilker, FreeImages

Every summer the conference season kicks off here in San Francisco, prompting many tech communications teams to ramp into overdrive. There are many large conferences every year – prominent examples in the second half of the year being VMworld, Oracle OpenWorld and Dreamforce. It’s a busy time for communications teams.

Digital communications strategies are (rightly) an expected component when it comes to planning communications for an event. Analyst Relations teams have historically been somewhat conflicted about the use of digital within AR events. This is for many reasons, but the main one is cultural: integrating digital into an AR event strategy can feel a little counter-intuitive for AR specialists. This is because much of the critical value analysts provide – candid insights, often confidential – takes place in behind-the-scenes conversations via inquiry calls, in-person meetings and strategic advisory sessions. Nonetheless, analysts are active on online channels and a digital strategy should be something that an AR team considers when planning an event.

Many of the strategies and tactics used by PR and social media teams are very transferable to digital AR plans for events. However, there are some clear differences that need to be considered first in order to run a first-class digital strategy. When planning, the below are essential ‘to dos’:

  • Matrix Participating Analysts: While many analysts are active on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook – some may be more active on a specific channel than others. Levels of social participation can also vary greatly from firm to firm and from analyst to analyst. If you have key analysts that have yet to catch the social media bug, then set expectations accordingly with your execs. Alternatively, if you know the majority of your key analysts prefer LinkedIn to Twitter, then factor that into the kinds of digital content you prep for your event. Prioritize activity around the analysts who are not only active on social media, but who base their business models and marketing strategies on being seen and heard on digital channels.
  • Assume Nothing, Ask Smart Questions: When prepping digital content, there’s no better way to plan for an analyst event than to actually ask analysts what they want to hear, what worked well last time and then follow their advice.Run a pre-event audit of your analysts – make sure you have the right execs, right customers and right content onsite to meet their research needs. Leverage inquiry access – either your own, or your PR agency’s – to speak with analysts and ensure that you’ve bullet proofed your agenda, topics and digital assets.There’s no better way to get analysts sharing and commenting on digital content than to ensure the topics discussed on the day interest them professionally.
  • Absolute Clarity on Sharable vs. Confidential Info: We’ve all heard the odd horror story about an analyst tweeting out confidential information – usually roadmap details or confidential customer info. It’s an AR pros worst nightmare. There’s no magic bullet here, but comms teams must cover all possible scenarios. Be clear on what’s sharable, and what absolutely needs to stay under NDA. Be sure to reference this clearly on slides and materials and always verbally re-emphasize what’s under NDA.Make sure attending analysts know they have to be on their very best digital behavior.
  • Thoughtful Content and Discussions Generate Online Commentary: This one sounds pretty obvious, but vendors sometimes become so over focused on their own product specific message, that they can accidentally side-step some really interesting industry centric discussions. Make sure you ask the analysts smart questions on what they’re seeing and hearing – and what their customers ask them about. Be sure to also give them relevant data points and graphics that they can share online with their followers. Remember that analysts care most about:
    • Solving the problems that their end user clients are dealing with
    • Successfully predicting trends and demystifying technologies
    • Level setting industry hype, with their own perspective

Digital content that addresses these areas will be intellectually compelling and highly sharable.

Are you running an industry analyst event for the first time this year? Not sure on where to start when executing your digital AR program? Feel free to email me at tris.clark@blancandotus.com

RSA 2015: Does the Security Industry Need a Reality Check?

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

Yes, it’s that time of year again: The RSA conference is the world’s flagship security technology tradeshow and later this month it will be back in San Francisco. To prepare for the event, the Blanc & Otus Analyst Relations team spoke with many prominent analysts regarding the likely hot topics at this year’s show. Several themes quickly emerged from those discussions – some of which vendors should be worried about:

Vendor marketing is increasingly diverging from reality: While powerful marketing is part and parcel of being a successful vendor, analysts are becoming increasingly fatigued with vendor hype within overcrowded segments. Expect to see more and more research notes countering vendor claims, especially on areas of contentious category creation. Many analysts told us that they increasingly see the show’s value as centering on various networking opportunities, rather than the content vendors provide during the show.

AR Recommendation: When approaching new narratives and messaging work, marketing and communications teams should be asking themselves: “How can we best tell compelling and useful stories?”

CISOs…sweating in the spotlight: The pace of high-profile breaches is increasing and security has never been higher up the boardroom agenda than it is today. While this attention may help the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) secure much-needed funding for security initiatives and technologies, it also increases pressure on them to deliver. Some CISOs do a fine job of explaining their strategies to their boards, peers and the broader company, but too many revert to the comfort zone of ‘speeds and feeds’ speak, and as a result they don’t address business risk succinctly and compellingly enough. This ultimately leads to a failure to secure the necessary behavioral changes at the cultural level, which drastically impacts their ability to deliver in the long term. With growing numbers of ‘non-IT’ executives running their own shadow IT investments beyond IT’s control, this challenge is only increasing.

AR Recommendation: When framing up sales enablement materials prior to launch, sales teams should ask themselves: “How can I help my clients succeed in winning hearts and minds within the business?”

The user politics of digital transformation are unstoppable: Technology has always been successful based on user acceptance at a behavioral and cultural level. This has always been a particular challenge for security teams who have historically wanted to lock assets down. However, the shift towards digital business models – based on cloud, mobile, social and Internet of Things-based technologies – means that old ‘lock down’ style security models simply aren’t feasible (if they ever were). While pioneering vendors are improving the usability of their solutions, they often do a much less compelling job when it comes to addressing the cultural, political and procedural impact of security technologies – specifically how security teams and processes can work with (rather than against) the business. To succeed, security must become invisible.

AR Recommendation: When creating content to support a product launch, product management teams must consider: “How do I articulate how this new technology changes the way the business operates?”

There are no easy answers here. Standing out from the crowd in 2015 – without being excessive – is a real challenge. However, vendors should keep themselves honest by running regular reality checks as the year progresses. Remember:

  • Narrative Always Trumps Messaging – It’s great to have a well-crafted product message, but that hard work is wasted if the broader narrative it sits within isn’t also working. A great narrative generates interesting viral conversations by generating questions and answers that can play back to product strengths. Does the narrative gel with the end user’s experience and situation? Messages need roots.
  • Authenticity Has Never Mattered More – Yes, perceptions matter, but ultimately it is reality and the facts on the ground that makes or breaks careers. Be sure you can stand out with a smart idea, but you must also stand by your claim and own it. Does the excitement of the initial concept marry the possible with the probable?
  • Research Hard, Fail Fast and Re-iterate – Research can make all the difference, turning early adversity into future opportunity. Take a DevOps approach to your communications activities – use analyst inquiry and messaging sessions to quickly develop Kevlar for your Narrative prior to launch. Better to fail early, and then quickly re-iterate your way to success, than continue with an approach that’s not working.

So what’s got you excited about this year’s RSA? If you have an RSA story to share, or want to discuss how analysts can help bulletproof your story then drop me a line at tris.clark@blancandotus.com.