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Explaining the Value of Analyst Relations to Salespeople (Part 2)

Will industry analysts speak directly to a sales prospect?

Industry analysts are usually willing to speak directly to prospects in the middle of a purchase decision. After all, this is their bread & butter business …not us vendors! This is easiest when the customer or prospect is already a client of the analyst firm – i.e. when the vendor and the analyst share a common customer. These interactions are truly frictionless.  Unfortunately vendors can’t officially broker these discussions.  Analysts find it unseemly to have a vendor broker a call with a prospect, or even to pass along a prospect’s contact information. The prospect will have to call them. Of course there is inherent risk in having any prospect talk to an analyst – even one hedged to be favorable – because the vendor can’t be on the call to hear exactly what the prospect says.  One thing is for sure, analysts will never blindly endorse one vendor over another in any case – but can help a prospect “sharpen their thinking”.  (Find out what OTHER firms the prospect may be a client of already, and pursue those pathways too).

Who do our target analysts want to speak with?

More than non-client sales prospects or the vendor itself (naturally), industry analysts do want to interview customers. Obtaining customer references willing to speak to industry analysts is tough, but it’s generally a lot easier than getting ones willing to speak to the press! Salespeople need to understand that, when talking to analysts, customers need never go public with their support – one dramatic difference between analyst and press requirements. There are a few conditions here – so proceed cautiously. You as a vendor should be confident that the requirements of the customer’s project played directly into your areas of strength or competitive differentiation. That way you can be reasonably certain what the customer will tell the analyst. The customer and analyst will have to talk directly, without vendor representatives listening in. The AR team should partner with Sales to find out which analyst firms advise its best customers (analysts will not reveal their client lists to anyone). Matching common customers is the most frictionless way to schedule reference interviews for analysts, as it usually puts the customer at ease and eliminates any need for the analyst to sign an NDA agreement.  Do not assume just because your customer is also a research client, they have already spoken to your target analyst(s) about use of your solution.

What kind of customers are the best ones for analysts?

During any given Quarter, analyst references should map directly to the current requirements of the Sales organization. Even though industry analysts peer into the future, Sales has to sell what you got. Long-term customers are most commonly requested by analysts, ones that have been through many battles and won the war. Customer success with recently released offerings provides critical proof to analysts and prospects alike that a vendor has found market traction with its most recent offerings.  Customers who have purchased but are immersed in the planning and implementation stage can still communicate value to analysts.  In the process, these customers look forward-thinking.

Give sales folks cash incentives for bringing new customers on as references for AR.  Without a formal compensation structure, the typical salesperson will have no motivation to help out.  AR should look for a “win-win”, where the customer’s communications strategy and business goals can be promoted. Train and retrain the field so they fully understand how the AR program works.  It’s easy to recognize a program that’s working – sales reps inform AR in a timely way about significant repeat orders, competitive wins, or successful go-live projects as they occur.

The 3 steps to successful selling through AR:

  1. Train the Sales field on the nature of industry analysts and their influential role advising prospects & customers. 
  2. Align AR program behind its Sales objectives and prove the ROI as part of sales operations.
  3. If at all possible, compensate sales people for their participation in making the AR program successful.

Given the considerations outlined here, Analyst Relations teams should impress upon salespeople that active participation provides the ideal way to turn skeptical analysts into advocates that can help the vendor play in more deals, shorten the sales cycle, and ultimately help them close more business.

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