SMB Research has intended for some time to provide some ideas around how to use a technology analyst firm. This is a difficult task because the analyst firm industry has many flavors, business and revenue models, services, and deliverables. Analysts are often lumped in with consultants and consulting, and, for many, even the lines between analysts, consultants and resellers, VARS and MSPs (managed service providers) are blurry. There are many streams of discussions on the internet and elsewhere about the different analyst firm models, business and revenue models, and the issues around bias and transparency, among other things. We will not make even a pretense of trying to sort all of this out for you here. (You can give us a call, if you like.) What we can do for you as a start is offer some insights on what a technology analyst firm is, and how to use a technology analyst firm like SMB Research.
The technology advisory firms are perhaps much more well-known to the Fortune500 segment of the business industry, where the likes of GE and Honeywell are only too familiar with the value and advantage to be gained from using a technology analyst firm, than to small, and small-to-medium (SMB) businesses.
At the risk of having to provide some gross generalizations (which we do not think should be prohibitive), here are some insights into what a technology firm is, the value propositions and objections to using a technology analyst firm, and tips for working with a technology analyst firm.
Technology analyst firms
A Technology analyst is an advisor who performs research on technology markets, and delivers research and analysis to clients, who are, most often, technology end-users, software and technology vendors, service providers, or other industry participants, and, sometimes, a mix of two or more of these constituencies. Services are varied, and deliverables may consist of written published 9often syndicated) research; telephone access to analysts; webcasts; conferences and events; on-site, teleconference, or Internet-based forums; and other deliverables.
A Technology Analyst is not a Consultant. A technology analyst is often, but not always, differentiated from a consultant. Whereas ‘consulting’ is usually interpreted to mean a client engagement of longer duration, often with a considerable on-site component, ‘technology advisory’ is more often centered around a strong focus on a strong on-going research component, and the delivery of this research to paying clients via different products and services. Technology analysts may choose to include “consulting” in their services, but this is not always the case.
A Technology Analyst is not a Reseller. A technology analyst is not usually (or necessarily) also a software reseller. There may be technology analysts who sell software; there are undoubtedly resellers and VARS who provide research and advice to their customers. A technology analyst will often choose to not also resell software in order to be able to provide the more balanced and impartial strategic input. The intention here is not to make any ethical judgment, but only to recommend that there are distinctions here that you should understand when anticipating working with one of these technology industry participants.
Tip: Ask whether the person you are talking to is a Technology Analyst, Integrator / System Integrator, Consultant, Reseller or Value-Added Reseller (VAR), or some other type of service provider altogether. Ask about their business and revenue model, what type of companies their customers are, and how they derive most of their revenue.
The Technology Analyst’s Value Proposition
CEOs and IT leaders are as overwhelmed as ever with day-to-day problem-solving. Survey-after-survey have shown this to be the case, and recent surveys affirm this. These immediate tactical issues, together with the long-documented proliferation of information sources, means that it is more difficult than ever for the CEO and IT leader, particularly in the small, small-to-medium (SMB) and mid-market business, to commit the time and capabilities for strategic research and due diligence.
Even when CEOs and IT leaders have the time and the commitment, effective research and due diligence require exceptional and robust research, experience, and access to penetrate the the hype and marketing noise in order to get to the truth that is most relevant to each company’s precise context.
An experienced technology analyst who knows the right questions to ask, and is constantly asking these questions, and has a richly developed network of sources and resources, and relationships, is in a much better position to discover and assess information, and with a professional scrutiny, that end-users very seldom can consider to be a core competencies. This is not abut information or technology fetishism. This is about having the mission- and decision-critical information you need, when you need it.
The right technology analyst should be able to provide you critical research, insight, and due diligence that you cannot effectively or efficiently produce. This should extend your resources and capabilities, free up valuable time, accelerate your decision-making, save you real money, and enable you to make IT and technology decisions with greater confidence and lower risk – at the cost of a fraction on what you are spending for technology and technology services.
Excuses for Not Using a Technology Analyst Firm
Having said that, we have heard, at one time or another, every objection in the book.
- “We do not anticipate buying any software / technology until next year.“Technology analysts obviously do help with software evaluations and system selections. But this is but one of the many possible services that many technology analysts can offer. CEOs and IT leaders are having discussions nearly every day about their IT strategy and technology portfolios, and many analysts, SMB Research included, are well-equipped and prepared to offer research and insights specific to the various stages of the lifecycle of their application portfolios.
- “We cannot afford analysts or consultants, and do not work with analysts or consultants.” While small businesses, and small-to-medium business (SMB), in particular, may fear that they cannot afford a trusted advisor, the typical small business or SMB technology consumer cannot afford to not work with a trusted advisor. Given the cost of technology, and how SMB Research is scaling our services to the budgets and needs of the SMB, having our mission-critical research and due diligence makes more sense than ever, and is affordable for small business and SMB.
- “We know everything we need to know, or know where to get it.“No one knows what they don’t know. That is axiomatic, and is just the way it is. CEOs and IT leaders, particularly in SMBs and the mid-market, know what they are being told, and as much as they can further discover. Only a trusted advisor can advise what you don’t know, and what you should know. The only model that we think makes sense for the small business, SMB and mid-market is to have access to this on-demand, in real-time, customized for your specific needs.
How to Use a Technology Analyst
There are, from SMB Research’s perspective, several key tips for making the best use of a Technology Analyst – so that your investment in the analyst is indeed the best dollars you ever spent, and help you leverage your technology investments for even greater ROI.
- It all starts with a conversation. Call a technology analyst and ask for an initial conversation on their dime. Hesitating to take even this initial step will prevent you from accessing the research and insights that you could be capitalizing on immediately – today. As one of the investment firms was said in their tagline “You should know what we know.” SMB Research’s mission is to deliver research and value additive to what you know, and that you can use execute on effectively.
- Treat the Analyst as a trusted extension of your team. The more context you share with the Analyst about your IT and application strategy, your successes as well as your challenges, the more value the Analyst will deliver to you. Practice full disclosure. Commit to continual interaction. Frequency and continuity of interaction are important; the best analysts will respect your time, and make sure that every minute invested is returned X times in value.
- Tell the Analyst (1) where you are at; (2) What you are trying to do, and (3) what you think you need. These elements go hand-in-hand. If you tell the Analyst what you think you need, without telling them what you are trying to do, you risk getting the wrong research, the wrong insight and advice. You prevent the Analyst from providing to you valuable lessons and Best Practices from similar scenarios elsewhere. Telling the Analyst what you are trying to do, without telling them what you think you need, risks the Analyst telling you what you already know, or providing you the wrong research, or in the wrong way, or at the wrong time.
- Don’t let not knowing what to ask be an excuse for not reaching out. Working with a technology analyst is not like playing Jeopardy. Good technology analysts do not expect a specific or coherent question; we want to hear about what your technology and IT strategies are, where you are trying to get to, what your challenges are, and what you need to know. Reach out and start the conversation; the best analysts will take care of the rest, and advise you how they can help you, and what value they can deliver. This is how SMB Research works.
- Look for the Big Win. Working with an analyst firm is not unlike baseball in at least one respect. Most often, the winning baseball team prevails due to a big win in one inning. While you should see solid see value from every analyst interaction, look also for the Big Win. There may well be one system selection, one engagement, one interaction – the right critical research and analysis/introduction/due diligence at the right time to the right person for the right reason, that overwhelmingly justifies your entire investment in the technology analyst. We have seen this time and again.
- Make your expectations clear. Good technology analysts will be very interested in where you are at, what you know and don’t know, how often you want to interact, how you like to interact, and what your expectations are from each interaction. The technology analyst should be able to assure you they can deliver real and tangible research, and value that is incremental and additive to what you already know. The Analyst firm should be able to deliver to you what you want to know, when you want to know it, in the format, quantity and depth that is most useful to you. This is, at minimum, we think, what you should expect.
Follow these guidelines, and you should find – in more cases than not – that an investment in a Technology Analyst is the proverbial “No-Brainer” and the best technology investment you have ever made.
Go ahead. We dare you.