Context, advice, reputation and time: How analysts can thrive in the social media age

icon-social-media-blue.jpgBecause vendor executives still wonder why enterprise IT managers still use the analysts (they need to read Why technology buyers use the IT industry analysts) and hope that they influence will diminish (they should check out Influence is not a zero-sum game so analyst influence is not necessarily diminished by the rise of bloggers), we continue to look for ways to clearly articulate why those vendor executives are indulgencing in wishful thinking. Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine and creator of the Long Tail theory, had an interesting post about human-powered search and the long tail that is a nifty approach to the issue of why pay for something when so much information is available for free on the Internet, blogosphere and other forms of social media.

Chris started with something from Economics 101: “Every abundance creates a new scarcity.” He then went on to illustrate with these examples:

  • An abundance of information can create a scarcity of context
  • An abundance of choice can create a scarcity of advice
  • An abundance of content can create a scarcity of time
  • An abundance of people competing for your attention can create a scarcity of reputational ways to choose among them

Each of these scarcities apply to the typical IT manger and executive in spades. Few IT managers that I have spoke with in the last 18 months are ignoring the relevant blogs, but want a source for context and “reality checks.” The vast majority of IT managers look at information in the blog, media and so on, but want someone to turn to for advice. Nobody in these days of lean staffing, has the time to read all the relevant blogs and talk to all the relevant vendors, so they need a resource that can help them save time. Finally, many people are skeptical about some of the content on the Internet and want to turn to someone they trust and has advised them in the past.

These bullets reminds me of a sales call I had with a rather sharp CIO when I was at Gartner. We were standing outside his office when he challenged me with “What makes you Gartner analysts think that you are smarter than me?” My answer was: “We’re not.” This brought a smirk to the CIO’s face. I went on: “However, we have advantages you don’t. We have time and access. It is our job to read everything, talk to many of your peers and get briefed on a continuous basis by all the vendors’ smartest people. We are given the time to think about all this information and develop insights and context. You could do that if you have the time, right? But, do you have the time? Or, are you have an important executive with many demands on your time?  And a life?” The smirk turned into a thoughtful nod of the head. He invited my Gartner Sales colleague and me into his office and later we closed a major deal for services – not because I was smarter, but because I had different information and insights and could save him time.

So yes, corporate IT executives and managers are smart and have access to even more information than ever before on the Internet. But do they have the time, and access to their peers in other companies and all the relevant personnel at vendors?

(The following paragraph was added 6/15/08)

Of course, the major end-user advisory analyst firms (e.g., AMR, Forrester and Gartner) have been selling “context, advice, reputation and time” since their founding. Analyst sales reps have always told enterprise IT managers that the firm’s business value is about making better IT decisions, saving you time, saving your company money through better negotiations with vendors and saving your job through direct, personal conversations with the analysts themselves. The written reseach is nice, but not the reason why IT managers buy analyst services.

SageCircle Technique:

  • Arrange to have conversations with enterprise customers, e.g., when they visit your customer center or by riding with sales reps on calls
  • Ask about their sources of information, from analysts to press to blogs
  • Ask if they are changing their use of the analysts, up or down or simply different
  • Ask if they plan on reducing their use of the analysts

Bottom Line: While there is no guarantee that every analyst firm will survive going forward, in general the tech industry analysts can thrive if they address these scarcities. And if they thrive as I expect, then tech vendors will need to invest in analyst relations to educate these key influencers of tech deals.


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