When BillingPlatform, a global, cloud-based monetization and billing solution provider, recently closed a large, six-figure deal, the analyst relations (AR) team had cause to celebrate. The customer win had originated from an industry analyst referral — delivering ROI not just on BillingPlatform’s engagement with the referring firm, but also on the company’s entire AR program.
It also further validated AR’s strategic importance at BillingPlatform, which serves enterprise customers such as Panera Bread, Xandr, Clear Channel, Carrier, Self Esteem Brands and many more. Noting nearly 2 dozen analyst referrals to its pipeline last year, BillingPlatform knows that identifying target industry analysts — and actively, regularly and expertly engaging them — are key contributors to business success.
“We operate in a competitive market, so keeping relevant analysts well-informed on our new innovations and customer successes is a huge priority — and one that bears fruit,” said Kurt Andersen, CMO, BillingPlatform. “In cases where we’re able to clearly demonstrate how those analysts — and our concerted and targeted outreach to them — can help grow sales, that really underscores the value of AR. All those analyst briefings, emails, capability surveys we’ve completed and customer conversations we’ve arranged… they’re making an impact in a meaningful way.”
Tying AR Efforts to Deals: The Challenges
It’s not just BillingPlatform prospects that heed the word of industry analysts. In fact, 92% of B2B buyers say analyst reviews and reports impact their business purchases. And for more than 8 in 10 B2B tech buyers, analyst reports or consultations are actually the top driver in their purchase decisions.
But while it’s clear that analysts influence deals, measuring that impact can be, and often is, elusive. For starters, practicing AR is playing the long game. You want to build and increase mindshare among analysts — delivering and exchanging information through briefings, inquiries, newsletters, email updates, portals, etc. — so they’ll speak and write positively and accurately about your company. That increased exposure percolates to and directly impacts prospects, but it takes time.
Plus, all the elements that make up brand awareness aren’t always easily recollected by prospects or tangibly measured when they engage with a vendor. And with multiple decision-makers at your prospects’ companies, and different people in touch with sales, you may not learn or know whether analysts impacted the buying journey. So there’s a sense that, within companies, analysts’ influence on deals goes underreported.
Still, when you can link the cumulative impact of AR outreach to deals won, that’s the measurement holy grail.
Measurement Tips and Ideas
So how can you go about tracking analyst referrals and other ways (such as through their research) that analysts impact customer wins? Here are some tactics that leading companies employ:
- Ask your prospects — Your sales reps can and should ask qualified prospects how they heard about your company. At BillingPlatform, for example, reps go through a script, providing options including analyst referrals and research (e.g., Gartner Magic Quadrant, Gartner Market Guide, Forrester Wave, etc.).
- Ask your customers — During customer win interviews, you can also ask about whether analysts impacted the purchase. If yes, which one(s) and how?
- Ask the analysts — Especially at firms where you have a contract, you can ask your Tier 1 analysts if you are on their short list to recommend to end-user clients. BillingPlatform advises also taking this a step further — asking what use cases analysts recommend your company for, and how many times they have given your name to prospects in a given time period. While analysts won’t provide the names of prospects they’ve spoken to (instead often describing them by industry), knowing that you’re on the short list for specific use cases or applications, and that an analyst has provided your name out to roughly a dozen (for instance) companies, is helpful context.
- Use web forms — In “contact us” and other lead-capture forms, companies often have a “How did you learn about us?” question. Include “analyst conversation” and “analyst research” among the select-all-that-apply options.
- Use link tracking software — See whether prospects are clicking on analyst reports you’ve licensed (such as Gartner MQs) and where they’re going next. For example, is the next step in their journey to schedule a demo?
Of course, in addition to collecting all this information, it’s also important to centrally track it. After speaking with prospects, BillingPlatform’s sales reps, for instance, note any analyst influence within the CRM system, where the marketing team can track it throughout the pipeline. This enables the company to measure on a quarterly and yearly basis their revenue attributable to analyst referrals and influence, along with which analyst firms are positively impacting their deals.
“Analysts are influential throughout all stages of the high-tech buying process – it’s indisputable,” said Ludovic Leforestier, board member of the Institute of Influencer and Analyst Relations (IIAR>), a non-profit membership organization, and founder of Starsight Communications, an AR agency. “Buyers regard them as independent sources of truth and give credence to their recommendations, research, quotes in the media and social media commentary. So for vendors, you really want to make sure that you’re top of mind among your target analysts – so that when they discuss technology solutions, they’re recommending you. Then, being able to measure that influence, when possible, not only increases internal support for AR, but the data also helps AR professionals see what’s working and where to focus their efforts.”
Tapping into AR Throughout the Sales Cycle
Knowing the weight that prospects give to analyst research and opinions, effective AR strategies can help equip your sales team for success, and make their jobs easier. So for AR practitioners, it’s important to:
- Know — and stay on top of — target analysts. Who’s coming and going from various firms? Are their coverage areas changing? Which analysts are prolific writers? Who writes the major reports? Who frequently speaks with end-users? Tier your analysts, and plan outreach to build cred accordingly. AR software can help.
- Keep sales reps apprised of analyst assets they can use with prospects — including approved analyst quotes about your company or market, licensed research, etc. Pointing prospects to information and validation from well-regarded, independent experts goes a long way!
- Provide messaging to sales reps, with context on major report inclusions (e.g., Gartner MQ, Forrester Wave). Has your quadrant positioning gone up or down? What strengths and concerns did the analyst cite in your company profile? How did your business fare compared to competitors? Based on that information, anticipate questions from prospects, and arm sales reps with ready-made answers.
- Find out what analysts think of your business. Companies including BillingPlatform conduct “perception surveys” of target analysts, to get a better handle on how well they’re moving the needle, and how analysts discuss the company with buyers. This knowledge can help focus future conversations to address any perceived weaknesses or gaps in knowledge about your company. At firms where you hold a license, the surveying process is usually fairly easy. You can often use inquiry time to conduct open-ended email surveys of target analysts — finding out what they think of your company’s strengths and weaknesses in various areas, how well they’re being served by your AR communications, and whether their perceptions have changed over time.
More and more companies today recognize the strategic importance of analyst relations as they hire more dedicated AR positions and AR compensation increases. And as AR becomes more firmly embedded in marketing, communications and corporate strategy, the question often arises: “How can we measure the success and impact of our program?”
There are some common and easily quantifiable metrics, including frequency of research inclusions, inclusion/positioning in stack-ranking reports, share of analyst voice in your market (something Palo Alto Networks regularly and successfully measures), and frequency of analyst interactions (broken out among all analysts, or just top-tier targets).
Tying analysts to deals won isn’t as easy — and visibility into this isn’t always available. So it’s often not the only (or even primary) way to measure AR’s value. But when you can put processes in place to attain the information when possible, customer wins will be direct AR wins too.