Debunking the Myth of the Analyst #InfluenceHR

With the HR technology marketplace seemingly evolving at the speed of a tweet, companies selling into the space are increasingly employing sophisticated techniques to increase both share of mind and, subsequently, share of market. Trends like big data, social media and mobile enablement have become ubiquitous not only in product roadmaps but also in market positioning.

Despite these seismic shifts in product strategy and sales, however, one time tested tactic remains at the center of almost every vendors’ competitive playbook, a critical competency and competitive differentiator for an increasingly competitive (and lucrative) industry: effectively working with third party analysts.

“Today, it’s about influence. It’s about the way our industry has evolved and our products are brought to market. It’s about how HR technology vendors work with other vendors to create edgy, effective products which move the HR community forward,” said Madeline Laurano, Research Director, Talent Acquisition Solutions for the Aberdeen Group.

As one of the most prominent – and respected – analysts in the industry, Laurano knows something about influence. And in her keynote presentation at this week’s InfluenceHR event in New York City, Laurano took on some of the most pervasive myths and misconceptions about analysts while providing some valuable tips and techniques for vendors on making the most out of their analyst relations programs.

The Evolution of the Analyst

The role of the talent acquisition analyst has evolved along with the market they’re charged with covering, Laurano said, pointing out the shift from “traditional” to “modern” analyst in both approach and business model. Traditional analysts, according to Laurano, were mainly tasked with performing primary and secondary research within an industry, accessing information like sector trends and taxonomies to prepare forecasts and models to provide insight on the current state – and future direction – of that industry.

While these responsibilities remain critical components of an analyst’s responsibilities, Laurano suggested that the next generation of analysts must do more than simply analyze extant data, but rather, are also tasked with the responsibility to provide the content and context which actually drive decision making for vendors and clients alike.

According to Laurano, analysts were historically charged with three primary responsibilities – writing, briefings and presentations – a model that’s generally outmoded and anachronistic. While success as an analyst continues to be defined primarily on credibility, Laurano suggested this credibility is increasingly determined by a much broader set of skills.

Today’s analyst is less of a researcher and more of a hybrid function – simultaneously a thought leader, media relations and marketing maven, a blogger, pundit and trusted consultant for companies and their clients alike. The ability to wear several hats simultaneously while delivering real value and insights is key, Laurano suggested.

Analysts: Business Model & Bottom Line

Given the fact that the ability to influence the market is a key competency for every analyst, Laurano identified research, social media, consulting, rankings/ratings, conferences, webinars, analyst days, strategic advisory and media relations as among the primary outcomes necessary for analysts in defining and driving this influence.

These deliverables also represent the bottom line for most analyst firms, although their business models remain differentiated. Laurano identified the three business models most pervasive in today’s market. Many analyst firms’ revenue streams are predicated on selling to vendors; still others primarily profit from selling their services to customers. Increasingly, however, analyst firms are adopting a hybrid by selling slightly differentiated offerings to both vendors and customers alike.

“Every analyst at some level has to be pay for play,” Laurano stated, directly addressing the necessity of monetizing analysts’ work in order to ensure continued viability, but suggested that “a pay for play model cannot effect research or reports,” and that remaining objective and unbiased despite revenue models is key to continued credibility and the critical ability to influence the markets analysts are tasked with covering.

3 Keys to Working With An Analyst

For both vendors and HR customers alike, getting the most return on analyst investment requires adopting some core best practices for maximizing analyst relationships. Laurano suggested the following 3 keys for success:

1. Routine Briefings: Scheduling routine briefings with analysts to share product launches, your take on industry trends and the way that you’re adapting to or impacting these trends is key to getting and sustaining analyst coverage, Laurano says. She also suggested regular in-person meetings, if possible, to make the relationship between analyst and client more meaningful.
2. Advisory Services: Given the inherent subject matter expertise each analyst maintains, it’s incumbent upon companies to lean on analysts for both market trends and customer feedback/focal points. Beyond simply getting objective advice and insights into the market, Laurano also suggested involving analysts as members of in-house advisory boards, allowing them increased insight and proximity to your product’s evolution and how it fits into the talent acquisition landscape.
3. Webinars, Webinars, Webinars: Even in today’s social enabled, hyper-connected marketplace, webinars remain among the most effective tools for building an analyst relations program or staying tapped into market trends, Laurano said. Involving analysts in webinars helps bring an added layer of credibility and integrity when marketing products and services externally.  For an example, check out the upcoming RecruitingBlogs webinar, "How To Work With Talent Acquisition Analysts." 

Is Your Analyst Relevant? 7 Key Considerations

Laurano strongly suggested it’s important for vendors and HR clients to work with multiple analysts, cautioning against overreliance on a single firm or analyst in order to ensure objectivity, extend strategy and maximize coverage. “Analysts bring the relationships required to reach your prospects,” Laurano said, “But no single analyst has the ability to deliver all of those relationships needed to really influence the industry.”

Researching potential analyst partners is a critical first step, Laurano cautioned, and choosing an analyst should rely primarily on an analyst’s relevancy, which can best be determined by the relevancy of their extant fact-based research. Beyond this benchmark, however, Laurano identified the following 7 key considerations for assessing analysts:

1. Open To Discussion: “Your analyst should be open to your thoughts and not just preach privacy,” Laurano said. Its important for analysts to have a broad knowledge of topics and talking points, she said; if an analyst is too focused on a specific set of trends or market data, clients can run the risk of being blindsided with potentially devastating developments or unseen shifts in the marketplace.
2. Listens & Learns: It’s the job of an analyst to listen to the marketplace, Laurano said, evolving their knowledge and insights along with the trends transforming that industry. “If they don’t listen, then why do you need them in the first place?,” said Laurano, echoing a critical question every analyst relations program must effectively ask.
3. Understands the Market: An analyst’s understanding of the market is extremely important, Laurano cautioned. If your business is leveraging analyst relationships for a product launch or to make an industry move, it’s important for you to caution yourself to the fact that your analyst may not truly understand your market. Determining this requires finding out if they’re truly reporting on their relevant research or simply regurgitating research.
4. Adapts To Change: The one constant in the HR Technology marketplace is change – and this constant requires analysts to have views which evolve along with the marketplace, even if this means admitting their past views might have been erroneous or incorrect.
5. Connected to Companies: One of the primary values analysts deliver is their connections and ongoing relationships with companies throughout the industry, Laurano said. It’s essential analysts remain visible in the space and have broad networks which both they and their clients can successfully leverage as required.
6. Passion: It’s not enough to simply know the space, Laurano said, but also for analysts to truly be passionate about the industry they’re covering. Within HR Technology, that passion is reflected in both their deep domain expertise and ability to learn along with the market.
7. Process and Technology: Some analysts focus strictly on process, said Laurano, while others focus exclusively on technology. Both approaches are flawed, however; without looking at both sides simultaneously, there tends to be a significant gap in providing the kinds of key market data that actually drives decisions.

What Analysts Actually Care About:

With so many companies and clients jockeying for limited coverage by top-tier analysts, it’s important for firms to effectively focus on providing sustained reciprocal value instead of hoping to extract it on an ad-hoc basis.

Laurano suggested that when approaching analysts, the following areas are of greatest interest and represent the greatest opportunities for coverage and content:

• Briefings & New Product Announcements
• Mergers & Acquisitions and relevant financial information
• New reports, studies, surveys and other quantifiable, vendor-generated data
• Customer wins and success stories
• Product roadmaps, third-party partnerships and strategic alliances
• Executive team insights and access to key decision makers and leaders

While the model and role of the traditional analyst is evolving, the future of the analyst world – and its sustained viability – remains bright, Laurano said. With increased offerings in marketing and consulting services as well as the rise of the next generation of products and influencers in HR Technology, analysts’ role in driving decisions and influencing the industry will only continue to grow in the future.

To learn more about how to get the most out of working with analysts – and for a behind the scenes look at what analysts really about – join George Larocque of Larocque, Inc. (and organizer of the HRInfluence Conference), Kyle Lagunas of the Brandon Hall Group and Sarah White of Accelir on Tuesday, November 5 for an exclusive RecruitingBlogs webinar, “How To Work With Analysts.” Click here to register now and reserve your spot today.

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