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A common question among technology companies looking for attention is: “How do I trick an analyst into talking about my product?” The answer: Find a really bad analyst.

Still, the question raises a good point. A lot of vendors view analysts as mythical, cave-dwelling beasts who demand ritual sacrifices before they deign to cover a new technology product. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Many tech companies try treating tech analysts like press, clients or financial markets, and that just doesn’t work. To correct that behavior and demysticize the process, check out this five-step crash course in analyst relations. These insider tips can’t guarantee your company’s product will show up in the “magical” top-right quadrant of some industry graph. But they will remove some of the most common analyst-relations slipups and help you seem like a pro the next time you go mano a mano with an analyst.

Step 1. Know Your Product’s Value

Analysts are no stranger to buzzwords, but they don’t want to hear any of yours. They love big-picture thinking, but they’re the ones being paid to paint the picture. Analysts like to draw their own conclusions from specific pieces of data. Be honest and specific about your product’s value and you’ll go places.

“We cut file sizes by 30%” is far more impressive than a lot of blather about “changing the game.” When it comes to references, case studies are great. Save the testimonials for consumer marketing.

Step 2. Scout the Team

“I have a CRM app for the iPhone. I’d like to talk to the analyst who covers iPhones.”

Some research firms are one-analyst boutiques. Others have more than 100 analysts covering pretty much everything. Regardless of size, no two firms view the world or distribute coverage the same way. Some firms might file your app under “salesforce automation,” while others might consider it “enterprise mobility.” It’s your job to determine how and where you fit before you ask for an analyst.

The good news is that you can discover most of the relevant information from the firm’s website. Firms usually break out coverage areas in their analyst bios, and if there’s a lot of overlap in a category like mobility, look at research abstracts. Note the titles and authors of the most relevant reports. When you contact the briefing coordinator, reference that research and ask if some of the authors might be available.

When you review the research, look for publication patterns. Does the firm offer a competitive roundup every third quarter, or maybe feature an up-and-coming vendor in a monthly newsletter? If you can time your briefing to synch with the firm’s research calendar, you’ll be a lot more helpful to the analysts who cover you.

Step 3. Nudge and Nod

Your job requires you to prod. Everyone understands that and no one is bothered by it – as long as you’re reasonable. Adding an analyst to your mailing list, calling periodically to ask about coverage opportunities, or otherwise staying in touch is actually helpful. But refusing to take “no” for an answer isn’t standing your ground. It’s seen as acting like a child.

As an analyst, I once turned down a briefing for a service that sounded pretty cool, but had nothing to do with the next few research papers on my schedule. Two days later, I received a call from a senior VP at the service’s PR firm apologizing for my previous rep’s behavior. The firm had moved her to a different client because she “obviously hadn’t communicated the full value of just how transformative this service is going to be.” At that point, I decided not to ever take a call from the company again.

Analysts exist to provide value for their clients - not the companies they cover. Ideally, the two can go hand in hand, but if you get turned down for an appointment, take it in stride. Calendars fill up, analysts travel, coverage areas aren’t a fit. Ask if you can reschedule, speak with another analyst or researcher, or maybe set up a Web meeting instead at a later time.

Whatever you do, don’t rush off in a huff. And always send a press packet and references, even if you feel rejected. Plant the seeds and water periodically. Eventually, something will grow.

Step 4. Have the Answers

Analysts ask questions. Be prepared to answer them. You might think this doesn’t need to be called out explicitly, but many companies simply aren’t ready for their analyst briefings.

Bring the staff you need to answer common questions, like “Will it integrate with x?" If that means bringing a sales engineer, bring a sales engineer, or at least have one waiting at the office by the phone. And always have a list of references printed out and ready. If you do need to resort to “We’ll get back to you,” be sure to do so. Quickly. Don’t expect the analyst to chase you.

Step 5. Become a Client

If you find an analyst who really gets your market and that analyst’s firm accepts vendor clients, consider signing up.

Clients have ongoing access to analysts and research, as well as the ability to schedule short strategy and Q&A sessions (depending on your contract). By spending time with and soliciting opinions from key analysts, you’ll learn about competitors' strengths and weaknesses, see exactly how you compare, and get some tips about pitching to other analyst firms along the way.

(Cormac Foster was a tech industry analyst at Jupiter Research, now part of Forrester. Be sure to read his Insider’s Guide to Technology Analysts.)


Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

Strategy #3: Identify Your Most Profitable Customers. Who are your most valuable customers? It may not be the client who buys the most goods. If you can analyze when purchases were made, the frequency of orders, and the revenue generated by these orders, you can segment customers according to value.

Being able to identify not only high-revenue customers but also those who incur high costs (through service or support) can help you determine which customers are really most profitable. Imagine a customer who purchases substantial volumes of your products each year, generating a certain amount of revenue for you. But if this customer also requires exceptional support or service, that generated revenue is offset by the costs you incur to satisfy the customer’s post-sales needs.

ERP System

5 Ways to Leverage Your ERP System to Build Better,Stronger Customer Relationships (Part 2)

Another customer who buys less but requires no additional service may be more profitable. Understanding profitability is the first step to cultivating relationships with your best customers. Once you can identify your best customers, you can design processes or programs to give them special attention or rewards for their loyalty. You can use an ERP solution to segment and cluster customers and determine likely behaviors based on predictive modeling tools that can help you anticipate customer requirements and provide efficient, effective service.

Strategy #4: Deliver Only Superior Service. Another satisfaction-enhancing strategy is to ensure that you make and meet your promises for goods and services in a timely fashion. Only when you have visibility throughout your supply chain can you determine whether you have the inventory levels, manufacturing capacity, and shipping availability needed to meet demand.

When a customer places an order, sales personnel should be able to quickly analyze the product requirements against inventory and capacity. By analyzing these variables in real time, they can make accurate promises and deliver superior service to customers.

ERP software that integrates with your inventory and supply chain erp applications can help you create and manage customer orders, generate quotes and proposals, check product availability, and track orders throughout the order fulfillment process. These integrated tools can be used to automatically calculate prices using customer-specific information, such as contracts and price lists, and perform available-to-promise checks at the sales-item level .

With software like this you can make superior service a reality. Having supply chain visibility can help you avoid missed promise dates and product misallocation, even as cycle times speed up. You can enhance forecasting accuracy, reducing stock-outs and improving your ability to meet your delivery commitments. In fact, the supply chain insight enabled by ERP software can help you optimize production and order processing time and meet your goal of perfect order fulfillment.

Strategy #5: Maximize Customer Lifetime Value. By using ERP software to execute the first four strategies, you can begin to enhance the value that each customer can deliver over the course of your business relationship. But there is more you can do to maximize customer lifetime value.

By analyzing your interactions with specific customers, you can isolate issues that drive up service costs. With greater insight, you may be able to make process or service adjustments that reduce or eliminate the need for additional services, instantly improving customer profitability and your bottom line.

You can analyze payment history, using the results to identify customers that routinely delay or miss payments and compromise your cash flow. By offering these clients incentives to pay more promptly, you can receive payment sooner, reduce your days-sales-outstanding metric, and make each client a more valuable customer.

Nothing makes a business hum like a roster of happy customers. For most small businesses and midsize companies, there is no substitute for building satisfying customer relationships. When you are in sync with your customers, you can develop insights into their requirements, tailor products and services to meet those needs, and create customer loyalty that drives profits.

ERP System

5 Ways to Leverage Your ERP System to Build Better,Stronger Customer Relationships (Part 1)

While most companies set out on an ERP implementation with visions of efficiency and streamlined operations dancing in their heads, an ERP system is also a killer solution for improving customer service. Because all the transactional data involving every customer and every order resides in a  single integrated database, that information can be automatically scoured to give you unprecedented visibility into what’s really going on with your customer. Herte are five strategies for using that information to take customer relationships to a whole new level.

Strategy #1: Know What Customers Want – Even Before They Do. One effective way to engage your customers is to anticipate their needs. When a customer routinely purchases your products, you should be able to identify patterns in buying behavior. From these patterns you can determine which actions to take to optimize customer satisfaction. For example, if a customer often orders 50 new widgets at the beginning of each quarter, you should have those products in inventory to meet his or her needs. If a new quarter begins and the customer doesn’t place the usual order, your sales team should contact the customer. A sales representative can offer to fill the regular order, meet any new product needs, or address previously unrecognized service or satisfaction problems. By working proactively, your company can drive sales and perhaps prevent your customer from taking business to a competitor.

An ERP system can help you not only fulfill current needs but also predict future requirements. You can use an ERP solution to gain a better understanding of which goods customers purchase, the timing and frequency of their purchases, and the profitability of each customer. A solution that provides a 360-degree view of the customer account – including sales, marketing, and service interactions – can help you manage customer value and deliver differentiated service. Software can recommend next-best offerings for your customers and personalize these offerings based on marketing profiles or target groups.

Strategy #2: Maximize Up-Sell and Cross-Sell Opportunities. It’s important to recognize opportunities to sell higher-quality products or complementary products that might benefit your customer. Imagine that you regularly sell components of a certain grade to a manufacturer. Your sales representative can promote an upgraded version of those components that could improve your customer’s product.

By presenting the benefits of this upgrade, the sales rep can clearly demonstrate your company’s commitment to your customer’s success. The same approach applies to complementary products or replacement goods. A customer who routinely purchases a product from you may be pleased to learn of items that could increase the value of the original purchase. With an ERP solution you can identify goods sold to a customer that are nearing the end of their expected lifetime so that your representatives can proactively offer replacement items. In taking this step, your company may prevent the customer from experiencing unnecessary downtime.

Concluded in Part 2

120322 Panel of Esteemed Grown-ups.jpgAssume for a moment that you don't own an iPad. Which device do you want more: a new, multitouch-endowed Windows 8 notebook computer, or a new iPad with the vastly improved resolution? Okay, so the latter is available now and the former is not. But if you do (or already have) acquire that iPad today, will you want that Win8 Ultrabook come October?

These are serious questions for serious people, and it's a good thing that ReadWriteWeb knows their numbers. We've convened the Panel of Esteemed Grown-ups (PEGs) to take up the issue of Windows 8's success against Apple's iOS-based steamroller. Joining us for the discussion (left to right):

Ross Rubin, Executive Director and Principal Analyst, NPD Connected Intelligence
Al Hilwa, Program Director for Applications Development Software, IDC
Sarah Rotman Epps, Senior Analyst for Consumer Product Strategy, Forrester
Carmi Levy, Correspondent, Yahoo Finance Canada; Contributing Technology Analyst, CTV

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Timing is everything for the potential success of Microsoft Windows 8. If Microsoft is to succeed in making Windows 8 desirable, it needs to time its rollout message in-between the valleys of Apple's peaks. The new iPad rollout this month was one peak. Rumors of a wider-screen iPhone are not what Microsoft wants to see coming into fruition in October.

120315 Windows 8 01.jpg

Do You Want a Windows Tablet Now?

For Microsoft to pull this off, it needs to perform a delicate balancing act: It needs to make Windows 8 as desirable as anyone's competing tablet. It needs to eat into that tablet's screen time and take away a chunk of its attention. And at the same time, it needs to stand its ground as a technology distinct from tablets, and devoted to real-world productivity. This is what our analysts are telling us.

"The rules of the game in tech are, if someone gets in my business, I have to get into their business," says IDC's Al Hilwa. "Microsoft was correctly able to see that a smartphone or a tablet packs as much computing power as a PC, or if not yet, soon will. So within a couple of short years the installed base of all smartphones and tablets was probably going to approach that of PCs, giving their vendors the strategic opportunity to encroach on the PC. The writing was on the wall, as such devices are a keyboard and a monitor away from essentially being functionally fungible with a PC."

But even with that bold handwriting, Hilwa believes, the market does not always evolve the way that companies' marketing managers anticipate. "Often the users are not the ones who dictate how things go; the vendors have to lead." He cites the fact that the market wasn't really demanding a large, flat, touchable phone whose functions are manipulable with their fingers - not until Steve Jobs held one in his hand. So getting the technology out there and letting the market bake it the rest of the way, Hilwa believes, is the right approach for Microsoft.

“If consumers have any objection to Windows 8, it would likely be the duality and lack of continuity between its two main user interfaces, Metro and Desktop mode. That is its greatest strength and its greatest liability.”

Ross Rubin
Executive Director and Principal Analyst, NPD Connected Intelligence

"Now, they may not get it right in the way this hybridizes right away," he says. "But I think there's something there in simplifying the whole interface, and allowing a lot of people to touch the screen instead of the mouse when they're typing... There are pros and cons, and there may be many different input devices. The touch screen may go out and compete with the mouse and the trackpad and the trackball like everyone else. Then let people decide which is easier for them, for their [respective] apps and profiles. I think it's the right approach, providing more choice, letting these different input devices battle it out, and letting touch not be exclusive to one type of device."

The data that Sarah Rotman Epps sees indicates that, while the market may be very capable of making decisions, those decisions can turn on a dime. Forrester compared the results of two similar surveys of prospective tablet buyers conducted in January 2011 and September 2011. At the beginning of last year, Windows commanded consumers' preferences for a tablet operating system. By September, Apple had seized that position. But more consumers last fall would prefer a Windows-based tablet to an Android-based one.

"Every day that consumers are waiting for Windows 8, many sales are lost to Apple," Epps tells us. "We do believe that there will be demand for Windows tablets, but with every day that they're not on the market, Microsoft is losing share."

This time around, rather than appearing overly ambitious, the usual rumors of Microsoft's fall release seem to confirm that the company has read the handwriting on the wall. "At this point, they have no choice," says Epps. "They have to continue with the course they have set for themselves, which is to perfect their product and then launch it. If they launch it too soon and it's not fully baked, it risks the problem that consumers had with netbooks. When netbooks first came on the market, before there were Windows netbooks, there was a very high return rate for dissatisfaction. Microsoft has learned from that lesson - if consumers don't like the gadget, they're going to return it. That's not good for anyone, so they want to get it right."

120315 Windows 8 09.jpg

The Future of Windows in Your Hands

"Metro is in many respects the future of Windows," states NPD's Ross Rubin. "Microsoft is betting that not only will the tablet form factor continue to grow, and that it wants to be well positioned for that growth, but that increasingly we will move to more direct manipulation in notebooks and desktops as well." Rubin notes the brief resurgence of the desktop PC form factor, by way of providing a low-cost vehicle for touch-enabled screens - an alternative to the all-in-one form factor that usually commands a premium. Meanwhile, Intel has already begun defining the Ultrabook form factor for lightweight and power-conserving notebooks, the next phase of which is expected to incorporate touchscreens.

“At this point, they have no choice. They [Microsoft] have to continue with the course they have set for themselves, which is to perfect their product and then launch it.”

Sarah Rotman Epps
Senior Analyst for Consumer Product Strategy, Forrester

So Windows 8 has the opportunity to be perceived by the public as something physical, not just an ethereal concept of an operating system. Thanks to new form factors, consumers may be able to imagine holding Windows 8 in their hands, or at least touching it, the way they imagine holding an iPad in their hands. It may be this physical connection that Microsoft will rely upon to cement Win8's place in the market. Meanwhile, Rubin points out that functionality aspects other than just ergonomics will matter very significantly. If consumers have any objection to Windows 8, he remarks, "it would likely be the duality and lack of continuity between its two main user interfaces, Metro and Desktop mode. That is its greatest strength and its greatest liability, because if you need to regularly switch between them, that creates a jarring experience.

"One of the differences between a Windows tablet and an iPad or an Android tablet is that, on iPad or Android, you're getting a pure tablet experience. You're never moving into any mode that has been optimized for keyboard and mouse," NPD's Rubin continues. "But Windows 8 will be backward-compatible, particularly on Intel, with a huge legacy of applications. So that's what gives PC vendors the opportunity to market it as both a traditional PC and a tablet. And there's an opportunity there for PC vendors to say, 'Hey, we're delivering the best of both worlds. They may sometimes collide with each other, but you may not need a secondary tablet device.' And for most consumers today, the tablet cannot serve as that primary device that they can use for both casual consumption of entertainment and productivity."

Ah, there's the rub! Productivity may be the iPad's Achilles heel, the part that renders it, in some consumers' minds, handicapped. But Apple's nearly flawless marketing thus far may be turning that issue on its head, making Windows' reliance upon old-world productivity software for its value proposition into the ball-and-chain that weighs it down.

"Productivity isn't sexy," pronounces Carmi Levy, "and Microsoft isn't going to garner consumers' and business buyers' attention by only focusing on productivity. It has to have sizzle in there as well in order for folks to pay attention. It has to have that emotional component. You don't buy an Apple device because it's a logical purchase; you buy it because it appeals to your emotions. Microsoft needs to play that game, or it will perpetually stay below the radar, and simply be a utility that no one pays attention to until they need to replace it."

Next page: Microsoft should be adept with a two-faced approach, shouldn't it?...

120322 Panel of Esteemed Grown-ups.jpg

That Pesky Productivity

Levy believes it's possible for Microsoft to market what I've called "the two worlds of Windows 8" as enabling a "device-appropriate user experience" for multiple classes - a concession to the fact that neither style of operating system is appropriate for all devices, by enabling two (or perhaps more) styles that could be adaptable in varying degrees across the whole chain. Still, he notes that while styles of presentation may be separable, the underlying functionality must contain some unwavering quantum of continuity.

"You can't easily cleave the consumer experience from the productivity or business one. You need to continue to remain relevant to consumers who increasingly buy these things on their own on the weekend, and then march them into the office on Monday," Levy argues. "It's no longer the corporate buyer that's making the decision in many cases; it's the consumer who initiates the process, and then forces IT to go along for the ride. If Microsoft only focuses on the productivity equation without communicating directly to consumers on a somewhat emotional or 'want' basis instead of a 'need' basis, it simply won't be part of the conversation."

“You don't buy an Apple device because it's a logical purchase; you buy it because it appeals to your emotions. Microsoft needs to play that game, or it will... simply be a utility that no one pays attention to until they need to replace it.”

Carmi Levy
Correspondent, Yahoo Finance Canada; Contributing Technology Analyst, CTV

IDC's Al Hilwa disagrees, at least in part. The corporate buyer, he argues, will indeed be focused on the productivity part of the equation - even if the iPad never establishes itself as the productivity leader, what will trigger that buyer to go with Win8 instead will be how well Microsoft distinguishes itself in the all-important-though-not-sexy functionality department. "Office would surely differentiate PC tablets from the iPad, all things being equal," says Hilwa. "What might get enterprise buyers to upgrade may be more about how Microsoft's management stack can help smooth upgrade processes and reduce TCO. In the long term, a massive applications evangelism drive from Microsoft can help bring the productivity of touch and gesture applications to the right places in the enterprise where they bring added value."

As for the "two worlds," Hilwa perceives true potential in Metro's ability to incorporate more functionality from the Desktop world - maybe not all of it, but certainly enough to accommodate the functions used by non-specialists. "A lot of what we do on PCs every day are very short, basic tasks, in and out of an app - simple modifications," he tells RWW. "They don't require heavy, formal, desktop publishing-capable software. It may be that there will be versions of these powerful apps on PCs today, and there may be versions or multiple sub-pieces that run independently, on their own, doing various things - single, focused tasks. That is how I see things evolving in the next two to four years."

"The key question, really, for Windows is, will all apps ultimately become Metro apps?" states Ross Rubin. "Microsoft is certainly stacking the deck in favor of Metro apps by, for example, distributing only Metro apps through its integrated Store in the next version of Windows. There are, of course, some advantages for a Windows developer to not exclusively support Metro. One is easier backward compatibility with Windows 7 and XP. And in terms of user interface convention, the Mac as well. But over time, there's going to be a very large installed base of Metro-enabled PCs, and there's going to be increasing pressure for developers to support Metro, or at least some parts of their applications."

120312 01 Windows 8 03.jpg

The Novelty Hasn't Worn Off

But here is where Forrester's Sarah Rotman Epps sees either Microsoft or Apple being able to leverage customer sentiment to its advantage, by turning lack of reliance upon backward compatibility to its advantage. Rather than perceiving the lack of keyboard as a handicap for a tablet's functionality, Epps notes consumers are embracing the novelty anyway. "They see it as an opportunity to engage with content and services in a new way.

“The rules of the game in tech are, if someone gets in my business, I have to get into their business.”

Al Hilwa
Program Director for Applications Development Software, IDC

"What we're seeing is that a lot of productivity software companies are developing for iPad," she reports, citing Forrester data. "And they're focusing their efforts on iPad because that's where the people are."

One example Epps sites is a software vendor named Veeva which produces a CRM solution called iRep for pharmaceutical companies, exclusively for iPad - and for the foreseeable future, for no other class of device. Another is Intuit's latest TurboTax for iPad, which enjoyed record sales last year. Intuit's customer research revealed that the #1 location where iPad users ran TurboTax was on the couch, with #2 being in bed. "That's a pretty different mode than being in a pure work mode. Consumers are using the touchscreen to get closer and more intimate with software, with content.

"I think the mistake that Microsoft is dealing with, is billing Windows 8 as 'No Compromises.' The reality is, consumers don't see the iPad as a compromise," Epps continues. "They see it as an exciting new way to compute... If Microsoft had launched its product a year-and-a-half ago, they could have told a better story or made a better case for productivity. But right now, it's hard to say you can't be productive on an iPad. That's a scary truth for Microsoft."

Carmi Levy agrees with Epps in principle, but draws a different conclusion. "If this had been a couple of years sooner, maybe pre-iPad, Microsoft would have been able to focus its efforts a little bit more finely. But in 2012, with continued degradation of the PC as the central platform and the growth of the iPad as a validator of the tablet form factor, it's clear that Microsoft has no choice but to go in this direction," Levy remarks.

"The pieces for this consistent, multi-platform experience, whereby you have access to your content and your application that exists in the cloud through all of your devices, no matter how large or how small, is really where Microsoft may not just compete with Apple, but in many cases go beyond Apple," he continues. "The difference with Microsoft is, it has the productivity market pretty much to itself. We don't do work on Apple software; we enjoy ourselves using Apple devices, we run apps, we entertain ourselves using Apple devices, but when push comes to shove and we want to create content in a business/personal/educational context, it's Microsoft all the way. Apple's never really challenged. If Microsoft can transition that paradigm into a cloud-based reality that's independent of any one device, and use Windows as the package for that - adaptable Windows across anything that you might own or have access to - that's the slam-dunk this company needs, not just to survive but thrive."

Next time: Where will Windows 8's killer app come from?

Discuss
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