Hank Barnes

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Hank Barnes
Research Director
1 years at Gartner
25 years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. He focuses on issues related to product marketing, positioning and customer experience. Read Full Bio

Great Positioning Requires Giving Something Up – Or Does It?

by Hank Barnes  |  July 22, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

This week, I was talking with a client about positioning and segmentation.  They have a product that operates in a well established traditional market, but are introducing some very cool and innovative visualization capabilities.   It is yet another example of the consumerization of IT as visual tools that we see in clothing e-commerce sites are extended to B2B applications.

During the discussion, we spent some time talking about the potential risk of focusing heavily on these visualization capabilities to the detriment of buyers that don’t need or are not ready for visualization.  Since visualization is but one of their capabilities, it could a significant risk for them.

My initial reaction was one of my mantras–great positioning requires giving something up.  By focusing on capabilities that set them apart from the competition the benefits will be much greater than a watered down story that makes them just another provider in the crowd.  Like in chess, sometimes sacrifice leads to a stronger strategic outcome.

sacrificed chess pieces

But as I thought about it more, that may not always be true.

Even though I advise against it, I was sucked in by a very cool feature (caveat–we did spend a lot of time talking about the value of the feature).  Making a feature the core of your positioning and differentiation is rarely sustainable in today’s market.  Features are quickly copied.

But when I looked back on the value of the feature, I realized they had a better opportunity.

Their real story, and a position that can continue to drive and focus innovation for them, is that they deliver an incredible user experience.  A user experience that translates into less errors in orders, user excitement and confidence, and the possibility of guiding toward higher value (and cost) purchases.

With that story, visualization is only a part of it–a major part, but just a part.   The real story is the entirety of the experience.   Someone adding a visualization feature will not kill their differentiation (unless the experience they deliver is even better).   It also links to other aspects of their solution that provide value to the experience.

As they evolve, all of their decisions about product evolution should be geared toward “How does this help us continue to deliver the best user experience in the industry?”  They can also expand this to a total customer experience focus and how they help their customers (manufacturers and their distributors) do the same.

And, with that positioning, they may not be giving anything up–they are only giving up those customers that don’t care about a great experience (and frankly, I’m not sure they need them).      They will still target buyers where visualization is critical or high value, but for other customers that find them, they still have a story to tell.

The key insight here—when you focus on value, you might be sacrificing less opportunity than if you focus on a single feature area.  You still need to segment and target, but the story has a longer life and broader applicability.

Is your positioning focused on a unique product feature or on the overall value that that feature (and others) provide?

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Category: Future of Sales Go to Market     Tags: , ,

Navigating the Hype to Mainstream Success

by Hank Barnes  |  July 14, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

It is almost Hype Cycle season again.  As most of you probably know, Gartner publishes Hype Cycles for many categories every year.  This year’s reports are starting to trickle out, with the majority of them becoming available in August.    Hype Cycles are written for technology buyers to help them understand the hype, and maturity, of innovations.

At the same time, Technology Providers can use hype cycles to tune their marketing and sales strategies.   I will be presenting a Webinar tomorrow, July 15th, on that topic.  You can register here – gtnr.it/1nepp0J. I will also have a note coming out soon on the topic that complements a research note that was published last year by Tiffani Bova and Jackie Fenn.  Gartner research subscribers should read the note - Tech Go-to-Market: Managing Various Sales Strategies Through the Hype Cycle of Technology Adoption.

One of the most important things to remember about Hype Cycles are that they are about expectations over time.  As the picture below shows, in technology markets, early expectations are usually driven by assumptions and hope (aka hype).  As projects occur, with a mix of success and failures, expectations sink–usually driven by either innovation immaturity, overselling, or the lack of solid project knowledge on how to implement successfully. (Michael Krigsman, has a blog on ZDnet that covers IT project failures, and how to move past them, with over 1000 articles).   Finally, as the innovation matures, proven examples of success and value result in rising expectations that are based in experience.


As you review hype cycles for insight into the products or services you provide, there are a few things that are very important to remember.

  1. Look Beyond the Graphic - Hype Cycle graphics plot where  innovations fall on the curve.   But much of the key information can be found deeper in the documents in the profiles that are developed for each innovation.  There you will find the potential impact of the innovation (transformational, high, moderate, low) that validates (or should be used to adjust) your assessment of your innovation, and your corresponding investment levels to capitalize on the opportunity.  Additionally, you’ll find details on the estimated market penetration and the anticipated time frame to reach “the Plateau of Productivity” or mainstream buyers.  Be sure to read the profiles for these and other insights.
  2. Check Multiple Hype Cycles -  Many innovations have impact in different contexts.  As a result, they may appear in multiple hype cycles.  Make sure your Hype Cycle search does not stop at the first occurrence of your innovation area.  If it does appear in multiple reports, the analysis and profile details may be very different.  For example, e-discovery appeared in at least 3 Hype Cycles in 2013 (with mentions in several others) with a variety of placements on the curve and estimates of time to plateau.   Understanding these relationships can be useful to segmentation strategies and market prioritization.
  3. Don’t panic - Finally, don’t panic.  Hype Cycles only cover early stages of the market.  The most significant revenue opportunities come after innovations have moved past the hype cycle.  This is when buyers are expanding their deployments and success is driving more and more buyers into the market.   Additionally, the introduction of many innovations care with it a provider focus on “speed to market”.   While gaining early traction is important, the time frame to the plateau can help you understand how fast you really need to go.  Over-investing too early may even be worse than going a little too slow.  It causes you to burn cash quickly and often leads to the disillusionment in the market permeating your business.  Once that happens, it is hard to recover.   Focus on steady progress, with speed and investment linked to the opportunity, the timing, and potential impact.

Applied effectively, Hype Cycles can be just as effective a tool for providers as they are for buyers.  Get ready, they are coming soon for 2014. (And a second plug for my Webinar, tomorrow-July 15 at 11 Eastern - gtnr.it/1nepp0J)

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Category: Future of Sales Go to Market     Tags: , , ,

Impact – The Often Forgotten Element of Messaging

by Hank Barnes  |  July 8, 2014  |  1 Comment

At Gartner, and pretty much everywhere else you look, the advice is consistent for tech providers–focus on the business outcomes of your product or service to build buyer interest.   That mantra has been a focus of many of  my other posts, including ones on the importance of telling why and on the lousy state of messaging.

If you think about it, those outcomes are about the impact that you can have on your customer’s business.   One of the definitions of impact is “to have a strong effect on someone or something.”

Not just an effect, but a strong effect.   Strong effects are emotional and make a difference.  That is one of the reasons why outcome-oriented messaging is so important.


But, even for cases where I have seen more outcome oriented messaging, there is another area where impact is as, or even more important.

That is in communicating the need or opportunity that you address for your customers.  Beyond not telling why and communicating outcomes, this is often the weakest part of messaging that I see.

As I work with providers on needs, they are often stated in general terms  and not very compelling.  My review and comments are pretty consistent, “Would you, if you were a customer, spend money to address that need?  And if you would, where would it go on your priority list?”

They way to rise towards the top of priority lists is to communicate impact.

As my colleague, Richard Fouts, always advises, don’t just communicate the Situation and Resolution, communicate the impact.  The classic format is called SIR (Situation-Impact-Resolution) –and we now add that you lead with outcomes, O-SIR if you will.

Impact is a critical part of the model.  Without communicating impact, you are hoping your potential customers will do it for  themselves (kinda like hoping a customer can figure out the potential outcomes from your product features).

For example, the need you address might be something like “reduce the average days outstanding for accounts receivables.”  That is good, but what is the impact of  that pain?  It might be “that are putting strains on your cash flow and constraining your ability to grow”or “reducing investor confidence” or a few other things.  But its the impact that makes the emotional connection to drive someone to do something now.

I work with one firm that helps high tech clients manage revenue recognition issues.   While that might sound somewhat boring, when you talk about the impact of not doing that well (e.g. “We help you make sure that those last minute deals you bring in to ‘save the quarter’ can all be recognized—making the difference between being a hero or a scapegoat.”), it gets pretty compelling.

If you don’t communicate the impact of the need you address, or the current way of doing business, you may not even get to the point of having anyone care about your outcomes.

So, as you think about outcomes, don’t just focus on what you do for people, focus on the impact of not using your products and services.  The impact of the need you address or the impact of the current way of doing business.  Needs are good, but impacts are better.



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What Having Bells Palsy Taught Me About Faults

by Hank Barnes  |  July 1, 2014  |  3 Comments

Exactly three weeks ago, I woke up  with my face feeling very, very strange.    I had had some ear pain two nights before followed by a watery eye and some tiredness–I thought I was coming down with a cold.  But the morning everything was different.  I could not drink from a soda bottle unless I was very very careful not to spill.   My wife, who was out of town, basically ordered me to go to the doctor, which was fine with me–I don’t have any “doctor phobias.”


But first, I took my dog for a long walk and felt great–other than the weird feeling in my face.   At the doctor, they immediately started testing me for a stroke, but that all came back negative (which I assumed after walking the dog), as did some other tests.  The doctor assured me I hadsomething called Bells Palsy.  The right side of my face would not move at all.  This was strange to me, since I thought it was the left side that was a problem.   Looking in a mirror, I finally realized what was up and then immediately went into research mode.   They don’t really know what triggers Bells Palsy, but it is caused by inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles in your face.   It lasts a variable amount of time, anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks to months.   Steroids and anti-viral medicine (which I was given) may help, but that is not proven either.

My biggest concern was how I sounded on the phone, since much of my day is spent talking to clients.  Additionally, the following week I was scheduled to be a keynote speaker at Asigra’s Partner Summit.  After confirming with the doctor that there was no risk to anyone else or me, I decided to go on as planned, even if my speech was impacted.

During my trip to Toronto, and for my talk, I decided to be transparent.  I let everyone know that I had this condition, even joking that they would not catch me talking out of both sides of my mouth–since one side would not move at all, and that I might slur a few words or even drool or slobber a bit (considering that I’ve had a slobbering and drooling problem for most of my life, this was not that big a difference).

In the end, I got a lot of positive feedback on the talk and also heard from many other folks that had either had Bells Palsy or knew someone who did.  But that is not the important part of this post.  What I also heard repeatedly was that if I had not told them, they may  not have noticed.  While I am a bit skeptical of that, I do think it is true to a degree.

We, both as individuals and businesses, tend to magnify our faults (or what we think are faults).  We believe that everyone knows all about them and as a result, we overcompensate.   Having Bells Palsy taught me that others don’t fixate on your faults, unless you force them to.  So there is no reason for us to either.  Yes, we should look to address them and improve,  but we don’t need to spend time convincing customers and prospects that the faults don’t exist or trying to address what you perceive as concerns they have because of the faults if they have not expressed those concerns directly to you.  If they do ask about them, then you can and should address their concerns.

And, if it is something you can’t control, like Bells Palsy, just acknowledge  the issue and move on.  Particularly if they are highly visible or if you feel they may be acting as “the elephant in the room.”

A similar thing happens with messaging.  We hear our messages over and over and over again.  As a result, we often get  concerned that they are getting stale.  While that may be the case, don’t forget that your customers and partners don’t spend all their days listening to your messages—they hear some of them, but most of the time they are thinking of something else.   So what sounds stale to you may still be fresh with them.  Don’t overcompensate and change to soon.

As for my Bells Palsy, I’m feeling lucky.  I’m almost back to normal (well, if you call me normal).  It is 3 weeks later and my face is about 80-90% back to normal, almost like a never had it.   It is another reminder that many of our faults are temporary and can be corrected.  So move forward, correct what you can, and focus on the positives and your strengths.  That is what is most interesting to your customers.


Category: Go to Market     Tags: , ,

Assumptions Are Only Bad if We Don’t Prove (or Disprove) Them

by Hank Barnes  |  June 24, 2014  |  Comments Off

Maybe it is just me.

Most of us have heard the phrase “If you assume, you make an *** out of U and Me.”   Hearing that over and over has left me with a bad opinion of the idea of assumptions.  Whenever I see the word, my initial reaction is negativity.   After spending some time thinking about it more, that needs to change.

Assumptions are at the heart of most innovations and are often critical to gaining fresh insight.  In the scientific world, nothing is learned without an assumption (called, of course, a hypothesis).

As a result, there is no problem with many assumptions.  The problem is when you just take them as fact and don’t attempt to prove or disprove them.


Assumptions are at the heart of the Lean Startup movement, an approach to innovation that is based largely on having a vision and then creating assumptions that are quickly proven, or disproven, to decide if to continue on the course (persevere) or to adjust your plans (pivot).

Assumptions are also core to how innovation happens.  In his compelling book, Where Good Ideas Come From, author Steven Johnson talks about the several ways that highly impactful scientific progress has been made.  In most cases, it starts with an assumption (that then turns into a  slow hunch and evolves with adjacent possibilities, errors, etc.).  You can see a quick summary of his stories in this great YouTube Video and TED Talk.

Assumptions are at the heart of Gartner’s forecast methodology.   Once defined, they are applied to a technology area to project the market into the future.   As those results are generated and viewed in the context of existing behavior, the assumptions are refined.  Without assumptions, forecasting would be nearly impossible (Note: I am not a forecaster, but simply using past behavior to predict the future seems like a non-starter to me, particularly with the volatility of technical markets.  And without assumptions, I’m not sure how else you would make your projections).

If you think about it, many of the marketing claims that we make are assumptions.  We can say, “Our software has helped all of our customers increase revenues by an average of 25%” and that may be a fact.  But when we apply it to a new customer, “therefore, you can expect to increase your revenues by up to 25%”, it is an assumption.   The client, and you, then need to work together to, hopefully, prove that assumption, or disprove it (and make adjustments).

So the next time you hear someone talk about “assuming” or “assumptions”, don’t immediately reject it.  Instead, assess if they are approaching it with something like the scientific method–seeking to prove or disprove it.  If that is the case, its a good thing.

No real progress occurs without assumptions that start the ball rolling toward a new approach.


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Why We Don’t Tell Why

by Hank Barnes  |  June 17, 2014  |  2 Comments

A while back, I wrote a post on “The Power of Why“.  It was a reminder that we can’t take for granted that both parties in a conversation, or other interaction, have the same understanding of a statement, request, or instruction.


And while it is generally agreed that explaining why is important.  We often forget to do it.  The biggest issue I see with messaging and materials that I review from technology providers in my role as a Gartner analyst is a failure to explain why.   Features or problems are discussed in detail, but the impact of those features or problems are left to the buyer to figure out.

The topic came up again after I tweeted about an article I saw about the importance of context.  I tweeted:

and an exchange with the author of the piece and a few others ensued:


As you can see, even a journalist was brought into the discussion.

So, if something is so well known, why don’t we tell why?

I tweeted one of my opinions, which is partially tongue in cheek, but may have some basis in reality.  Think about it, from the time we are little, our parents, our teachers, and many bosses get frustrated if we ask “Why?” too much.  The usual response is, “Stop asking so many questions! Just do what I told you to do!”   Does that happen in your current job?  For many, I suspect it may be occur more often than we’d like to admit (it happens less at Gartner–asking “Why?” is a key part of the research review process), I can think of lots of places I have worked where it happened too much (often the amount of acceptance of the “Why?” question seemed inversely proportional to the size of the company).

Another reason is we simply forget.   We are so close to our product or area of expertise, that we take for granted that others will understand the unstated.    We live in our problem world for our entire work day, every day.  Our customers, however, experience it only in moments.  Without that closeness, those connections, that seem so natural to us, are much harder to make.

A final possibility might be that we aren’t sure why it matters.  If this is the case,we’d better figure it out. Quick.

Whatever the reasons, we have to break the “Don’t Tell Why” habit.   Providing the added detail and context can make the difference between a successful interaction and failure.

The lean manufacturing movement, and since adopted by Lean Startups, and SixSigma take an approach called the 5 Whys.  It seeks to get to the root cause (or in our case the root value) of a problem by asking “Why?” 5 times.

As I wrote originally, force yourself to think and ask “Why” at least once, if not 5 times, whenever you are reviewing material and want to truly grasp the impact of it.  If you are creating or delivering the material, force yourself to review it to make sure you’ve answered the why question.    I’m even more confident than ever that more success will follow.



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Does Simplicity Make a Good Brand Promise?

by Hank Barnes  |  June 10, 2014  |  Comments Off

Simplicity was a hot topic last week.  SAP emphasized it in their new theme, andwhat is effectively a brand promise, of “Run Simple”.   For a company with the brand perceptions of SAP, is this the right move?

I’m not sure.

I agree 100% that making things simpler is a great strategy.  I also agree with SAP’s CEO,  Bill McDermott who basically said, “It’s hard to be simple.”   But a commitment to be simple, particularly for an organization with the size, installed base, and history of SAP, may not be possible to always fulfill.   And creating a brand promise that you know you are likely to break is not a good thing. As Jon Reed mentioned in a post he and Dennis Howlett wrote on their diginomica site,”SAPPHIRENOW 2014 – the cloud analysis”, about the reaction of attendees, “The answer I got from customers was yes, but with an asterisk: simplicity is not just about software, it’s about the entire experience of implementation, after go-live services, and the dreaded patching cycles.”

The problem is not the promise, its the breadth that the promise entails.  If you are going to make a stand around “simple”, then everything about working with you has to be simple.  Simple to buy, Simple contracts, simple support, simple user experience, etc.  The list goes on and on.   A startup might be able to pull it off, with no baggage or installed base–although simple is sometimes viewed by buyers as “not powerful enough for me”.    But for a large company it is much harder.   And every mis-step will be magnified.

Jenga game where the wrong move causes the tower to topple


Customers, Media, Analysts, and Influencers will all turn instances where things are not simple against them. Employees will disengage if policies and procedures make it hard for them to embrace simplicity.  It will be a constant battle.

A similar sentiment appeared this week for another brand promise around authenticity (another important topic for me–something I blogged about last week).  In her post, “If Your Brand Promises Authenticity, You Better Deliver“, Rebecca Newton points out that when you make as bold a claim as full authenticity as part of your promise, it raises expectations.  She uses a coffee shop example of great service, but a failure to match their brand promise.   “While before their campaign I would have been happy with great customer service, in this case I’d feel a lack of authenticity.  I might even feel less attached to this chain that I did before they spent months and millions convincing me of something that wasn’t true… at least not according to my personal experience.”

And that is the challenge with a brand promise that is hard to achieve.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe fully in authenticity and simplicity.  I believe that technology companies need embrace simplicity in everything they do.   On that note, another story, this time in Fast Company,  this week talked about “Why Having Too Many Choices Is Making You Unhappy.”  The complexity of too many choices overwhelms buyers and they tend to back off.  That is why too many options on landing pages is a common cause of poor conversions.   We think buyers want choice—to pick what they want, but they actually want guidance to help them find what they need.

I wish SAP luck as they proceed on the path to “Run Simple.”    Personally, I might have tweaked the promise to be “Run Simpler”, with a promise to “progressively improve the simplicity of working with SAP every day until we are the simplest enterprise software company in the world,” but some might view that as too soft a commitment.  I think it is more authentic (there’s that word again).

But two suggestions as they continue on this journey.  First, make sure the simplify message is pervasive across the organization and encompasses everything they do internally and externally (having worked for SAP as a contractor for one year, this is a big challenge).   Second, increase the focus on and use of advocacy marketing to get others telling stories of how SAP is simpler—encourage, empower, and enable employees, partners, and customers to broadly share stories of how things are getting simpler.

If others embrace and share examples of the new “simple” SAP, the market will begin to believe.   It would be great for the industry if they succeed.



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Radical Authenticity – Its Time Has Come (But Timing Counts)

by Hank Barnes  |  June 3, 2014  |  2 Comments

A few years back, I had the opportunity to work with Nick Morgan on telling Adobe’s story for the opportunity we were pursuing around Customer Experience Management.  Nick’s combination of practical experience, sage advice, and creativity created an instant connection between us.  As a result, I downloaded the digital edition of his new book,  Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact.

Power Cues

It is a great book that offers a lot of detail into the research behind influence, body language and that magical concept of charisma.  I highly recommend it.

But the one thing I remember from the book more than anything else is a section at the end on Community and Communication.  Nick talks about the concept of Radical Authenticity, saying “another way that communications has changed in the twenty-first century is that we now demand authenticity in a way we haven’t before.”   It links to an idea called “Radical Connectivity” that was put forth by Nicco Mele. The idea is the internet and social Web have made it possible for any voice to be heard (albeit that voice has to be found through the noise), but to be truly heard you have to be authentic.

I love the concept and it will stick with me forever.  I’ve long been an advocate for authenticity in marketing. but Nicks book really put it in perspective for me.  You have no choice but to be authentic to be successful long term.   If not, you will be discovered, you will be exposed, and you’ll be derided.

At the same time, this does not mean you have to tell your whole authentic story at all times.   One of my Gartner clients works on some of the most challenging IT projects imaginable.  The projects take a long time and carry with them a high degree of risk.   I’ve been trying to help them improve their marketing efforts and started reviewing their materials.   Boy are they authentic!   They tell everyone how hard the projects are and that they are once in a lifetime efforts.   They have been successful in largely attracting customers that are already committed to these type of projects, but often “stuck” in the middle when its not going as planned.  They come to the rescue and are heroes.  But, I was thinking after reading the materials, “Wow, these guys really understand this stuff, but I’m not sure I would ever want to do it.”

Yes they were authentic, but it is too much information too soon.  Instead, I’m helping them adapt their story.  They’ll still be authentic, but we’ll start by focusing on sharing the authentic value that clients have generated through their projects–we are talking millions of dollars in savings and a variety of other benefits.   With that shift, they’ll be able to help customers get over the first emotional hurdle,  helping convince them that this is a project worth doing.  From there, they can use their authentic approach and their experience as heroes that saved other projects to win the business with.   They are still very authentic, but they uncover the story in a more appealing way.

What’s the lesson?  I believe you should never compromise on authenticity, but be thoughtful about how you communicate, thinking about things from the customer’s perspective and developing the story in a way that engages rather than scares.

Now that is Radical Authenticity at work.


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Imperfect Analysis Is Normal

by Hank Barnes  |  May 27, 2014  |  1 Comment

I was on vacation this weekend, spending some time in Maine at a wedding.  After spending last week at Gartner Customer 360, I’ve had less time than normal to scan my feeds for interesting articles to share.  When not traveling, I try to do this everyday–if you follow me on twitter (@Barnes_Hank), you are pretty used to this.

But this week, I’ve marked all my feeds as read, without scanning them.  When the lists get really long, its just an easier choice.  I may be missing a great article, but weeding through hundreds of stories is just not productive.  It is information overload on overdrive.

And that is what buyers go through every day as well.   It is pretty much impossible to find all the stories, facts, data, and information about any product or service you might be considering.

As a result, every buying decision and every analysis you do is imperfect.  Once you make a decision, or write a blog post, or a research note, you’ll often find more information or get new inputs that might have changed or improved the result.  In some cases, you can take action (I did it last week with my blog post after some suggestions from two smart people that read my posts-read the comments for more information on that.).  In others cases you can’t.

Don’t let this paralyze you.  Action is almost always better than indecision.   Many years ago, someone shared with me a presentation called “A Leadership Primer“.  The link is to a version on slideshare.   It is a series of lessons and tips from Gen. Colin Powell.  One of those lessons is my favorite and I refer to it often:

Part I: “Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired.”

Part II: “Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.”


Remember this as you are making any decision.  As a seller or marketer, part of your job is to help your buyers find the 40-70 information they need to make a good decision.   Guide them toward information that will build their confidence.  Listen to their concerns to help you learn what other information they need, then get it for them.   In some cases, they may just need to develop a higher sense of trust for you and your company.    How you act may be as important as the information you provide.

But above all, just remember that perfection is impossible, don’t agonize over information that you are not even sure exists.  You will never find everything and new information is always available.  Worry more about indecision than the wrong decision. In the worst case scenario, you’ll make a mistake, but if you learn from it and correct it, you’ll probably end up in a better place anyway.

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The Art of the Analyst Briefing (How to Engage and Reduce Skepticism)

by Hank Barnes  |  May 20, 2014  |  4 Comments

For technology firms, analyst briefings remain an important part of the communications and PR/AR strategy.  Keeping your key analysts–the ones that advise your customers– up to date on your company and products is not really an optional effort.

I get briefed quite a bit in my role at Gartner (but not as much as other analysts, since I don’t typical advise buyers on specific technologies) and am usually disappointed by the effort.  I also review analyst briefing decks for clients to help them refine their material before they present them–whether that be to Gartner or any other analyst firm (or independent analyst).  Usually, those initial discussions yield a need for a lot of changes.

Why is this?  I think it is a combination of nervousness, or even fear, and overthinking.  Let me expand.

Analysts are influential.  Having a successful briefing is important, so many people want to make sure that it is perfect before they do a briefing.  That is an admirable goal, but I find that when stress is high, quality often decreases.  Similarly, it is rare when a single briefing will win over the hearts and minds of analysts.  They will want to dive deeper, talk to customers, ask others for their take.

Your goal should not be perfection–it should be to establish that initial interest in wanting more.   Claims of perfection drive skepticism and doubt.  You don’t want to be viewed as a snake oil salesman.


Additionally, there is no shortage of advice on how to do an good analyst briefing.    In fact, there is so much information that you can be quickly overwhelmed as you try to figure out how you are going to cram all that information into a 35-45 minute session (leaving time for intros at the beginning and questions at the end).

You can find some of that advice from Gartner analysts on the bottom of the briefing request page on Gartner.com, where any company can request the opportunity to brief Gartner analysts.  A quick Google search reveals pages and pages of similar options on other analyst firm sites or from individual analysts.   My colleague, Todd Berkowitz, also recently shared some of his perspectives.

These tips all provide great advice on some of the mechanics of briefings and suggestions for what type of information to communicate, but something may be missing.

The Art of the Briefing.

What do I mean? If  you are preparing for a briefing in the near future and not comfortable about the prospect, I’d advise you take a look at some of the tips on Gartner.com, from Todd, and other sources.

Then pause and take a deep breath.  Now, you are ready to think about the Art of the Briefing.

Step 1 – Align Goals
The first thing to do is be clear about your goal for the briefing.   That goal should set the tone for the rest of the content.   But you can’t stop there.  You need to think about whether your goal is aligned with the goal of the analysts you will be briefing.   If not, and you can not quickly get agreement or understanding of your goal by the analysts you are going to present to, then you might as well not do the briefing.

Without goal alignment (ideal) or understanding, your chances of success are pretty low.    A goal could be to educate, to update, or even to build a baseline understanding for future discussions.  But in all cases, you want to convey that you are someone that an analyst can trust and respect.

Step 2 – Tell a Story
There is a lot of content that analysts suggest for briefings.   You need to take that into consideration, but it needs to fit the story you are going to tell.  Some things should be obvious, for example, telling about how wonderful your products are without customer stories will be viewed with skepticism.  But the rest of the your content should be dictated by the information your need to communicate to achieve your goal.  Stuff that doesn’t support that can either be omitted or made available in backup for reference after the briefing.

As with any marketing story, the format is the same

  1. Capture Attention Early
    1. Lead with a Outcome (in-context) – Your first slide (after the title) needs to be an attention grabber.  I call it the “If you remember only one thing from this briefing, it should be this” opening.   Presentations that start with a typical agenda slide are a sure bet to lose some level of attention.  Be different.
    2. Reinforce with a Customer Story – Some people question this idea and if you can’t get comfortable with it, don’t do it.  But if you immediately provide some evidence using a great customer story, you’ll get analysts thinking “wow, this is different, I’ll pay attention”
  2. Now transition to the rest of the deck.  You can have an agenda slide, a goals slide, etc…but quickly set the stage for the rest of the story.
  3. Explain the Situation (market needs) and impact (opportunity).  This is the “Before you arrive on the scene slide”  What is going on in your market area-trends, needs, competition, etc.– and where is it falling short.  From there, be sure to talk about the impact or pain that this is causing–that is what creates the opportunity.
  4. Move to the Resolution – This is about how your product, service, and/or company is addressing those needs and pains.   Contrast yourself here with competing approaches to establish situational differentiation.  This is the core of the story that you want analysts to remember.  It should build on your opening and provide depth and validation for that.  If you are doing a demo, make sure the demo is inline with the story and not a feature dump.
  5. Reinforce Results and Outcomes – Use more customer stories to share how things are better after you’ve been involved.   Supplement, if necessary, with added credibility and trust evidence – You may not need this, if it is weaved into the story, but here you want to share other reasons why you are highly relevant to the analyst–today and in the future.
  6. Summarize and propose next steps – A presentation with next steps is like an unfinished book.  You are briefing for a reason.  Remind the analyst of that goal and identify next steps to either build on that goal or move to the next one.

Step 3 - Optimize the Materials

The last step is to review the deck and figure out how to remove much of the text (I’m betting it is there) so that the focus of the briefing will be on you not reading your slides.  You can put the text in the notes section or in a backup section, but you want the focus to be on your story.

The leave behind material is important—-as decks do get reviewed after that fact and shared, but don’t let that cause you to ruin your story with too many words that causes analysts to read your slides and ignore your voice.

Step 4 – Test for Authenticity

I am not a big practice presenter (I probably should do it more), but you should try giving it at least once before you brief.  The main goal is to determine if the  presentation is authentic.   If it is not, then go back to the drawing board.

Remember, this is a story based on your business—a business that you are involved with every single day.  It should feel very natural and comfortable to have this discussion.    That is why the story is so important.  Getting wrapped up in the mechanics of “expected information” can make you seem very, very, very, very (you get my point) boring.

Stories captivate, data–independent of the stories and context bores, and long lists are simply ignored, except as a future reference point..  Authentic stories are very easy to tell.  Mix in great data and examples as proof point and you have a really powerful story.  Fabricated stories aren’t—and it is easy to tell when that is happening.  Don’t make stuff up.  Don’t tell stuff you don’t believe.  Its not that complicated.


There you have it–my addition to the world of analyst briefing tips.   One nice thing about these ideas are that you can pretty much use them for any situation where a persuasive, informative presentation is needed.  Whether it is to support a sales effort or to gain internal support for a project or idea, these three steps can help increase your likelihood of success.

Let me know what you think.



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