One of the most common questions that I continually get asked by startup technology providers is “how to become a Gartner Cool Vendor”. Cool Vendors is one of Gartner’s hottest programs and most read research profiling smaller vendors, and it provides clients exposure to new and innovative technologies and services. Gartner publishes Cool Vendor research across almost 100 different areas highlighting lesser-known, emerging vendors that are often unknown due to their small size and relative immaturity.
Since 2004, the Gartner Cool Vendors process has benefited many startup vendors by increasing awareness and getting them on the radar of:
- Enterprise customers looking for vendors with unique offerings to help solve their problems
- Larger vendors looking for acquisition targets
- Investors seeking a new investment opportunity and
- Analysts and journalists looking for the next big story in the marketplace
A peek behind the cool vendor curtain
The most important thing to know is that vendors do not apply to become Cool Vendors. Instead, nominations come directly from Gartner analysts who are experts in specific markets and the vendor landscape. The nomination and selection process is kept confidential but there are a few details I can share:
- There are now two waves of Cool Vendor research reports:
- Wave 1: the nominations begin in early January and the Cool Vendor research is published by the middle of spring.
- Wave 2, the nominations begin in May and the Cool Vendor reports are published by the middle of fall in time to be highlighted at the Gartner IT Symposium event in mid-October.
- Any Gartner analyst can write-up and nominate a vendor. And, the vendor doesn’t need to be a Gartner client.
- Nominated vendors must be less than 10 years old with annual revenue less than $100 million. They also cannot have been featured in a vendor rating, Magic Quadrant, or previous cool vendor report.
- The vendor must be considered innovative or transformative for products, services or initiatives. The criteria by which a vendor is defined as “cool” are:
- Innovative – the vendor has developed technologies/products that enable users to do things they couldn’t do before
- Impactful – the vendor offers technologies/products that have or will have business impact; it’s not just “technology for the sake of technology”
- Intriguing – the vendor has caught Gartner’s interest/curiosity during the past 12 months
- Vendors are scored from on a scale of 1-10 across five areas: technology, use of technology, business model, transformative nature, and newness.
- There is rigorous process to validate vendor claims. Analysts must have spoken with multiple customers actually using the technology to make sure the product works as advertised and verify they are getting value from the solution.
- The maximum number of cool vendors per report is five.
- A vendor can only appear in ONE cool vendor report.
- Previously profiled vendors can only be profiled again in the “retrospective” section of a report. The bottom line is that you can only get selected once (in a lifetime) as a Cool Vendor so you want to make sure you are selected for the Cool Vendor report that matches your market, topic area, or industry. And, you want to promote the heck out of your Cool Vendor status if selected.
What you can do to increase your chances of being nominated
- Have a game plan and timeline to generate awareness with the right analysts. Don’t wait until January or May when the Cool Vendor nomination process has already begun. By the nomination date prior to each wave, analysts will have already created their short-list of potential vendors to nominate. Almost all Cool Vendors will have had multiple interactions with Gartner in the year prior to becoming a Cool Vendor.
- Write down the one thing that makes your company or products unique. Avoid marketing-speak. If you look and sound like every other vendor in your market space, then you aren’t cool.
- Is it your cool technology, an innovative business model, or how the technology is being applied to transform an industry?
- Are you using your coolness factor in your marketing collateral, presentations, and website?
- How do customers talk about your company and products? How are you impacting their businesses?
- Identify which Cool Vendor report is the right one to be profiled if you were to be nominated. Read preview Cool Vendor reports to understand what was cool about the selected vendors. Is your coolness factor relevant for that Cool Vendor report? Are you known in that market or topic area? Who are the analysts that authored the current report? When was the last time you briefed analysts covering this market or topic area? The worse thing (almost) that could happen is that you are written up in the “wrong” Cool Vendor research. An example is that you had an interaction with an analyst and positioned your company as focused on a specific industry vertical (when in fact you offer a cross-vertical solution) and as a result you are selected as a Cool Vendor in an industry-specific report.
- Line up customer references who are willing to speak with Gartner analysts. Make sure they are public references so Gartner can publish their names in the Cool Vendor research. Have these customers tell you in their own words why they think you are innovative (cool). You want to tee up customers who are passionate and excited about your products and can articulate your coolness factor.
- Develop a compelling vendor briefing presentation that “wows” the analysts. Don’t try to use your standard product pitch highlighting a bunch of features. You need a punchy deck with a story arc that showcases your coolness factor. Your briefing should be short and to the point: problem we solve, how we are solving differently (cool), 2-3 case studies of production customers with ROI, and short product demo.
Remember there are a lot of vendors nominated for a limited number of slots in each Cool Vendor research note. And, there are no guarantees that even if you are nominated that you will actually be selected. But if you aren’t selected this year, don’t fret. Continue working the game plan and briefing the key analysts. Nothing speaks louder than customer traction and revenue growth.
You’ve been selected as a Cool Vendor by Gartner, now what?
Being selected as a Cool Vendor provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for a startup. It immediately puts you on the radar of enterprise end-user decision-makers, large vendors, investors, and journalists. Ask almost any company that was selected as a Cool Vendor in the past, it can supercharge your growth trajectory. Since a vendor can only be selected once as a Cool Vendor, you want to immediately purchase reprint rights to the research note and proactively use it as a lead generation and thought leadership tool to market your company and products. Note that vendors must be Gartner clients to purchase reprint rights. You will want to promote your Cool Vendor status on your website, social media, blogging and release a press announcement to tell the world that you are “cool”. Don’t forget to let your installed customer base (and partners) know about your recognition as well; it will reinforce why they chose you and your products in the first place. I also highly recommend you promote your Cool Vendor status on your career page and postings to give candidates another reason to join your company.