I just passed my one-year anniversary of being a Senior Research Director for Database at Gartner and it’s been every bit the provocative experience I anticipated. The role has added an enjoyable, new dimension to my professional life, with my peers absolutely making me a better thinker, writer, and communicator.
One unexpected effect of the position is that I’m now wildly embarrassed by some of the content I delivered to analysts during my many years at past software companies. If I knew then what I know now, I would definitely have done some things differently.
So, in that spirit, I thought I’d provide quick advice on things to avoid saying to a Gartner (or other) industry analyst during a presentation. If, like I was in the past, you’re in a role where you consistently interact with analysts, hopefully you’ll find this useful.
You’re changing the world
For full disclosure, I never said this in the past, but some of my colleagues did. And it’s been said to me multiple times during my first year here.
It’s great to be part of solutions that do amazing things and genuinely make a difference in your industry, but chances are they aren’t coming close to actually altering the course of human events. And so, unless you have something that’s truly life-altering (e.g., a Webex, Zoom-styled video conferencing solution that doesn’t make you want to gouge your eyes out) don’t elevate the importance of what you’re doing beyond what it actually is.
What to say instead: Drop down from the history-making stratosphere to a real-world context that lets your solution represent the goodness it actually possesses. In my opinion, the best framework to do this is the before/now paradigm where before <insert the horrors life used to be with example(s)> but now <look at the difference(s) we’ve made>.
It’s memorable, works nearly every time, and leaves a good impression.
You’re better, faster, cheaper
Don’t claim this for two reasons.
First, in all likelihood, you aren’t. At least if you mean, “compared to everyone else in my competitive space <full stop>”. If you were, you’d have no competition and be napping on a beach somewhere right now.
Next, all three claims are incredibly transient, especially the last two. “Better” is in the eye of the beholder and faster/cheaper changes almost daily depending on new software and other infrastructure releases.
Trust me, this is a banner you don’t want to wave.
What to say instead: as with the prior no-no, the best thing to do is drop down from the lofty Hulk-smash-everyone position to a more defensible stance of presenting the use cases, environments, and technical scenarios where you do, indeed, stand out. Include a couple of meaningful examples and you’re set.
Irrelevant facts about your business
One DBMS vendor has repeatedly told me with pride how much larger their sales funnel has grown over the past 6+ quarters. However, their total customer count has remained flat for the past 2 years, which makes that metric mostly irrelevant from a bottom line perspective.
When it comes to communicating your momentum, remember there are stats that matter and those that don’t actually represent practical progress where your business is concerned.
A similar issue is exaggerating the contribution your software makes in a customer’s business. It’s tempting to say “We power <insert massive app from prominent customer>” but don’t say that unless you really are the engine driving the app vs. simply being used in a lesser component of the system. Just because customer X has bought something from you, that doesn’t mean you now own the account.
What to say instead: Cite increasing revenue, your cloud product’s adoption gains, customer wins, retention metrics, competitive switch-out’s, new market doors you’ve opened and other data that shows you’re gaining market share and making a difference in your chosen market. Also, it’s fine to brag about “powering” just a portion of an app if it shows the distinctiveness with which you handle such app components.
Tell it like it is
Let me wrap up by telling you a quick story about a situation I was in that ties all this together.
Years ago, a sales rep at one of my DBMS companies asked me to do a presentation for the top tech leadership at the headquarters of the world’s biggest cable news network. The chief CIO and CTO were there along with all their lieutenants, arms folded. Massive room. The projector for the presentation descended from the ceiling and was the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
My intuition told me this crowd had seen and heard it all from every vendor that came before me so I decided to throw them a curveball. After a (very!) short company intro I said, “Because I’ve been a database guy for a long time like all of you, I know the last thing you want to hear is how we think we save the world. So instead, because you don’t want to waste time and money using us for something that will fail, let me start by telling you what we’re not good at.”
Suddenly all their arms came down. They started listening.
I concluded my here’s-where-we-stink content, and then said, “Now, let me finish by telling you where and how we can actually help you.” I wrapped up and sat down.
The room was silent for 5 seconds and then the head CIO actually slapped the conference table and said, “THAT…was the most refreshing presentation I’ve heard in a long time!” Turning to his troops he said, “Now, let’s figure out how we can start using these guys.”
The moral of the story is people appreciate humility, truth, and guidance that’s of a no-baloney nature. Do that for not only Gartner analysts but also for everyone else you communicate with, and I guarantee people will take notice.
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