I am finishing up my first full month as CMO of Acoustic and have been thinking about the complex relationship that exists between vendors, buyers, and industry analysts. This has been top of mind because Acoustic has been recognized as a leader in recent reports from Forrester and Gartner, an achievement that places us in rare company as a marketing cloud.
The question at top of mind for me is how this should be seen by our prospects and customers – what do those reports from the experts mean when it comes time to make decisions about investments, deployments, and trusting valuable marketing infrastructure to a third-party solution? Fundamentally, how should they rank in the hierarchy of inputs to making tech stack decisions overall?
Before taking this role at Acoustic, I was a marketing leader at another technology company asking these very questions. My budget was always smaller than I needed, and the demand from my team for new solutions was constant. Likewise, marketing clouds (like Acoustic) reached out endlessly to convince me of the value they could create in my hunt for more leads, more pipeline, more closed deals. Like most of my peers, I was pulled in many directions and often didn’t know who to turn to for truly sound advice.
Now, it would be easy, having just achieved prime placement in two different reports, to say that marketing buyers should absolutely trust the industry analysts as a key input. Frankly, I suspect every employee at Acoustic wants me to say just that. Yes, we think we have some outstanding products for Cross-channel campaign management and CRM lead management and these reports support that assertion. But I am telling you that is not enough information to make good buying decisions.
Why not? Because every situation is different, and analyst reports always need to be viewed in a broader context to achieve maximum value. Here are my three simple rules for using analyst reports more constructively:
- The leader is not always the right solution for your business
It is easy to just assume that a solution in the upper right is the one you should choose, but that ignores many key elements of ensuring that a solution is right for your business. Sometimes, the solutions that may not be called a leader are the best fit for a specific company. It could be because of a particularly important feature, a specific integration with another product, or even just the relationship a company may already have with a vendor. Leader products are there because of the criteria set by the analyst firm – criteria they believe to represent the ideal for most businesses – but your important criteria may differ.
- Customer references really do matter
Often, analyst reports have one or two choice quotes from the customers they interviewed during the research process. These quotes are nice, but they are not a substitute for going deep with customers using any product you are considering for your stack. Ask the vendor, ask your colleagues, ask through social media, but find other customers at varying stages of their implementation and at varying degrees of happiness. Learn all you can about the challenges faced when using a specific product before you invest. Once again, knowing the specifics helps you plan for the most efficient and effective implementation.
- Talk to the analysts and find out all the things not in the report
The typical report from a leading analyst firm is going to be a 15-50 page summary across many vendors. It is very a greatest hits album for a specific problem space. As much as we all love the hits, the real revelations are found in the deep tracks and unreleased cuts. Talking to the analysts and getting their full perspective on a specific vendor gives you the ability to make decisions based on the full picture, not a snapshot. Use the summary reports to begin your decision-making process, not end it.
I am thrilled that Acoustic has been named a leader in multiple product categories by leading analyst firms, especially given that we are only two months old! You should go download the reports now and read for yourself. But I am also a responsible executive who makes decisions about buying new technology all the time, and those reports are one piece of a larger picture. Go deep, ask hard questions, and make the choice that will help your business succeed.