What Are IT Analysts and Why Do IT Startups Need to Care About Them by Dan Miklovic (An ITEN Mentor)

Once an IT startup gets its product out of Beta and has a few pilot customers one of the first things they turn their attention to is trying “to get the word out” to build product interest and demonstrate to investors that their idea has market potential.  One channel that most startups overlook is the IT Research and Advisory firms, also known as IT Analyst firms.  The largest and best known of these is Gartner (or as it sometimes called Gartner Group, which was the original name), the three billion-plus dollar giant in the field.  Other firms that cover the IT spectrum include Forrester Research, IDC and Frost & Sullivan as well as dozens of large and small specialist firms.  While the larger firms like Gartner cover just about every niche of IT that a CIO might have interest in, specialists forms often focus in on a particular technology area such as Harbor Research which covers IoT or Verdantix which covers EH&S technology.

Most of the analyst firms target the CIO or the CTO while some focus on the business unit leader who needs technology to compete in today’s world.  Some are more prevalent in the consumer IT markets while others tend to focus on the business IT user.  IT analysts are often misunderstood, overlooked and underutilized by startups, especially in their early stages.

What Do IT Analyst Firms Deliver and Who Do They Serve?

Analyst firms have two primary constituencies, end users and technology suppliers. The end users engage analyst firms to understand what technology trends they should embrace and when, which vendors offer solutions and services that can help them achieve their goals and how best implement technology once the product choices have been made.

Technology providers engage analyst firms to get market size projections, understand end-user buying behaviors, and to influence the analysts’ perception of their solutions and services.  Some firms will provide research for-hire to aid in a vendors marketing effort. The most reputable firms will license only self-funded content after it is created, while others will provide content on-demand for suppliers. This paid-for research can either be vendor neutral and just helping to establish end-user understanding about technology or it can be “pay for play” endorsement and reviews of a vendor’s offerings. A third set of customers that engage with analysts are the financial community who are seeking insight on market dynamics, M&A potential, and analyst perception of a specific company’s prospects for growth.

How an Analyst Firm Can Kick Start (Or Stall) Growth

Being covered by one of the larger analyst firms in a market report or an emerging technologies report can provide instant global visibility, especially if the firm is one of the industry giants like Gartner with thousands of clients looking for guidance.  A positive recommendation can, however, be a double-edged sword in that the interest from potential customers could overwhelm a small company, but it can be the trigger for exponential growth as well.  Likewise, a negative review by a major analyst firm can greatly complicate finding willing customers that will gamble on your small startup.

For some startups it might be better to engage with a specialist or boutique analyst firm that has a more limited but likely highly engaged set of end users as this can be the opportunity to gain a handful of solid customers to really wring out your product’s features.  Also, with a boutique firm, the analysts likely are going to be more focused on your particular solution as they generally do not cover the breadth of the market that the Gartner’s of the industry cover.

Getting Analyst Coverage

The larger analyst firms have formalized processes to request an opportunity to brief the vendor community at the firm on your solution but the pressure on analysts’ time at the larger firms means you have to have a compelling story to catch their attention and get time on their calendar. Startups should try those formal channels which are usually posted somewhere on their website, but they also should get creative.  Go to events where the analysts gather like user group conferences for the larger vendors if you are offering adjunct technology or go to the analyst firms own conferences and request a 1 on 1 briefing with the analyst at the event.

For the smaller analyst firms some of the best ways to engage are by commenting on the blog posts (without blatant self-promotion), reach out to the analysts’ sales force, or engage via LinkedIn or other social media platforms.  An introduction by your financial backers is another avenue that can be productive, both with larger firms and the boutiques.  The key is persistence.  If your product is truly innovative analysts ultimately will cover it, because none of them want to miss the next Snapchat or ???? (your name here).

Dan Miklovic