March 6, 2008

Know your audience

I just had one of the most ridiculous meetings I’ve had in a long time. A vendor about whom I and various other press/blog/analyst outlets had already written asked to meet with me. Three top executives schlepped out for a loooong dinner. Unbeknownst to me in advance, the company expected to hold the meeting under embargo. When I asked at the end of the meeting “So, what about that is embargoed”, they responded (in effect) “everything” — notwithstanding that they had received substantial coverage already, and that in 3 hours we hadn’t talked about any details of the sort that normally would be NDAed. No customer names, no product announcements, nothing. They just didn’t want coverage until their “launch date” 3 weeks hence.

Despite that investment of time in meeting with me, they’d obviously done little or nothing to prepare. They didn’t seem to be familiar with what I write about, or indeed to have looked at my blogs. They obviously didn’t know what level of technical detail I like to go into. (The PR lady promised me a technical “deep(er) dive” in advance, which is laughable when compared with what actually happened. I guess I could have grilled the CTO insistently enough to get useful info — he actually seemed like a very nice guy — but by then I was so irritated about other things I didn’t want to go through further hassle.) They certainly hadn’t noticed the negative things I’ve posted about embargoes in the past.

The result is that I’m quite unimpressed, and unlikely to write much about them any time soon. They did manage to squeeze me for more free consulting than I normally give in a single meeting, despite having no evident interest in my services, but even that was counter-productive. In an ongoing analyst relationship I usually wind up giving more than they got in one shot, and I also will naturally do a better job if I actually understand what a company is all about.

So here are some quick tips on meetings — especially first meetings — with people who write about you:

To repeat part of my guide to various influencer types:

Niche analysts. Large analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester have a lot of analysts, each of whom may be narrowly focused on an industry niche. The same goes for good specialty firms like Ferris Research. These analysts — whether clueful or otherwise — are often the ones who talk to your prospects, get quotes in the press, and frame issues for everybody else. Understand what they want, individual by individual, and give it to them. Understand their frames of reference and address them accordingly. Little else you do in marketing is more important.

Personally, I like to connect clear user benefits, specific technical features, and deep technical architecture, on the theory that the most interesting and sustainable differentiation occurs when a fundamental architectural choice creates unfair advantage in producing useful features. Therefore, anybody who briefs me should be ready to substantiate all three areas. If they aren’t, they’re unlikely to elicit much of a favorable opinion. There are many ways to substantiate those (e.g., I’m not as picky about references as some analysts, if the user benefits are obvious enough). But you should have something meaty in all three areas, and they should connect with each other well.


49 Responses to “Know your audience”

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