By Matt Heinz, President and Founder of Heinz Marketing

There’s no doubt analyst relationships (with firms such as Gartner, Forrester and the like) hold considerable influence over industries and buyers in numerous industries – IT, financial services, sales and marketing and much more.  And for years, investing in analyst “subscriptions” has been a core part of the marketing communications budget for many good-to-great reasons.

Those reasons haven’t changed, although scrutiny and second guessing of analyst relationship ROI has been a constant and may in fact be intensifying.

Analyst renewals come year round, and intensify at the start of new budget cycles.  And too often, an analyst yes/no decision turns into a massive back and forth with opinions, assumptions and other subjective rationales flying in both directions.

Deciding to invest in analysts isn’t a black or white decision, ever. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding what’s best for you.

Define your objectives first

Analysts can provide numerous benefits.  Which are most important to you?

Are you looking for broader awareness in your general industry or category?  Looking for market insights from those already deeply embedded with history and perspective?

How about feedback on your intended go-to-market plan and/or product road map?  Sales referrals?  Instant customer-centric content?

All are viable reasons to invest in analysts.  At minimum stack-rank these and estimate their impact/value on the business.  For example, if you believe analysts should (or historically) generate qualified sales referrals, how many would make the paid relationship worthwhile?  What impact would a more successful, potentially more efficient launch into your market (as a new entry and/or with new features) have on your short and long-term revenue?

What will it replace in your budget?

In other words, what will you NOT have to buy to achieve a similar impact on the business?  Will analyst insights replace the need for primary in-market research?  Will an estimated volume of sales referrals replace the need for a portion of your marketing demand generation activity?

Define (or approximate) the market overlap

What is the true coverage of the analyst’s sphere of influence vs your target audience?  If you’re serving the IT market, which specific segment are you addressing?  What size companies?  Just because you’ve narrowed to cybersecurity, for example, doesn’t mean a particular analyst firm, let alone specific analysts, will help you.  If they’re focused on enterprise and you’re focused on SMB, can you really expect the same ROI in terms of market intelligence, sales referrals and more?

Don’t assume it’s a “pay for play” game

If you negotiate, if you reduce your spend from last year, if you decline the premium subscription offering – that doesn’t mean analysts won’t cover you.  Their reputation is built on providing comprehensive coverage and advice of the entire market, not just on those that are paying them.

We’ve all seen and worked with experts, consultants and analysts who exclusively talk about their paid clients.   Those aren’t the most influential people in their industry, are they?

If your product sucks but you have a huge budget, a good analyst firm still isn’t going to make you a category leader.

There is a difference between a paid analyst engagement and ensuring the right analysts know your story.  Sometimes a good, focused analyst relations program (as a component of your PR strategy or as a stand-alone) can do the trick.  It still costs money (you’ll have to pay someone to do that work, internally or externally), but could be a more efficient use of dollars.

Get a commitment to specific deliverables and hold them accountable

Too often there’s a tacit “assumption” analysts are going to provide the implied or stated value.  You still need to be proactive and insistent on defining and managing to deliverables as part of these and any external relationships.

Make clear your objectives up front, enumerate in writing (and in the contract) what your expectations, deliverables and measures of success are from the engagement.  Then be proactive in managing them to those objectives.

Analysts are still a vitally important, high impact component of marketing programs – for start-ups, growth-phase and mature organizations.  And like any investment, it’s still up to you to make the right choice then ensure it delivers.