Dreaming the Analyst Dream: How to Run a Great Analyst Event

Salesforce.com again kicked off the New Year with an Analyst Summit that was good but not great. Which got me thinking about what does make for a great analyst event, assuming of course that the goal is to impart essential information to the analyst community so that we can in turn advise our clients accurately about various vendors’ strategies. This is a goal that I think is the sincere belief of most analyst relations teams – whether it is shared by their executive spokespeople is another issue all together.

The recent Salesforce.com analyst event was definitely intended to meet that lofty goal, and I think in general the execs were on board. That doesn’t mean they necessarily succeeded as well as they could have or I would have liked. While the overall sense was that the Salesforce.com juggernaut continues to move forward apace, and the analyst who recommends Salesforce.com for a broad swath of enterprise needs probably wouldn’t be wrong doing so, there was a lot of important information that wasn’t proffered that would have added clarity to a more nuanced analysis. Which would be my preferred take-away from an analyst event every time.

So in the interest of better analyst events overall, here’s my list of the main lacunas from Salesforce’s summit, presented here as much to educate other analyst teams on how to do a great job as to prod Salesforce.com to do a better job next time.

 

The Information Gap

One clear goal of any analyst event is to provide us with information we either have troubling getting a hold of or are potentially misinformed about. In this regard Salesforce missed out on three key issues: field sales strategy, partner strategy, and renewals.

Field sales strategy: Josh’s first rule of enterprise software, all the great ideas in marketing go to the field to die, makes contrasting field execution with marketing messaging essential. Most companies struggle to execute in the field, and, if you’re not struggling to rationalize an increasingly complex portfolio with the often very narrow interests of your customers, I’d like to hear why. If you are struggling we’ll probably have heard about it anyway, so hearing from the head of sales about the challenges in the field and how they’re going to be overcome would be preferable to letting us continue with our preconceptions and misconceptions unchallenged. In this regard Salesforce.com whiffed – not a word about how things are actually going on the front lines. Too bad. There’s a lot of questions about the sustainability of their sales model in light of a number of industry issues – renewals, partner problems, lack of synergy between the different product lines – that should be answered forthrightly that we can give our clients the fullest picture possible.

Partnership strategy: If you’re not tweaking your partner strategy every year, you’re not serious about your partner strategy. So tell us about it, and in particular not how many press releases your company signed (IBM Watson seems to be a popular “partner” for every vendor to mention without any concrete success info or even criteria), but how you’re going to market with the partners, how you’re sharing responsibilities, and, most importantly, what you’re doing to keep your partners doing the right thing and prevent them from making your customers mad. An unhappy customer will of course blame you, not the partner, and the headline will always have the vendor’s name in it and rarely the partner who probably bears at least half the blame. To Salesforce’s credit, Amazon AWS was on stage to discuss partnering with Salesforce. A good start, but only a small corner of the overall partner story.

Per my recent post, what I’m hearing is that the implementation partners across the SaaS market are doing a horrid job implementing in the rapidly growing cloud market. They lack the skills and experience needed to do lots of impeccable implementations, and as such the partners are responsible for an increasing number of escalations and poorly running implementations. Is this also the case with Salesforce.com? Or am I misinformed about this one? I don’t think so, and as an industry-wide problem it might be good to hear that Salesforce.com cares about it and either they’ve been immune or they’re also having this problem and are doing something to remediate the situation.

Renewals: If there’s one thing we should be hearing a ton about, it’s renewals. The above partner issues are part of this: in the cloud-centric world we now live in, an unhappy customer is a customer that doesn’t renew. Importantly, everything about the cloud is “finished but not done,” especially the customer relationship. A SaaS vendor no longer gets to make the sale, recognize its full value, and walk away like in the old on-premise days. In the cloud, if  the vendor excels at sales but the customer doesn’t renew or up the number of seats, all that sales execution is for naught. So, as a vendor, if you’re hitting renewals out of the park, tell us. And if you have a way to do a better job at than you’ve done in the past, regardless of whether you’re fouling out or hitting well, tell us.

In this regard, Salesforce.com didn’t even try, but then again, they don’t tell the Street much about renewals other than to say how great they are or will be, depending on the quarter. It’s too easy to read too much into this vacuum, but one has to assume if there was something to boast about the not-shy folks at Salesforce.com would have regaled us with data. They should have and they didn’t.

Integrated vision: One of the true signs of market maturity is how well a company tells the story of how 1+1+1=5 or 6 or 7. M&A activity has bolstered every vendor’s portfolio, and in pretty much every case the idea was that the acquisition would have a synergistic, accretive effect on sales. Right…. The fact is that one of the biggest problems plaguing the entire enterprise software community today is the problem of telling the story of the integrated portfolio. I’ve written and railed about this issue a lot, and for the most part most vendors can tell a good accretive value story to investors – and even sometimes to us analysts – but they can’t actually put the pieces together in a cohesive, synergistic fashion that field sales and partners can understand and run with.

This is hyper-important in a maturing cloud market where the C-suite is waking up to a cloud silo hangover and is looking for integration and synergies to bolster the usability of their increasingly complex cloud portfolios. Real digital transformation is usually a cross-functional, pan-enterprise undertaking, and the ability to sell an integrated vision is becoming increasingly important as company’s start planning the future of their strategic software initiatives.

Salesforce.com definitely suffers from this integration dysfunction, as evidenced by their violation of Josh’s second rule of enterprise software: the biggest mistake vendors make is that they try to sell product the way they build it, not the way the customer consumes it. Salesforce.com loves to talk about its clouds – Sales, Commerce, Community, Marketing, and Service – as though this is what customers want to buy. We had most of the heads of the Salesforce.com clouds on stage at the summit, and their strategies and roadmaps looked pretty good. But how they leverage one another and really make that 1+1+1=5 argument was missing from their discussion.

I asked about this, and was told that there has been a pivot to a solutions sale strategy based on industries, and that integration was important, and there was an uptick in deals that include aspects of this pivot… and that was that. No real details to go on. And, importantly, as Salesforce.com has no way to do solutions pricing – in response to a question from another analyst – Salesforce.com is probably, like most of its peers, floundering in rationalizing its acquisitions and other properties into a single, cohesive sales, technical, and marketing strategy. Or I may be reading too much into what I didn’t see at the summit. Either way more attention to the integrated vision is needed.

 

 

Who Are You Really?

While we’re on the topic of how to make for a great analyst summit, I want to add four ideas to the pile, only one of which was at play during the Salesforce.com Analyst summit.

What’s in your org chart? I would really really like to know how a company is organized. There’s often an implicit assumption that we analysts actually have an idea of who does what, and for the most part that’s false. Understanding the internal org chart and the responsibilities of senior executives and managers would be really helpful in looking beneath the surface. How serious a new initiative like IoT or ML is can often be inferred by knowing who is running it and where they sit in the organization. Knowing the answer to the question can also give some serious hints as to how well organized a vendor’s efforts are. I went to an SAP Leonardo event late last year where I was told by at least four executives that, when it came to Leonardo, they were ultimately, and individually, responsible for Leonardo’s success. I came away with the distinct impression that the effort was a bit of a mess, which I think is a largely accurate impression.

So maybe just thinking about telling a room full of analysts what your org chart looks like may make for an interested exercise. Does this org chart make sense? Can you rationalize its existence? Does it help that sometimes baffled and confused field sales person or partner do a better job on your behalf?

Salesforce.com and other vendors might want to try this as an internal exercise in messaging, because I think it would help refine their sense of self and mission. It may not matter that they have five “clouds” if somewhere in the org chart this stuff comes together into a cohesive whole. Inquiring minds would like to know.

Where is your heart? This is something that Salesforce.com does particularly well, and they talk a lot about ohana and put amazing people like Tony Prophet, their Chief Equality Officer,  in front of analysts. SAP has also been doing this in the area of diversity, autism awareness, and other initiatives. Many other vendors do as well. Having a heart isn’t just a nice to have – it personalizes a business relationship into a partnership based on shared values and not just shared business outcomes. If you ascribe to the notion that doing business is first and foremost about people – which I do – then telling analysts about this part of your company is worth the effort.

 

Shaking the Tree

My last two points are more about aligning the concept of an analyst summit with modern pedagogical thinking, which is desperately needed in an industry in which the analyst summit is typically a day long sit down, shut up, and listen forced march. We know that doesn’t work when it comes to training and education in the “real world”, why assume it’s a model worth repeating in the analyst world, especially when the ones doing the talking are a vendor’s most valuable talent. Why risk wasting their time?

Give us something to do: If your products are so cool, user-friendly, and leading edge, don’t just tell us, let us at them. I’ve been to a couple of analyst events where we got to build, configure, test, or otherwise play with a new tool, product, or capability, and they’re pretty much the most memorable ones I’ve been to. Most of us analysts are pretty technical – or should be – and I know we would learn more with our hands on the mouse than sitting in a room with the lights low, the HVAC system murmuring, the nth speaker droning on and on…zzzzzz.

Salesforce.com did this with the analysts at one of their Trailhead conferences, and it was, if not a hit, then at least highly memorable. Some warts appeared – it turns out that, at the time, we sometimes left the modern Lightning UX and entered the dark world of “legacy” Salesforce.com – but it helped hit home the many concepts – usability, gamification, democratization of training – that are essential parts of the Trailhead story. I wish Salesforce.com had done something similar this time: maybe play with an Alexa interfaced to Einstein, or try some advanced Service cloud technology in a simulated scenario. Gosh, this could be even fun.

Give us more Q&A: I always wonder why vendors feel like there’s a need for a moderator to kick off the Q&A before letting the analysts have at it. I assume that’s because you’re worried that you’ll slot all this time for Q&A and then have a bunch of dead air (unless you’re actually using the moderator to provide a smokescreen so that the majority of the question as the ones you want to answer.) My take on that is that a silent analyst corps is usually a bored analyst corps that has been stupefied into inaction, which in turn means that the content is too drab and repetitive or predicable. Hopefully, you’ve solved that by following some of the ideas above. And when all else fails, ask us the questions: we love showing off, most of us have big mouths, and a surplus of opinions.

 

I don’t pretend that most firms will break out of the sit down and shut up model of analyst event, any more than I feel most firms will try to break away from having back-to-back 90-minute keynotes at hteir user events starting at 8 am with a 120 decibel band “enticing” attendees to their seats. But if you do make some changes to your analyst events, I promise to lead the charge in getting my fellow analysts to actually pay attention to what’s happening on stage, instead of booking flights, checking the news, counting the likes and re-Tweets on our latest snarky Tweet, and otherwise ignoring the content on the stage. That’s the worst of it: too many times the quality of the content is matched by the degree of attention paid to it. For all of our sakes, we should try a little harder on both accounts.

 

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