Appraising Forrester’s role-based research

Posted on June 30th 2008

Appraising Forrester’s role-based research

Let me start off by saying that I have been pretty cynical about Forrester’s move into a role-based research model - it always made sense to me that if I had a banking client then they would want to see a banking expert. Simple wouldn’t you think? That’s why when this new structure was announced I held my head in dismay.

However, since then I have the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the reasons why this move took place and I have come round to become more positive. This isn’t to say that I am now a die-hard evangelist and will be singing ‘the hymn of role-based research‘ from the rooftops, but more a case of I can see the merits. Should Forrester do a few simple things then I am sure they will convert many more people too.

My first complaint concerned the fact that I was desperate for Gartner to have a better global competitor. After Forrester’s acquisition of Giga I truly believed that this would be the case but it proved that this wasn’t to be. Forrester simply did not have the same number or depth of analysts that Gartner had and could not compete on this level. When I voiced this concern to Forrester they stated two facts that changed my viewpoint completely:

  1. Forrester are in the business to make money
  2. Forrester are more profitable than Gartner

Understanding that Forrester were not going to change into a Gartner-clone, my next question/complaint focused on whether the move to role-based research was simply a reactionary move as it is easier to manage a smaller number of roles than a huge number of technologies. It is here that I realised that the gamble that Forrester took was far more impressive than I originally thought (and echoed some of the ‘out-of-the-box’ mentality that I used to admire them for in the ’90s).

The question that needs to be asked is who do you trust?

Edelman have been asking this question for years and it is no surprise that when Forrester asked it, the answer they received was ’someone like me’. I must admit that Forrester had some impressive guts to change their entire business model based on that answer but there are merits and science behind it.

When Forrester asked CEOs what are their success imperatives, the answers that came up most were:

  1. Getting, keeping, building the best people
  2. Engineering collaboration
  3. Reaching global markets
  4. Increasing profit
  5. Building a positive culture
  6. Customer, customers, customers,
  7. Driving innovation (figuring out how to break linearity)

At IT Forum, George Colony made one very interesting point about this list:

IT is not mentioned anywhere. CEOs are interested in business not technology - we need to move away from IT to BT (business technology).

Taking these two factors into consideration (i.e. (1) people go to their peers for advice and (2) a CEO’s success imperatives does not have IT as a priority), then Forrester’s move into role-based research holds far more weight.

Where better should a CFO go than to ask the advice of what other CFO’s have done? (moderated through a Forrester analyst or at one of their peer events).

However, there are three areas that I feel need to be addressed by Forrester for this to be more successful.

The vendor comes off worst in the move to Role-based research
It’s pretty common for analyst houses to prioritise the needs of end users over vendors (as vendors will pay regardless). However - I have recently been in a situation where a BI vendor wanted advice on their specific solution from Forrester and was told that there was no specific analyst who could help them. Forrester are trying to change the question - the BI vendor should not be asking about an IT issue but should be speaking to them about the target role of the person they are communicating with.

What the above scenario showed me was that Forrester needs to do a better job of educating it’s prospects, AR pros and customers about the change. In my own mini-survey to vendors there was a clear level of frustration that their needs had been left out in favour of end users - there was simply no IT counterpart anymore. It may be clear for the internal team what the benefits of role-based research are but this clearly hasn’t been explained well enough - more case studies please, more scenarios please, more discussion about how a vendor could best use Forrester.

Analyst advocacy
Perhaps the biggest culprits of why I hadn’t bought into role-based research are the analysts themselves. When asked about the change, at best some couldn’t explain it well and at worst some were openly negative. If the analysts don’t buy into this then what confidence does this give my clients.

Will Forrester succeed with role-based research?

I’m not sure. I truly believe that the reasoning behind it makes complete sense and when combined with success imperatives, then their argument becomes even stronger. However, Forrester have an uphill struggle trying to educate the market about this change and must ensure that they take a more proactive stance in getting this done.

It will take time for the tech vendor to understand that Forrester are not trying to be like other analyst houses and are trying to answer more business oriented questions and not IT ones as they believe that this echoes a companies success imperatives. I wish Forrester luck but I think they have massive education job to do to convert the many people who just don’t understand this move.

Technobabble 2.0 - a blog that rants and raves about social media, analyst relations and technology. Highlighting where people have got it right and wrong. Written by Jonny Bentwood - Head of AR and Strategy at Edelman in the UK. Link to original post

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