This is an interesting week with three shows on my docket — SAS Users Group in Seattle, SugarCon and NetSuite in San Francisco. Much flying, too many hotels and lots of blog posts.
I like this part of the job, it’s where I get out to see many people of diverse backgrounds and I always come home with new and improved perspectives on our industry. Of course, there are company representatives who hope to impress with announcements of new and improved products and services. But, for my money, the real interesting part is speaking with end users, the people who can answer the difficult and simple question, how does this work for you? Customers are uniformly nice and happy to answer any question I can think up.
There’s another group that’s just as interesting, the independent analysts. Watching them you get a distinct impression that our industry is changing rapidly. Increasingly, I am finding that the established major firms don’t travel in the same circuit with us. Many of them have their own shows and stick to them. Nothing wrong with that but it leaves open the question of how they rub elbows with customers, especially small customers who might not have five or six figures to invest in an analyst relationship.
I’m an independent. I left Aberdeen Group more than six years ago to do what I want and I have never been disappointed and other independents have taken similar paths. There are many others like me too and while the recession has swelled the ranks of the independents, with ex-analysts and out of work marketing people, it’s pretty easy to spot the quality. I’ve been happy to get to know people like Estaban Kolsky, Marshall Larger, Brent Leary, and others by just traveling the circuit. They are uniformly smart and incisive but each brings something different to the party. We’re all disciples, in a way, of the man himself, Paul Greenberg, who seems to have a sixth sense for picking out the analyst gems.
How do you become an independent analyst? Well, a prior career in CRM, technology or business research and journalism or previous work for one of the big firms is the usual route. It takes a long time though. This is one of the most relationship intensive businesses I know and the relationships we have go back many years on the corporate and PR sides. If you were lucky enough to grow up in CRM you’ve got a big following on Twitter or Facebook and an even larger database. People tell us things because they trust us and building that trust takes time.
The analysts I know have solid grounding in business, technology and front office business processes and they’ve been at it a long time. Longevity and experience are tremendously valuable when you need to advise a client on what will likely work and what won’t.
The guys I’m hanging with have all of this and more. We read each other’s work and rarely compete for business, instead we support each other, trading ideas and even when we’re kidding around there’s an element of analysis at work. We were having lunch the other day in Seattle where the city requires restaurants to provide calorie counts for every item on the menu. We were at a Cheesecake Factory, which has a voluminous menu and a separate booklet with all the calorie estimates each of us took turns analyzing what we would have and joking about it. Ultimately we all changed our orders too. You had to be there.
Long story short, if you are into social ideas, and you need to be these days, there’s diversity and decentralization in this crowd of independents and it imparts a certain wisdom to what they do. It’s a pleasure to be part of the group.