Sage Advice on Selecting Analyst Services

Step away from the decision--let's look at the meta-selection. The SageCircle blog features some recent posts on selecting analyst services. So here we are, TEC, guiding all sorts of people in their selection processes for software, recommending best practices, developing custom research, etc., and the interesting thing (if I read the SageCircle blog correctly) is that our recommended software selection best practices can be applied for clients seeking analyst services, of the sort we offer, hence a meta-selection.

According to the SageCircle post, companies often fail to purchase the right analyst services because they haven't "documented their reasons" for doing so in advance. Sage Circle observes that
"Two prime beneficiaries of this type of mistake are Gartner and Forrester because they are often the only firms with any significant mindshare with buyers."

This is similar to the sort of observation we make about purchasing software. We recommend that clients understand their business requirements through a formal process ensuring those relate to a request for information (RFI) about the software they'll purchase. The idea is that if you don't initiate the selection process properly you'll end up paying down the road for software that doesn't suit your needs. Clients sometimes come to us with the notion of purchasing an ERP system from one of the several well-known tier 1 vendors; it's rarely that cut-and-dry though. I'll explain before returning to the analyst selection link.

There are at least two issues at hand in this type of situation. One issue is that the term "ERP" for example, is a commonly used term and something that people keep in mind but a company, upon examining its business requirements, might not actually need a full ERP system. Sometimes, after understanding the requirements, it turns out that a system focused on distribution concerns or accounting could be the most appropriate. Another issue is that the company may only seek software from the commonly-known (tier 1) vendors. However, there are hundreds of other vendors to consider. Each with their own strengths and weaknesses and each with their own sort of focus. It's entirely possible that a different vendor will provide a more apt solution at a better price point than one of the famous tier 1 vendors.

How does that relate to selecting analyst services? I'll paraphrase SageCircle's recommended technique for selecting analyst services: 1) identify topics needed for decision support, 2) analyze the info you'll need for that support, 3) make a system to prioritize that info, 4) make a scoring system, 5) make a list of accesses for influencing, and 6) generate an RFI.

If we modify this a little bit, it's much like selecting software. 1) Instead of topics you probably have some business processes you need help with. 2) Instead of information needed for decision support, you map those business processes to software functionality. 3) You still need to prioritize. 4) You still need a well-defined apples-to-apples scoring system. 5) You should get some references and contacts from the various vendors. 6) Still need to generate an RFI--that's how you'll gather all the right data to put your priorities and scoring system to work supporting your selection.

The SageCircle blog states
"Bottom Line: Buyers can avoid spending too much of their analyst budgets with the big brands by carefully identifying the reasons for purchasing analyst services. This information can be the centerpiece of RFIs/RFPs sent to analyst firms and built into purchasing decision frameworks."

Although I've worked with clients to provide custom research reports and software selection decision support (and vendors in related capacities), I've never received an RFI from a potential client about obtaining these types of services. The closest was a survey that SAP sent us, probably about five years ago. Is the complexity and range of analyst services providers increasing to such a degree that companies will regularly follow this practice in the future? If we spend so much effort guiding companies through a similar process for selecting software I wonder if I can expect to see that process initiated prior to a client engaging us for our decision support help?


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