What makes for an effective MQ briefing?

My colleague Ted Chamberlin and I are currently finalizing the new Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Hosting. This year, we’ve nearly doubled the number of providers on the MQ, adding a bunch of cloud providers who offer hosting services (i.e., providers who are cloud system infrastructure service providers, and who aren’t pure storage or backup).

The draft has gone out for vendor review, and these last few days have been occupied by more than a dozen conversations with vendors about where they’ve placed in the MQ. (No matter what, most vendors are convinced they should be further right and further up.) Over the course of these conversations, one clear pattern seems to be characterizing this year: We’re seeing lots of data presented in the feedback process that wasn’t presented as part of the MQ briefing or any previous briefing the vendor did with us.

I recognize the MQ can be a mysterious process to vendors. So here’s a couple of thoughts from the analyst side on what makes for effective MQ briefing content. These are by no means universal opinions, but may be shared by my colleagues who cover service businesses.

In brief, the execution axis is about what you’re doing now. The vision axis is about where you’re going. A set of definitions for the criteria on each axis are included with every vendor notification that begins the Magic Quadrant process. If you’re a vendor being considered for an MQ, you really want to read the criteria. We do not throw darts to determine vendor placement. Every vendor gets a numerical rating on every single one of those criteria, and a tool plots the dots. It’s a good idea to address each of those criteria in your briefing (or supplemental material, if you can’t fit in everything you need into the briefing).

We generally have reasonably good visibility into execution from our client base, but the less market presence you have, especially among Gartner’s typical client base (mid-size business to large enterprise, and tech companies), the less we’ve probably seen you in deals or have gotten feedback from your customers. Similarly, if you don’t have much in the way of a channel, there’s less of a chance any of your partners have talked to us about what they’re doing with you. Thus, your best use of briefing time for an MQ is to fill us in on what we don’t know about your company’s achievements — the things that aren’t readily culled from publicly-available information or talking to prospects, customers, and partners.

It’s useful to briefly summarize your company’s achievements over the last year — revenue growth, metrics showing improvements in various parts of the business, new product introductions, interesting customer wins, and so forth. Focus on the key trends of your business. Tell us what strategic initiatives you’ve undertaken and the ways they’ve contributed to your business. You can use this to help give us context to the things we’ve observed about you. We may, for instance, have observed that your customer service seems to have improved, but not know what specific measures you took to improve it. Telling us also helps us to judge how far along the curve you are with an initiative, which in turn helps us to advise our clients better and more accurately rate you.

Vision, on the other hand, is something that only you can really tell us about. Because this is where you’re going, rather than where you are now or where you’ve been, the amount of information you’re willing to disclose is likely to directly correlate to our judgement of your vision. A one-year, quarter-by-quarter roadmap is usually the best way to show us what you’re thinking; a two-year roadmap is even better. (Note that we do rate track record, so you don’t want to claim things that you aren’t going to deliver — you’ll essentially take a penalty next year if you failed to deliver on the roadmap.) We want to know what you think of the market and your place in it, but the very best way to demonstrate that you’re planning to do something exciting and different is to tell us what you’re expecting to do. (We can keep the specifics under NDA, although the more we can talk about publicly, the more we can tell our clients that if they choose you, there’ll be some really cool stuff you’ll be doing for them soon.) If you don’t disclose your initiatives, we’re forced to guess based on your general statements of direction, and generally we’re going to be conservative in our guesses, which probably means a lower rating than you might otherwise have been able to get.

The key thing to remember, though, is that if at all possible, an MQ briefing should be a summary and refresher, not an attempt to cram a year’s worth of information into an hour. If you’ve been doing routine briefings covering product updates and the launch of key initiatives, you can skip all that in an MQ briefing, and focus on presenting the metrics and key achievements that show what you’ve done, and the roadmap that shows where you’re going. Note that you don’t have to be a client in order to conduct briefings. If MQ placement or analyst recommendations are important to your business, keep in mind that when you keep an analyst well-informed, you reap the benefit the whole year ’round in the hundreds or even thousands of conversations analysts have with your prospective customers, not just on the MQ itself.

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Posted on June 10, 2009, in Industry and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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