How the gig economy has turned bad analysts into vendor advocates

August 03, 2015 | Phil Fersht
Marketing_Advocate

What's happening to the world?

Yes, I have been trying hard – and failing miserably – to avoid using the term “Uberization”, but it’s everywhere! Even in the analyst business, where the sharing platform is the Internet and any old whackjob can get in on the act. All you need is a computer and an ability to write remedial English.

The technology and services industry today is awash with individuals whose only professional activity is flitting from vendor conference to vendor conference, with the sole purpose of writing completely non-objective puff pieces praising their vendor hosts in exchange for money (or in the hope said vendors will pony up some dough in gratitude). Vendors are only too willing to pay these people's travel expenses, in return for such a willing and compliant audience.

Now, there is nothing wrong with this, in today’s free-for-all economy, as long as these individuals stop masquerading as analysts. I can't proclaim I am a professional accountant, lawyer or hip-replacement specialist, without proving to the world I am trained and can deliver those services adequately, so why should we allow these people to call themselves analysts, when they are not. Do these vendors hire these fake analysts to do real strategic work for them?  Of course they don't - they use them as marketing advocates, and pay them as such.  So let's call them what they are: Vendor advocates.

We need to settle on this correct term for these fake analysts

Once we can all settle on that term, then we can all stop complaining about their tactics, crying foul when we see their blatant pay-for-play. Once they are officially branded as vendor advocates, then they can rent themselves out as much as they like to marketeers willing to buy their services, without having to masquerade as something they are not.

I know several of these individuals (and I am sure most of you do too). They never produce any real research (most simply do not bother doing any and hope noone notices),  they usually have limited knowledge (because they do no research) and love the sound of their own voice. Some even plagiarize, make up data and fake surveys (but let's not go there right now...).  However, there is a role for these individuals in the world, but let's just stop pretending they are analysts.

These vendor advocates play an important role supporting the industry - as long as they are correctly branded as such

But it’s not all bad – these vendor advocates really do have a purpose - they are helping marketing execs in technology and services vendors validate their offerings.  They are helping out those frustrated marketeers who do not want to pay the exorbitant prices of the traditional research shops, and simply want to pay someone posing as an industry "expert" to express how wonderful they are.

And there is nothing wrong with this - companies have to pay to advertise to sell product - it's been going on for centuries. If you are selling technology, you need to hire people with writing skills to communicate to the world that your products and services matter.  So why not outsource to someone outside your firm who is at least pretending to have an objective viewpoint?

Bottom-line: You can be a great Vendor Advocate and be loved by industry.  So be proud of it, but don't expect analyst credibility

Anyone who appears in a TV commercial, or writes an advertorial column in a magazine, is an advocate for the brand paying them.  It's credible - for example, you see pro golfers advertising all sorts of products and services on their shirts and visors, but we aren't offended.  Noone cares whether Phil Mickelson uses KPMG to audit his accounts, or whether Shaq O'Neill really does use Gold Bond, or whether Roger from Madmen drives a Lincoln MDX... we love these personalities and our attention is drawn to the products and services they are marketing. It's the same for marketing advocates - many of these individuals are great people with lovely personalities... there's nothing wrong with marketing someone's products or services, just don't pretend you're an analyst when you do it!

Posted in: Analytics and Big DataConfusing Outsourcing InformationHfSResearch.com Homepage

Never Miss A Story

Sign up for the HfS Research newsletter and get the best research delivered to your inbox weekly.

33

1 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Jeffrey Summers
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 04:13 AM | Permalink Reply

    Nailed it!

  2. Ross
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 04:40 AM | Permalink Reply

    Phil,

    Best piece written on analysts in a very long while - and much needed!

    Ross

  3. Gregory Yankelovich
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 04:53 AM | Permalink Reply

    You sound like a cab driver complaining about the Uber. Not that I disagree with your point about the "analysts" acting like vendor advocates. I just can't see the difference between the established pay-per-play agencies and the "wackjobs" you describe, other than price. Should we try to legislate "objectivity" now?

  4. Eric
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 04:54 AM | Permalink Reply

    Take aim and fire!

    Thanks for calling it how it is.

  5. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 04:57 AM | Permalink Reply

    @Gregory - do Uber drivers call themselves "Taxi-drivers"? It's a free-for-all sharing economy where anyone can preach from the pulpit. My only request is you need to be independent, unbiased and occasionally perform research before you can call yourself an "analyst". The advocates are anything but and we all know it,

    PF

  6. Brian
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 07:48 AM | Permalink Reply

    I know it's a nit and I tried to resist, but the MDX is an Acura. Roger hocked a Lincoln MKX. Ah, I feel better.

  7. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 08:10 AM | Permalink Reply

    wow. I clearly don't know my SUVs!

  8. Doc Searls Weblog · What’s the best way customer love can help a brand?
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 09:36 AM | Permalink Reply

    […] In How the gig economy has turned bad analysts into vendor advocates, Horses for Sources writes, […]

  9. Make Money From The Internet You’re | Money and Wealth
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 06:56 PM | Permalink Reply

    […] How the gig economy has turned bad analysts into vendor advocates – Even in the analyst business, where the sharing platform is the Internet and any old whackjob can get in on … just don’t pretend you’re an analyst when you do it! […]

  10. Peter Ostrow
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 08:32 PM | Permalink Reply

    Maybe we should develop a professional certification process for ourselves.

  11. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 08:54 PM | Permalink Reply

    @Peter - the biggest problem is that most these Vendor Advocates are blissfully ignorant that they make a living pandering to vendors. The aren't remotely aware they have no genuine unvarnished view of the world - you insert the coin and off they go robo-analyst style. With some, you only need to throw them a coach class flight and a night at a Marriott Courtyard...

    Sadly, the only real solution is when these vendors (who fund this racket) start to insist that analysts have some sort of independent ethos and a focus on actual research, otherwise stop calling themselves "analysts". One partial solution, if they want to remain being called "analysts", would be to follow what example of the equity analyst industry and stop lavishing them with free travel and accom... the ego-stroking and lavish lifestyle is what is breeding this behaviour. Next time we read some grotesque analyst blog declaring undying love to a vendor solution, the offending analyst should ethically reveal (1) whether she/he had their travel and accom paid to be fed this information, and (2) whether they also receive a retainer from them for "analyst services".

    PF

  12. Peter O'Neill
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 09:08 PM | Permalink Reply

    Phil, Thoroughly agree with this rant. I've often had it myself but never put pen to paper. Just one nitpick - its Shaq O'Neal, not O'Neill

  13. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 09:15 PM | Permalink Reply

    @Peter - Shaq has it misspelled, not me =)

  14. Douglas Hayward
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 09:20 PM | Permalink Reply

    Phil,

    Would you like to specify just who these fake analysts are?

  15. Nigel Barron
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 09:40 PM | Permalink Reply
  16. Mark Stelzner
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 10:09 PM | Permalink Reply

    This one got my attention, Phil, and not because I'm an analyst at all (as we both know) but because I prescribe to not deriving revenue from the service provider community to absolutely ensure the objectively you so strongly promote. A not-baiting and truly non-sarcastic question... do you hold yourself to the same standard your profess in your post? Do you disclose the meal, the flight, the hotel charge and any other "favor" that some may view as driving bias?

  17. Pierre Mitchell
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 10:12 PM | Permalink Reply

    Google the term "toothless bumbles" and you'll see the top result link to a deep dive rant with examples from the Procurement world. The whole thing is very annoying.

  18. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 10:43 PM | Permalink Reply

    @Mark - a good question, and one I was waiting for =)

    HfS analysts typically have their travel covered at most analyst conferences (even though we do set aside budget for analysts to visit vendor delivery centers etc for their own education, which we invest in frequently). If vendors decided to get rid of this policy I would welcome it, as only the serious analysts would attend - with a much more objective viewpoint. We would then selectively decide which vendors are worth seeing and which analysts are most appropriate to send.

    With regards to the glowing puffery, we are increasingly strict on vetting analyst output after said events - we also have a policy that if the vendor said nothing new or noteworthy of interest to our audience, we do not publish anything.

    Are we completely innocent of never over-praising a vendor? Of course not, and noone is, but we're very conscious of these deteriorating standards and are keen to challenge vendors more with our research and insight.

    PF

  19. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 03, 2015 11:45 PM | Permalink Reply

    @Pierre - the procurement software space makes my skin crawl... along with several others ;)

  20. Chuck Van Court
    Posted Aug 04, 2015 02:44 AM | Permalink Reply

    Phil:

    You must have missed Mark's question: "Do you disclose the meal, the flight, the hotel charge and any other “favor” that some may view as driving bias?" Does HFS?

    Transparency and full disclosure should never be optional for anyone directly or indirectly making money off the products or services they are expressing any form of endorsement. Do you agree?

    HFS and Constellation Research have been pretty aggressive in rightfully bashing the pay-to-play model. To put themselves above the fray, over a year ago Constellation said they would publish their client list, which unless I am mistaken they have yet to do. For things to change in the industry it will take respected firms of material size to actually put themselves above the fray. HFS and Constellation seem to be quality firms that certainly meet this criteria. Serious actions to separate your firms are needed to help force changes in the existing model and for your firms to be taken seriously as wanting change and not just creating marketing hype to differentiate and advance your firms.

    Chuck Van Court

  21. Pierre Mitchell
    Posted Aug 04, 2015 03:03 AM | Permalink Reply

    Phil, it's not just procurement software where such carpet crawlers reside (sorry, my old prog rock dinosaur roots showing), but BPOs, MSPs, market intelligence providers, and on an on. Vapid blather and marketers of ill repute are endemic to all business processes (er, 'services') and service delivery models. but we musn't protest too much insomuch as that feeds our value prop I guess.

  22. Weebs
    Posted Aug 04, 2015 04:47 AM | Permalink Reply

    Great post but let's not kid ourselves about the incestuous relationship between some "real" analysts and tech vendors. I'm a vet of two separate analysts firms (sales side) and saw it quite often ... analysts wined and dined by IT vendors, trips to resorts for briefings, you name it.

    I'm not saying the analysts were bought and paid for but their objectivity could be called into question.

  23. Durgesh
    Posted Aug 04, 2015 09:45 AM | Permalink Reply

    Obviously, they will not call themselves “vendor advocates” because the credibility of their opinion is based on the assumption that it is “independent” .

    There are lot of fake product/services reviews on internet. Most of these fakers are not really knowledgeable about the subject and just paraphrase vendors’ selling pitch.

    I think we should give a little more credit to customers to be able to differentiate between the fake and real research. If clients need further help, researchers at Cornell university have developed a software code to detect fake reviews :) Link http://beta.reviewskeptic.com/ (currently only for hotels).

  24. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 04, 2015 10:54 AM | Permalink Reply

    @Chuck - like I said, I would like to see vendors stop comping the vendor advocates and analysts for their events - this would flush out many of the imposters from the real analysts. Yes, there are still some crappy analysts surviving in the legacy houses who still puff up their favorite vendors based on the ego-stroking - not sure what we can do about those - maybe out them to their CEOs? And yes, we will declare whether we were comped for their events/travel etc next time we write about one - absolutely.

    As for releasing client lists - don't really see the point. I can declare that 90% of leading services vendors and a good number of advisors and buyers purchase HfS services. We write about what we hear about and what we know and try to avoid puffery. If Ray promised you his client list, then ask him for it!

    PF

  25. Chuck Van Court
    Posted Aug 04, 2015 03:15 PM | Permalink Reply

    Phil:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I appreciate it.

    Regarding posting a customer list: I can see very legitimate reasons why a firm would not elect to do this and I have no problems with firms not posting a client list. However, any form of endorsement should always include a clear disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest due to a client or other relationship resulting in some form of compensation.

    I admire Esteban Kolsky taking a stand with Gartner and calling them out in one of his blog posts when he said: ‘I chose to leave Gartner over pressures to publish “research” that was based on vendor-clients’ pressures and not on market positions. The eService MQ for 2006-2008 were never published because of the pressure of managers to make certain vendors “leaders” where the data did not support it (and, I am still paying for that resistance to make them leaders as they continue to have their dislike of me deprive me of contact with vendors).’ That took some big …

    Waiting for vendors to stop “greasing the skids” is like waiting for Fox to provide balanced news. It will take more proactive decisions like Esteban’s that are made for ethical reasons and not financial ones to eventually force change in this inherently biased model and set the gold standard for what is expected from reputable analysts.

    How about having HFS help lead the way?

    Disclosure on me: I am a software vendor who was previously a CIO of a large bank for many years. I absolutely loathe lobbyists manipulating things in our governemtn and believe there are too many parallels with the current “analyst” model. Regardless of all the assurances of retaining independent and unbiased thinking, the technology buyers and citizens are the ones who get compromised in the end. I think the players are generally good people with honest intentions and blame the game.

    Cheers, Chuck

  26. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 04, 2015 08:00 PM | Permalink Reply

    @Chuck - we've debated the lack of ethics and basic research capability among many of the legacy analysts for years now. As one analyst put it to me the other day about their (legacy firm): "The culture here isn't about quality of insight, it's about which P&L leader owns which area. That's the culture here." I'm afraid HfS can't do much about that except show others how to reward quality of research and insight and make concerted efforts to avoid puffery.

    What I am trying to expose here is the very basic issue that there are many individuals who think they are "analysts" and they simply are not. They are victims of the lifestyle and the constant pandering and ego stroking - and some are so drawn in they do not even realize they are doing it. If vendors want to sponsor this behavior there is nothing wrong with it, just don't pretend they are industry analysts, because they are not.

    Let me explain why the gig/sharing economy for analysts is a failure - it's the outcomes that are wrong. I use Uber because I want the outcome of reaching my destination in a car at a cheaper rate, with (hopefully) a good service experience. The same with Spotify and music, Airbnb and accommodation, Amazon and electronic goods, Dollar-shave club and a smooth face etc. With research, you want unbiased insightful viewpoints based on the collection of datapoints / customer experiences etc. Puff piece blogs regurgitating a vendor stump speech, and zero actual independent analysts is NOT research or analysis. It is an advertorial.

    PF

  27. John
    Posted Aug 04, 2015 09:13 PM | Permalink Reply

    Good post and somewhat similar to posts I've also written trying to educate the community on the role of the analyst. But one problem we run into is that there are some vendor clients of ours that rate our relative worth as analysts and their relationship with us by how many times they, the vendor, shows up in our writings! We are literally being assessed by the amount of digital ink we give them. And then their are those companies/clients that only want us to write glowing things about them. The moment we differ, they are like a small child, walking away crying and taking their toy ($$$) with them.

    We've chosen to maintain our integrity and serve the healthcare market as objective analysts, but from a business/financial perspective, it is not always easy.

  28. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 04, 2015 10:48 PM | Permalink Reply

    @John - thanks for being honest and I agree this is a challenge - all analyst firms that take money from vendors have pressure to give them exposure.

    The solution is two-fold:

    1) Write about all vendors in your space which matter, regardless whether or not they are your client. Keep your coverage as even as possible across all the key players. They should respect you for it and you will really come across as unbiased if the viewpoints are balanced (always talk about their challenges as well as their strengths). You want to be the heartbeat of your industry/market, then be the eyes and ears of all the key players and commentate on them!

    2) Explain to your client your are happy to write about them, but you need material / evidence worth writing about. Demand you interview at least two of their clients (if you have no direct contacts yourself).

    PF

  29. John Moore
    Posted Aug 04, 2015 11:36 PM | Permalink Reply

    Yes Phil, I'm no newbie to the analyst industry and do all that you suggest. Regardless, there are some vendors who just don't get it - the analyst role and value they can provide outside of being just pure shills for them. For those, I simply do not lose a lot of sleep over as our other clients do respect our honesty and integrity.

    Sadly, there are some well known analyst firms who do play this game that lead vendors to thinking this is what they can expect from any analyst firm.

  30. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 04, 2015 11:50 PM | Permalink Reply

    @John - The issue today is the shill game is getting tiresome... the legacy houses are never going to change, but the smaller shops / indies can set an example and push back on it.

    IMO the shills are losing credibility and eventually the vendors will lose interest in them as they have no audience. They will be forced to find real jobs as the white paper-cash and paid bloggery dries up... we've reached bottom with this lame game and things have to change.

    PF

  31. Nigel Barron
    Posted Aug 06, 2015 04:05 AM | Permalink Reply

    'New Influence Quadrant Shows ‘Powerhouse’ Firms In Trouble'

    '..many Powerhouse vendors are struggling to capture analysts’ imagination right now. BT, Google, and Oracle stand out as firms with overstretched AR resources, and an unusually large fall in profile in research over the last six months. Even senior analysts following these companies report dramatically different experiences of the same time: some find them knowledgeable, responsive and friendly; other analysts call them uncooperative, secretive, controlling or inconsistent in their communications.'

    http://keablogs.com/2015/07/27/new-influence-quadrant-shows-powerhouse-firms-in-trouble/

  32. Phil Fersht
    Posted Aug 08, 2015 09:45 PM | Permalink Reply

    @Douglas - that's not my job - it's up to the research viewers and consumers to identify them for themselves =)

  33. Accountant Visor Buy | Locate - Best Accounting Services
    Posted Aug 16, 2015 03:05 AM | Permalink Reply

    […] How the gig economy has turned bad analysts into vendor advocates – I can’t proclaim I am a professional accountant, lawyer or hip-replacement specialist … then they can rent themselves out as much as they like to marketeers willing to buy their services, without having to masquerade … […]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.