Thursday, 11 October 2007

Trusted Influencers

A few weeks back I went to lunch at BT Centre with Francois Barrault - the new CEO at BT Global Services. I thought it was a private lunch but I was met at reception by Michaela Lowe who heads global analyst relations at BT. Always good to speak with Michaela, of course, but I queried why I was to be given such an 'escort' for a private lunch and conversation. After all I'm not with Ovum anymore. Michaela replied "because you are still one of the most important influencers in our sector". Note the word 'influencer'. Not 'analyst'.

This struck a bit of a chord with me because I had been reading an exchange between Duncan Brown and Anthony Parslow (the new CEO of Ovum) posted on Duncan's blog . Duncan is big into the power of the influencer. Duncan, rightly in my view, points out that influencers are people not companies or organisations. They might work for Gartner or Ovum but can be just as effective if they don't.

For 20 years I've been quite content - actually proud - to be referred to as an analyst. But, to be blunt, anyone can be an analyst nowadays. The tech world, in particular, is awash with analyst views. 50,000 or more blogs on tech alone. The analysts that just stick to the facts or regurgitate press releases are boring but pretty harmless. It is those that try to be controversial that do the most damage. Their misinformed rumour and speculation now gets picked up the 'serious' media and hence you get stories like Infosys buying Capgemini.

  • Any fool can be an analyst
  • Any fool can get to meet a tech CEO...once
  • Any fool can be a controversial analyst.

But it is rather difficult to be a fool AND an influencer. For a start you have to invest lots of time in meeting people. You have to meet them multiple times in multiple locations and on multiple topics before you start to influence. By that time they will have worked out if you are a fool! Influencers are far more likely to be interrogated by CEOs than to interview them. Influencers learn far more from the questions they get asked than the answers they are given. You really would be amazed how many times I get asked "So what do you really think of company x?" only to twig quickly that a takeover is in the offing. CEOs are more likely to expose their problems if they think you could help with the solutions.

With influence goes trust. Indeed, I'd really aspire to be described as a trusted influencer. But this means that you can write publicly about little that you learn in such exchanges. You can do it once - but you will never get the chance again. But what happens is that the generality of what you right is truly informed. Much easier to say "I believe there will be some Big-eat-Big M&A in the global IT Services space soon", if you actually know that there will be! In early 1999, all my CEO contacts were telling we in confidence that their business had hit a brick wall because of "Y2K Lock down". Later that year, they explained how fearful they were of 2000. In the circumstances, the plaudits I got for my much (re)quoted "Y2K microclimate", "There may be troubles ahead", "The Y2K hangover will not end with the alka selzers on 1st Jan" etc were more down to my position as a trusted listener than as a brilliant analyst.

The problem with being a trusted influencer, however, is how you 'monetise' it. At Richard Holway Limited and Ovum, buying our reports was the membership fee' to that influencer inner sanctum. I don't actually think too many CEOs actually ever read a Holway Report. But they understood the game. That's why sales continued unabated through the good and bad times. You actually need the trusted influencers even more when things are going really badly!

Without inciting the wrath of Anthony Parslow, I think the real problem with Ovum post Datamonitor is that it has lost most of its very best influencers. Many CEO-type customers are asking "Why buy the service if the influencers I liked best aren't there anymore?".

Trusted influencers can go it alone. I know many who have. Indeed I myself (as Michaela from BT testified) am still a trusted influencer because of the many CEO meetings I still hold everyday, because of the comments I make here that get picked up by the media, because of the presentations I give etc. But people don't actually pay anything for that anymore (have you ever tried charging a CEO £5000 for him to take you out to lunch?) And I actually have nothing to sell anyway these days.

I'm not really complaining. I've made a bundle out of being a trusted influencer over the last 20 years and, of course, I get paid for the non exec director roles I now hold. But if anyone knows of a decent way of monetising the trusted adviser role, please tell!

1 comment:

ARonaut said...

Entertaining post, but the dissing distracts the reader from your point: yes, we agree that it's all about being a trusted advisor indeed.