Appraising Forrester’s role-based research


Let me start off by saying that I have been pretty cynical about Forrester’s move into a role-based research model – it always made sense to me that if I had a banking client then they would want to see a banking expert. Simple wouldn’t you think? That’s why when this new structure was announced I held my head in dismay.

However, since then I have the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the reasons why this move took place and I have come round to become more positive. This isn’t to say that I am now a die-hard evangelist and will be singing ‘the hymn of role-based research‘ from the rooftops, but more a case of I can see the merits. Should Forrester do a few simple things then I am sure they will convert many more people too.

My first complaint concerned the fact that I was desperate for Gartner to have a better global competitor. After Forrester’s acquisition of Giga I truly believed that this would be the case but it proved that this wasn’t to be. Forrester simply did not have the same number or depth of analysts that Gartner had and could not compete on this level. When I voiced this concern to Forrester they stated two facts that changed my viewpoint completely:

  1. Forrester are in the business to make money
  2. Forrester are more profitable than Gartner

Understanding that Forrester were not going to change into a Gartner-clone, my next question/complaint focused on whether the move to role-based research was simply a reactionary move as it is easier to manage a smaller number of roles than a huge number of technologies. It is here that I realised that the gamble that Forrester took was far more impressive than I originally thought (and echoed some of the ‘out-of-the-box’ mentality that I used to admire them for in the ’90s).

The question that needs to be asked is who do you trust?

Edelman have been asking this question for years and it is no surprise that when Forrester asked it, the answer they received was ‘someone like me’. I must admit that Forrester had some impressive guts to change their entire business model based on that answer but there are merits and science behind it.

When Forrester asked CEOs what are their success imperatives, the answers that came up most were:

  1. Getting, keeping, building the best people
  2. Engineering collaboration
  3. Reaching global markets
  4. Increasing profit
  5. Building a positive culture
  6. Customer, customers, customers,
  7. Driving innovation (figuring out how to break linearity)

At IT Forum, George Colony made one very interesting point about this list:

IT is not mentioned anywhere. CEOs are interested in business not technology – we need to move away from IT to BT (business technology).

Taking these two factors into consideration (i.e. (1) people go to their peers for advice and (2) a CEO’s success imperatives does not have IT as a priority), then Forrester’s move into role-based research holds far more weight.

Where better should a CFO go than to ask the advice of what other CFO’s have done? (moderated through a Forrester analyst or at one of their peer events).

However, there are three areas that I feel need to be addressed by Forrester for this to be more successful.

The vendor comes off worst in the move to Role-based research
It’s pretty common for analyst houses to prioritise the needs of end users over vendors (as vendors will pay regardless). However – I have recently been in a situation where a BI vendor wanted advice on their specific solution from Forrester and was told that there was no specific analyst who could help them. Forrester are trying to change the question – the BI vendor should not be asking about an IT issue but should be speaking to them about the target role of the person they are communicating with.

What the above scenario showed me was that Forrester needs to do a better job of educating it’s prospects, AR pros and customers about the change. In my own mini-survey to vendors there was a clear level of frustration that their needs had been left out in favour of end users – there was simply no IT counterpart anymore. It may be clear for the internal team what the benefits of role-based research are but this clearly hasn’t been explained well enough – more case studies please, more scenarios please, more discussion about how a vendor could best use Forrester.

Analyst advocacy
Perhaps the biggest culprits of why I hadn’t bought into role-based research are the analysts themselves. When asked about the change, at best some couldn’t explain it well and at worst some were openly negative. If the analysts don’t buy into this then what confidence does this give my clients.

Will Forrester succeed with role-based research?

I’m not sure. I truly believe that the reasoning behind it makes complete sense and when combined with success imperatives, then their argument becomes even stronger. However, Forrester have an uphill struggle trying to educate the market about this change and must ensure that they take a more proactive stance in getting this done.

It will take time for the tech vendor to understand that Forrester are not trying to be like other analyst houses and are trying to answer more business oriented questions and not IT ones as they believe that this echoes a companies success imperatives. I wish Forrester luck but I think they have massive education job to do to convert the many people who just don’t understand this move.

6 Responses to “Appraising Forrester’s role-based research”

  1. As an enterprise user, up to the end of last year, I watched Forrester through this change. Once I got used to it, I liked its window on research. What we lost, with Forrester, was the vertical industry focus which went alongside the technology expertise. A year later (when I left the company) I still missed it!

    Gartner went down the same road, but much more so; they added a lot of valuable content to their “IT Leaders” offerings. But they focussed it on individuals only (we spoke on this directly with Dale Kutnick) and the service – both by cost and by focus – is, by Gartner’s choice, no longer targetted to meet insight needs across the breadth and depth of an enterprise IT team.

    So there is now clear water between the two in the way the services work. You need to know how to match your needs and your budget.

    And yes, Gartner do have more analysts – though the factor isn’t as high as some sales people quote, and both organisations have strengths and weaknesses in their coverage. But the difference cuts both ways. Beware of not seeing the wood for the trees in the forest of written research!

  2. Is the problem education or that vendors believe that Forrester does not have the head-to-head equivalent of Gartner’s HTTP?

    I think your client story raises a big, big warning flag. It should have ended with someone speaking to a Forrester analyst able to discuss both the target technology and the target persona. In other words, they would have got what they wanted *and* they would have gotten a little more (the buyer roles perspective). Especially in the area of BI.

    I agree that educating the market is important, but only if Forrester’s sales and RAS models can meet client expectations in the first place. This story raises doubts.

  3. 3 Mark Nemec

    Johnny, I appreciate your thoughtful post. As you aptly note any change of this magnitude takes time to be fully absorbed and understood by the marketplace. We obviously will continue our efforts to educate the market as to the reasoning and value behind our decision.

    With that in mind, allow me to add some specific thoughts in response to your analysis:

    •“The vendor comes off worst in the move to Role-based research”

    There is no denying that we have redefined how analyst relations professionals and their vendor peers work with Forrester. At the same time, as I speak with senior marketing and strategy professional at our vendor clients the role based approach and redefinition is not only welcome, it is a revelation. No where is this more evident than in our work specifically targeted at the four vendor roles we specifically serve. Strategy professionals, marketing and product management professionals, market researchers, and analyst relations professionals now find Forrester’s traditional keen supplemented by targeted advice geared towards their success. Highly read reports such as “SOA Governance Communities: Which One Should A Vendor Join?” and top rated teleconferences such as “How Much Satisfaction Is Enough? Using Customer Satisfaction Measurement To Drive Business Results” (research we would not have conducted without a role based approach) are only a couple of examples of the differentiated value this approach offers.

    •“Education” and “Analyst Advocacy”

    I would politely suggest these points are two sides of the same coin. Change is difficult for many and different people adapt and evolve at different speeds. Not unlike the market at large, we have had to go through an internal education process with some adopting and embracing the change more quickly then others. At core the fundamental question of “for whom” we do our work has become an organizing principle and a research mantra. I am not so naïve as to expect it to be immediately embraced by all our analysts nor understood by all our clients. Nonetheless, the power of these words continues to resonate with my team and in the marketplace.

    In conclusion let me say I welcome your assessment and thank you for recognizing the magnitude of what we have done. Given our research, we believe the world has shifted from information technology to business technology. I, personally, was honored to be recruited to Forrester based on that worldview. The consequence of that shift is that our user clients have told us that their roles: their responsibilities, objectives, and aspirations form the fundamental way they need to understand technology and innovation and we have sought to oblige.

    In summary, role based means we continue to provide vendors with our traditional insight into users; but this insight is also supplemented by work which translates of our market coverage into actionable advice as well as by offerings which seeks to elevate the practice of the vendor professions.

  4. Thanks to everyone for some great comments. It is pretty clear that there is still some debate as to whether the market has taken on board Forrester’s approach but I look forward to re-evaluating this in a years time.

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