Daily Archives: June 22, 2024

Yes, Jon. Some Analyst Firms Do Stink!

Last Saturday, Jon The Revelator penned a piece on how Going “off-map” is the key to finding the best solution providers, which he correctly said was critical because Gartner reports that 85% of all AI and ML projects fail to produce a return for the business. As per a Forbes article, the reasons often cited for the high failure rate include poor scope definition, bad training data, organizational inertia, lack of process change, mission creep and insufficient experimentation and, in the doctor‘s view, should also include inappropriate (and sometimes just bad) technology.

The Revelator asked for thoughts and, of course, the doctor was happy to oblige.

Starting off with the observation that while it is impossible to give precise numbers since companies are always starting up, merging, getting acquired, and shutting their doors in our space, statistically, if we look at the average number of logos on a module-quadrant map (about 20), and the average number of providers with that module (about 100, ranging from about 50 for true analytics to about 200 for some variant of SXM), for every provider “paying” to get that shiny dot, there are 4 going overlooked. And given that the map represents “average”, that says, statistically, 2 of those providers are going to be better.

Furthermore, maps should NEVER be used for solution selection (for the many, many reasons the doctor has been continually putting forth here on SI, heck just search for any post with “analyst” in the title over the past year). A good map can be used to discover vendors with comparable solutions, and nothing more.

The Revelator replied to this that the first thought that came to his mind was the urgency with which we buy the dots on the map without realizing that many have paid a considerable sum to get the logo spot and recounted the story of why he sold his company in 2001 after he was approached by Meta (an analyst firm eventually acquired by Gartner), in response to the successful results of his first big implementation, who said his company was on the leading edge and that they wanted to “cover” his company. The short story was that, when he said it sounded great, the Meta rep said “terrific, let’s get started right away and the next step is you sign a contract and pay the $20,000 [$36,000 today] invoice that we will send immediately and then we can begin“. Not something easy to swallow for a small company, and even less easy than today when it now costs at least 50% more (in today’s dollars) according to some of the small companies he’s talked to if they want Gartner attention. [And that’s just for basic coverage. Guaranteed inclusion on some of the big firm maps generally requires a “client” relationship that runs 150,000 or more!]

the doctor‘s response to this is that it’s still definitely a pay-to-play game with most of these firms, as per his recent posts where he noted that dozens of the smaller vendors that he talked to this year (who keep asking “so, what’s the catch?” when the doctor says he wants to cover them on SI) said they were being quoted between 50K and 70K for any sort of coverage. Wow!

Furthermore, while Duncan Jones insists it is likely just a few bad apples, those bad apples are so rotten that many of these smaller firms steadfastly believed they couldn’t even brief an analyst if they didn’t pay up (as the rep wouldn’t let them). And it wasn’t just one firm whose name the doctor heard over and over … 4 (four) different firms got over 3 (three), sometimes very angry, mentions across the two to three dozen mentions where the smaller vendor was willing to indicate which firm was quoting them 50,000 to 70,000+ or not willing to talk to them unless they signed a client agreement. (the doctor has reached out to over 100 small companies over the past year, and almost every response indicated that they expected there would be a fee for coverage based on their analyst firm interactions, and when he asked why, the majority of them said they were quoted (high) fees by one or more other firms that said they wanted to “cover” them.)

So yes, most of the smaller firms without big bank accounts aren’t making it on to these maps (because they hired people who could actually build products vs. people who could bullsh!t investors and raise the money to pay these “analyst” firms). (Especially since an analyst from at least one firm has admitted that they were only allowed to feature clients in their maps, and an analyst from another firm has admitted that they had to design the criteria for inclusion to maximize client exposure and minimize the chances of a non-client from qualifying, as they were limited in the non-clients they include in the map [to low single digits].)

And, furthermore, when you look at those vendors that did make it, The Revelator is correct in the implication that some of them can’t carry more than a tune or two (despite claiming to carry 20).

And it seems that the doctor‘s punch hit a little harder than The Revelator expected because he followed it up with a post on Monday where he asked us Is This True?!?, and of course the doctor, who already recounted his tales of rage on LinkedIn in response to his posts that asked Are Traditional Analyst and Consulting Models Outdated and/or Unethical? and Does it Matter if Analyst Firms Aren’t Entirely Pay-to-Play if the Procurement Space Thinks They Are, couldn’t let this one go (because, to be even more blunt, he doesn’t like being accused of being an unethical jackass just because he’s an analyst, because not all jackasses are unethical, and things would be different if all analysts and consultants were as honest and hardworking as a real jackass [can you say foreshadowing?]) and responded thusly:

Well, this was the first year doing his (own) reach-outs [as the client relations team did them at Spend Matters, so he really hasn’t done many since 2017] where a few companies said they wouldn’t talk to him and/or show him anything because if they weren’t being charged, then the doctor is just going to “steal their information and sell it to their competitors“, like a certain other analyst firm whose name won’t be mentioned.

Yes, the doctor is getting a lot more “what’s the catch?” than he ever did! Apparently analysts/bloggers don’t do anything out of the goodness of their hearts anymore, there’s always a price. (Even when the doctor tells them the catch is “the doctor chooses who he covers, when, and DOES NOT actively promote the piece since no one is paying for it“, some still don’t believe him (even when he follows it up with a further explanation that even if he covers you, he likely won’t cover you again for at least two years because he wants to give all innovative or underrepresented vendors a chance, and may even ignore them completely during that time, even if they reach out, because, again, they’re not a client and his goal is to give a shot to as many companies trying to offer as he can).

Also, in the doctor‘s view, this is a big reason that analyst firms need to step up and help fix the Procurement Stink, but you can guess the response he received to the following post on The Procurement Stink (and if you can’t, ask the crickets).

The Revelator concluded his question with a reference to a Jon Oliver assertion about McKinsey, a firm that bluntly stated, “We don’t learn from clients. Their standards aren’t high enough. We learn from other McKinsey partners.” (and if this isn’t a reason to never use McKinsey again, then what is?) and asked if this was true across the analyst and consulting space. the doctor‘s response was that the Jon Oliver assertion was representative of a different problem. The Big X consultancies are too busy sniffing their own smug to realize that, hey, sometimes their clients are smarter (and so are a few analysts as well, but the problem is not nearly as common in analyst firms as it is in Big X consulting firms).

Our problem as independent analysts who try to be fair and ethical is that a few of these big analyst firm sales reps are ruining our reputation. And the fact that these big firms don’t immediately throw out the rotting trash that these sales reps are is why some analyst firms do stink!

To this The Revelator promptly replied that as always, the doctor isn’t pulling his punches, which is true because …

we’re getting older. We don’t have the stamina to dance around all day pulling punches. Only to hit fast and hard, especially since that’s the only chance of pulling some of these young whipper-snappers out of the daze they are in as a result of the market madness and inflated investments (ridiculous 10X to 20X+ valuations were not that uncommon during COVID when everyone was looking for SaaS to take business online).

Not to mention, we’ve heard and seen it all at least twice before, probably three times on The Revelator‘s end (sorry!), and we know that there is very little that’s truly new in our space under the sun. With most companies, it’s just the new spin they manage to find every few years to bamboozle the market into thinking their solution will find considerably more value (with less functionality) than the less glitzy solution that came before (and which has already been proven to work, used correctly, at dozens of clients).

Of course, we first have to accept there is no big red easy button and that, gasp, we have to go back to actually TRAINING people on what needs to be done!

Another problem we have is that when the Big X listen to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrel, they hear:

𝘓𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘯 𝘣𝘢𝘣𝘺, 𝘢𝘪𝘯’𝘵 𝘯𝘰 𝘮𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘢𝘪𝘯 𝘩𝘪𝘨𝘩
a𝘪𝘯’𝘵 𝘯𝘰 𝘷𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘺 𝘭𝘰𝘸, 𝘢𝘪𝘯’𝘵 𝘯𝘰 𝘳𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘸𝘪𝘥𝘦 𝘦𝘯𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩, 𝘤𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘵
𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘮𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘢𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘮𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘐 𝘥𝘰𝘯’𝘵
𝘕𝘰 𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘩𝘰𝘸 𝘴𝘮𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘺 𝘢𝘳𝘦
s𝘪𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦’𝘴 𝘯𝘰 𝘨𝘳𝘦𝘦𝘥, 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘳𝘶𝘯𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘭𝘺 𝘢𝘴 𝘥𝘦𝘦𝘱
𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘨𝘳𝘦𝘦𝘥 𝘪𝘯 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘴

The whole reason of their existence for a Big X firm is to continually sell you on what they know, whether it’s better or worse, because, once they have a foot in the door, you’re their cash cow … and the sooner they can convince you that you’re dependent on them, the better. Remember, they’ve stuffed their rafters with young turkeys that they need to get off the bench (or fall prey to the consulting bloodbath described by THE PROPHET in the linked article), and the best way to keep them off the bench is to make you reliant on them.

Unlike independent consultants like us (or small niche, specialist consultancies with limited resources), they don’t want to go in, do the job, deliver a result, and move on to something better (or a new project where they can create additional value for a client) … these Big X consultancies want to get in, put dozens of resources in a shared services center, and bill you 3X on them for life.

(If the doctor or The Revelator sticks with you for more than 12 to 24 months, it’s because we keep moving onto new projects that deliver new sources of value, not because we want to monitor your invoice processing for the rest of our lives, or star in the remake of “Just Shoot Me!”)

(And to those of you who told the doctor he was mean, he’d like to point out that while he was, and is, being brutally honest because that IS the modus operandi of the Big X consultancies, he wasn’t mean as he didn’t call them, or anyone they employ, a F6ckW@d. [That requires more than just following your playbook that is well known to anyone who wants to do their research.])

This brought the reply from The Revelator that:

In another article, he discussed the fact that VP Sales and Marketing people change jobs every two to three years.

As far as The Revelator could tell, they are put in an unwinnable position of hitting unreasonable targets based on transactional numbers rather than developing relationships and solving client problems. That is not a fair position because the focus shifts from what’s working for the client to hitting quarterly targets where, in many instances, the only client success is found in the press release.

The Revelator remembers many years ago talking with a top sales rep from Oracle who said that with his company you are only as good as your last quarter. When he said good, he was really talking about job security.

Ultimately, the most powerful testimony regarding the inherent flaws of the above approach is Gartner’s recent report that 85% of all AI and ML initiatives fail.

To this the doctor could only respond:

He can’t argue that. This is one of the problems with taking VC/PE money at ridiculous valuations (of more than 5X to 6X, which is the max that one can expect to recoup in 5 (five) years at an achievable year-over-year growth rate of roughly 40% without significantly increasing price tags for no additional functionality). The problem for Sales and Marketing is they now have to now tell the market that, suddenly, their product is now worth 3X what they quoted before the company took the VC/PE money at the ridiculous multiple and that if the customer pays only 2X (for NO new functionality, FYI), the customer is getting a deal. The problem is that the investors expect their money back in a short time frame WHILE significantly bumping up overhead (on overpriced Sales and Marketing), which is not achievable unless the company can double or triple the price of what it sells. This is often just not doable even by the best of marketers or sales people, which forces them out the door on a 2 to 3 year cycle. (Because, as you noted, as soon as they manage to get a few sales at that price tag, suddenly, as the investors realize they also need to add more implementation and support personnel as well, increasing overhead further, the Sales and Marketing rep quotas go up even more and all of them will eventually break if they don’t get out and go somewhere else just before they just can’t hit the unachievable target.)

The Revelator also noted that he now makes money through a low monthly fee that includes his experience and sales expertise, and that it’s a model he first used when he started his blog because making money is not bad when it is reasonably priced in relation to the services and value being delivered, and the doctor wholeheartedly agrees

in fact, the doctor used to do that too … but good luck finding more than one or two companies these days that honestly care about reader education and not just pushing their marketing message down a target’s throat … that’s why SI sponsorships are still suspended (and will be until he finds 4 companies that are willing to return to the gold old days where education came first — which, FYI, is one of the keys to long term success).

SI sponsorships included a day of advisory every quarter and a post covering the vendor’s solution (in the doctor‘s words, not theirs), which could be updated semi-annually if warranted and a new article whenever the vendor released a new module or significant new functionality (and it was the doctor‘s call as to what significant was).

At least The Revelator can still go back to Coupa or Zycus for sponsorship … EVERY SINGLE SPONSOR SI had pre-Spend Matters (when sponsorships were suspended on SI for obvious reasons) was eventually acquired (and why they all eventually dropped off).

(Just to be clear, the doctor is NOT saying it was the SI sponsorship, or even the doctor‘s advisory that resulted in their success [although he hopes it contributed], but he is saying that companies who are willing to listen and learn from experts, and who care more about educating and helping clients then just shoving a message down their throat, tend to do very well in the long run. Very, very well.

This is something the new generation of know-it-all thirty-somethings popping up start-ups in our space every other week don’t seem to get yet and likely won’t until they have their first failure! It’s just too bad they are going to take good investors, good employees, and beta/early clients down with them when there is no need.)