Friday, March 02, 2007

Spinning the Gartner Magic Quadrant

Into every technology marketer's life a little Magic Quadrant must fall. For those not familiar with it, the Gartner Group - one of the best known and most highly regarded of the industry analyst firms - does an annual evaluation of products in many different technology categories. As part of their evaluation, they develop something called the Magic Quadrant, a 4-box square in which the axes are "Completeness of Vision" and "Ability to Execute."

Products/companies in a given category get weighed by Gartner and, as often as not, found somewhat wanting. They're then placed in one of the boxes as a:

  • Niche Player: low on vision, low on execution
  • Challenger: low on vision, high on execution
  • Visionary: high on vision, low on execution
  • Leader: high on vision, high on execution

A lot of preparation - and considerable angst - goes into the Magic Quadrant. There are surveys to be completed, briefings with the analysts who follow your product area, and a whole lot of sweating it out. Once you're in play for the Quadrant, you get to worry about whether Gartner found just the wrong customer to talk to on the product and support equivalent of a bad hair day. Or whether somehow Gartner intuited that, although you're not a public company, you have about $1300 in the corporate checking account and your payables dwarf your receivable.  And, of course, you sweat out what box they're going to slot you into.

Once the results are published, marketing people typically have something to put out. If they're in the Leader (or, to lesser degree, the Visionary or Challenger) category, what they'll likely put out is a press release. This is especially true if you get the best position in the Leader box - up, up, and away: as high up, and as far over as you can get.(Yea, us! And yea, Gartner! They are so brilliant, objective, and insightful.)

If they're not putting out a press release, marketing is putting out a fire. Maybe lots of them.

The C-level execs will call demanding to know why you bothered with the Gartner Magic Quadrant to begin with (even if they're the ones who OK'd or even demanded participation).

Sales will be screaming for something they can say to their prospect in a head-to-head situation in which they're up against the competitor that just got anointed Leader de Tutti Leaders. (And while you may want to tell them that what they should say to that prospect is "Good-bye", that really won't work.)

Customers sometimes call because their senior management has seen the MQ and wants to know why they bought from a piddling little Niche Player, from a Challenger which can execute up a storm but is going to leave them holding the bag on an out-of-date product, or from a Visionary that's probably going bankrupt.

Product management and engineering will be grumbling about what a crappy job marketing did with Gartner, even if they were in on all the briefings, filled in the survey, and it's their damned vision.

Marketing gets a bit of time to grumble and kick the dog. I.e., we get to call our Gartner rep and tell them that we won't re-up our subscription if we get screwed again - and then we get to listen to the rep swear up and down that there's a Chinese wall between sales and the analysts.

We get to point out (if only to ourselves) that we'd warned everyone in the company that it wasn't such a good idea to participate in the Magic Quadrant, given the risk.

Then we get to come up with the spin.

  • Niche Spin: We anticipated that we would be a Niche Player, given that our focus has been primarily on systems aimed at the pet food and lawn mower verticals (where we happen to have two customers a piece, but who's asking). Gartner is looking primarily for generic products that cut across a wide range of industries. Aren't you lucky that that's not us? Arf!

    And, by the way, even Gartner says you shouldn't base your buying decision on where a company lands in the Magic Quadrant.
  • Challenger Spin: Gartner sees us as a real comer who will challenge those complacent incumbents in the Leader square. We have very strong ability to get things done, thus we're very high up on the execution axis. We chose not to fully share our vision and product roadmap with Gartner, but trust us, we have a vision and the light is just blinding.

    And, by the way, even Gartner says you shouldn't base your buying decision on where a company lands in the Magic Quadrant.
  • Visionary Spin: The most important thing that any technology company can have is their sense of where the product and the industry are going, and we've got that. As for execution, Gartner is comparing us to companies that may be spending way out of proportion on sales and marketing, which is just not that sustainable. And, besides, we're anticipation some major deals closing (which will put us in the black) and/or a major infusion of cash form our investors.

    And, by the way, even Gartner says you shouldn't base your buying decision on where a company lands in the Magic Quadrant.
  • Leader - No Spin Needed Zone:  Gartner is brilliant, objective, and insightful.

    Our customers tell us how important it is for them to do business with a leader.

Whatever box you're in, there will be some sentence or other in the overall report that is sufficiently positive that you can glom onto it. Since you're not supposed to use it without Gartner permission - especially if you're going to take a comment out of its full context - you will likely restrict this usage to sales PowerPoints.

(You really need to keep yourself honest here. You don't want to end up with the tech marketing equivalent of a movie blurb that claims 'Joe Blow of The Times  wrote "Muskrat Love moved me,"'when what Joe Blow actually wrote was "Muskrat Love moved me to leave the theater vowing never to watch another movie in my life." Still, who among us won't try to squeeze a little bit of sweetness out of whatever bitter lemon Gartner hands us in the Magic Quadrant.)

If it's not the Magic Quadrant, it'll be the Forrester Wave, or the IDC Forecast, or the Meta Canoe (or whatever they call that thing that looks like a canoe), or the Ovum Spider Web (or whatever they cal that thing that looks like a spider web).

Getting on the analyst radar screen is important, but it's not without risk. You need to decide whether the benefits of getting your name and product info in play, and getting what can be quite valuable feedback from the analysts, outweighs the risk of getting badly dinged by their report.

Some companies make it a blanket policy to not play the analyst game at all. But not everyone can or will follow this prudent (or chicken) course.

In any case, as a marketer you need to prepare to spin. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you'd like to practice your spin or simply see some recent examples of Magic Quadrants (assuming you don't have an account with Gartner), you can access dozens of complete IT analyst reports - including Magic Quadrants - here: They track down reports that are publicly available and give some commentary and links to the PDFs.