Would Starbucks exist if they'd talked to AnalystsSummer 2002 Patrick Lannigan
Would you get up in front of your CEO and present a business plan to invest in a market that was shrinking? That would be stupid right? It's a good thing Starbucks ignored industry analysts when they opened their first store in 1971. You see, industry analysts had tracked coffee drinking to be in a severe decline. In 1962, 75% of the American population drank coffee. By 1986, that was down to 51%.
Question:What if Starbucks had listened to industry analysts who had predicted decline in coffee drinking across the board?
Question:Are you unimaginative (or stupid) if you listen to industry analysts?
Answer:By all means, listen to industry analysts. But do some thinking for yourself. These industry analysts can only make predictions based on historic trends. They can't predict a radical change or technology breakthrough. MySQL, Cognos, and the success of the minivan, as examples, were all missed by industry analysts. So use your brain. And, by all means, use the industry analysts to put your company in a better light (they love to be quoted).
Industry analysts like Gartner or Forester aren't poison, but some caution is necessary. I've seen some companies absolutely crippled by them. I've seen them afraid to make a mistake until they speak to the "Gartner Gods" (as one person I used to work with called them). Just remember plenty of companies go bankrupt listening to these people. Just like Enron and WorldCom went bankrupt despite using the world's most prestigious consulting firm, McKinsey. Hundreds of Gartner clients fail to thrive.
Reliance on the quantitative analysts like IDC can be just as bad. These analysts can only track markets that have already formed. They can't forecast a market that isn't in place already.
When Robert Lutz was at Chrysler, he questioned our reliance on analysts, focus groups, and surveys. As an example, when Chrysler did a survey on a new Dodge Ram pickup they were making, 80% of people said they would not be interested in it. Results like this would be sure death to any project, right? Not so quick. Those 20% of the people who said they liked it really liked it. The truck went on to become one of the most successful product line introductions ever.
What no analyst can account for is a market maker. Starbucks is a market maker, along with Siebel, RIM, SAP, Oracle, Cognos, and hundreds of others. These companies break new ground, usually not tracked by any analyst until there are significant sales. Some of these companies may, in fact, be in decline today, but each of them forged a new market where none existed before.
So, don't let yourself be crippled by the Gartners, Forresters, or IDCs of the world. Talk to real customers and try to sell them something. That is the true test.
As the high tech meltdown of 2002 suggests, Gartner, IDC, and Forrester have no better visibility (or any better connection to a higher power) than anybody else. Don't think for a minute that Keynote, I2, Iona, CMGI, Broadvision, Akamai, Inktomi, and dozens of other former high flyers didn't pay for top dollar consulting services from analysts. Look where it got them.
Very few vendors I've worked for have the courage to say no to Gartner. Good for Gartner. What a great business to be in.
Email Patrick Lannigan at lannigan at gmail dot com for more information
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