Rich highlighted a great post from Rocky DiStefano of Visible Risk in today’s Incite:

Blame the addicts – When I was working at Gartner, nothing annoyed me more than those client calls where all they wanted me to do was read them the Magic Quadrant and confirm that yes, that vendor really is in the upper right corner. I could literally hear them checking their “talked to the analyst” box. An essential part of the due diligence process was making sure their vendor was a Leader, even if it was far from the best option for them. I guess no one gets fired for picking the upper right. Rocky DeStefano nails how people see the Magic Quadrant in his Tetragon of Prestidigitation post. Don’t blame the analyst for giving you what you demand – they are just giving you your fix, or you would go someplace else. – RM

Rocky is dead on – there are a number of constituencies that leverage information like the Magic Quadrant, and they all have different perspectives on the report. I don’t need to repeat what Rocky said, but I want to add a little more depth about each of the constituencies and provide some anecdotes from my travels.

To be clear, Gartner (and Forrester, for that matter) place all sorts of caveats on their vendor rankings. They say not to use them to develop a short list, and they want clients to call to discuss their specific issues. But here’s the rub: They know far too many organizations use the MQ as a crutch to support either their own laziness and stupidity, or to play the game and support decisions they’ve already made.

Institutionally they don’t care. As Rich pointed out, (most of) the analysts hate it. But the vendor rankings represent enough revenue that they don’t want to mess with them. Yes, that’s a cynical view, but at the end of the day both of the big IT research shops are public companies and they have to cater to shareholders. And shareholders love licensing 10-page documents for $20K each to 10 vendors.

Rocky uses 3 cases to illuminate his point, first a veteran information security professional, and those folks (if they have a clue) know that they’ve got to focus their short list on vendors close to the Leader Quadrant. If not, they’ll spend more time justifying another lesser-ranked vendor than implementing the technology. It’s just not worth the fight. So they don’t. They pick the best vendor from the leader quadrant and move on.

This leads us to the second case, the executive, who basically doesn’t care about the technology, but has a lot of stuff on his/her plate and figures if a vendor is a leader, they must have lots of customers calling Gartner and their stuff can’t be total crap. Most of the time, they’d be right.

And the third case is vendors. Rocky makes some categorizations about the different quadrants, which are mostly accurate. Vendors in the “niche” space (bottom left) don’t play into the large enterprise market, or shouldn’t be. Those in the “challenger” quadrant (top left) are usually big companies with products they bundle into broad suites, so the competitiveness of a specific offering is less important.

Those in the “visionary” sector (bottom right) delude themselves into thinking they’ve got a chance. They are small, but Gartner thinks they understand the market. In reality it doesn’t matter because the vast majority of the market – dumb and/or lazy information security professionals – see the MQ like this:

Dumb and Lazy is no way to go through life...

In most enterprise accounts the only vendors with a chance are the ones in the leader quadrant, so placement in this quadrant is critical. I’ve literally had CEOs and Sales VPs take out a ruler and ask why our arch-nemesis was 2mm to the right of our dot. 2 frackin millimeters. You may think I’m kidding, but I’m not.

So many of the high-flying vendors make it their objective to spend whatever resources it takes to get into the leader quadrant. They have customers call into Gartner with inquiries about their selection process (even though the selection is already made) to provide data points about the vendor. Yes, they do that, and the vendors provide talking points to their clients. They show up at the conferences and take full advantage of their 1on1 meeting slots. They buy strategy days.

To be clear, you cannot buy a better placement on the MQ. But you can buy access, which gives a vendor a better opportunity to tell their story, which in many cases results in better placement. Sad but true. Vendors can game the system to a degree.

Which is why Rich, Adrian, and I made a solemn blood oath that we at Securosis would never do a vendor ranking. We’d rather focus our efforts on the folks who want advice on how to do their job better. Not those trying to maximize their Tetris time.