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Should You Trust Sponsored Research?

Real insight or just propaganda?

Authentic and balanced insight or just plain propaganda?

I wrote a post a while back about white papers.  I said, “In most cases, white papers are marketing documents rather than the unbiased analyses they appear to be.”

The same can be said for a subset of marketing collateral labeled “Sponsored Research.”

There are three prominent flavors of non-academic, sponsored research:

  1. Legitimate sponsored research.  A corporation (or more than one) funds some or all of an independent research project.  The research is sound and not manipulated or skewed in any way.  The funding entity benefits by having a quality fulfillment piece to drive targeted visitors to their site.  The research firm gets their project funded and has that research distributed by a company with presumably a much larger audience. An example of this is Salesforce.com and Kadient’s sponsorship (along with other entities) of CSO Insight’s annual research report. 

  2. Sponsored research about a vendor.  A vendor pays a research firm to write a report that positions the vendor in an advantageous position versus their competitors.  Unfortunately this is a common practice in the IT industry and is growing in other industries as well. The problem, of course, is that the reader assumes that the research was done by an independent research organization, considers what is said in the report as fact, and then makes decisions based upon what they learned. 

  3. White papers positioned as research reports. The functions of a vendor-written white paper and a research report (presumed to be written by an independent authority) have been deliberately blended for the very purpose of manipulating the opinions of prospective buyers.  Take for example this page.  The URL is findwhitepapers.com. The title of the webpage is “Technology Research for Business Professionals.”  The heading on the page says “Popular Research Reports.”  I didn’t look at every page, but the ones I did have vendor-written white papers exclusively.  It’s self-serving propaganda.  Nothing more, nothing less. 

On the other hand, some firms won’t play the game.  Burton Group, a technology research firm has this on their site:

“Since our founding in 1990, we have not published vendor-sponsored research of any kind. We cover relevant vendors and products without regard for vendors’ subscription to our services. We maintain complete independence from vendor agendas, providing unbiased assessments of markets, vendors, and products…”

Several years ago, Forrester Research announced that they would no longer perform vendor-sponsored research. 

My warning to you:  If you are in the market for sales training, sales consulting, or technology-enabled selling tools, and you are reading whatever you can get your hands on to help with your decision, make sure you understand 1) who wrote the piece, 2) what they are selling, and most importantly, 3) if the information that is presented is independent of any vendor’s agenda.

(Full disclosure: My firm, ES Research Group, independently evaluates sales performance improvement programs and tools as well as the vendors that provide them.)


5 Responses

  1. Hi Dave,

    Great post and you brought up some really good points. The CSO Insight report you refer to is a great resource for showing how many organizations act today and happens to have some hard hitting statistics that bring an issue (lack of sales effectiveness) to a head. While it might support what we at Kadient solve, it did not in any way specify our product, inciteKnowledge, as the solution.

    As a marketer I have used many of the tools you specified above and you are absolutely right, “If…you are reading whatever you can get your hands on to help with your decision, make sure you understand 1) who wrote the piece, 2) what they are selling, and most importantly, 3) if the information that is presented is independent of any vendor’s agenda.”


  2. Dave,

    Thanks for the mention and positive comments about our research work. I agree, the “white paper” label has been over used and in many cases abused to label sales collateral pieces as research papers.

    Keep up the good work!

    Managing Partner
    CSO Insights

  3. Dave,

    I loved this post. It amazes me that companies in our industry, some of which you mentioned, get away with so much. They claim some ‘amazing insight’ that is only cloaked marketing material for someone who has paid them.

    Keep up the good work keeping everyone honest.

  4. Hi Dave,

    Very interesting article indeed. The white papers provided in many research libraries (including Find White Papers), are typically provided by each vendor. Often times these papers may be product specific, and other times take a vendor neutral approach.

    One of the goals of any IT research library is to gather and aggregate as much data as is available, from as many IT vendors as possible, which in turn provides the visitor with a large selection to choose from.

    As Im sure you’re aware, many IT vendors use white papers as sales lead tools. That being said, there are times when an IT pro may be searching for a product specific white paper, to address a niche problem with one particular product/software. In that case, a ‘sponsored’ or product specific white paper may be the most relevant for that individual.

    It’s interesting that you mentioned Burton Group, as they also list their white papers within the Find White Papers library; http://www.findwhitepapers.com/vendor/burtongroup/

    As you mentioned, each vendor (or service that aggregates white papers) should provide a clear description of not only the topics discussed in each respective paper, but letting the user know if it focuses on a particular product/service.

  5. Hi Vin,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’ve read it several times and that led me to recall the signature statement from Sy Sims, the founder and CEO of Syms clothing stores: “An educated consumer is our best customer.”

    You and I have a similar mission: educating the consumer.

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