Why Engineers Need to Talk to Marketers, and How to Translate Between the Two Ecosystems

In most companies, Engineering and Sales & Marketing exist in their own silos. Engineering is a detail-oriented job and so, engineers can be narrowly focused; they may believe that if they build a better mousetrap, the product will sell itself. But products do not sell themselves, and that’s why it’s so important for dialogue to exist between these two departments.

Too many engineers still think marketing is simply advertising or putting content on the company website. When, in practice, Sales & Marketing shoulder the responsibility of identifying what products will satisfy consumer demand. And in turn, these in-demand products that make the company profitable and keep everyone employed.

Therefore, before engineers begin working on a new product design, they need Sales & Marketing, because they need to understand the customer’s needs. Without understanding who will use the product and how they’ll use it, engineers are not very likely to build something people actually want to buy.

So how do you get marketers and engineers to collaborate?

It’s important for engineers to recognize that this isn’t about selling out. It is, as Dr. Joel N. Orr explained in his article “Engineers Should Learn to Sell”:

I want my prospect to benefit from what I have to offer…. Once I understand a customer’s pain, I can point out how specifically my expertise can eliminate that pain. It’s not about making them buy; it’s about giving them the opportunity to buy a solution to solve their problem.

Engineering is about using tools to solve a problem. Sales and marketing are about discovering which problems need to be solved.

If the dialogue starts from this framework, everyone should realize that they aren’t from warring factions, but they should be on the same team.

Still, there are some other issues that can hinder these two groups’ collaboration.

First, recognize that the Engineering versus Sales division is not entirely due to snobbery. Engineers are generally introverts, sales and marketing people are generally extroverts. Introverts think internally. They find interaction with other people draining. They like to get thoughts straight before they externalize them. Extroverts think out loud, and they find interaction with other people energizing.

Therefore, start by suggesting that the marketers seek more input from the engineers. Seeking out others is part of a marketing/sales persons’ bread and butter.

But the marketing team may want a group off-site brainstorming session. Instead, for the engineering team, it might be better to have individualized, one-on-one sessions, an electronic chat board, or some other mode that will allow them to gather their thoughts and be more meticulous in reviewing and commenting on ideas. It might not feel natural to either team at first, but the blend of approaches and viewpoints may lead to a better functioning organization.

Once the engineers feel more in control and see the value in the marketing context, they may be more open to receiving ideas from Marketing.

Again, try using similar protocols that the engineers would use to review technical elements, for the marketing conversations. Give them concrete evidence about methodology, costs and projected efficacy behind a marketing recommendation. Show them how a campaign for a similar technology did or didn’t work—and break it down by the tools of implementation. There’s so much science at play in marketing these days. It’s more Big Data than Mad Men. Let the engineers see that.

The irony in the ongoing engineering/marketing tension, is that much of it could be resolved if the principles that guide the teams’ work, were applied to their own collaboration.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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