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Emerging Tech Engineers Need to Work with Marketers (Marketing Memo, April, 2006)*

Engineers and marketers generally have different backgrounds, work experience, priorities, and vocabulary. Engineers are process-oriented people who think linearly. They expect the same results every time they conduct the same experiment. However, marketers who repeat the same marketing process will not get the same results each time, observes Norman Brust of NTB Associates. NTB helps technical companies increase profitable sales. The unpredictable nature of customers, markets, and marketing programs distresses engineers in emerging companies. As a result, tension may build between two departments that should work together.

In startups, a technical person may become responsible for marketing. As the company is small and operates in close quarters, marketing and engineering staffs can easily exchange ideas. Tension may develop if the company adds a marketing director who decides that the company is targeting the wrong segment or that the product does not meet customers' needs. Tension rises as the staff strives to meet tight release schedules. As the company grows, the two functions often move to different buildings or cities and have less opportunity to interact, which adds to the stress.

Disagreements may arise about customers, products, packaging, and release dates. Marketers may recognize that customers want just basic features, but developers may add extra features simply because "it can be done" technologically. Marketers worry that the time required to add features will allow the competition to seize market share. Developers may try to delay product release until the product is perfect while marketers may rush release to meet revenue targets or to upstage competitors.

To work together more harmoniously and more productively, marketers and engineers in young companies should agree on customer needs, solutions provided, and product release plans:

--- Research customers' needs before or during development: "Verify that someone outside the company cares about the product," says Brust.
--- Do not mistake the needs of a vocal customer for the needs of the market: Engineers should not mistake the needs of one customer for the needs of an entire niche, according to a telecom public relations manager. Building a "one-off" project may satisfy a single customer and meet an emerging company's short-term fiscal goals but have devastating long-term results, notes John Orlando, Vice-President of Marketing, NMS Communications.
--- Provide solutions, not products: Help engineers think strategically, not tactically. Think in terms of what solution can we provide, not which features should we include. Develop a marketing strategy, a go-to-market plan, a pricing strategy, sales tools, and related product services. "You may have the very best box, but if you don't have an end-to-end marketing solution and if you don't proactively market the product with best in class channel partners, it won't sell," Orlando declared.
--- Make sure that products are ready to ship: NMS has created gates or checklists that marketing uses at different points of the product life cycle to ensure that the company produces complete solutions. These mechanisms prevent companies from launching products before pricing is set, and before packaging, product collateral, and sales/marketing strategies are in place.
--- Avoid making unilateral changes to products: A software manager recommends that before changing packaging or pricing, marketing and engineering staffs discuss the ramifications of the changes. For example, users may not want to buy several software modules bundled together.

Marketers and engineers for emerging companies should share information:

--- Conduct win/loss studies, and share study results with marketers and engineers: Your company may have lost a sale because of technical problems, a telecom PR manager notes, or because of sales or marketing issues.
--- Give both marketers and engineers access to customers: Both groups should visit customers and participate in customer advisory boards. In learning how customers use products, marketers and engineers can identify unmet needs. In the post-sales period, marketers should ascertain whether and how customers are using the product. If customers buy costly software without using it, they will not renew their licenses, reports a software manager.
--- Use each other's language: Technical people should describe their products to marketers [and customers] in plain English or "language their grandmothers would understand." Marketers should present marketing programs to engineers in terms of engineering prototypes. Brust outlines the process as follows: Define goals, and then plan, test, measure, evaluate, modify, and retest the program.
--- Build new mechanisms for information sharing as the company grows: When companies are so big that managers report to other managers, lower level staff have fewer opportunities to communicate with peers in other departments. A computer communications company periodically held "white hours" or mandatory update sessions. The company also held meetings of department managers, as well as, "skip meetings" where staff and upper management met without middle management, says Alan Chapman of Alan Chapman Communications. Slowly, marketers and engineers began talking to each other again.

Problems between marketers and engineers in emerging technology companies are often the result of poor attitudes and poor communications. Marketers should cultivate interest in technology and engineers. Similarly, engineers should try to understand marketers and their goals, concludes a marketing communications consultant. To become more collegial, marketers and engineers should "suppress egos," Orlando notes.

Management in emerging technology companies should recognize the potential for strife and seek ways to help these two groups work together more effectively. One way is to hire marketers when assembling the original team. Another way is to appoint a vice-presidential level marketer. Finally, the marketing communications consultant recommends cross training marketers and engineers to help each group understand and value the other's work.


*Reprinted with permission of Mass High Tech, which published the article March 23-29, 2007.

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