In an engineering-driven company, engineers assume that if they build something, someone will buy it. In a sales-driven company, sales people assume that if they sell something, engineers can build it (or at least that the sales people can convince customers they got what they paid for).
Marketing provides an effective middle ground, determining customer needs and how best to meet those needs. However, marketing doesn’t lend itself to the simplifications I used in the opening paragraph.
“Engineers are often perplexed by marketing,” said Rebecca Geier, CEO of TREW Marketing, in an interview at NIWeek in August. That can be a problem for engineers running and growing businesses offering technical solutions. Her firm, which serves B2B companies in engineering, science, and technology, can help, and in addition, she has written a new book, Smart Marketing for Engineers.
In a forward to the book, Dr. James Truchard, cofounder and CEO of National Instruments, writes that he taught himself marketing through trial and error in the early years of NI, founded 40 years ago. But from the beginning, he knew that effective marketing would be essential. Marketing, he writes, “… is about connecting with your audience, educating them, and providing insight on how they can do more, better.”
Geier worked in marketing management at NI for 14 years before cofounding TREW Marketing, and she said marketing has evolved since the time Dr. Truchard taught himself the discipline. Traditionally, the focus has been on outbound, or push, marketing—you buy ads in publications, exhibit at trade shows, mail flyers to prospective customers, or entice trade-press editors to write about your products and technologies. Outbound marketing remains important, she said, although it’s expensive and hard to measure.
The newer, complementary approach is Internet-enabled inbound marketing, in which you draw people to your website by developing in-depth content while employing social media and search-engine optimization. Inbound marketing is the focus of her book. Her firm has conducted research showing that 87% of engineers turn to search engines first when looking for technical content, followed by supplier/vendor websites (84%) and trade publications (79%). A majority of engineers also make use of trade-publication and industry-association websites and e-newsletters as well as supplier/vendor e-newsletters.
Geier’s book provides a step-by-step approach to implementing an inbound marketing strategy, from developing a position statement through marketing automation and results measurement. A key takeaway when you’re getting started is don’t try to be all things to all people—choose your niche and dominate it. Similarly, determine who are—and who are not—your target customers. The book advises developing buyer personas—including demographic information, job descriptions, types of information they prefer, pain points, and objections they might offer for not buying what you are selling.
The book covers keyword selection and website design, but Geier writes that content is the heart of inbound marketing, and she devotes about a quarter of the book to the topic. She describes the buying cycle in terms of a funnel, with an initial research awareness stage at the top and the purchase decision at the bottom. An effective content strategy will engage prospects throughout the funnel, she writes. The top of the funnel may correspond to a landing page for software you are offering, for example. Subsequent content progressing down the funnel may include white papers, case studies, videos, and the offer of a free trial.
She concludes with a section on lead conversion, lead nurturing, sales integration, and results measurement. When you invest in marketing, she writes, you need a clear picture of your expected ROI and time frame, and you must have in place tools to measure, tweak, and improve your marketing program. That’s a process that any engineer can understand.