Many cloud computing companies have a cadre of electrical engineers, computer scientists and other experts managing technical operations. They all rose through the ranks via abilities to deal with specific problems with boxes, boards or lines of code. That makes them natural fits for engineering management, product management and even business development or sales where micro-environmental issues only need one-time solutions.
However, when it comes to marketing, one size really does have to fit all, in many cases. While one-to-one marketing and personalization have become fads, traditional marketing remains in the macroscopic mindset.
IQ and technical smarts alone will not cut it. High emotional intelligence (EQ) exists as a necessity to formulate outbound approaches that will activate customers and get them into the buyer journey.
“Engineers moving into marketing actually have the same challenges as most marketers,” says Ed Marsh, management consultant, Consilium, business advisory firm to B2B manufacturers. “Marketing requires high EQ to conceive and execute approaches for each stage on the buyer journey. Most fail. They deliver what they think is important; what they want to talk about; features they’ve obsessed over; technical challenges they’ve conquered. All that is irrelevant to buyers.”
Become the Buyer, Speak her Language, Answer her Questions
The biggest lesson in this is that engineers are not the buyers, according to Marilyn Heywood Paige, vice president, marketing, Fig Advertising, who says she has worked with many coders in marketing over the years.
“Your buyer could be a CEO, office manager, IT pro or administrative assistant,” Heywood Paige says. “You have to be able to speak to all these audiences in their language, not yours.”
For example, coders could write a searchable blog or white paper about reliable cloud service. Instead of writing, “Cloud infrastructure with the highest uptime by geographic location,” they should write, “Reliable cloud service in California,” because that’s a phrase non-technical audiences are more likely to search for, according to Heywood Paige.
To take the place of buyers at different stages of the customer journey, engineers can become effective marketers if they leverage their training to ask questions that purchasers would ask then develop answers, according to Marsh. And by cooperating with those who have liberal arts backgrounds, such as authors, engineers could help flailing cloud company marketing.
“In many cases, freshly minted journalists interviewing and writing for engineers will produce far more effective marketing collaboratively than vaunted marketing experts,” Marsh says. “Engineers are trained, much like journalists, to ask questions in an effort to understand root causes.”
This kind of tag team approach to marketing with engineering is a great way to identify engineers who can naturally blend IQ and EQ into go-to-market strategy for solutions, according to other former technical role players.
“That way with speed of the market, I can find engineers who can straddle the line with existing marketing initiatives rather than having to teach people how to do it,” says JJ DiGeronimo, president, Tech Savvy Women, and author of Accelerate your impact: Action-Based Strategies to Pave Your Professional Path. “There are already people on your teams or in your network who can easily straddle these roles and will be open to this new capacity.”
Marketing More Art than Science
While many engineers are very analytical and focused on details, when transitioning into marketing roles, veteran technical experts say they need to keep in mind that unlike engineering, marketing is more of an art than a science.
“My advice for engineers taking a marketing turn in their career is to relinquish control and allow your creative side to dominate decisions,” says Adam Janota, vice president, global marketing, Console, a cloud interconnection company. “Also, if you find yourself one day running the marketing team, enable people to be autonomous and recognize that you’re managing human beings, not a technical product.”
Building on that sentiment, a former vice president of business development and marketing at 5Nine Software relates that when managing technical marketing programs and customer-facing activities, it was even more important to get hands-on with whatever you are promoting so you can really understand product strengths.
“When I was ready to move into a technical marketing role, I had already proven I had the skills and was able to make the transition easily,” says Symon Perriman, president and founder, FanWide Technologies, a sports tech startup. “I was extremely successful in product marketing as I had more technical depth than my traditional marketing colleagues.”
A path toward unleashing marketing creativity exists in the practice of writing. Technical thinking instilled into engineers at major research universities can have the unintended consequence of stunting imagination of original content, in the views of some graduates. But with the help of creative gurus they made it in marketing.
“I overcame limitations of a highly technical education by partnering with an experienced mentor who offered guidance in business and writing,” says Zhelinrentice Scott, MIT graduate and CEO and founder, The SEO Queen, a digital marketing agency. “Mentored by the best over the years—from the writing coach at University of Michigan to international business guru Fraser Hay—I had great support.”
According to Scott, writing built the bulwark of her career as a professional marketer. And for cloud companies to engender similar crossovers, she believes they must coach their engineers through the process of writing.
“Once they are in the habit of writing more, writing creatively and creating content from scratch this mindset will lay the foundation for their success as marketers,” Scott says. “Communication is key because in marketing content is king! An engineer can know what code needs to go where, but in marketing much of the ‘code’ is client facing and requires ability to compose prose quickly and effectively. They have to master the call to action and adding value for the customer.”
And forcing engineers to write often can really improve EQ, according to Dan Gudema of StartupPOP, a tech startup pitch event organizer. “I would require engineers to engage in social media, writing a monthly public blog about their expertise,” Gudema says, “and have them tweet, Facebook, LinkedIn and use other social media to increase their awareness and interaction skills.”
Start Engineers with Analytics on Adventure into Marketing
In the opinion of many engineers turned marketers, making the transition from a ones and zeroes technical mindset to the touchy-feely methodology of marketing might not be so far-fetched. With proclivities for data, engineers could successfully move into marketing via the analytics route, according to former coders.
“An engineer, given his logical thinking and analytical abilities can easily slip into marketing,” says Pratik Shah, director of marketing, Grin, a social media influencer growth platform. “There’s tons of data to be analyzed and marketing decisions to be driven, based upon insights that data provides, especially in the digital ecosystem.”
As a masters of computer engineering from University of Minnesota, Shah says he has a feel for technocrats moving into marketing roles, first placing them in positions making sense of data-intensive applications such as customer relationship management. Shah believes that those with trained pattern recognition abilities can perform best when matched with intuitive outbound professionals.
“For example, put engineers to work analyzing customer segments for CRM, gathering actionable insights and working with a creative partner responsible for formulating the content communication,” Shah says. “Of course, there would be A/B tests, and results of different A/B tests would help imbibe ‘target group sensitivity’ into the engineering-marketer.”
Applying themselves in brainstorming meetings and target market sensitivity training, Shah sees that engineers could even surpass liberally educated marketing generalists, at times. “Then I’d find his or her creative formulations more useful,” he says.
‘My Room’s so Small I had to go Outside to Change my Mind’
Indeed, flexibility remains a hallmark of any former-engineer-would-be-marketer in the minds of many who have made that leap. Even as they recognize that high EQ exists as an absolute necessity of the outbound professions, they steadfastly state technical personnel can make the transition if they put their minds toward actively altering their mental pathways. So while computations have binary outcomes, the customer decision-making process can be multidimensional and not so logic based.
“EQ is key for most marketing activities, but most engineers can become good marketers as long as they are willing to change their mindset,” says Alex Kemmler, director of marketing, eBoundHost, a Chicago-based MSP. “In engineering, if someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying, it’s because they're under informed. In marketing, if you’re misunderstood, it’s your fault. Making it your mission to use the customer’s words can be hard at first, since they often use ‘improper’ terminology.”
All desire that buying behavior remained rational. But dealing with irrational buying behavior has to be something of which all marketers must beware, according to Kemmler. “You market to the customers you have, not the ones you wish you had,” he says.
Engineers in Marketing: Strangers in a Strange Land?
As engineers and programmers, accuracy in the job exists as the expectation. An apparatus either operates as designed or not. Code either runs smoothly or it crashes the system. Marketing is much vaguer—there’s usually not an immediate result that can be observed, and means to solving marketing issues remain very different than technical challenges, according to veteran technology marketers.
“Trying to get backlinks on fashion websites is a completely different challenge than optimizing SQL queries,” says Jason Spitkoski, former software developer and brand manager, Buddha Boxers, a clothing ecommerce site. “It’s so alien, and the payoff so uncertain and distant, and means to get there so imprecise that I can’t see a coder being successful at the transition unless they really wanted it.”
During a 16-year software career that he states culminated in a vice president of product development role, Spitkoski says traveling and customer interaction had a key effect in cultivating his soft skills, which could include the concept of EQ. Tech skills merely became nice-to-haves from his point of view.
“To truly shine, a coder needs to fully embrace the seemingly opposing traits needed to successfully market a service or product,” Spitkoski says. “That is the No. 1 prerequisite for a coder transitioning into marketing.”