By Jim Downs, CEO
I’ve run a software engineering firm in Chicago for over two decades now. We have talented engineers who develop exceptional products with cutting edge technology. I’d like to think that our work speaks for itself and our reputation is enough to grow our business. Over time, however, I’ve come to realize that the most successful software firms are expert in both engineering and marketing.
At the highest level, marketing is about bringing in more leads, which generally results in more clients, which, in turn, creates more financial rewards for both the company and its employees. This may sound a bit simplistic, but I’ve found it to be true. Clients do not just magically appear for you — you must not only do good work, but also make sure that potential clients are aware of your good work. Word-of-mouth is a powerful force, but it has to be augmented with marketing activity.
Technical Marketing Is a Good First Step
Marketing can take a few different forms. One that may be more familiar to engineers is technical marketing; the most famous example of an engineering team providing valuable support to the marketing and sales teams is from Intel in 1979 – Operation Crush. Long story short, Intel CRUSHED Motorola to become the dominant microprocessor manufacturer, due in large part to the efforts of its engineering team. The engineers did not, however, roll out a new design of their 8086 microprocessor. Rather, they wrote technical marketing materials that the sales team could use to make a strong case for clients to choose Intel microprocessors over those of Motorola. If it were not for the engineering team’s marketing, there probably would never have been Intel Inside. It might have been Moto-Powered.
I can say from personal experience that we have lost business in the past due to things like a lack of API documentation or clear benchmark figures. Just because something is clear or obvious to you as an engineer does not mean it will be for the prospects your company pitches, as oftentimes you will not be pitching someone with your technical know-how. Because of this, being able to market your tech effectively often proves crucial.
Thought Leadership Marketing is A Bigger Leap
“Thought leadership” marketing is more nebulous and less comfortable for engineers who are hard-wired as problem-solvers. Whatever vertical you work in, think about an industry leader: when prospects see that company, it stands out as an easy and safe choice, because they implicitly know their engineers are top-notch. This reputation is often earned through people-centric thought leadership marketing. These companies publish blogs from their engineers, find them speaking opportunities, and showcase them on social media, to name a few examples. Thoughtworks is one firm that does an excellent job at this type of marketing — on the company’s “Insights” page, you can find marketing geared towards all aspects of its business, promoting the expertise, personalities, and thought leadership of employees.
As much as we want to be judged solely on our work, we are like any other business: people want to work with those they like and trust. Marketing helps to develop that sense of trust. And that trust can extend to engineers as individuals, and not just as part of the organizations they serve; this type of marketing can benefit engineers beyond their current roles, as the additional industry exposure may help them expand their career opportunities in the future.
How to Build A Marketing Mindset
What tactics can you use to gain buy-in and implement a marketing program at your firm? There are a number of things you can do. One is simply guiding your team to see the whole picture, and how marketing can fit in. At my company, we recently held a “social media bootcamp” to discuss how internal employees can become brand ambassadors and utilize social media to benefit the company.
It’s important to note that one size does not fit all. You never want to force an employee to do something they are not comfortable with. Maybe they don’t want to use social media, but they’d love to do a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” interview. Maybe they are not comfortable speaking at a local tech event, but they’d be happy to contribute to marketing material around a new product. There is no single answer, and you have to find a solution that works for you and your team.
At the end of the day, it comes down to a mindset shift. Engineers love solving puzzles, but we generally do so at a project level. It is equally important that we continually focus on the puzzle of how to expand our domain knowledge, grow our client base and take our firm and our careers to the next level. Whether we like it or not, marketing is a vital piece of that puzzle.