Marketing to Engineers - a viable business revenue growth strategy?

Ed Marsh | Oct 1, 2014

The fallacy of engineer buyers

Manufacturing and industrial companies are quickly getting much smarter about how they market and sell.  Many are thoughtful about who their buyers are, taking steps to craft 'personas' and even adapt marketing approach to those personas.

One segment which is getting lots of attention is marketing to engineers.

As a lead generation approach, it's a great idea.  As a revenue growth strategy, though, it's flawed.  And this disconnect highlights one of the pervasive problems of industrial marketing and the role and background of the typical internet marketing consultant.

Need for data

When thinking about how to build effective content marketing for different personas it's important to understand the typical preferences, personal and professional challenges and types of information buyers will seek.  Engineers are all about looking for dense data - they want details like spec sheets, drawings, implementation guides, how to videos, etc.  

They're typically either looking for something that matches a spec they've established, or a company/product which could be used creatively to solve a challenge they're facing - either in OEM design or in process improvement.

So the content, as a number of marketers in this area note, needs to satisfy that drive.

Buying journey

But here's where the strategy fails (unless you're selling some piece that someone buys online for $17.95!)  The engineer who researches and identifies the solution prepares a recommendation for consideration, approval and procurement.  The conditions and role will impact the nature of that recommendation and approval process.  If it's being baked into a complex system design and represents a substantial portion of the finished good price, it may be carefully vetted.  On the other hand if a line is down and this is an expedient fix, it will be quickly routed.  But rarely is the engineer to whom a manufacturer is marketing the same persona who will make the final decision.

So marketing to engineers is great to generate leads, but fails to address a shortcoming in the buying journey.

Content aimed at the comparison and decision stages of the journey must both enable the engineer to effectively present on your behalf and lobby for your solution within their company, and content must also speak to other personas as the buying journey advances.

P&L perspective

Awareness type content might be all about the common problems you solve.  But a financial model (webinar, whitepaper or calculator) for CFOs or plant managers might be part of your decision content.  After all, somewhere along the way the technical solution is going to be vetted from a business perspective.  And the person who brings that perspective isn't going to be an engineer.

"But you're wrong!" I hear you hollering.  Really?  In many cases that individual will absolutely have an engineering degree, and probably grew into their current role from a position much like the front line engineer to whom your awareness content is targeted.

But degree aside, now they are a business manager.  And few transitions impact someone's perspective as much as suddenly carrying the bottom line burden.

So you're right - the mind of the manager trained as an engineer will seek hard facts, data, comparisons, benchmarks, case studies and the like.  They will ignore vapid, generic exhortations.

But they'll expect fundamentally different data.

And here's where the difference between a great lead generation approach and a revenue growth strategy is found.  And it perfectly illustrates an analogous challenge to that of the engineer and manager - different perspectives.  The marketer is measured by sales qualified leads.  The manager by revenue and profit.  And marketers without the manager's experience and perspective don't typically 'get' the distinction.

That leads to more frustration with 'marketing', friction with sales and failure of a revenue growth strategy.