By Margaret Johns, President, Bluewater Consulting
5 Tips for Engineers Transitioning into Marketing Roles
The practice of marketing in the modern era has evolved significantly in recent years and the pace of change continues to quicken. Marketing professionals with substantial experience and an educational foundation rooted in the principles of product marketing are finding it difficult to stay on top of the changes. Demand for content and responsiveness has never been higher and even classically-trained marketers are feeling the crunch.
As a result, engineers who find themselves in the process of trying to manage transitions into marketing-centric roles face dual challenges of mastering the fundamentals while executing flawless lead generation or brand development initiatives. It’s a scenario that conjures up the image of one attempting to change the oil on a racecar while zooming around the track at top speed. A difficult task indeed.
Fortunately, there are resources that may be applied to this issue. Here we offer five key tips designed specifically to empower engineers moving into marketing career paths.
1. Define Your Goals
While this may seem obvious, many professionals skip this step and proceed straight into workload management. Going to task may make one appear to be immediately productive but it’s a decision that often leads to professional fallout downstream. Career transitions mark the perfect opportunity to take stock of the contributions that can be made and the approaches that may be taken to deliver both short-term and long-term wins.
Consider whether answers to the following questions are known:
- What is the purpose of this position in the overall context of the business?
- How does this position create value for the business?
- Is the enterprise focused on building brand awareness or is generating leads for specific products the primary objective?
- What does a successful Marketing function look like? How will it be measured?
- If there are competing priorities, what does the culture of the organization indicate about managing objectives in this context?
Taking the time to identify answers to these questions is a wise investment. Seeking such answers will likely require you to engage your manager and doing so will demonstrate initiative, creating a positive impression and laying the first brick in the foundation of your new role.
Securing meetings with peers and colleagues in your new department and following through on next steps that result from these conservations illustrates dependability, a quality that will be appreciated as you continue to transition into your new position.
Once you are satisfied that you thoroughly understand the goals at hand, it is time to develop a plan of action. Developing work plans and managing projects certainly do not represent new skills for engineers, but in the context of marketing plans, fulfilling these tasks may require you to look at the business from a different perspective.
2. Look at the Bigger Picture
Engineering disciplines that concentrate on the design and development of new products or the application of those products require focus, adherence to deadlines, and management of dependencies. Completing one’s daily work in these areas often leaves little time to explore other aspects of the business, such as the customer base, market dynamics, the product mix, company history and strategy, and financials.
Gaining familiarity with each of these areas will not only make you more effective in your current role, it will deliver insights that could help you prepare for the next step in your career.
Ask your Customers
Understanding the breakdown of the customer base and buying behaviors delivers a snapshot that supports further segmentation and eventual targeting for marketing programs. Pairing such information with historical data allows you to see how the customer mix may have changed over time with the introduction of new products or services or perhaps coinciding with entry into new markets.
Undertake Market Research
Knowing the key markets in which your business unit or product line participates and the drivers influencing those markets will further your understanding of customer motivations for purchasing and will support the development or refinement of key messages in product marketing programs.
Learn from Past Failures (and Successes!)
Familiarizing yourself with the history of your company and its strategy will help you connect the dots between your new role and the value you deliver for the enterprise. The resulting knowledge may also play a role in the priorities you assign to tasks.
Reviewing the financials of your company or business unit will enable you to see the bigger picture. When analyzed in combination with the strategy, you may also be able to determine how well the company is fulfilling its strategic initiatives. Each of these areas lends useful insights to guide decision making in your new position.
3. Build Your Network – Branch Out
Engineers progress through ranks that are largely designed to reward individual contribution. This practice begins in engineering school, where research and the formation of theories and hypotheses must be established and managed by the individual. Transitioning into marketing-centric roles, however, requires a bit of a mindset shift.
Marketing roles, whether focused on product marketing, market development, or market strategy, often require cross-functional input. Here you have exceptional value to offer.
Reach out for Input
Applying your background and the connections you have established throughout your career can accelerate progress on projects. By leveraging your roots, either within your company or with engineering colleagues from previous roles, you become a valuable source of information, capable of observing issues from a different angle and perhaps providing the piece that may have been missing in a project or marketing plan.
4. Listen to the Research
After completing the three previous steps, it is time to explore the tools and processes available to support a modern approach to marketing. While some modern approaches are best suited to business-to-consumer (B2C) use cases, there are elements that may be effectively applied to business-to-business (B2B) marketing initiatives. An excellent example of this is the introduction of social media and digital advertising elements into the marketing plan.
Utilize B2B Social Media
For B2B purposes, and in particular, for B2B marketing plans aimed at promoting highly engineered, technical products, selection of social media platforms and the use of advertising should be guided by research.
Collect Valuable Data
Outreach may be as simple as inviting existing customers to complete an online survey and incentivizing responses. If the analysis you undertake in the previous steps outlined here indicates that there may be shifting demographics among your customer base, you may find it helpful to partner with an external firm to design a research plan.
Develop Buyer Personas
Such a plan should seek to reveal the sources of information and methods of delivery (digital vs. print-based media) customers regularly rely upon as well as the modes of communication they find the most valuable and trustworthy for making business-related decisions. The plan will then uncover customer preferences regarding media channels, consumption of information, and behavioral patterns leading up to a purchase.
5. Utilize Relevant Tools
With the outputs of your research in place, the final step involves identifying the buyer’s journey and mobilizing your marketing plan to support it. Identifying the points on the path that your customers follow leading up to a purchase ensures you understand the information customers seek when making a purchasing decision as well as when such information should be provided.
Outreach to the sales organization within your company or business unit represents a critical piece, as the sales team touches the market on a daily basis and can often provide exceptional insights as to the depth of information required along the various points of the sales cycle. The most effective marketing plans nurture leads throughout the sales cycle, leading to higher close rates and even residual income through eventual account expansion or referrals.
Analyzing the customer experience as it pertains to interaction with your website is also important, as the analysis may support or dispel previous notions on the consumption of content and the depth of content required to stimulate customer engagement with the sales organization.
At this point, if you have not already gained familiarity with the customer relationship management (CRM) tool your company or business unit uses, doing so will further inform next steps. Many CRM tools enable the company to manage the sales funnel by analyzing movement of opportunities through the funnel in accordance with the sales methodology.
Data Driven Decisions
Pairing such data with key web analytics will enable you to identify where opportunities may be stalling and where relevant content, delivered at the appropriate depth and through the right media channels, may boost engagement and lead to higher conversion.
Understand the Buyer Journey
The greatest successes in the application of digital marketing elements are achieved when the enterprise offers the right content, through the right medium, with the right level of frequency.
Marketing automation software can lend tremendous assistance to even lean marketing teams, as the toolsets in this space have been designed to not only automate content delivery but also to support audience engagement and, therefore, message refinement. The most robust software tools in this area also support segmentation, lead scoring and specified delivery options to hone in on messages unique to each customer’s informational requirements.
Assessing software tools for the value they offer in support of your marketing plan and for their overall fit within the business (IT implementation and integration with CRM) supports informed selection and greater adoption levels within the organization.
Although at first the task of Marketing may appear daunting, with the right approach, advice and tools, even the smaller teams can compete effectively with their larger counterparts.
About Margaret Johns, President, Bluewater Consulting
Margaret has 18 years of professional consulting experience, starting with her tenure in Accenture’s pharmaceutical practice during the industry’s merger and acquisition heyday. She later joined the nano instruments business of materials testing powerhouse MTS Systems Corporation, leading global sales and marketing for a line of precision testing products.
Margaret then joined the life sciences & chemical analysis division of Agilent Technologies, focusing on channel partner programs, new product development and market strategy. Margaret then launched Bluewater Consulting, a specialized professional services firm that offers marketing and public relations expertise for global clients in the test & measurement, instrumentation, industrial machinery, and manufacturing automation spaces.
She focuses on maximizing growth potential, applying the latest practices in digital and content marketing to deliver value for clients.
When she’s not leading a visioning session, conducting market research, or strategizing with clients on market entry approaches, she can be found riding waves north of San Diego or cultivating heirloom tomatoes in her organic garden.