When Creating Software, Marketing and Engineering Disagree

“An engineer and a marketing guy walk into a bar…” You’ve heard the jokes. Marketing and engineering, especially software engineering are very different disciplines. And each discipline makes jokes at the other’s expense based on shallow stereotypes.

But behind the jokes is a serious message for any software business. Engineering and marketing teams do not naturally see eye-to-eye. Successful software companies effectively utilize the talents of both teams – only using one will lead to failure.

Find out why marketing and engineering teams don’t respect each other and what you can do to ensure they work together synergistically.

Marketing vs. Engineering Jokes

Q: How many marketing directors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: It isn’t too late to make this neon instead, is it?

Q: How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One, but they’ll spend three hours checking it for alignment and leaks.

Q: How many marketing executives does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Marketing executives don’t change light bulbs. They barely have enough time to finish telling you how great the light is going to be.

Q: How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. They are all too busy trying to design the perfect light bulb.

Q: How many Marketing Managers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: First we have to discover what type of light bulb it is that the market requires….

Q: How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Four. One to design a nuclear-powered light bulb that never needs changing, two to install it, and one to write the computer program that controls the wall switch.

Marketing and Engineering Don’t Understand Each Other

Engineering and marketing professionals come from different worlds (do marketeers come from Mars?), they are trained to adopt approaches that are polar opposites and each discipline attracts individuals that are predisposed to follow the stereotypes.

Because of their training and attitudes each discipline fails to respect or appreciate the other – they underestimate each other and this is all down to a mutual lack of understanding.

The Rhetoric

If you’re a software engineer, other engineers have probably used stereotypes like these to describe marketing:

  • They’re lightweight
  • They’re like a bunch of kids having too much fun and spending too much money
  • Their understanding of the users and our software is superficial
  • They just want stuff to look good / look cool so they can win some awards
  • They keep jumping onto the latest tech bandwagon, and are clueless as to what it really means
  • The cheesy hard sell is distasteful
  • It’s all hype, BS, fluff, waffle, smoke and mirrors—no substance

On the other hand marketing professionals disparage software engineers and development teams as being people who are:

  • Disconnected from the real world – the world of commerce and business
  • Boring, nerdy, geeky scientists, who wear long beards and sandals
  • Focused on details and theory not quick practical solutions
  • Want to include a long list of product features that customers don’t care about, in fact too much detail turns buyers off
  • Unable to prioritise, they don’t understand business benefits and what buyers really want

You can see each discipline does not appreciate the skills, experience and talents the other brings to the table. But why are two disciplines that should be working closely together in every software company so different?

The Reality for Marketing

The reality is that marketing and engineering are not so very different as they first appear. Both are focused on delivering the best solutions and best results for the company and for the customers. Both teams rely on analysis and logic but apply them in very different ways based on their training and responsibilities.

Marketeers are trained to see the big picture, to holistically consider all the market forces, including:

  • Identifying and exciting customer demand
  • Commercial strategy (distribution and pricing models)
  • Capturing attention of all stakeholders across the market
  • Communicating the business value of the software
  • Providing “proof points”
  • Making it easy for customers to buy
  • Enabling and supporting customer advocacy
  • Analysing and pre-empting competition
  • Understanding customers – the buyers

Like many other things, marketing is somewhat like an iceberg.  The part sticking out of the water is highly visible.  It’s easy to not realize that much of the iceberg is hidden from our view.  When we see great beer commercials on TV during the Super Bowl, we think that’s marketing.  And it is. But there is more. You really should start thinking about marketing as soon as you start thinking about requirements, architecture or design.
Eric Sink, software developer

The Reality for Engineering

Engineers on the other hand are trained to solve big problems individually by breaking them down into smaller problems and solving each problem fully before moving onto the next.

Engineering professionals take pride in finding elegant and complete solutions. They will seek to fully understand and evaluate the problem and possible solutions. They’ll talk to the people who use the software and pay particular attention to what the most expert users ask for. Surely the expert users must know best what the requirements should be.

Engineers are reluctant to ask for or accept marketing’s input because they underestimate marketing’s role and expertise. If marketing doesn’t understand the details of the problem they are trying to solve – what the software should do and how it should be built – then they’re clueless and there’s no point asking.

An engineer’s world is more black and white than a marketeer’s. If an engineer buys a technology product for themselves they’ll ignore the marketing fluff / blurb / slideware and do their own research looking for detailed data sheets, performance benchmarks, user forums, evaluation copies… establish selection criteria, weight them and enumerate the optimal selection.

Most engineers believe that the value of anything is a function of its objective utility. The notion of a purely subjective value is not really understood in this world of numbers, measurements and data. They know that subjective values impact purchasing decisions – even in their own lives, but they distance themselves from it because it just doesn’t make sense.
Pete Monfre

When the software is delivered by engineering, marketing may well find that the features delivered are not the ones they most needed to attract, excite, and close business – and engineering / development again falls lower in their esteem. So marketing decides not to engage or accept engineering’s input.

The gulf widens as the two departmental silos of marketing and engineering drift further apart.

The important lesson from classic market failures of innovative high tech products is that successful commercialization of high tech products requires strong collaboration and team work between the engineering and marketing functions.
Carmo A. D’Cruz and Dennis J. Kulonda [PDF]

We’ll cover ways to break out of this destructive engineering vs. marketing downward spiral in the next posts

Get Marketing & Engineering to Work Together

Further reading

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