June 08, 2005
How To

Market to Engineers: 5 Must-Know Strategies Plus 2 Surprises

SUMMARY: Arrgh! Engineers are frustratingly hard to market to. As some unknown person said, \"Engineers don't care if Kentucky Fried Chicken is 'finger lickin' good.' What they see is dead chicken parts coated in herbs, spices and flour and then fried in 350 degree oil until the skin is crispy.\" We went straight to the source -- and interviewed actual engineers themselves to find out how you can market to them successfully. Turns out six tactics actually do work pretty well, including blogs (yup, blogs):
By Contributing Editor Dianna Huff

Engineers are tucked away in companies and can be very difficult to find, let alone reach. Plus, they are impervious to traditional marketing tactics – and they like it that way.

You can rent a list and send them direct mail, but they won’t read it. “Direct mail?” one told us, “Oh, you mean that junk I throw away. Never read it.”

Telemarketing, same thing. “I have my calls screened,” said another. “Cold callers aren’t selling anything I need.”

And, engineers are underwhelmed by your clever marketing creative. As one person said, “Engineers don’t care if Kentucky Fried Chicken is ‘finger lickin’ good.’ What they see is dead chicken parts coated in herbs, spices and flour and then fried in 350° oil until the skin is crispy.”

Yet, engineers are major influencers when it comes to purchasing products and services. They are the people who build a business case for convincing management to allocate money – and more importantly, they are your prospects who are out looking for your products and services when they need them.

So how do you find engineers and then market to them? Or a better question, how do you get them to find your products? The answer is very easy. But first, some info on engineers and what their jobs entail.

Backgrounder: demographics, types of engineers, and job descriptions

Close to 1.5 million engineers held jobs in the US in 2002, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. 40% of those engineering jobs were found in manufacturing industries, including electronic product, industrial equipment, and computer manufacturing. Engineers can also be found in the construction, transportation, telecommunications, utilities, and IT industries.

A BS in engineering is the defacto ticket to entry-level engineering jobs, with most engineering degrees being granted in electrical, electronics, mechanical, and civil engineering. An engineer trained in one branch may work in related branches, according to the Department of Labor; for example, many aerospace engineers have training in mechanical engineering.

Although the field is dominated by males (90% versus 10% female), the number of women engineers has been rising steadily: in 2000 20.5% of graduating engineers were women versus 11.1% in 1981, according to statistics provided by the Society of Women Engineers.

Depending on the job, company, and experience, an engineer earns $67,000 to a little over $100,000 annually. The types of engineers vary greatly and include: • Chemical Engineers • Civil Engineers • Electrical Engineers • Environmental Engineers • Industrial Engineers • Manufacturing Engineers • Mechanical Engineers • Process Engineers • Project Engineers • Software Engineers • Structural Engineers

“Bench-level” engineers spend the greater part of their day managing their projects and figuring out why something doesn’t work (the point being, if it does work, it doesn’t need fixing).

Management engineers (Director and VP level) spend their time a little differently. He has to budget resources, including human and financial, do recruiting, manage his direct reports and their projects, and work on his own projects.

Recent trends are also creating great shifts in the industry. Outsourcing – that is, using engineers based in countries like India – is causing companies to re-evaluate hiring practices. As David Miller, Principal Software Engineer for Alase Technologies, Inc. stated, you can hire three engineers in India for the price of one in the U.S.

Also alarming to some industry analysts, the National Science Foundation reports the number of Ph.Ds in engineering and science continues to decline, with 24,500 receiving doctoral degrees in 2002, the lowest number since 1993.

Engineers’ Job Challenges: Making things work and completing projects on time

For engineers across the board, completing projects on time and within budget is their number one pain point. In addition to designing products – whether bridges or circuit boards – engineers are working under intense challenges, including lowering design and production costs, tighter deadlines, and meeting customer expectations.

The pressure is great, especially for managers. Brian Renaud, Director of Engineering at Arbor Networks, a company specializing in network security, states, “I have thirty people reporting in to me. I’m under pressure to deliver projects on time and to ensure our engineers have the resources necessary to do their job.”

Says John Oskirko, Engineering Manager and CEO for Alase Technologies, “Part of my job is predicting the tasks within a given project and the time it will take to complete them. If the deadline on one task slips, the entire project timeline is affected. We’re always juggling multiple projects and sometimes it can get a bit hairy.”

Renaud and Miller agree that finding top talent is an Engineering Manager’s biggest headache. Says Miller, “The A-team or star players aren’t out looking for jobs. Their companies are taking good care to ensure they don’t leave by giving them good compensation packages that include stock options or year-end bonuses. At my last job, where I was Director of Engineering, I would post a job opening and receive hundreds of resumes – half of which were for people I would never consider hiring. Finding that one person with high-energy and a ‘can-do’ attitude is difficult.”

Marketing to Engineers: Five Must-Know Strategies Plus Two You’d Never Consider

Must-know #1 -- Ensure your Website is optimized for search engines

One of the top ways engineers find information about products is through search engines. If an engineer needs a component or software tool, he’ll look for it on Google – Google being the number one search engine, hands down, for the engineers interviewed.

According to an August 2004 survey Penton Media did of its Machine Design readers, ‘How Engineers Find Information,’ trade magazines topped the list of sources readers use to get information about suppliers, with search engines coming in third place, behind suppliers Web sites, at 67%.

This figure correlates with the recent Enquiro/MarketingSherpa survey released in October 2004: 63.9% of B-to-B purchasers go to search engines when researching products – with 82% of these searchers using Google.

More importantly, the same survey shows 69.6% click on organic listings (the “free” or natural listings) versus the paid or “sponsored” results. Clearly, it behooves you to ensure your site is fully optimized to capture this highly targeted traffic.

Case in point: Alase realized about a year ago that Google was the main way to reach the engineers who buy their laser marking systems. The company was ranking “at about 300”; intensive optimization efforts have placed them in the top 10 Google listings for a few keywords and have significantly increased qualified leads.

Must-know #2 - Don't forget specialized search engines

Google and Overture are not the only (or even the best) game in town with this audience. Specialist search engines such as GlobalSpec and ThomasNet.com have literally millions of engineer professional users, many of whom bypass the major search engines altogether when they need a very specific item.

Must-know #3 – Offer trial versions or product samples

Engineers have to know if your software tool or component is going to work as promised. Says Miller, “I do not want to give approval for a purchase and then find out it was a waste of money. Trial versions, especially for software, are a great way for me to test the product in-house.”

Indeed, Alase just completed a demo of project management software (that Miller found while searching on Google) and is now negotiating cost with the vendor. Whether you offer 7, 15 or 30-day trials, do offer the full software (ie: don’t offer only a few features) because everyone on the team needs to test it in a variety of circumstances.

Bill Unkel, co-CEO of MuNet, Inc., a firm that connects electric meters to the Internet, adds that marketing and/or sales reps should be armed with technical information. “Marketing and sales reps need to be better trained on how to sell their technical products,” says Unkel. “Engineers need specific information – it’s a waste of everyone’s time if the people doing the selling don’t understand the technical details.”

Must-know #4 – Offline still should be part of your marketing mix

As already noted, 96.5% of respondents to Machine Design’s survey stated trade magazines were their number one source for getting information about suppliers.

The respondents also indicated that when they have needs for priority projects, they will phone the 800 number listed on the ad (72.3%), call the non-toll free number (44.5%), visit the supplier Web site (70.1%), or email the supplier directly (42.8%).

Now obviously you should take survey results with a grain of salt when they come from people who are trying to sell you ads. But, these numbers are strong enough to indicate engineers still like to browse print editions. Plus, there's a good business case for having a toll-free number that's picked up by a helpful human being during all US business hours (not just East Coast.)

Must-know #5 – Develop an information-rich Web site

Engineers do not want to read your mission or vision statement nor will they react to your carefully crafted value proposition. They want facts and they want them without any marketing hype or fluff. In order to help engineers make a purchase decision, ensure your Web site has the following information about your product/service:

•What are the product features? •What problems does the product solve? •With what other components/tools/software/systems is it compatible? •Are quality test results available? •What are the specifications? •Is a trial version available? •What does it cost?

One concern to note: Unkel commented he finds searching for products to be frustrating at times. “An annoying trend with search is finding distributors and not the actual manufacturing company,” he says. “The result is it’s harder to get to the real info. I type in a part number expecting to find the manufacturer’s web site, but instead find pages of distributors and no data sheet in sight.

“In a way, they are reproducing on the Web the same frustrating process that has always existed with manufacturing reps and uninformed sales folks getting in the way of any real information being transmitted.”

Bonus must-know #1 – Develop a referral strategy

Picture an engineer picking up the phone: “Hey Jim – how’s that software working for you? Any problems with it? Should I buy it? Hey great, thanks!” He’s just by-passed all your print and trade-show advertising, search engine marketing and new product press releases and, based on an endorsement from his colleague, will check out your competitor’s product.

Engineers call their colleagues regularly to get advice and feedback on products and services. Be ready for them by developing a referral strategy. Reward your customers for referring your company to their colleagues – in fact, help them along by telling them what types of companies use your services and giving them information they can forward to like-minded colleagues.

Bonus must-know #2 – Start paying attention to blogs and forums

Renaud bypasses trade magazines. He has his calls screened. And he throws away his direct mail. But Renaud does read blogs and forums. He mentioned a few pertaining to his industry – Slashdot was one – but he is also a frequent reader of security and software development forums, places where engineers gather to discuss problems and how to solve them.

While you may be hesitant to jump into the blog-o-sphere, you should at the very least be monitoring blogs and what others are saying about your company as well as reading those pertaining to your industry. To do both, go to Technorati.com and type your company name or keyword phrase into the search box and see what comes up. You be monitoring online forums or bulletin boards, too because it’s here that engineers will recommend products or complain about those that don’t work or cause problems.

Sums up Stott: “Marketing to engineers isn’t difficult per se, but you really have to shift your thinking if you want to do it right. Your campaign should be integrated and include search engine optimization, print ads or articles in trade magazines, and informative Web sites. Leave out the hype, understand engineers’ job challenges, and give them ‘just the facts.’ You’ll be well ahead of the game.”

Useful links related to this story RESEARCH DATA: How B-to-B Buyers Use Search (Google Surprise, Plus 28 Tables & Charts) http://library.marketingsherpa.com/sample.cfm?contentID=2852

Society for Women Engineers http://www.swe.org

GlobalSpec http://www.globalspec.com

ThomasNet http://www.thomasnet.com

Technorati - Blog search site http://www.technorati.com

Machine Design Magazine www.machinedesign.com

Alase Technologies, Inc. http://www.alase.com

Arbor Networks http://www.arbor.com

MuNet, Inc. http://www.munet.com

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