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Marketing to Engineers: Be Helpful!

Part I of II.

Many have written about marketing to engineers. And everyone agrees: they’re a tough crowd. Nobody wants to be sold to. And most don’t like to be marketed to. Engineers often look down on it. One author wrote: “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.”

Designing, engineering and procuring becomes more complex as industries grow globally. Influencers and decision-makers include design engineers, specifying engineers, maintenance engineers, project engineers, electrical engineers, the technical team lead, director of purchasing and so on. And these individuals – all on the same team – can be spread out around the world.

Technology gives us an opportunity to reach these people anywhere, at any time, on traditional platforms and a proliferation of new mobile devices. As a result, much of our time is spent deciding how we should craft the right message to engineers, and what vehicle we should use to reach them. While this is extremely important, technology also gives us the ability to help engineers find the right solution for their problems.

In his book, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is about Help, not Hype, Jay Baer says, “The only way to rise above this invitation avalanche is to either be amazing, which is hard, or be useful – a much more practical option.” Manufacturers always need to strive to make their products and solutions amazing – that’s what will ultimately win. Marketing will win when the focus is on being helpful.

And engineers respond well to this.

Here are our tips on how to be helpful to your customers and potential customers:

Be helpful: Be visible online.

Give engineers the information they’re looking for. Make it easy to find, on their desktop or mobile device. Seems basic – but it’s surprising how many manufacturers miss the opportunity to be as helpful as they could be.

Many engineers have strong and even strategic relationships with manufacturers, so their starting point for research into a new product or technology often starts with a phone call. However, more and more, they are going online first. Sometimes they go directly to specific manufacturer websites. But when you ask any engineer how they find out about new products, a vast majority of them will say, “I google it.”

Even very experienced engineers – supposedly of the pre-digital generation – are googling it. The fact is, engineering has always been a profession for people curious about the best way to solve problems, and they’ll use every resource that offers pertinent information.

One electrical engineer told us, “Being in the business for 35 years and working at multiple companies, I have a large network of other engineering friends. I’ll ask questions of my friends, ‘What would you use in this kind of a situation for this application?’ Sometimes I’ll call up the vendors and ask them, I’ll use websites, I’ll use catalogs, I’ll post a question on Google or Yahoo! and see what comes up.”

Too often, the limitation of Google or Yahoo! is that helpful information is buried deeply among unhelpful results. It should go without saying, but needs to be said: Optimize your website for search engines!

It’s such a basic tenet of any marketing plan, but I’m amazed how many companies will spend tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars redeveloping their website to be more modern, more user-friendly and more information-rich – but still fail to make a small investment to ensure the site is optimized for search engines on an ongoing basis. There’s no use in being helpful if the help you offer can’t easily be found.

Use tools such as the Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends and Google Correlate to understand how your customers are searching for information (or the exact terms your customers are using when they search).  Use optimized, action-oriented page descriptions and internal links to encourage navigation to the most relevant content users seek.

Be helpful: Don’t make them register for product information.

When engineers know exactly what they’re looking for – and even more so if they don’t – you need to make product information easily accessible on your website. Manuals, firmware updates, CAD drawings, anything engineers need to make decisions – you should make it all easy to access, without requiring an annoying and invasive registration process. This usability practice doubles as an SEO solution, as you’ll no longer be hiding crawlable content behind a user-input requirement that search engines can’t access.

Lead generation is such a focus today that there is often a tendency to put a lot of information behind a “registration wall.” Don’t you hate it when you’re looking for helpful information, only to be blocked by a page requiring your personal details? Believe me, engineers hate it even more than you do. They’re likely to leave your website, never to return, and look for someone else who can transparently provide information to help them do their job

One engineer – a customer of one of our clients – told me, “The more information they put on the website, the better it is for us. It’s very convenient to be able to go to their website and get the firmware updates off their website, along with their user interface, or GUI. When I go somewhere and they require me to log in to look at [product literature], I don’t feel like creating an account. I’ll go and look elsewhere. I wanted to get a piece of test equipment – a product datasheet for an encoder that was an off-the-shelf encoder – and the fact that I had to create an entire account to look at that stupid encoder, that turned me off.”

Be helpful: Deliver useful information to their mobile devices.

Many times, engineers are in meetings and questions about a product come up. Sometimes they have their computer, and sometimes they only have their phones. An engineer told me during a conversation, “Even just this morning, someone asked me, ‘How many kilowatts of energy is being produced by this product?’ I was in a meeting and able to go to the website on my phone, pull up the datasheet and quickly give somebody an answer.”

Every website should be optimized for mobile today. While many manufacturers still see overall traffic from mobile devices in the 5-10 percent range (some lower, some higher), that number will continue to increase. It’s inevitable.

Nobody likes to navigate a complex desktop-style interface on a 4- or 5-inch screen just to look up a unit conversion or torque specification.

Be helpful. One good user experience could end up becoming a lead that ends up paying for the entire effort.


This post has been focused on making information easier to find for engineering customers. Part II of “Marketing to Engineers: Be Helpful!” will take a look how to helpfully engage with them.