In the 1990s, I gave up a great engineering management role at a technology company to pursue my passion for marketing. Since then, I’ve had an exciting and fulfilling time bringing a variety of products to markets around the world. Little did I realize, though, that my experience from engineering would prove so valuable as a marketer. Please let me set the context.
Over the years, I’ve run into many marketers at all skill levels who had either no or limited knowledge of their products. Granted, product marketing managers do, but what about marketing communication managers? Lead generation specialists? And even marketing executives? Is this surprising? Well, yes and no. Yes, because product knowledge is one of the key tenets of effective marketing. No, because many products are becoming more sophisticated and require a significant investment of time to develop base expertise.
Good engineers know their products and so should good marketers. That’s the lesson from engineering: know your product in excruciating detail. It’s the the foundation of positioning. It’s the foundation of competitive analysis. It’s the foundation of selling. There’s absolutely no excuse for not having product depth, especially in today’s highly-competitive environment. Still, many rely on the crutch of dragging along a product-aware person to trade shows, industry events, analyst briefings, press calls, prospect visits, etc.
What’s the solution? RTFM. “Read the ‘fine’ manual.” If you’ve worked with engineers, you know the more acerbic ones have a better word substitution for “fine.” I’ll argue, however, that RTFM is only one step in a broader process of product understanding. Here are some key steps.
- Install the products
- RTFM again
- Review support calls
- RTFM again
- Go spend time with partners and customers
Lather, rinse, repeat. Yes, this is an ongoing process. And it takes time – time that many think they don’t have. But what could be more important than this? Marketers and their companies will be better for it. Moreover, that acerbic engineer will have more respect for marketing and won’t call you out publicly with, “Hey Marketer, RTFM.” He or she may even reciprocate by reading the product brochure.