Dear Colleagues,

I am sure you are keenly aware of the conflict that often develops between the marketing/sales/business development and engineering functions of your firm.

Selling features which don’t exist
We often hear of marketing selling features of a product or service we haven’t developed yet (and often we had no intention of ever developing). On the other hand, marketing tends to regard engineering professionals as those who insist on high quality technical outcomes with no thought to the cost and time to complete delivery of the product or service. This may be true in some cases where engineers are not always aware of business considerations as they are so busy focussing on the technical issues (which they naturally enjoy).

How to Sell Mediocre Products
I am constantly dumbfounded by the enormous power that marketing can bring in delivering incredible rewards for often absolutely mediocre products. And the converse is often true – stunningly brilliant engineering products and services simply don’t succeed because of poor marketing and awareness.

Apple is a good example of a brilliant firm with great marketing. I would question whether the Apple product range is technically that outstanding – apart from their styling and design which is brilliant; but there is no question that their marketing and PR prowess is worldclass. And it works. You have to admire them.

Some Suggestions on a happy marriage between marketing and engineering

  • As we are repeatedly told - competition is fierce and margins are cut to the bone so one is always overselling and overmarketing. But I believe it is important to hose down expectations and to over-deliver on a product or service wherever possible. This makes for a happy client.
  • Customer needs and requirements are often a minefield in complexity - a delicate bewildering balancing act of features, cost, scheduled time to completion, performance, ergonomics, quality and design. This requires careful consideration of risk, pricing and delivery schedule to ensure a profit at the end.
  • It is critical to clearly specify (in simple English) at the outset what one is going to deliver –esp. with software. With no ‘if’s and but’s” and grey areas.
  • Requirements creep during the project should be avoided at all costs (esp. with software). As this can totally destroy the profits in a good project. Wherever there are genuine changes requested by the client, the best is to ask for a variation and charge appropriately (the client can delete this change at this point or pay the additional amount).
  • Take particular care to minimise risk (or to hedge them appropriately by putting in conditional clauses in your contract) when bidding on a job. I have come across so many jobs where the job has been won and after many months of development it has turned into a massive lossmaking project due to unreasonable (or unknown) technical risks.
  • Ultimately however, constant innovation is a key ingredient in engineering and product/service development. If you have an innovative feature which delivers superior performance or levels of productivity, it is always easier to price this at a premium level (well, until the competitors have caught up)
  • Marketing/sales and business development and engineering needs to be a tight partnership and strong positive relationships need to be developed for the business to succeed.

As Peter Drucker (one of the greatest management thinkers) rightly pointed out: Business has only two basic functions - marketing and innovation.

Thanks to the IEEE and Gary C. Hinkle for a thoughtful  article on marketing.

Yours in engineering learning


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