The challenges of marketing an engineering business

Written By Team Declaration

January 18, 2021

The big challenges facing technical marketers in the digital era according to GNC Engineer Wess Gates “Engineering is inherently a difficult business to sell and market”.  If you’re responsible for marketing in an engineering company, you may well agree with this statement: marketing in the advanced engineering sector is different from distributor channel marketing or retail marketing.

Companies in the engineering sector often have:

  • Large overheads;
  • Smaller margins; and
  • Supply chain pressures

So, it’s little wonder the focus has typically been on conservative growth (survival, in some cases) rather than aiming for bigger growth through the development and implementation of a sophisticated marketing strategy.

Technical marketing:  Providing routes

However, times have changed. Smart engineering businesses are taking steps to outperform the competition by having a strong digital sales and marketing strategy in place. Nearly 67% of a buyer’s journey is now done online – even in the industrial sector – without a prospect even talking to a salesperson. Today’s engineering buyers expect free and easy access to a wealth of product information. They don’t want a conversation until they’re ready; and when they are, they want direct answers to questions and solutions to their problems. The job of a modern-day engineering/technical marketer is to not only generate leads but also help any prospective buyer progress down a chosen path to a purchase. This involves providing them with relevant content.

Content marketing generates more leads for engineering companies

A key takeaway from the 2018 Manufacturing Content Marketing Study revealed that:

70% of manufacturing marketers said they could prove the relationship between content marketing and generating more leads

More and more engineering companies are making content marketing a prime part of their marketing strategy. However, the process of creating that content can be problematic. According to Houston-based industrial marketing consultant Achinta Mitra, this may be because many engineers feel that marketing don’t understand their needs.

The marketing/engineering void

“They just don’t understand engineering problems”

Without an engineering background many marketers find it difficult to uncover what’s innovative and novel about the products under development. Moreover, most marketers – while in great need of information for marketing and communications purposes – are loath to disturb their busy engineers. Even when time can be spared, and the marketers get to ask questions of the engineers, will the answers make sense? The flip side of the coin: the engineers are ‘doers’ and find it far easier to design a product than articulate its value, in layman’s terms. They may also be reluctant to volunteer information.

For example, the product may have a feature (one of many) that really is a ‘clever’ solution to an industry problem, but if engineer suspects the marketer won’t understand the solution, or even the problem, then it’s easier not to mention it. Yet that could be a USP! Unfortunately, both issues can create an internal marketing/engineering comms ’void’, across which only a few nuggets of useable ‘marketing gold’ manage to cross.

Furthermore, the bigger the organisation and the more complex the technology involved, the wider the void tends to be. There’s also another danger; letting engineering get too involved. Though busy, some engineers may be all too happy to help. It’s something different. A break from the day job. This can result in too many features being expressed and not enough benefits coming to the fore; and what’s meant to be benefits-led product flyer soon ends up looking like an in-depth data sheet. However fabulous the features of a new product, content needs to first focus on solving problems because a potential buyer’s initial question is:

“How will your product or service help me”?

Once that is answered to the potential buyer’s satisfaction, subsequent questions asked (and answers provided) can, and should, be more related to features.

Technical marketing teams find it difficult to track ROI

technical marketing team

Unlike when selling products online, engineering businesses are offering services and concepts that can be expensive and require long sales cycles. The ‘path to purchase’ also usually involves numerous stakeholders. With so many involved, and such a lengthy process, proving the ROI of marketing activities can look extremely difficult. So difficult in fact that some decide not to bother. But being able to measure success and identify weak areas is a key element of a sound digital marketing strategy. For example, if a piece of content is not hitting the mark it needs to be reworked and removed.

Justifying marketing’s role to the CEO

Finally, while there are many forward-thinking engineering companies, several remain unconvinced about marketing’s importance. As a marketer in the engineering sector it can be difficult to persuade others just how important your role is, and that you bring real value to the table through creating demand, generating leads and cultivating relationships. It can also be an uphill battle to get marketing budgets approved.

Putting the ‘advance’ in advanced

High-tech engineering companies need to let their marketing department or technical marketing agency take the helm and create content driven initiatives. The marketing team or agency can then start creating and distributing case studies, blogs and other useful content, as well as manage website analytics to inform their strategy. Companies that don’t understand the value of marketing – and fail to perfect their content marketing strategy – will inevitably lose out to the competition over the long term.



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