Engineers And Marketing Can (And Must) Get Along

by | Oct 3, 2013

They can? Yes, they can. And when they do it and apply it to work the outcomes are amazing!

Have you ever been in a meeting and turned your brain off because someone with the polar opposite role from you was speaking?

“Ugh, I can’t possibly understand what Stephen is saying because he is in Software and I am in Finance”

“Ugh, here we go with the marketing stuff again. Thank goodness I don’t need to learn that stuff since I’m an engineer.”

It happens all the time. We buy into the organizational stereotypes that have been built up over time and give ourselves permission to tune out. We also give other people permission to keep us lodged right in to those unfounded stereotypes about our role and our skills when we do this.

Have you ever dodged a project assignment or some hard work by using the old “oh man, you don’t want me for that task – I’m a technologist.” Or “Hey, don’t look at me, I can’t help you make that technical decision – I’m the marketing guy”? That also happens all the time.

We use the organizational stereotype to escape real cross-functionality, accountability on decision-making, and extra work.

Here is an example of how I’ve done this in the past:

In consulting, being good at math saddles you the detailed creation of elaborate models. Any chance I get to declare that I’m bad at math I will: “oh, well, you know me and math … ick.”  Being bad at math is like being bad at spelling, it has somehow become acceptable to say you are bad at it.  As long as you are really good at something else people accept it as a fact and not a shortcoming.

I’m actually not bad at math at all, in fact I’m pretty good, but I prefer reviewing models and not create models. It’s hard work! If I say I’m bad at math someone else on the team will step up to create the model and be accountable for it.  On one project no one else had time to create the models, forgetting that I had already declared I was bad at math the week before, I did them. When they realized I wasn’t bad at math, they called me out on my ruse. In my own defense I even admitted that I can also do some software coding. My cover was blown!


Over the past few decades organizations have given permission for engineers to not have to understand people and for the business and marketing side of the house not to have to have a good understanding of technical things.

This applies to all parts of the organization – finance, operations, executives, editors, web designers, etc. We pigeon-hole people’s talents and abilities into the stereotypes for their job title or profession and they let us do it. These gaps and blockages and employee self-deprecation disadvantages the creation of products, services, strategies, and innovations.

In 99% of the organizations we’ve worked with there is animosity between the engineering side of the house and the business side of the house. Neither group thinks the other understands them and neither side really respects the skill and talent of their other half. There are snide comments about fluffiness and rigidity, there are grumblings when they are paired off together in sessions, and there is a chasm socially and professionally that keeps collaboration from going very well. For the most part these divisions and animosities aren’t caused by anything real. They are caused by the organizational silos that reaffirm the stereotypes and give us permission to not try to understand the other side.


Visualize what happens in most organizations around product development: marketing gathers customer and market needs, requirements, and builds business cases while engineering works on the technical side of the potential new product. Marketing then takes some of what they have gathered, just the part that they think is relevant to engineering, and tosses it over the wall.

Imagine it as a 5 foot wall with marketing on one side and engineering on the other. The information lands on the engineering side of the wall. The engineers are not that happy to see it come over because they don’t value most of the stuff marketing does (because they don’t try to understand it) and they aren’t quite sure what to do with most of it since they have already designed the product from the technical perspective while they were waiting on marketing. The engineers consume and apply some it and dismiss the rest. The two sides don’t really talk again until a product is close to finished being designed. Marketing ends up frustrated with engineering because the product didn’t necessarily meet the market need.

In reality, marketing can’t get anywhere without engineering and engineering can’t get anywhere with out marketing.

Marketing brings the business side and engineers (any kind: software, web, server, civil, mechanical, industrial, electrical, biomedical, chemical, and so on) are critical in designing and making things. They know what is possible and they know how to get it done.  Besides services, we can’t really make anything without some kind of technical specialist and we can’t determine what it should be, package it and sell it without marketing.

As we’ve seen in a few our recent blog posts, the best possible way to get products and Whole Offerings to succeed is to understand the things that matter, like customer needs, behavior, and expectations, competition, market needs, business strategy, and mix it with technical capabilities and the technology landscape.  The two sides have to come together to collaborate to produce the best solutions.

How Do We Get Better Results

Forget that 5 foot wall. Instead, marketing and engineering should form a team to kick of a product development project. They do customer research together or consume the verbatim transcripts and insights together. Then they sit together in a room to develop concepts and then products together. Finally they go off in different directions to develop their piece of the product/whole offering and meet frequently to review with each other.

For that vision to be sustainable it has to be built into the culture of an organization. There are so much data to prove that breaking down the barriers between groups results is better collaboration and better innovation. The first thing that has to happen is that organizations have to believe that their employees have multiple talents and skills and the ability to process and understand the work peers do. Employees need to believe this as well.

  • Engineers need to recognize that being an engineer doesn’t exclude them from being able to understand people. It may actually enhance their ability.
  • Marketing needs to realize that in order for the organization to succeed their work needs to be done in partnership with engineering and that means willing using the technical side of the brain.
  • Organizations also need to hold employees accountable for learning more about the other side of the table and putting those learnings into practice.

Ceatro Group spends a lot of time working with teams of engineers and teams of business people to bridge the divide between them when it comes to product, service, and experience divide. We run trainings to help engineers realize their own ability to process, understand, and apply customer research, human behavior data, and qualitative research. We take them with us to do customer interviews and observational research.  We facilitate insight, design, and planning sessions that require the engineering side of the house and the marketing side to work together even if they don’t like it.

These are culture shifting tactics that will help produce better products, services, and experiences.