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Saturday, May 18, 2002

The Lines

In the most abstract case, technical people tend to work in a linear process, marketing people work in circles. (Before the email floods in, we know that technical processes are often described as iterative and that marketing people in fact usually work in a linear direction.) That's why we described the proposition as "the most abstract case."

The distinction is important as we navigate this plateau in the development of capacities for our industry. Although it looks like a lack of technical movement, we think we can trace it to marketing questions. Some explanation is in order.

A great technical team participates in the development of a spec. From then on, accomplishment (except in the very untidy world of technical bootstrapping) is all about the accomplishment of a very large "to do list". When we say it is a linear process, we mean that a focused technical team is simply not productive unless it is always accomplishing the next most important thing. This focus on prioritization, essential for smooth functioning in an IT department, creates a train of results that must be carefully managed by the project's leadership.

It becomes marketing's job to explain the results of this process to the customers and potential customers. That's where the problem starts. 

If you ask technical people about the results of their work, they nearly always focus their story on the priorities of the project or its most challenging technical aspects. The marketing department's job is to somehow translate that linear dialog into a description that is customer oriented. Customers rarely care about technical challenges or the company's priorities. They care about solving their problems.

At the simplest, a marketing person is responsible for reframing the technical features (as told by the developers) into a series of benefits (as experienced by the customers). That requires standing far back from the work and seeing it with the customer's eyes. So, while the Yukon Denali is, in fact a huge SUV with a really big engine and lots of special automation in the transmission, marketers focus on its heated seats and tight turning radius because the desired customer is a woman.

Figuring out how to reframe the technical accomplishment as a desirable commodity in the market often wounds the feelings of early entrepreneurs who are focused on linear technical accomplishment. We're certain that there are grumblings in the design ranks of the Denali team. But, tech specs do not sell a product. 

The right question to ask a company is "What does it do for me?" In our world, asking only "What does it do?" opens the door to a flood of technical answers that probably don't tell you the most important customer benefits.

From The Electronic Recruiting News

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