Do I need to be an Engineer to successfully market products for Engineers?

One question that always comes up is ‘does you marketing manager need to be ‘technical’ to market very technical products’?

The PIF team catches up with Helen Christopher, Marketing Manger at Bürkert Fluid Control Systems to understand Helen's background, how Helen has progressed to the position she is in today and her views on the skills required to market Bürkert’s products effectively.

Burkert valve controllers

Marketing skills or Engineering skills?

I believe you need to be a marketer first and foremost with an appreciation of technical products. My background is B2B marketing. I love working with engineers, I understand how their minds work and I can decipher what they are trying to communicate into “marketing speak”. I have a flair for working in B2B marketing with particular attention to high-end technical products and manufacturers of said products as I understand the concept of different technologies, but don’t get bogged down with the detail.

Prior knowledge of process engineering...

I had no prior knowledge of process engineering before joining Bürkert, I was a pneumatics girl! If you’re interested in the company and the products, you try harder to learn about them. With any recruiting process, it’s about having the right balance of skills and personality to get the job done. I know about marketing; how to build a brand, promote a company, achieve growth aspirations, practical skills like product launching, SEO and ROI budgeting. The wonderful thing about marketing skills is they can be transferred to any business. I have cross fertilised ideas from other industries with no conflict of interest.

Broadly speaking I am the conduit between the clever people in R&D and those at the coal face with great commercial insight. I work with some of the smartest people in the industry but I am no engineer. I take the information available and distribute it to the right people in a more digestible way. There are many stakeholders and people I communicate with; colleagues (make sure the message doesn’t get watered down), customers, potential customers, the media, suppliers, anyone with an interest in Bürkert. Each have different needs, so our communication varies according to who we are addressing.

Level of technical understanding required to perform your role effectively?

My intuition is good. I know enough to appreciate the features and benefits of Bürkert products but not the complete specification. You’ll see me hovering on the outskirts of our trade show stand, engaging with people and then pass them onto the technical guys. Most people are short of time nowadays; they want short, succinct statements; who we are, what do we do and how we can help them. We have dedicated technical and commercial experts within the team to drill down and talk specifics once we have gained someone’s interest.

Burkert Valve Controller

So my job as I see it, is it to gather the comprehensive information and add some clarity. Sometimes this is easier if you are non-technical, my technical colleagues want to talk features, I ask a lot of questions to do with the benefits. Together it is a good partnership! I appreciate their unwavering pride in creating a fantastic new product and they in turn appreciate that it takes a marketing expert to launch a new product into the industry.

Marketing is a skill in itself, as is engineering. I have spent 15 plus years perfecting my craft. Who knows, maybe one day I will look at obtaining an engineering qualification but until then, I am surrounded by enough technical experts to ask them to share their knowledge.

Burkert top marketing tips

Helen’s Top Tips for marketing technical product:

  1. Do a SWOT on yourself, know what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. Buy in expertise for things that are beyond your knowledge.
  2. Build a network. Make friends and exchange knowledge, goes without saying nothing commercially sensitive, but it’s good to share experiences.
  3. Understand your team’s skills, who to turn to for technical support, marketing advice.
  4. There are some really good courses run by The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), short term, longer term on a variety of subjects.
  5. Stay close to the customer. You can become detached and lose perspective in marketing if you’re not on the front line. Always keep up the cycle of market research to feedback to R&D.
  6. Don’t assume your customer understands the technology. Just because you’ve been working on the perfect product and know the ins and outs of it, not everyone will, so tell them about it!

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