Engineers, while carrying with them many stereotypes, think in a way that many people value. In my experience in the field, my value as a practicing engineer has been less what I specifically know, and more how I go about learning something new. A constant struggle many of us have is to balance conducting a thorough analysis with delivering a result or recommendation as soon as possible.
This vital consumer group is increasingly relied-on in the buying process due to engineers’ pragmatic, data-driven perspective, coupled with the progressively complex nature of products due to the proliferation of the IoT and AI. If a buyer does not fully understand a product, he places his faith in a technical expert. Winning that expert, by extension, becomes the key to gaining a loyal business partner who trusts what you tell them. This article explores some of the secrets to understanding an engineer’s buying strategy.
Motivation: Engineers are driven to make the best decision possible and to solve a technical problem in the most optimal way they can. This mindset is the reason the term “overengineering” exists. If they have more time to formulate a recommendation, they take it, continually trying to improve their deliverable or define a more optimal solution than the task given.
Often, an engineer views a request as a piece of a larger puzzle, and they extend what the buyer asked them to identify the best solution. They view their deliverable, be it a recommendation or product design, as a form of art. They want to provide excellent customer service to their boss or colleague and want their peers to admire the elegance of their solution. They want to have the ultimate and best answer, and they take immense pride in their work.
Graphs and charts: Many engineers use modeling to predict performance and draw out trends that they see in data. As a result, an engineer learns much more from a graph than from words alone. Given their experience creating and interpreting graphical data, engineers often believe they can draw additional conclusions beyond those summarized and presented. Furthermore, they appreciate receiving points of data or statistics without description to reach their conclusions. Figures provide engineers with a concrete belief in the message they take from the graph.
Success stories: One of the ways engineers seek to gain confidence with an unfamiliar topic is to seek out peer experiences. They rely on the expertise of other industry professionals to learn how to approach the problem. Engineers are collaborative by nature, and their inherent desire to solve problems assigns a high value to others’ success in an area of interest. They love to hear how someone was able to win by going through the same process. Though painted as emotionless data-heads at times, engineers place a high premium on the outcome of personal success.
Reliance on experience and learned lessons: Engineers polish their ability to incorporate and adapt to new information, so they also value negative experiences as a tool to aid their approach. He would use the information to build confidence in the recommendation, or he would clear the hurdles that inhibited the peer’s success. This point speaks to what an engineer fears; he wants to make sure he doesn’t make the same misstep twice. Furthermore, if your product or service designs out the error, the engineer will be one of the loudest advocates, beating the buyer over the head with an experience-based account to justify the necessity of what you are offering.
Confidence: Deep down, engineers lack confidence in fields in which they are not an expert. With every high-visibility recommendation, they expect the buyer to challenge their opinion. Engineers view data as irrefutable proof of their point, and it provides them the confidence they need to support their buying opinion confidently.
When to decide to buy: An engineer decides to buy a product long before the physical act of purchasing happens. The purchase happens only after he conducts extensive independent research and has multiple conversations with people he trusts. The engineer takes the list of criteria and assesses each product offering to assess which one would provide the optimal solution. Once he makes up his mind, the engineer is tough to move off of that position and is not interested in other options or points of view. The window to upsell him on a better/more expensive product has already passed and trying to push an engineer a different direction would likely backfire.
Benefits vs. features: Engineers already know the benefit of a product following the research that went into the buying decision. Continuing to hammer these home after he decides to purchase could have an effect counter to what you intended. They know the benefits and don’t need to hear them anymore. A sales approach that an engineer what appreciate is reinforcing the buying decision with a brief overview of additional features. Even after the engineer confidently communicates a decision to purchase, subtly layering on additional benefits makes him feel at ease with the recommendation. The more you can quantify or tabulate these features, the better your engineer customer receives them.
Engineers HATE high-pressure sales: Given their addiction to data, a surprising point about selling to engineers is that they can be susceptible to a high-pressure approach. This approach can work in the short term by knocking the engineer from his default position of skepticism about a new product idea. A savvy salesperson familiar with their technical [prospective] client rapidly presents him with data the engineer either didn’t know or cannot immediately disprove.
However, though they sometimes work right away, these tactics usually lead to buyers remorse once the engineer goes back and processes what he’s heard. Typically, engineers do not excel under pressure and are very put off by hard sales aimed to trick them into buying. The feeling that the salesperson tricked him leads the engineer to have severe trust issues with the company from whom he’s considering the purchase. He will then quickly write off a brand or product that sells to them like this. This tactic is the worst method to compel an engineer to buy your product, as it causes irreparable brand damage in his mind and makes him an enemy of you and your company.
Marketing stigma: Getting burned by the hard sales approach causes engineers to have a stigma against marketing. They do not like to be surprised and hate the feeling that a marketer has manipulated them into making a purchase decision without the chance to conduct independent research. This long-standing stigma against traditional marketing is the reason inbound marketing is so useful for this consumer group.
Technical expert: Engineers put a high priority on education, research, knowledge, and expertise. They seek to collect more of these tools, and as a result, they need to feel respected when asked to advise on a purchase decision. Most engineers feel that they can process information quickly based on how they’ve learned to think; as a result, they feel well-positioned to help develop a solution.
They want you to validate their thinking and approach to the decision and are much more responsive to a salesperson who speaks their language. They want to buy from a peer they trust, who knows his product better than the engineer. Engineers respond to technical language, specifications, and numbers. Communicating to them in those terms changes the entire tone of the sales process, and show them you are a pee that they can trust.
The best way to win over engineers is to present them with concrete, easily-verifiable information from sources they trust. Inbound marketing resonates strongly with engineers; it is not the marketing they resist; it’s the marketing they seek. Hopefully, these secrets give you insight into how these influential (though unique) consumers think.