Engineers are marketeers, too

In my last post, I went out on a limb, claiming that in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business, customer support is actually a marketing function. Retaining happy customers and reducing defections through first-rate customer support is vital to SaaS success.

So now that I've climbed out on this limb, let me go even further:

In SaaS companies, engineers are marketeers, too.

I know that's an oddball idea, mixing engineering and marketing. So does Dilbert.

There's obviously lots of humor in the notion of "engineers as marketeers," but there's truth to it as well. In SaaS companies, engineers and the development team can contribute to successful marketing efforts in at least two ways.

For one, the SaaS delivery model connects engineers more closely to the market. They can see precisely what the customers are doing with the solution. And because it is maintained centrally, and not on each customer's site, updates can usually be delivered more easily and more quickly.

As a result, the engineers can respond more quickly to market requirements. There's no longer an 18-month or two-year gap between product releases as is common with on-premise applications. Following an agile development methodology, for example, the development team might be able fulfill a customer request or match a competitor's feature in a matter of several weeks. This capability puts engineers in much closer contact with the market. They are no longer separated from customer needs by a gaping chasm.

Though the lexicon of marketing jargon certainly doesn't need another entry, the term "market-driven engineering" may apply.

Let me suggest a second way that SaaS companies could enlist engineers as marketeers. They could build marketing activities directly into the product.

An example: I'm working with a client to provide a series of "tips & tricks" to be dripped out to prospective customers over the course of a trial subscription. The goal is to convert more trials into paying subscriptions.

We initially planned to simply deliver a new tip via email every week over the course of the trial. But a better idea emerged.

Why not build this marketing campaign directly into the solution?

The development team would code functionality into the product that would recognize when the customer was using a particular feature, and it would automatically present the relevant tip to the user at the precise time when it would be most valuable. The tips & tricks become more relevant and much more effective.

It's a useful illustration of how the development team can help the marketing effort. As odd a couple as they may seem, it helps when engineers think like marketeers.