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As engineers and as entrepreneurs we may lose sight of what it takes to promote our services to the public at large.  The upcoming conference in February includes a marketing forum, but this article today is simply intended to get us all thinking.
The late Peter Drucker, one of the nation’s foremost management consultants and a professor at NYU, had this to say about marketing:
“Marketing is so basic that it cannot be considered a separate function.  It is the whole business seen from the point of view of the final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view.”
Consider for a moment that marketing is a social process by which individual and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products, services, and value with others.  Management of the marketing function demands that we put in place programs that foster beneficial exchanges and relationships with target markets for the purpose of achieving organizational objectives…which in most cases is making money.
Five philosophies typically guide marketing efforts:

  1. Production concept, wherein consumers favor a product or service that is widely available and cheap…products and services under this concept may be, or are nearly, commodities.
  2. Product concept, which holds that consumers favor a product or service with the most quality, performance, and features.
  3. Selling concept, reflecting the notion that a product or service is not in high demand and aggressive selling and promoting is necessary.
  4. Marketing concept, in which the provider understands the needs and wants of a target market and comes up with a way to deliver to that market more effectively and efficiently than competitors.
  5. Societal marketing concept, which holds that the provider understands the needs and wants of a target market and delivers better than competitors, doing so in a way that enhances the consumer’s (and perhaps society’s) well being.

If you have carefully read and begun thinking about these points, a few thoughts may now be arising.  Many NABIE members are licensed engineers and architects who are largely in the home inspection business.  If that is the bulk of your business, you are likely competing for market share with non-engineers in the inspection business, commoditizing your services and likely affecting your revenues.  To effectively compete in that market you need to follow – at least in part – the production concept.  Having seen this market often, these are the three or four inspections per day fellows, “writing” reports with boiler plate software in their cars after an hour and a half on site.
On the other hand, as PEs and RAs (among the most trusted professions in surveys of the public at large), we probably think like the marketing concepts reflected in numbers two and five, above.  We strive for perfection in our reports, and assume that such perfection of information is what best serves our client.
Then there is the reality of these times and the last several years: business is off because demand is down and we are puzzling about what to do…reflected in number three.
Which brings us to number four: the crux of the issue and the heart of marketing itself.
We can see from this quick overview that marketing is not as simple as advertising, networking, having a great web site, or Tweeting and Facebooking.  In fact there is a good chance we as engineers do not really know what it takes to succeed and may need to start by admitting that to ourselves.
The conference forum in February can get us all thinking a bit more about this topic and may help move us toward some answers, but we must recognize that just as engineering is a specialized profession, so is marketing.  It is indeed rare when twin levels of expertise exist in one individual such that they mutually work together to a successful end.
Let me add a final thought to this very brief consideration of marketing.  My experience over some 20 years with NABIE members is that we all are a highly experienced and knowledgeable group of engineers.  Most of that relates nearly exclusively to an extensive breadth of technical training and experience.  Few of us have professional training and experience in marketing.  So consider the 10 traits most often found in truly successful leaders in every walk of life:

  1. How you think is everything…always be positive.
  2. Decide on your specific goals and commit to reaching them.
  3. Take action…don’t wait, just get started and do it.
  4. Never stop learning.
  5. Be persistent and hard working.
  6. Learn to analyze details.
  7. Focus your time and money.
  8. Innovate, and be different.
  9. Deal and communicate with people effectively.
  10. Take responsibility…always be honest and dependable.

Certainly in my own engineering career I believe I focused on all of these points, albeit some more heavily than others.  I submit that, in these economic times, we must also look beyond our technical passions and, as entrepreneurs, begin to apply these points to marketing in our practices.