Engineering our way out of an awareness problem - does that ever work?

When told that customers aren't aware of their company, a common response is our excellent engineering will make them aware. The history of computing is paved with the gravestones of companies that approached business this way.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

Recently the newest incarnation of a previously-well-known supplier of system software reached out to me to introduce their latest and greatest product.

Sad history

For a moment, I was caught up in reminiscing about this company. I thought about the ski jacket the company provided to attendees of an analyst gathering at the company headquarters in the late 1990s that I still wear when the weather is cold enough. It was a company that was once at the top of the server operating environment market.

Unfortunately, that company made some really bad marketing, sales and support decisions and was crushed under the wheels of another supplier of system software in the 1990s.

Later that same company thought that its name, a name that was formally at the top of the heap of life rather than at the bottom, would bring excellently engineered products back to glory. While the engineering was excellent, the marketing, sales and support strategies were not.

The company has changed hands and the new owners have been doing their best to revive the company and, they hope, bring it back to its lustrous reputation of the past.

Obscure announcement

A company representative reached out to me and told me that the company wanted to brief me on an announcement. In my assessment, the product they were hoping I'd feel enthusiastic about would be considered an important, but relatively obscure type of software, hardly worthy of enthusiasm.

Is anyone listening?

I responded by telling the company representative that I would be happy to speak with them, but feared that no one would be listening to their announcement message. Customers were no longer aware of the company and largely believed that the company had disappeared into the pages of information technology history long ago.

Company response

The company representative's response was sadly typical of a company whose management team believes that it is possible to engineer its way out of a marketing, sales and support problem.

Here is a snippet of that message:

<insert company name here>'s really reinventing itself, while focusing on engineering excellence, innovation and core competencies that put it on the map more than 30 years ago.

Wrong Answer

Unfortunately, that's the wrong answer. Engineering is extremely important to the success of a technology supplier. It, however, must be matched by marketing that brings people to the table; sales that transforms those sitting at the table from suspects to prospects to customers; and support that keeps them at the table to purchase future products and services. Excellent engineering clearly isn't enough. The "build it and they will come" school of business hasn't worked since the 1970s.

Here was my answer to that company representative:

That’s the wrong answer.

The marketing cycle goes something like this:

  1. A potential customer gains awareness of the company and its products. Without this awareness, the process stops here.
  2. A potential customer who is aware of the company and its products gains interest in the company and its products. Without interest, the process stops here.
  3. A potential customer who is both aware and interested in the company and its products gains a desire to learn more. Without this desire, the process stops here.
  4. A potential customer who is both aware and interested AND desires more information can be persuaded to take action. Without action, the potential customer remains only a potential customer and never becomes a customer.

<Insert company name here> is foundering in the awareness cycle and hasn’t moved forward. My clients and readers NEVER speak about the company. When pressed, most of them think the company went out of business ages ago.

More steps and strategies are required

Although I didn't say this in my response, that is only the first step.

Once someone is aware, interested, desire the product and service; and is ready to take action; an excellent sales strategy must take over and lead the potential customer into becoming a real customer.

Then an excellent support strategy must take over after a successful sales campaign to keep them happy.

No amount of engineering, no matter how excellent, will move a potential customer who is unaware to do anything with the company.

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