The Technical Land Mine

A number of years ago, I was a product manager for Microsoft Office. The team was so large that marketing and development were scattered in buildings around the Redmond campus. I helped coordinate events where partners could work alongside developers and testers to ensure their products worked well with ours.

One day I received an email from my manager asking me to setup a meeting with a developer who worked on the same product. I was instructed not to stop by his office or call him. I was to setup the meeting and then notify my manager of the date and time so he could accompany me. The goal of the meeting was to invite this developer to attend a Q&A session at an upcoming event in Seattle.

I was confused. Why did I need my boss to sit in on a meeting? Why couldn’t I offer the invitation myself?

The day of our meeting arrived and, as we walked across campus, my manager described how the last time someone from our group spoke directly to development, things didn’t go well. I didn’t think much of his remarks until I was sitting across from this developer as he mocked our work and told us marketers are clueless and don’t perform real work.

I was stunned. This was someone who not only worked for the same company I did, but we worked on the SAME PRODUCT. But after that experience it was clear that battle lines had been drawn with developers and testers on one team and marketing and sales on the other.

I’ve thought back to that experience over the years having been on both sides of the table. I’ve spent half my career on technical teams and the other half in marketing. At smaller companies, it’s not uncommon to have both groups work alongside each other which allows everyone to see how the other groups are contributing to the product.

But at large companies, the marketing team may speak with a developer once or twice a year, if that. Interaction between the groups isn’t encouraged, and an adversarial relationship is prevalent among groups.

I’ve noticed that it’s not uncommon for marketing and sales to approach the technical groups for assistance with selling new or complex products. Sometimes a customer asks a technical question that the sales representative can’t answer. In that case, it makes sense for sales to reach out to those with a deeper technical knowledge of the product.

The British have created a comedy called the IT Crowd centered on this very notion. Each episode is filled with hilarious bits of interaction between the IT geeks and the rest of the company who have no clue about technology.

Yet it’s mostly a one-way street. The technical groups seldom need guidance from the marketing or sales. Or they don’t believe they need anything. Arrogance isn’t scarce.

Marketers have a much broader range of responsibilities. They are expected to coordinate within the group while still listening and reaching out to customers. That requires wearing many hats, some of which may slide into the technical realm.

When is the last time you’ve seen a developer asked for his input on the latest marketing plan? Can you imagine how silly most developers would look if they were expected to create an MRD, write a white paper or conduct a brand audit?

Maybe one day both groups will gain a respect for each other. But I’m not holding my breath.