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How Marketers and Engineers Can Truly Get Along and Do Better Work Together

February 17, 2021
by
Tory Gray
Tory Gray
Colin Gray
Colin Gray

Three years ago (or in internet time, a thousand years ago), “The Dress” captured the attention of every single human being on planet earth. Half of us saw it as black and royal blue, the other half saw white and gold, and no matter which side you aligned yourself with one thing was objectively true: you were right.

Why? Because life is subjective and people are different from one another. From the moment we’re born people tend to assume that most other folks see and interact with the world the same way they do. But the fact is... they don’t.

Celebrate it or rage against it, it is an immutable fact of life.

Today we’re going to focus specifically on a few of the most common language and personality gaps that have plagued marketing teams and software developers at technology companies for years, and how best to bridge them.

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar: you and the rest of the marketing or SEO team want a new feature. Not just any feature though...this is the big one; the game-changer; the disruptor.

You go to the engineering team to discuss building said new feature and…

  • Crickets
  • Then, engineering says they don't have time
  • Or, they say it’s a bad idea for X, Y, Z reasons
  • And finally, the feature sits in the product backlog and never sees the light of day

Or the reverse: A couple of the folks from Marketing and SEO brought you and the other engineers into a conference room to regale you with their latest pie-in-the-sky idea for a new product, or a great product feature they want built.

You open your notebook, start jotting down notes and realize quickly: 

  • They’re talking so fast you can’t even grasp the concept
  • They have no idea how complicated this thing is
  • AND, one of them is actually telling you exactly how you have to build it

The same people were in the same room witnessing the same event, however two different groups of people had two wildly different experiences, and left the room with very different impressions of one another.

So - how do you meet in the middle? How can we build inroads and improve communication so much that we can have real collaboration?

Here are our suggestions - from both sides of this particular Marketing vs. Engineering battlefield.

Tips For Working With Software Engineering Departments

Assume Good Intentions/Consider Your Impact

  • Broadly speaking, this applies anytime you’re interacting with anyone anywhere. Start the conversation with respect, and you’re likely to get it back.
  • Even if your co-worker is a jerk, it doesn't pay to treat them like one. If you want something done you need to figure out how to motivate them to do it.
  • Keep in mind they are stressed out and busy and pulled in a million directions (not infrequently by the latest & greatest marketing request that ends up never getting used)
  • Ask yourself if you are being a jerk. If you are... maybe.. stop?

Pick Your Priorities (and don’t go to bat for all of them)

  • Consider that software engineers get lots of requests from everyone - the exec suite decision makers, your sales team, strategy team, etc., and it’s their job to pump the brakes when their to-do list is getting out of hand.
  • Know your Want’s from your Need’s ahead of time, and be prepared to negotiate if you can only have three of the ten things on your list

Clearly Communicate Your Objectives & Priorities

what-are-your-top-priorities

Don't just outline the requirements of a feature you'd like (though that's a critical step, too!). It's a software developer's job to find a solution, and a HUGE part of your job is to listen to their feedback.

Before you sit down with your engineer(s), be prepared to outline:

The problem you’re running into, and how this new feature addresses it

  • For example, if you've yet to achieve product/market fit, this new feature might fill the gap to make the product as a whole solves a core need
  • Additionally, start slow. They don’t know anything about your idea; bring them up to speed. Context matters!

Who the feature is for (internal team members? The target audience?)

How you see it working and what exactly it should do

  • When possible, explain what it should deliver and NOT a step by step "do this." If you can't do this, explain instead how it works in your head, and that you’re open to other solutions that solve the problem. 
  • LISTEN to the responses and be open to changes that a) reduce development work (and therefore the timeline/improve chances you’ll get the feature), and b) won’t impact results.

When you need it by (if the timeline matters.)

What the expected result is / what you expect it to do

  • Estimate ROI whenever possible, but note that this is not always feasible for SEO projects unless you have A/B testing / Edge SEO software.

Ask Good Questions

  • Most people have no idea how much work goes into their request for a software feature. Just because it sounds simple to you does NOT mean it's simple to execute.
  • Have open and honest conversations about effort level, and if they offer up suggestions for how to tweak a feature to reduce the labor required and still achieve the intended results, pay attention.

Be a Team Player

  • Be understanding when things break, don't work, or aren't delivered on time. Hostile work environments produce nervous employees, and you really don’t want that.
  • Also, keep in mind that software breaks. It’s the nature of the beast!
  • Don't burn bridges. You may get away with it once or twice, but eventually it’s going to bite you back.
  • Don't point fingers; be a team player. You are in this together.

Tips for Working with Marketing Departments

Or project managers, or your sales people. Generally the people without an engineering degree, or your level of technical knowledge.

Requisite Dilbert comic ( image credit)  apparently required for all conversations about engineering & marketing.

Assume Good Intentions/Consider Your Impact

  • We gave the exact same advice to the marketing people in the section above. Why? Because it gets the conversation off on the right foot. Far too many people look at the person in front of them and see something “other than” (or worse, “less than”), and things can only go downhill from there. 
  • Yes they’re super excited about that new feature, because it might actually be the big one! If they succeed, you could have a much cushier, more comfortable job for longer, so find a way to raise the tide, you just might see your boat lift along with theirs. 
  • Ask yourself if you are being a jerk. If you are... maybe.. stop?

Have a Clearly Defined Process for Requesting Features

  • Clearly and transparently establish the process by which they should engage with your team. You already know that “hey can you just do X, Y, Z” on Slack is not the way to start the conversation, so figure out the process that works best for your organization, implement it, and reinforce it. 

Be clear on your needs & don’t be afraid to ask for them

  • Marketing doesn’t know how busy you are, and unless you show them, they probably never will. If your boat is sinking - and marketing is the cause of it - let your dept head know that something needs to be done about it.
  • Once you have a process in place, stick to it. When people go around the process, point it out, have a real, honest conversation about it, and redirect them back into the process

Ask Good Questions

  • No one’s allowed to leave the room until you understand the problem they’re attempting to solve. Slow the process down and ask as many questions as you can think of before you take ownership of the task.
  • Watch out for terms of art and turns of phrase (aka, “slang”), marketers are notorious for them. Figuring out what they “mean” by the words they say can be a real art.

Show, Don’t Tell

  • Consider the possibility you’re talking to a visual learner
  • If you can illustrate your point on a whiteboard or rapid prototype something they can play with, you may find yourself getting to the end of the conversation a lot quicker than you used to.

Communicate Potential / Real Barriers

Equip them with the knowledge and insight they need to make the hard decisions for themselves. If you see problems or obstacles, call them out, but follow it up with viable alternatives. Don’t just dig your heels in and refuse to do it. 

Be ready to substantiate your time estimates. If you know the thing they’re asking for will take five months to build (and they were hoping for like, two), be prepared to back it up - OR - give them ways to reduce scope to bring it in line with expectations.

  • Alternatively, if there are other items in your queue that can be postponed or reassigned, that might be a trade they’re willing to make

Explain the implications of mid-stream changes. Whether that means you rapid prototype it or scope the hell out of it, just make sure everyone on the team is clear on how to save time and effort, and deliver something viable, sooner. 

Explain the concept of “blockers”

  • For example, “technical debt” (as in a structure that didn’t plan for this feature in advance and therefore can’t support it, etc.) is very relevant in your world, but is almost certainly a concept your marketers are entirely unfamiliar with.

No one but the engineering team will know about things like lack of testing, site stability, etc. These challenges need to be brought up in the same way new features are discussed so that everyone understands why they’re important, and the tangible consequences of skipping them.

Be Nice. “Direct” is not inherently nice. 

  • And don’t call being a jerk “being direct” - that’s a cop-out. I get that you are frustrated - it’s frustrating to overcome communication barriers! But snide comments aren’t going to help your case. Be polite. Build bridges.

Now with all of that being said, one thing will always hold true no matter the size or makeup of your team: don’t let personal differences or ego trips stand in the way of working well with the people around you. Different jobs require different personality types, and the more you can do to recognize that (and maybe even celebrate it), the easier things will become.

With more than forty years of combined experience, the team here at the Gray Dot company has seen, screamed about, and worked through just about every imaginable conflict that can arise between two human beings.

Just reach out and let us help you through yours.

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