As a techie* you probably have no difficulty communicating with your peers. You use acronyms, terminology and examples that your colleagues understand. The difficulty arises when you need to communicate with techies in different fields or when you need to talk with non techies such as customers, upper level management or the sales staff.
I write marketing material, presentations and web content for technical products and services. When I talk with techies I need to play the role of “designated idiot.”(I first heard this term used by Bruce Madole in 1994 at an HPCA presentation.) I have found that techies often assume knowledge that their audience may not possess. By being the designated idiot, I ask questions until I understand the process or product. When I understand, know the acronyms, expressions and terminology I can then write the web page, the white paper, the case study, the testimonial story or the marketing brochure.
When techies are presenting, talking to customers or training their sales staff they need to keep in mind the following principles .
Know your audience. Find out who they are, what they need and want to know. Determine their level of technical understanding. Some may not know the difference between an extruder and a die, or a browser and a hard drive. You need to be able to talk to them at their level – not down to them. You need to help them follow your train of thought, and use real examples that they can understand.
Talk about the benefits of features. As a subject matter expert, you know your product better than anyone but sometimes you see all the features and are blind to the benefits of your product. The benefits are what interests potential buyers and it’s what sells the product.
When talking to your sales staff or to a customer about design issues, talk about the benefits of the features. Describe how a feature will contribute to efficiencies, cost savings, or ease of use. Use practical examples from the field, not from the lab.
Beware, the devil is in the details. Techies are often frustrated because they want to talk about every detail such as the thickness and type of plating on a particular part. But the audience only needs to be assured that the part will stand up to the rigours of use. You may have spent months testing various plating materials to come up with the right one. So what? You now have the part that works effectively and won’t wear out like the one competition uses. When a savvy customer asks about the type of plating then you can provide the justification for the type of plating.
As a techie, you have a detailed knowledge about the products you design, and we hope you demonstrate that enthusiasm for the product. Be cautious about delivering a brain dump. Not only will you intimidate the technically challenged and but you will fail to impress the knowledgeable members of the audience. It is a fine balance. You need to provide enough information without overwhelming.
A techie with well-developed communication skills can be a powerful partner to sales staff and the marketing team, including outsourced suppliers (such as buzz4biz). You can provide great support when you are able to communicate with customers and provide in-depth and understandable answers to customer questions.
*For the purposes of this article “techies” is an all-encompassing and endearing term to describe engineers, engineering technologist and IT professionals of all kinds. It is not a term of derision, but a term of convenience.
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