For high tech firms in today's environment, being tagged as a "technology-driven" or "engineering-driven" company may be the kiss of death. Certainly, there are many examples of phenomenally successful engineering driven companies but these are now regarded as the exception rather than the rule.
To change a company's orientation toward being "market-driven" may require changes in many aspects of the organization with one of the most important being a refocusing of the engineering effort. Engineers need to shift their attention from technology and features to meeting specific customer needs. When this change process succeeds, engineers concern themselves with such issues as "ease of use," "ease of sale," "accessibility to third party developers -- software and hardware," "compatibility" and "connectivity."
While many engineers have gotten the religion when it comes to ease of use or user friendliness, ease of sale, which is fact a somewhat different concept, still eludes many. Ease of sale may require engineers to spend significant time and energy perfecting demos which highlight the product's key features. In some cases, it may require developing selfdemoing capability. These efforts do not directly increase the functionality of the equipment, they do, however, increase its saleability and it is a very appropriate use of engineering talent.
How to transition engineers to a market orientation is sometimes a difficult issue. Direct exposure to the market is a very useful technique. Having engineers attend trade shows, for instance, not only serves to educate them about the market but it also gets their competitive juices flowing. Customer site visits is another important vehicle for putting the engineer in direct contact with how the product is being used and what the real problems and opportunities are.
Some real problems identified in this way may not be interesting technological challenges but may solve real customer problems. The more that the engineers can relate on a person-to-person basis, the greater the incentive to work on customer-related issues. Having the engineers accompany salespeople on sales calls can sensitize them to the ease of sale area.
Moving the engineer out of the lab into the field and not relying solely on second hand reports from the marketing department goes a long way toward creating the market-driven engineer that is being demanded.
Reprinted with permission from The MIT Enterprise Forum, Inc. of Cambridge. The article first appeared in the "Forum Reporter," Volume 8, No. 3, November 1989.
Other Chairman's Columns