Marketing people tend to get a bad rap, especially in software.  Just read a few Dilbert comics about the soulless folks in marketing and you’ll get a gist of their status.  I’m not suggesting that it’s entirely undeserved either, but not all marketing folks are dishonest, horrible people.  On the contrary, I’ve worked with many bright, knowledgeable folks who made a big impact on the company I was working for.

This post will deal mostly with an overview.  There are generally two kinds of marketing: inbound and outbound.  Inbound is the art of determining customer needs and producing products to meet those needs (i.e. taking in information).  Outbound is taking the products that you have and presenting them to the customers in the form of websites, webinars, presentations, brochures, advertising, trial software, etc. (i.e. sending out information).

Ideally, you’ll have folks at your company that are concerned with both inbound and outbound marketing.  Good inbound marketing is key to producing the products that customers will actually buy.  It should involve conversations with customers, and involve them in the testing of your software in alpha and beta stages of development.  I’ve always been leery of know-it-all people who come into the company and try to turn the place upside-down without any experience in the domain of the products (i.e. they’ve got 10 years of marketing experience, but they don’t know anything about building construction or software that supports it, for example).  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t hire someone not familiar with your domain, but you should expect them to, and encourage them to learn about it.  In the absence of this, your products can easily be led down a path of uselessness in the field.  It’s seriously hard to listen to folks who’ll pontificate on the direction your software should take when they haven’t a clue how it’s really used.  Expecting that your software will create a complete shift in how your customers will do business is a recipe for disaster.  Most companies are like slow-moving barges.  Having them move quickly because you’ve changed entire processes will likely result in a loss of sales.  When in doubt, ask several customers.

Good outbound marketing is essential to support sales and must be done at the appropriate level for your software and customers.  For example, if you write highly specialized software that costs thousands of dollars per license and will likely sell only a few copies per year, buying a Super Bowl ad is probably not a good use of your advertising budget.  Of course, the biggest bang for your buck is quality website.  When your customers find you, you save time and money.  Ensure that your site is clean and makes it easy to find out the information a user will want to know.  If possible, allow them to download a trial, preferably fully functioning.  After that, the marketing folks will have to figure out what to spend their money on to best increase awareness of your product and attract customers.  In my experience, huge booths at huge conferences are not cost effective if your software is high cost and long sales time.  For lower cost, easy to justify sales, it might work better.

This column isn’t the place to do a complete breakdown on marketing.  Besides, I’m a software guy and you probably are, too.  The point is to arm you will a little knowledge about what your marketing folks are supposed to be doing.  If they’re not, maybe you can nudge them in the right direction.  It can be hard to see the big picture when you’re in the middle of a detailed project.  Asking questions about what’s going on can lead everyone to think harder about the big picture and where the focus of effort should be.