Github, recently bought by Microsoft, is turning into the world’s largest software graveyard.
But, you don’t just find software there.
Flicking through these got me to the concept of Engineering as Marketing, popularised by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares in Traction: How any startup can achieve explosive customer growth.
What does this mean?
You can’t just tell people what you do and show them a brochure and expect them to buy any more.
First of all, it’s hard to get to speak with anyone. They’re all busy. And, unless what you do is exactly what they are looking for right now, they’ll cut you off.
That’s if you get through the receptionist and the email only policy.
And that’s because telling isn’t selling.
Increasingly, what we’re trying to sell in product and service companies is technology. Brains aren’t enough.
You need tech as well – and with tech you have to show what you can do. Demo or die.
But what if you have a large, complex and expensive product?
Or what you have something like a book to sell? Something that doesn’t have a technology element to it.
Take the energy business, for example. It can take from tens of thousands to many millions to develop a new solar project.
I’ve just typed “solar irradiance calculator” into Google.
The first website that comes up is for a Solar Electricity Handbook.
The handbook is the best selling solar energy book today, the website says.
But on the website, they also have a calculator, which lets you see how much a solar installation will perform in the city of Masis, in Armenia – should you wish to do something like that.
And here’s the interesting thing.
The second link on Google is for a company that is using this calculator – and gives the first site a linkback.
That’s a perfect example of engineering as marketing.
The company has created a free tool.
That is focused, no pun intended, on calculating a specific thing – how much sun energy do you get in a particular place.
It’s complementary – which means that it doesn’t steal sales from its main product. You can use the calculator without losing any sales of the book.
The book is the main product and the calculator is a useful additional bit that might get you to the website and even buy the book.
And its building useful links from other sites that use the tool.
Most examples of engineering as marketing focus on the big examples – Hubspot and the like.
But – small companies with small budgets can also use this strategy very effectively.
You might struggle to get time with decision makers to talk to them about what you do.
If your product is relatively expensive – it’s going to take time to develop a relationship with them at a number of levels.
If you provide free and useful tools that don’t cannibalise your core business – they could end up coming to you.
For example, if you use a calculator on someone’s website for long enough, you might be interested enough to talk more about the rest of your products.
Take the solar PV project business – if you can provide tools that make it easier to find locations with good sunlight – you might find people coming to you to ask about your design and installation services.
Like many of the best solutions, engineering as marketing doesn’t try and tackle a problem head on, you go around it instead.
And it doesn’t need to be expensive. Creating microsites, calculators and other small tools don’t need to cost a lot or take much time.
But you do want to make then free, focused and useful.
And, importantly, not make you lose sales.