The Truth of Communicating with Techies, Wrapped in Dilbert Smiles

Tech marketers know that insightful content is as important as silicon. The challenge is… content does not grow on binary trees. You work to get a brain dump, even a small cookie of information, and all you find is a 404. So what does a tech marketer do when they are completely cached out on driving content? The knowledge owner (aka the “techie”) needs data mining.

Working in tech PR and marketing for more than 20 years, I have learned a few things about working with tech talent. Like Oprah, with about 3 billion less dollars, I also know some things for sure. One being that there is wisdom in the saying, “A joke is a truth wrapped in a smile.” And, when it comes to wisdom regarding communicating with techies, Dilbert is the Dali Lama. Here is the support manual. Enjoy.

Know your audience

Truth: Tech folks veer towards the introverted and quiet side. In many cases, the ability to clearly communicate in layman’s terms conflicts with the genius techies inherently bring to the table.

Tip: Recognize that a group discussion can be difficult for people who are introverted. Schedule one-on-one meetings to help a techie feel more comfortable sharing information. You can also share an agenda or questions prior to the meeting to help the interviewee process information internally before the meeting begins.


DILBERT © 2011 Scott Adams. Used By permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

Set the stage for respect

Truth: There are some techies that don’t recognize, or appreciate, different types of talents and intelligence. This can lead to a condescending attitude towards those that lack deep technical knowledge, even though your communication, organization and strategic skills might be superior.

Tip: Do your homework. Know the tech basics and bring intelligent questions to the table. Don’t make the techie educate you on elementary concepts. Maximize your time by asking the right questions to collect value-add information during your meeting.


DILBERT © 1993 Scott Adams. Used By permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

Sell the concept – The need to take credit

Truth: Many techies don’t see value in marketing. They think customers will simply happen upon their technology once developed. While it is certainly possible to find examples of “build it and they will come” success stories, if you look behind the scenes, there was most likely some sort of marketing driver.

Tip: Ask questions that help the techie realize the value in marketing to get credit where credit is due. What do they feel their company is not getting credit for? What are they most proud to have developed? What was the most difficult technical challenge that they were able to overcome?


DILBERT © 1996 Scott Adams. Used By permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

Invite explanation of jargon

Truth: Your techie lives in a technical world and interacts with technical people all day long. They can sometimes have a difficult time differentiating the knowledge and vocabulary of the non-technical person. What seems like clear, easy to understand language to you might sound condescending in their world.

Tip: When non-techies talk to techies, it is important to ask questions when the tech-speak gets too jargon heavy. If you work in the same industry, you many understand the common jargon. New jargon may need explanation. Let the techie know what is understood by mere mortals and what is not. Use active listening to repeat back what you heard and ask for correction.


DILBERT © 2010 Scott Adams. Used By permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

Get to simple concepts to avoid getting lost in the weeds

Truth: Part of what makes a technical genius a technical genius is the ability to work at the detail level. When it goes too far, techies may get lost in the weeds of unnecessary detail. That can be a challenge for marketers tasked with uncovering the conceptual level to create story hooks.

Tip: Ask questions that invite broad overviews, limited answers and summary statements. Example: What are the top three things that are most important about how this software is architected?


DILBERT © 1989 Scott Adams. Used By permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

Gain perspective and dig for the unique factors

Truth: Technical talent can be so focused on creating specific technical capabilities that they lose sight of the significance of the technical accomplishments. Unless asked, they may not communicate what is absolutely unique.

Tip: Ask questions to determine what is truly unique. Examples: What do our competitors do better technically? How long would it take us to catch up? What are your most important patents? What gets you most excited about the technology?


DILBERT © 2007 Scott Adams. Used By permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

Discuss the applications

Truth: In the end, the only thing that matters is what the technology does for the customer. If the application of that technology is low value and there are better ways to solve the problem, the technology is useless. This concept can sometimes be overlooked by a techie and make it necessary to guide conversations toward applications versus technical abilities.

Tip: Ask questions that tie to real world use and the technology’s place in the market. What does it do? How does it do it? Why would I want it? What can customers do now that they could not do before? How does this differ from the way customers have addressed this problem in the past?


DILBERT © 1990 Scott Adams. Used By permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

Back up claims

Truth: If trying too hard, a techie’s attempt at simplification can go overboard and go direct to claims. The techie may attempt to skip the hard part of simplifying their job into layman’s terms and just tell you what it can accomplish. Claims are good. At the same time, they require explanation if they are to hold any marketing weight.

Tip: Ask questions that provide the proof of concept behind the technology. What metrics can we use to prove the capabilities? What claims will be hard to believe? How can we make them believable? Exactly how do you accomplish this?


DILBERT © 2011 Scott Adams. Used By permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

It takes all types and we need each other. These little truths wrapped in smiles can help create a more joyful communication bridge between the techies and marketers.