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Making Salesmen and Engineers Play Nice

SAN JOSE, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- With the exception of exterminators and cockroaches, no two groups coexist with more derision than marketing professionals and product engineers.

To engineers, the marketing department is full of fast-talking fluff-spewers who make impossible promises. To marketing executives, engineers are misfit geniuses who can't see the forest from the trees.

"Managing between marketing and engineering starts with the recognition that the tension between them reflects something intrinsic," says Larry Lang, a technology marketing executive with an engineering background, who spent eight years as the general manager of the mobile and wireless business unit at Cisco (CSCO). "Customers want infinite capability and performance delivered right now for free. Yet the laws of physics and state of technology constrain what can be produced. This dissonance will never be fully resolved, so the goal must be to channel the energy in constructive, creative ways."

Everybody knows that a company's success depends on making and selling a useful product. Fortunately, there are ways to smooth interdepartmental rifts and make customers happier in the process.

Put down the ego and ask for ideas: Businesses large and small often employ a product development model that works like this: A marketing team creates a list of product requirements, based on industry research and customer feedback, and the engineering team parses the list into a functional specification. But this model leaves no room for engineers' creativity. That can be a mistake because (at the risk of stereotyping) engineers tend to spend a lot of time online, either deliberately or inadvertently learning what competitors are doing. They're also natural inventors.

"The engineer guys have better marketing ideas than the marketing guys do," says David Callisch, vice president of marketing at Ruckus Wireless in Sunnyvale, Calif., which makes wireless networking equipment. "The problem is the marketing people don't give them the time of day."

Engineers expect marketing people to be cocky, he says, so it's best to approach them with humility.

"If you go to the engineers and say, 'Look, man, I don't know what to do,' and you solicit their opinions, those guys will come at you proactively and say, 'Hey, you should do this and this and this,'" Callisch says.

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