How Engineers Contribute to a Successful B2B Content Strategy

Episode 133

May 18, 2021

Manufacturing marketers are skilled translators, often facilitating conversations between a buyer or engineer for another company. In this episode of The Kula Ring, Joana Rodrigues, Marketing Manager at Times Microwave Systems, talks about how her engineering background has helped her create successful marketing content that bridges the gap between the internal engineering team and the end customer. She provides advice for how to create content from engineering expertise and how to approach engineers, who are typically skeptical of marketers, with your strategy.

How Engineers Contribute to a Successful B2B Content Strategy Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White. 

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir? 

Carman Pirie: Delightful. It’s a pleasure to be joining you today, Jeff, and as always, I’m excited for today’s show. 

Jeff White:Yeah. No, I think it’s pretty interesting. We’ve often talked in the past about marketing and the integration of marketing with engineering departments within manufacturers, but never before have we had them kind of in the same place. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I think we’ve had some engineer marketers on the show before potentially, but I don’t think we really kind of cracked this nut. 

Jeff White: No. 

Carman Pirie: Because look, I think a lot of marketers when they bend to the task of connecting with engineers, writing for engineers, et cetera, you hear them talk about it and sometimes it’s like they’re talking about this unknown entity that thinks about things in a unique way. 

Jeff White: Amorphous blob. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. They clearly speak a different language. How could we ever communicate to them? Oh, no. And they act like there’s a lot that separates them, and I think what was so refreshing about today’s guest is that she has a contrary point of view which I’m so often interested to hear. 

Jeff White: You? Contrarian? I’ve never heard this before. 

Carman Pirie: Let’s get on with it. 

Jeff White: Yes, let’s indeed. Joining us today is Joana Rodrigues. Joana is the Marketing Manager at Times Microwave Systems. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Joana. 

Joana Rodrigues: Thank you. Pleasure to be here. 

Carman Pirie: Joana, awesome to have you on the show, and I want to get things underway by hearing more about the path that you took to your current role at Times Microwave Systems, because it’s a bit of a long and winding road I think from engineer to marketer. 

Joana Rodrigues: It wasn’t really the path I took. It was the path that took me in a certain way. I started my life as a mechanical engineer, my professional life. I loved it. I thought that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Big part of it is I love solving problems, and puzzles, and learning, so that’s where I thought I wanted to go. Then as career goes, I got into product management, which was a fantastic experience, and while I was in that role, I took a lot of project management classes. I was going for my master’s in engineering and at that point, the company I was at asked me to lead a project. I said, “Super. That’s very exciting. What is the project?” It’s our website redesign. 

I knew nothing about websites, and I thought, “How complicated and how hard can that possibly be?” That was a rude awakening. But it was a fantastic experience. My love for learning really helped me. I learned so many things so quickly, from SEO, to web design, to user interfaces, and it was just like sink or swim and I loved it. At the end of that project they offered me to take over the marketing department, to head their marketing department, and that was a very interesting point in my life where… It’s hard to get an engineering degree. It’s very difficult. There is a huge stigma with leaving an engineering career, because it’s either what happened, were you not good enough for engineering? Are you gonna toss all of those years at school? I was about to finish my master’s in engineering, but I truly believe, it’s my personal belief that as long as you’re doing something that’s fun and that you like, that’s all that matters. 

I wanted to learn more, so I took the job and it was fantastic. It really was amazing how much I learned, and to me, the key was when we work in manufacturing, you have all this very technical jargon. The people that are generating the content at this very… I don’t know what word to use. I don’t want to describe them as geeky, but very passionate people that work on this day in and day out. If they’re designing let’s say a screw, they know everything about it. They know the materials. They know the sizes, the dimensions, the tolerance. They can talk to you for hours about the minutiae of that specific item. 

Then that has to be communicated through marketing and sales into another engineer on the other end who is looking also for a screw. Might not need to know all of those details, but what do they need to know? It was really interesting for me to be marketing, trying to get our engineer to talk with a buyer, or an engineer for another company. How do we bridge that gap? Now you have a marketer person trying to facilitate a conversation between two engineers. 

Carman Pirie: Maybe they should just get out of the way. 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Joana Rodrigues: They can’t. They cannot get out of the way. Because we’re so vital in getting information out there, access that information, truly. Engineers can’t focus on getting that screw perfectly designed as well as get that information on the website, and get that information on the podcast, so you do need both. 

Carman Pirie: I’m relieved because we’ll still have jobs then. You had me a little concerned just a few minutes in. 

Jeff White: Yeah. The engineers are coming for us. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: Exactly. 

Joana Rodrigues: I think once we find how valuable both are, we’d be best friends. 

Jeff White: I think there’s a lot of similarities. Especially, I mean, if your first marketing assignment or project was a web build, there’s a lot of technical requirements there. There’s a lot of skill required. There’s a lot of different things that have to come together in exactly the right way in order for that to actually come off properly, so I can see an engineering mind really being well suited to that kind of a task. 

Joana Rodrigues: Yeah. And by no means am I ever gonna say it was easy or anyone can take on a marketing project. That is absolutely not true. You really have to have a strong background. And I was lucky that I had access to a lot of very knowledgeable people that took me under their wing. It wasn’t an easy transition and by no means am I saying, “If you want to go into marketing, yeah, just do it.” 

Carman Pirie: I think that’s an interesting point. Earlier you mentioned this tension of leaving an engineering career. I do think that there’s somewhat of a stigma, if you will, around, or at least mechanical engineering is serious. Marketing is… Eh, anybody… Maybe you don’t have to, you could go to school for it, but maybe you don’t have to. It’s gotta be a really… Because of course, when you intimately understand both, you know that it’s just as tough to be an exceptional marketer as it is to be an exceptional engineer. 

Joana Rodrigues: I couldn’t agree more with that and I think the reason why I’ve been successful is because I also have been able to tap on people that are talented. This concept that marketers can make everything look pretty, can write a perfect white paper, can design a beautiful website, can get you an SEO ranking really well, this notion that a marketer is a unicorn and can do everything is so unrealistic. It takes a lot. 

What I think differs from engineering and marketing is there’s a lot of resources out there in marketing. The problem is there are also a lot of what are called shiny objects, too, so you have to help someone to guide you through the path, to filter out this is a good strategy, that’s something that’s been implemented. It’s a good thing for marketing. Versus, you know, this is just a fad. It’s gonna come and go. 

Carman Pirie: To be fair, I suppose the barrier to authority is higher in engineering. You at least need to have the pinky ring in order to be taken seriously, don’t you? 

Joana Rodrigues: This is gonna sound horrible and I think people are gonna not… Engineers are not gonna be happy with me. But the thing about engineering that’s a little bit easier is you get to focus. You get to focus on one thing. And people understand, they have the expectation that you’re gonna be the expert on that topic. We don’t get that in marketing.

Carman Pirie: Nobody asks the mechanical engineer to just go over here and do some chemical engineering for a while. 

Joana Rodrigues: That is true. 

Carman Pirie: But you could be an advertising expert, like really, like an expert in broadcast advertising. That does not make you an expert marketer. It does not make you an expert lead gen marketer. 

Jeff White: It doesn’t make you an expert web designer. 

Carman Pirie: Right, right, right. But you’re-

Jeff White: You’re often lumped into the same basket. Yeah. 

Joana Rodrigues: Yeah, so a funny story, when I left my previous company and I had this moment, do I keep on marketing? Do I go back to engineering? I didn’t know what I wanted to do. A recruiter called me, and they said, “There’s a marketing position for this company here. Why don’t you come talk to us?” I’m like, “Okay.” I start my interviewing process and my conversations with them. I was interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing me, because I really wanted to make sure the expectations were there. I am very afraid sometimes that people will think, “You’re in marketing. You can make everything look pretty.” No, I’m not a graphic designer. I really can’t make everything look pretty. 

I really wanted to make sure when I interviewed for this company that their expectations of what my strengths were and what I’m good at, they fully understood, and that’s what they were looking for. And it worked out perfectly. It was a fantastic move. But that I think is one of the biggest things for us in marketing, this idea that we can do everything. 

Jeff White: Did Times Microwave know what they were getting when you were coming in? That you had this background in engineering? Was that what made them particularly interested in you? 

Joana Rodrigues: I think that they thought it would be a little bit easier for me to grasp more of the technical concepts. They were looking for someone with strong project management skills that could lead some key projects in marketing. I’m not 100% sure when manufacturers go out there looking for marketing if they know exactly what they’re looking for. I’m not sure if they got what they wanted. I hope they’re happy. I think they are. I love working with them and for them. But I think part of our jobs as marketers is to help clarify some of what exactly do you need, and what do you want to do, what’s your strategy? 

Carman Pirie: Understanding that there’s differences in roles and one marketer can’t do it all, that really is in some ways, when I think about the companies and marketers that I’ve met over the years, the ones that are more sophisticated, that have been around the business for longer, have worked in more complex, larger organizations, they seem to get that difference a lot more. And it seems like in some ways, it’s a bit of a trap of that small to mid-market B2B manufacturer, where they think like one to two marketing staff can get it all done. 

Jeff White: Yeah. There’s no need for any outside help. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, I mean, or even just diversity of skill sets. 

Joana Rodrigues: Yeah. 

Jeff White: I think the one thing that’s particularly interesting about your position and your background is I’d love to dive deeper into how you’ve helped bring that to life in your relationship with the engineers in your company. How has that helped you to play that translator role? 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, that engineering-to-marketing-to-engineering-

Jeff White: And to sales. How has that helped?

Joana Rodrigues: When you take a step back and you look, engineers and marketers are pretty much very similar people. They’re passionate. They take a subject and we were just talking about this, right? You try to become an expert. If it’s lead gen, you try to become an expert, you research, you’re constantly learning. And engineers are the same way. If you think about all the common grounds that we have between engineers and marketers, it becomes a lot easier to understand each other. I think for us in marketing, we do have to approach engineers with open ears, and if we don’t understand something, it’s okay. We can ask. The thing is, it will take time for engineers to see us as a valuable resource. 

You have to get a few wins under your belt before you can say, “Hey, by the way, this is what we’re gonna do.” Engineers are somewhat skeptical, and they think of marketing as what they see on TV, like a commercial or something, and they really haven’t spent much time thinking why do we need marketing in this company? They’ve been very focused on designing and development. 

But they are such a wonderful resource, because once you get them to talk about what they’re passionate about, it’s a wealth of information. It’s amazing. And just get them to talk. That would be my advice to any marketer out there. Don’t try to lead the conversation or tell them what they’re gonna write about. Let them talk. Let them lead that conversation. Then you can always loop in sales, and reposition, and see, “Okay, this is a fantastic topic. How can we position it? What out of all of this we talked about is really important to our customers?” There you can start framing that in a way that is important to your customer. Because your role really is to take all that fantastic knowledge and rearrange or reposition it in a way that your engineer customer can consume.

I think that’s the great thing, and when you think about that, once you get all that knowledge from the engineer, you as a marketer, you have that thing we love the most, which is content. Now, we can go, and we can start brainstorming and figuring out, “Okay, how am I gonna position…” Is this a podcast? Is this a vlog? Can I get this engineer in front of a camera? That’s a whole other podcast. 

Jeff White: That’s hard enough to do with marketers or others who don’t mind being in front of a camera. 

Joana Rodrigues: But now you have all this rich content. You can use your obsession with content development and lead generation, whatever you want to go with it, and then frame it. And I think to me that’s the recipe for success right there. 

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Carman Pirie: I have no idea where I’m going with this, Joana, but I’ll try to get there. I wonder, because the engineers that make a product have a level of depth and understanding of that product that the buy side engineer maybe doesn’t. The buying side engineer needs to know the various technical components of it and specifications and whatnot, to ensure that it works in what they’re building. But there is a bit of a difference in the level of depth and understanding from one engineer, kind of sell side engineer to buy side engineer. And it sounds as though that’s the translation that we’re trying to make when you say engineer to marketer to engineer. It’s like sell-side engineer, to marketer, to buy-side engineer. 

Is there any insight into the nuance there, the types of information that a buy side engineer is more interested in, that a sell side engineer maybe glosses over because they’re so close to the product? 

Joana Rodrigues: Yes. There is a lot. One thing, though, that is not technical, and if you can communicate that through your engineer all the way to your customer, is the passion. Sometimes we just skim through that passion that engineers have about that specific product and the buyers, they will look at, “Okay, these people are really committed to this product,” or “They’re very passionate about this product. They really know what they’re talking about.” 

I wouldn’t say get too caught up on how much detail, but really focus on is this person. Does it come across as a passionate person that really knows about the product? And a lot of engineers, when you talk to them, they really want to make sure that their product they developed is used properly and meets all the criteria that they need to. Engineers are problem solvers. They love checking off boxes, requirements, so passing that along I think is such a valuable point for us to do. 

Carman Pirie: I think we’re getting somewhere here because you make connectors at Times Microwave Systems. There’s a lot of the things that you make that people would say, “Okay, one connector versus the other, provided they both meet spec, it doesn’t matter. It’s whatever one’s the lowest the price.” And I kind of think what you just told me is, “Eh, there’s actually another thing that you can hinge on there.” And that the passion of that engineer that made that connector, if you can somehow successfully communicate that to the buying side, then it maybe just doesn’t boil down to price and spec at the end of the day. 

Jeff White: It’s almost it’s brand relevant. 

Carman Pirie:  Right, brand, but also person relevant down to that engineering team. Am I putting words in your mouth or is that what you’re telling me? 

Joana Rodrigues: You are, but yeah. 

Jeff White: Both. 

Joana Rodrigues: But that’s precisely it, because you’re right, so we are not, unfortunately, the only manufacturer of cables and connectors. We’re the best, but we’re not the only one. Now, when I get somebody on my team in engineering to talk about exactly the minutiae of that specific connector and why they create it like that, why they use that material, does a buyer want to know that? Probably they don’t need to. But if you’re in engineering in the other end and you’re reading something from us that says this is the thought process behind it, this is why we did this, this is why we did that, versus just a spec sheet from somebody else, I think as an engineer looking at the other end, you’d be like, “These folks really put thought into it. I don’t know what the thought process behind this other design is.” 

And remember, engineers are averse to failure. They’re all measuring risk as they put designs together, so working with someone that can secure them and say, “Hey, listen. We put all this thought behind this and not only that, if this doesn’t work or if you need something different, we can work with you.” It’s not one of those empty, “We sell solutions,” like everybody else talks about. We sell solutions. Really? What does that even mean? I think as marketers, we need to put some meat to that.

Carman Pirie: We have solutions as a main architecture nav on our website, don’t you know? You know what I mean, like that-

Joana Rodrigues: But you’ll have solutions and then you dive into it, right? You don’t just have the generic, “We can solve any problem.” Really? How? Why? Who? Right? And I think putting that meat…

Carman Pirie: I love this call to action in some way that you’re putting out here, Joana. This notion that… I don’t know, I feel like there’s a bit of defeatist nature when a marketer says, “It meets spec, and it’s all about price, and we just gotta get the distribution channel sorted.” 

Jeff White: Everything’s gonna be-

Carman Pirie: It’s like, “Wow, is that it?” That seems like just a bit of a paint by numbers, and I love that you’re telling me, “No, no, no. The people still matter here.” 

Jeff White: Yeah. I’d like to come back to something in reference to this, but something you said a bit earlier, that you had to get some early wins to continue to gain the respect of your team, and the engineers that you’re working with, and all of that. How has… What have those early wins been, and some of the later ones, and how has this passion come to life in the marketing that you’re doing? 

Joana Rodrigues: One of the core things when you join a company as a marketer and you have a meeting with your engineering team, they’re gonna look at you and they’re gonna sit around the table and be like, “What are you trying to do? I don’t want to sell the secret sauce, so I don’t want you to go out there and publish something you’re not supposed to. I don’t really have much time to talk about this, so can we get this meeting done?” I think we have to take a little step back and instead of going in and saying, “This is gonna be our marketing strategy,” you know what your marketing strategy is. The leaders of the company know. But the engineering team really… You can go to them and be like, “What products are you guys developing? What’s the coolest thing you’ve worked on? Why is this so cool?” 

Ask those questions to get them talking and then sometimes you might have to write an article or a white paper that doesn’t necessarily jive 100% with your strategy. But it’s that compromising of something they want to talk about and something that they feel passionate about, and honestly, sometimes that’s the one who really… that really gets all those leads and downloads. It’s hard for us to be 100% sure that this is gonna be a flop and putting all these efforts, but I think there’s so much value in putting these efforts and writing things they want to talk about and start that way. And then it can always help change into something that fits your strategy. 

One of the things that we started once last year happened is really everybody was in the webinar. Everybody started, you couldn’t visit customers anymore, you couldn’t get out there, so everybody decided to do webinars and I had just started with this company like four or five months ago. I didn’t know a lot of people. How are we gonna put together webinars? Now you have people doing presentations, but I really just went to our engineering team and sales team and I got a list from sales, I got a list from engineering, I matched them and said, “Okay, there’s some common ground in here and who wants to talk about it?” 

Once we got that going and we got the engineers to actually do the webinars and talk about what they’re passionate about, I had people saying, “We should do another one on this topic,” which is amazing. When you have engineers coming to you and saying, “I want to do a webinar on this.” That’s amazing. Now you have content you can rewrite as a white paper. Now you go to them and be like, “I know you didn’t ask me, but I wrote this white paper on that topic that you’re really passionate about. How is this?” That is a huge win.

And the other red flag for me is don’t ask your engineers to write papers, please. They won’t. They don’t have the time. They don’t want to do it. And that really puts a huge barrier between you and them. 

Jeff White: Yeah. I think that’s the one thing that you can really do. We talked about this translation idea, but giving voice to their content, I think it’s incredibly smart to put an engineer on a webinar, let them conduct that, let them see the result of it, and then take what they’ve said and turn it into that white paper and bring it back to them and say, “Look what I was able to do with all the great information you put out in the webinar, and now we have this awesome resource that we can use as a download on the website.” I think you’re going to get a lot more uptake with that kind of push-pull. They provide some content and don’t even necessarily know that you’re extracting things out of it to make more from that. It’s an incredibly efficient way to produce content. 

Joana Rodrigues: I really hope none of my competitors are listening to this, but if they do, I’m not too worried because also you have to have great engineers.You have to have engineers that are passionate. I think because of the way we are framed in our company, we are mainly an engineering company, that’s why they have a lot more engineers than marketers. That’s the caveat, too. You have to rely on a good engineering team. 

Carman Pirie: The only thing I would add to that is I always tell people they never have to really be all that worried about talking about an amazing idea, because while there’s lots of folks that can listen to you talk about an amazing idea, there are just very few people that can actually have the wherewithal to implement it. Even if you give it away. 

Joana Rodrigues: Yeah. I guess my hidden agenda here is really to get folks that are in marketing that don’t have an engineering background at all to give them at least a few pointers so they’re less threatened by the engineering team. You have some steps there to work with them. At the end of the day, you both are gonna be so excited by the amount of people that register to the webinar, by the amount of people that attend it. Share those metrics with them. Talk to them about it. Hey, by the way, look at your webinar. Look how many leads we get. That is where you’re really gonna get that big win, the common ground. They are gonna feel so valued. They are the experts and they’re getting a voice that maybe before they didn’t have. 

You are gonna feel great because you’re putting out great content, you’re getting leads.You start moving into the same planet. And now you have a team that’s unbeatable. You have the technical team. You have the marketing team. 

Jeff White: I love that. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Absolutely. I wonder, I’m curious, one of the things that you kind of alluded to earlier, sometimes maybe what the engineer is passionate about isn’t what you immediately think is going to be great content, but then you can kind of be surprised. I’m wondering, have you been surprised and what was the biggest surprise that you had where you thought, “Oh, this isn’t gonna be interesting,” but all of a sudden, the other engineers on the buy side thought it was pretty cool? 

Joana Rodrigues: Yes. On the webinars, the structure was more application driven, and then I had head of engineering come to me, super smart guy, talking about somebody that’s so smart you feel dumb next to him, because he’s just so smart. That’s why he’s the head of engineering. But he said, “I want to do a webinar on this topic.” It was very dry. And I was like, “Oh, Christ. This is gonna be hard.” But he’s the head of engineering, I’m new here, just be quiet, put your head down, do what you gotta do. It’s a webinar. It’s not gonna break the bank. 

I did, and boy, was I wrong. That topic, once we got him to present, it wasn’t dry at all, because he was so excited about it, and that was exactly the topic nobody wanted to touch because it’s hard to explain. And that’s by far one of the most successful webinars we have. We get people watching that recording almost every day. Just because it’s a topic that nobody’s talking about. I guess talking about our competitors, I don’t know, but if my guess or assumption here is that when marketers look at that type of content, they’re like, “This is dry, boring, I’m gonna run the other way.” 

That’s one example of things that I did not see coming and I’m so happy I was wrong. 

Carman Pirie: Well, and I find it interesting that you didn’t see it coming and you’re an engineer. I mean, if it seemed like it might be boring and dull to you-

Joana Rodrigues: Exactly. 

Carman Pirie: A quote unquote normal marketer would have been falling asleep. 

Jeff White: And I think that’s what’s so powerful about it, is that it really takes a passionate engineer to bring that kind of topic to life. Helping to elevate them and bring them to the fore of your marketing and of your customer-centric and customer-facing marketing is probably the key to the success of this initiative. 

Joana Rodrigues: Yeah. Definitely. And I can say, this is a note for all the folks out there listening to this that are in marketing, even the most shy engineer on your team, the quiet one, the one that doesn’t want to talk to you, doesn’t want to be on camera, you have to find out what that person is passionate about. Once that engineer, once you find out what they like, and what they’re working on, what their passion is, they are going to talk. That’s kind of the secret. Don’t come at them with your agenda. Try to learn what they’re passionate about. And then you try to fit in how it goes with your strategy and all of that. 

In manufacturing, a lot of your sales are also engineers. Well, not a lot, but sometimes. A lot of engineers are going to the dark side these days. But they’re gonna be able to help you out too, like, “Oh, this topic would go with this market or this application,” and you start connecting the dots. But my suggestion is befriend your engineering team. Whatever you need to do, I know you can’t bring donuts now, but befriend your engineering team and there is a lot more common ground between the two areas than anyone anticipates. So, I think that’s core. 

Carman Pirie: Well, thank you so much, Joana, for sharing your experience with us today on The Kula Ring. It’s been a real pleasure to have you on the show. 

Joana Rodrigues: Thank you. It’s been fun and I really hope this helps a lot of engineers out there and marketers out there. We’re a lot more alike than we imagine, so thank you guys for giving me the opportunity to talk about this. 

Carman Pirie: Our absolute pleasure. Thank you. 

Jeff White: Thank you. Bye-bye. 

Joana Rodrigues: Bye. 

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Joana Rodrigues

Marketing Manager

Joana Rodrigues is the Marketing Manager at Times Microwave Systems, a Connecticut-based manufacturer of coaxial cables, connectors, and assemblies for a wide range of industries. Joana brings 9 years of experience as a Product Manager, translating customers’ requirements into manufacturing specifications and developing highly marketable products that meet unique demands. Joana holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of New Haven.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

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Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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