In the midst of a wave of Microsoft marketing campaigns triggered by the company's major product announcements, I’d like to perform a public service. Let me address an important area that’s widely misunderstood but rarely talked about: Bridging the gap between IT professionals and the marketing professionals who target them. It’s a very real gap, and I’m convinced that one side doesn’t realize how big this gap really is. Yes, I’m looking at you, marketers.

I spent many years working in an environment that had no interaction with vendors. (This is easy when you have no budget to purchase software.) Recently I’ve spent much more time around sales and marketing projects and people. I’ve sat in many meetings as “the technical guy”---or as I sometimes like to describe it to the 70 percent of marketers or marketing agencies that have never even met one, “Exhibit A: IT professional.”

IT professionals and marketers are fundamentally different personality types. Unlike the human beings that marketers focus on, IT pros are usually more comfortable with technology than with groups of people. That’s why they’re in a field that deals with logical behavior and problem-solving instead of reaching out to irrational and unpredictable humans. IT pros favor dealing with predictability (things), and a marketer’s job is to work with people—inherently unpredictable. So let me give you a short list of what IT pros do and don’t care about when shopping for technology.

  • IT pros favor humor like Dilbert and XKCD (which has a second layer of humor in its alternate text when you hover over the cartoon) that has technical in-jokes.
  • IT pros want technical information. IT pros tend to look down on anyone who isn’t technical or in a technical profession. It’s not pretty, but it’s true. Marketing falls squarely into this category. One aspect of this: I’ll bet easily half of the IT pros you ask won’t even know the difference between sales and marketing, because it’s not something they care about. If you can’t stand toe-to-toe with an IT pro and talk at the 300 or 400 level he or she expects, be prepared for the cold shoulder.
  • IT pros want just the facts. They have a finely tuned bandpass filter (I was an EE in a previous lifetime) that filters out BS on the low end and grand, overarching marketing themes on the high end. They don’t even hear it. On a product landing page with a lot of text in the center column, I can guarantee you that most don’t ever read it because they know it will talk about “redefining the server category,” “transforming your IT operations,” “delivering a whole new level of business value,” and other statements that don’t mean anything. Instead, they search on the outside edges of the page for “More Information” and “Technical Resources” so they can learn the technical features and how they might apply them. Even product datasheets are a bit flowery for them.
  •  IT pros do not want flashy presentations. Flashier is not better. IT pros don’t mind some slickness. But beyond a point, high production values will work against you, not for you. IT pros respect a real person who’s been in their shoes and who can help them learn something.
  • They want messages that are short and to the point. IT pros have what I term technology-induced ADD. They must absorb so much technical information on a daily basis, from multiple and increasing data sources, they have a very short attention span before they move on.
  • IT pros are very logical and detail oriented. This tends to be reinforced when, in my experience, a false move can lock out 30,000 users. Unlike practically anyone else, IT pros read manuals. For example, most of them know their way around their car’s owner’s manual. They actually keep owner’s manuals for their personal electronics. Have a contingency plan for the detailed questions.
  • “Just the facts” applies to video as well: Keep it short and sweet with high value (to them) content. Because IT pros are experienced manual skimmers, they’re less likely to watch long videos because they’re forced to follow at the presenter’s pace rather than their own high-speed skimming pace.

I hope my rant helps the marketers out there understand their IT pro audience better. But you IT pros aren’t off the hook. Just because someone’s in marketing–especially technical marketing–doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of your time and respect. They might just have information you need to get the job done. They simply have a different skill set than yours. And they’re probably more fun at parties!

What do you care about when evaluating technology and products?

Sean writes about cloud identity, Microsoft hybrid identity, and whatever else he finds interesting at his blog on Enterprise Identity and on Twitter at @shorinsean.