Blog Post

When Half Our Engineers Retire: The Impact on B2B Marketing

Publish date: Apr 15, 2015 | Reading time: minutes
When half of our engineers retire

B2B companies will see half of their design engineer customers retire in the next decade, taking their knowledge, expertise and brand loyalties with them.

During a recent customer interview for a client project, my subject remarked about the aging of the engineering population and the dire impact it might have in the next decade or so.

He used the term “silver tsunami” and attributed it not so much to the declining interest of our youth in science and engineering, but more to decisions by companies to downsize their workforce, especially their staff engineers, during the past decade or so of economic turmoil.

He noted that companies just don’t have the younger staff in place, as they once did, to replace veteran engineers as they retire. There will be a huge loss of engineering experience on the plant floor over the next few years.

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And that loss will have a significant impact on B2B companies that market to engineers. 

And so it was with great interest that I reviewed recent surveys of the design engineers by the premier publishers in the field: Penton (Machine Design and Electronic Design), UBM Canon (Design News) and CFE Media (Consulting-Specifying Engineer, Plant Engineering and Control Engineering).

What those studies revealed was staggering:

  • Penton reported that more than half of the working engineers they surveyed are over 55.
  • CFE Media found a slightly higher percentage and showed that the engineers over the age of 65 outnumbered the 25-30 age group and the 31-35 age group, combined. 
  • Where one would expect a normal bell-shaped curve across the 18-65 age group, we see a pronounced shift to the aging population with those two studies.

  • The Design News study had a slightly lower number, with only 34% of engineers over the age of 55. But it still had 67% over the age of 45, and relatively small percentages for the 26-34 and 35-44 age groups. 

Yet another study, this one just released by IHS Engineering360 Media Solutions, found that:

  • Forty percent of respondents say, “We lose specialized knowledge and expertise faster than we gain it.” 
  • Forty-nine percent say that knowledge or information loss is very important or extremely important.
  • Only 43% say their companies have practices in place to retain that knowledge.

The Impact on B2B Marketing

B2B companies will see half (or more) of their design engineer customers retire in the next decade, taking with them not just their knowledge and expertise, but their brand loyalties and experiences as the B2B marketers’ customers.

From a marketing communications standpoint, that may well mean a major shift in the types of marketing programs and materials needed—away from the trade shows and white papers favored by the older generation. Those would be replaced by the digital and social media favored by their younger counterparts: everything from videos, LinkedIn posts and other social media to mobile-friendly communications and e-books. 

And while it may not mean the loss of a relationship built over three decades, it may well require a supplier review and renegotiation of pricing and servicing requirements, perhaps lowering margins.

It must be said that the customer’s loss of decades of expertise could well make the supplier’s own experience even more mission-critical and make them even more valuable than ever. 

But that remains to be seen. It assumes that the marketer’s account reps aren’t in the same position … and looking to retire themselves in the near future.

Godfrey Team

Godfrey helps complex B2B industries tell their stories in ways that delight their customers.