Real-world learning experiences highlight of engineering management class

July 10, 2013

CU-Boulder Professor Eben Johnson sees lessons for his marketing and high tech venture students everywhere, even from a parked car.

Noticing a Tesla parked outside a local coffee shop one day, he gave himself a mission—to find the owner. “I found and met the owner,” he said. “He turned out to be a great and personable fellow, so I asked him if he would talk to my class about being an 'early adopter.'”

Johnson is a professor with the Lockheed Martin Engineering Management Program at CU-Boulder. He continually strives to bring real-world learning to his classroom experience. This time he brought a state-of-the-art car to campus.

Herb Morreale, owner of the Tesla S, alumnus of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and a successful IT entrepreneur proceeded to share with Johnson's students his experience with the car from not only a technical perspective but also from initial interest through purchase.

“I wanted Herb to help students understand how the early adopter is a different kind of customer,” Johnson said. “These early adopters are taking risks, spending a lot of money, and have certain expectations that are different from mainstream customers who often buy more stable, mature products.”

One interesting aspect of Morreale’s purchase was his first real experience with the Tesla team. “Herb went to a ride-and-drive event and wasn’t that impressed. He was ready to walk, but he happened to introduce himself to an employee with whom he hit it off well. The employee turned out to be a Tesla engineer who was able and willing to talk technical,” Johnson said. “Tesla was lucky.”

Morreale explained to the class how he was surprised how little the company did to support him with his purchase and to generate a positive and exciting experience. When his car was ready for pickup, he received a brief, simple email telling him he could take delivery of his car at such a place and time. “Especially at this stage of Tesla’s life, and for the electric-car industry in general, we need to understand we’re not just selling someone a car,” Johnson said. “We’re selling an experience, an opportunity to contribute and be part of something new and exciting.”

In fact, a main concept of Johnson’s course is to show students that it’s more than just the product that’s created—it’s the whole package, it’s the whole experience. He puts up a bulls-eye target in class, where the inner ring is the core of what the customer is buying, the deep need that’s being satisfied and the experience that’s being sought. The next ring addresses the many features common with most products and services, and the final ring includes all the supporting attributes such as the sales support, financing, delivery, and after-sales service.

"I want students to see that the customer will first be attracted by the core technology, but that alone is not enough; the customer’s overall experience is critical," Johnson said. "Great testimonials and word-of-mouth are critical in the early days of a new technology, a new company, a new industry.”

In the end, the Tesla engineer helped secure the sale. Morreale loves his car and is delighted with the performance.  “Sure, a couple things weren’t quite right,” Morreale said. “But most have been taken care of, and that’s OK. As customer number 8,400 or so, and being an early adopter, I’m making a bit of a contribution, I’m helping, and I expect a few things to still be 'under development’.”

Many professors in the Lockheed Martin Engineering Management Program strive to bring in guest lecturers offering real-world lessons. Contact the Lockheed Martin Engineering Management Program at 303-492-0954 or at cuemp@colorado.edu to learn more about course, certificate, and degree options.

Story and photos courtesy of the Lockheed Martin Engineering Management Program

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