While developer marketing isn’t exactly a new concept, it’s becoming more and more important as developers take increasing control over software purchasing decisions. Combine that with how traditional sales and marketing techniques don’t work well on developers, and what you get are organizations searching to find a new approach.
Whether you’re new to developer marketing, or you’ve been trying to build relations with developers for a while, there are always ways you can improve your approach and breathe new life into your initiatives. We’ve put together a list of developer marketing best practices to help you better engage with your audience.
1. Assemble A Dedicated Developer Marketing Team
Currently, only 43% of software companies have a dedicated developer marketing team (Source). But someone needs to be responsible for owning the KPIs associated with your developer marketing initiative.
We recommend moving away from sharing the responsibility across different departments. Instead, you should assemble a team that is dedicated to driving product adoption with developers. A dedicated team will put in the necessary effort, and required long-term time horizon, that it takes to gain the trust of developers.
2. Create a Solid Developer Marketing Foundation
Developer marketing requires a long-term strategy; you won’t achieve results overnight. Developers are unaware of your product, and it will take time to engage them and to trial your product. Industry experts suggest that it can take 12-18 months to successfully build a developer marketing program. And this timeline doesn’t include the execution risk involved with developers not liking your product or the time/effort it takes for them to see your product’s benefits.
Since the timeline for a successful build-out is long, you should get executive buy-in before you even begin your developer marketing initiative. A stakeholder (ideally, someone VP and above) will provide you with the “air cover” that your developer marketing initiative needs from the monthly and quarterly demands of the business. This top-down buy-in is also important because you may need the support of other departments within your company, and you may be held accountable for success metrics that are influenced by other teams (like product or engineering). An executive stakeholder who understands these complexities is a crucial part of building a solid foundation for your developer marketing initiative.
3. Build a Dedicated Developer Page
Instead of creating a marketing-focused developer page potentially full of jargon and vague benefits, you need to build a dedicated developer zone that speaks their language and includes content that will be useful for them.
Developers want to see your features in action, try your software for themselves, and access your product documentation and code, so they can decide if your product is right for them. This type of content may clash with your company’s main marketing website, which is why you need to build a space that speaks directly to the developer persona and addresses their specific needs.
Here are some developer zones you can get inspiration from:
4. Educate, Don’t Market or Sell
Developers don’t want you to sell your product to them. You are unlikely to engage this notoriously critical audience if you employ traditional sales and marketing tactics. The numbers back this up. According to Forbes, 84% of millennials stated that they not only dislike traditional marketing, but they don’t trust it.
So instead of marketing to them, engage developers with an educational developer marketing initiative that helps them learn about new technologies (instead of selling the technology to them). The aim of educational developer marketing is not to sell the product, but to lower the friction between developers and your product. This could be in the form of self-paced courses with hands-on sandbox environments that are tailored to different developer roles, personas, and seniority levels. For example, you could create separate self-paced courses for experienced and junior developers.
5. Developers Like Education, But They Need Documentation and Hands-on Product Trials
Developers enjoy learning about technology, but they want to do that by trying the product out, not by reading about it or watching a video. Providing hands-on software experiences is key, as developers will often arrive at your product with a limited understanding of its features and how it works.
Product-led companies such as Twilio, Stripe, MongoDB, and SendGrid provide developers with easy access to their products. Developers can test out the product, look under the hood, and use it to complete real-world activities, rather than having to sit through a sales demo.
You need to bring your educational experience to life with interactive documentation, self-paced training, and hands-on sandboxes that developers have access to at all times. To make sure your documentation is engaging, you should provide learning content that includes interactivity features like:
- Quizzes, polls, and surveys
- Discussion forums
- Hands-on sandbox environments
Also, make sure that your developer community has access to sample code at all times, so they can have first-hand experience with your product and see how it works.
6. Remove the Blank Slate Problem
You need to make it as easy as possible for developers to see the value of your product. So if they spin up a trial of your product, but there’s too much effort to use it (e.g. needing to import sample data or configuring its settings), they may move on to an alternative product. This issue is known as the blank slate problem.
The blank slate problem refers to when developers sign-up for a sandbox environment only to find that the environment is completely blank. Before they can see your product’s value, they have to spend hours (or days) creating and importing dummy data, configuring your product’s settings, and understanding how it works. Instead, you need to provide a sandbox environment that comes pre-populated and pre-configured to ensure that developers can quickly experience the power of your products without having to do too much heavy lifting on their end.
According to Andrew Austin, a Director at network automation software Intential, the benefits of providing a properly populated and configured environment are as follows, “Customers gain a better understanding of our solution and how to best leverage it for their use cases because they are able to repeat training when needed.”
7. Adopt a Community-Centric Mindset
Building a strong developer community is the foundation of your developer marketing strategy. If you can participate in insightful conversations and add value as like-minded professionals and thought-leaders, then you can gain the trust of developers and build a reputation for credibility.
Building a developer community is important for two reasons:
- It gives developers a place where they can seek help regarding your product
- It ensures business stakeholders that they are adopting a product that won’t just disappear, has a large talent pool from which they can hire, and is built by a mature organization.
There are several ways you can create a developer community, including scheduling regular events (in-person or virtual); setting up a dedicated community portal to promote community discussions; creating message boards for developers to share ideas; and, most important, providing genuine education opportunities for developers to learn about the benefits of your product (and speaking honestly about its potential short-comings).