What is a Software Sandbox?
Software sandbox environments mimic real-life production environments, but they typically don’t use production data or interact with other production-level resources. They have separate databases and servers, so no matter what the user does in or to the sandbox, it won’t affect operations.
And in the context of developer marketing, developers use software sandboxes to test a product's features or build proof-of-concepts (POCs) without worrying about tarnishing production databases.
This page explores what product sandboxes are and looks at what makes them beneficial for developer marketing.
Why use a software sandbox (in developer marketing)?
What does developer marketing have in common with pre-school child’s play? If you’re feeling puzzled right now, let us explain. Both use sandboxes to simulate real-life environments but with restrictions on what the user (a developer or a child) can do.
Children learn through playing in a software sandbox, and the same is true for software developers. Children love to get their hands dirty, learn by doing, and figure out how things work. The same is true for software developers.
Sandboxes are a safe way for children to do all of the above without getting hurt or breaking anything of value. And in the case of software developers, a software sandbox allows them to play and learn about your product without worrying about the consequences. And since the sandbox will be configured to perform optimally, developers won’t have to deal with incompatibility issues.
Software sandboxes are useful tools for software companies that are marketing to developers, software engineers, DevOps, and data analysts because they provide a real-world production environment that enables them to understand whether a product can solve their problems and make their lives easier.
Often, software companies will populate their sandboxes with dummy data to avoid 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 creating and importing dummy data, configuring your product’s settings, and understanding how it works.
To prevent the blank slate problem (further explained in point #6 in 7 Developer Marketing Best Practices), 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.
Use Cases for Software Sandboxes
Software sandboxes provide users with an immersive experience where they get hands-on, real-life experiences that enable them to try your product and shape their opinion of whether it’s right for them. You can use software sandboxes in several ways:
- Hands-on product trials
- Proof of concepts
- Sales demos
- Isolated environments
- Post-sales support
Hands-on product trials
Providing hands-on product trials is important for software companies who understand the importance of developer marketing. Developers enjoy learning about technology, but they want to learn about technologies by trying it out, not by reading marketing collateral about it or watching a video.
Developers also want to use your product in real-world scenarios so they can see how it will help them solve their specific problems and make their lives easier, rather than reading about its general benefits in marketing documentation.
Hands-on product trials are key to driving developer awareness and adoption because developers will often arrive at your product with a limited understanding of its features and how it works. By giving them easy access to your product, they can test it out before they commit to full implementation across the company.
The aim is to show users how valuable and indispensable your product is without pushing them directly into attending a sales call. 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.
Proof of concepts
When developers have access to a software sandbox, they can analyze a product’s effectiveness and use it in real-life situations. According to research, 38% of developers must establish a proof of concept (POC) to compel their business to invest in technology, and 37% are required to provide specific business use cases for that tool.
POCs involve testing and proving whether the software can do what it promises to do in real life, whether you can feasibly turn an idea into a reality. To create a POC, you need to provide clear evidence of this (such as a sandbox or documentation) before you start development.
But developers can’t build POCs with marketing material; they need a hands-on, product sandbox.
Software sandboxes provide developers with the experience that will help them understand how your software solves their unique problems. It also provides the necessary information to demonstrate a POC to the C-suite, and gives them confidence in your product.
If you’re marketing to developers or doing technical marketing, then you need to avoid aggressive and direct selling. These traditional sales and marketing techniques don’t work well on developers, which includes sales demos.
If you want to successfully demonstrate your product to prospective customers or existing customers considering an upgrade, you need to get rid of the static product screenshots, pre-recorded videos, and sales brochures. Rather than making your audience watch you explain how your product works, give them access to a software sandbox with test data that lets them try out its important functions.
Software sandboxes allow developers and QA testers to evaluate a product in a safe and isolated environment. They can test for bugs, try out new features, see how smoothly it deploys into different environments, and install updates without worrying about how this will affect the actual production environment.
This is useful if you want your existing or prospective customers, or even your internal IT and DevOps teams, to beta test new features or see how well (or poorly) a new version can be rolled-out. With a sandbox environment, they can make changes and experiments that they wouldn’t normally do in a production-used instance and provide feedback about whether everything works as it should or if the new product version has issues. Whether they’re testing out a new feature or a new deployment plan, a sandbox environment will allow them to perform a “practice lap” and resolve any issues before making the same changes in the production environment.
Once you’ve implemented your software at a company, you can use a software sandbox to deliver post-sales support to your customers, whether they are developers or your traditional business buyers. These sandbox environments can be replicates of your customers’ production environment, where your support team can diagnose an issue, propose and implement possible solutions, then return the sandbox environment to the customer for inspection and final sign-off. And after the software sandbox has been signed-off by customers, the improvements can be documented and implemented in their production environment.
How Software Sandboxes Benefit Developer Marketing and Software Sales
Software developers are becoming a key part of the software purchasing decision. They are expected to consume/influence $40 billion in product purchase decisions, so it’s an important market. Developers and software engineers are influencing purchase decisions more than ever, and this trend is only likely to accelerate. According to research, 95% of developers have some role in purchasing, while 60% of developers can approve or reject a technology purchase.
But marketing to developers is tricky. They are a notoriously critical audience with a deep understanding of the specific problems they need to solve. But today, more and more software companies are asking themselves how to market to software developers.
Below, we explain how providing software sandboxes can help you overcome these challenges and create successful developer marketing campaigns.
Educate, not sell
If you want to run successful developer marketing programs, then you need to educate developers, not try to sell to them. Developers don’t like traditional marketing techniques, such as sales demos and cold calls. Providing developers with product education means they are more likely to feel fully educated on your product’s capabilities, potential, and limitations.
Current developer education initiatives often lean on copious amounts of documentation with ongoing “nurture” campaigns that follow traditional marketing techniques. This includes providing static fact sheets that talk about the product’s benefits, email workflows telling developers about the product, or videos that walk developers through the product’s high-level benefits.
While developers can educate themselves by reading marketing materials, you can accelerate their purchasing decision by providing product sandbox environments. Your potential users need to decide if your product will solve their problems. Yes, some of them will read your marketing material — but most developers won’t make their purchasing decision just from reading about your software’s benefits.
Some of them are also reluctant to sit through a long-winded demo with your Account Executives. It’s simply too much time and friction at such an early stage of their purchasing journey.
Raising awareness of your product
If you’re building software for developers, education is going to be a key part of that strategy. Without it, developers aren’t going to recommend your product to the technology decision makers. Sandbox environments let developers test your product at their leisure, coming back to it when they need to and using a much wider range of features than they would in a static sales demo.
Software sandboxes can also help raise developer awareness of the other options out there, especially if you’re new to the market and lack a brand identity. By playing around with your product, developers can understand that there are new ways to solve their problems and they don’t have to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done.
Learning by doing
Developers want to know about your product’s features, as they enjoy learning about technology, but they want to do that by trying the product out, not reading about it, or watching a video. That’s why you need to provide a more interactive, hands-on approach.
Providing access to a hands-on sandbox environment of your product is worth significantly more than any marketing materials. These hands-on product sandboxes ensure users get a learn-by-doing environment that lets them analyze your product to determine if it solves the problem they’re working on, or delights them enough to justify purchasing a license.
You can personalize and tailor sandbox environments to suit the needs and situations of your users and ensure that they can try out your software in a real-world setting. For example, developers could use a different version of a sandbox than the C-suite or sales team, as they will use the software for different purposes and have different access rights.
All of this will help developers and their stakeholders to reach a purchasing decision faster and instill trust in your product’s ability to deliver on core features and benefits.
Earn developers’ trust
Time is precious for developers, which means you need to make it as frictionless as possible for developers to reach a live experience of your product. When developers have frictionless access to a software sandbox of your product, they can analyze its effectiveness in its unfiltered state, which will give them the data and experience they need to build conviction for whether to recommend your product for purchasing.
Make sure your product isn’t only accessible behind a gated sales demo, as that creates an unnecessary barrier between the developer and your product. When you add gates between developers and your product, this deters them from learning more about what you have to offer — and at worst, it creates the speculation that your product needs to hide behind a sanitized sales demo for it to perform well.
Frictionless access is crucial to earning developers’ trust because even if your product isn’t perfect, just giving them hands-on access shows that you have nothing to hide and means that developers know exactly what you are offering. There’s no guesswork involved. It also drastically improves the chance that developers will look at your product with the “home court advantage” because they’re familiar with it.
Developing a product that developers want
Being transparent about what your product can do (and can’t do), will help you improve your product and also ensure that you are building something that developers want to use. By providing software sandboxes, your product will do the majority of the selling (what is being called product-led growth) and will also enable you to scale faster and gain a more trustworthy brand.
Developers can also be one of your most useful resources when it comes to product development. If you provide a sandbox environment, they can see what is under the hood as well as see how your product works. They can play around with it to the point of making new feature suggestions or even providing direct feedback on your product’s code.
By monitoring the usage of your software sandboxes, you can see which features developers commonly use, and which ones they find difficult to use or don’t discover within your product. This information enables you to shape your product to meet your customers’ true pains and problems, not what you think they need.
Examples of Software Sandboxes in Developer Marketing
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to using sandboxes in developer marketing initiatives. Take inspiration from companies that have already successfully leveraged sandboxes to target their developer audience.
Chef, the leader in Continuous Automation software, was looking for a solution-provider who would help them add a hands-on product sandbox to their online university, Learn Chef.
“Hands-on product sandboxes are so important. We need these environments to be able to spin up the product quickly and to have everything that learners need in order to learn Chef’s products. If they have to learn how to set up an environment just so they can learn about your product, they’re not going to stick around.” – Jody Wolfborn, Senior Developer Advocate at Chef
Chef chose Appsembler Virtual Labs to power their developer marketing initiatives and provide hands-on educational product experiences to their developers, turning Learn Chef into a reliable and high-volume lead generation channel.
“Within Appsembler Virtual Labs, learners have all the Chef software set up. Learners can launch commands in their browser using a remotely-provisioned virtual machine. Developers don’t have to install anything on their local machine, worry about setting up a virtual box, or worry about which operating system they’re using. It just works in the browser without any problems.” – Kimball Johnson, Senior Developer Advocate at Chef
Dremio, a SQL lakehouse platform that enables high-performing BI and analytics directly on data lake storage, is another good example of a company using a software sandbox to successfully market to developers.
Dremio wanted to increase product awareness with developers without directly selling the product to them, as well as speed up the sales cycle, and reduce the friction between developers and Dremio’s products.
Dremio worked with Appsembler to implement Dremio test-drive, a frictionless instance of their software, which gives developers immediate access to their products. Dremio now receives the contact information of users who sign up for the course, and can generate leads and increase revenue, but not in a way that deters technical buyers and developers.
Choosing a Software Sandbox Provider
If you think software sandboxes can be of use to your business, you might be considering your next steps and wondering where to find a sandbox provider. Appsembler Virtual Labs enables you to set up a sandbox environment with the click of a button. The solution provides an immersive, hands-on, and personalized learning experience to increase user adoption and engagement.
By deploying Appsembler Virtual Labs, you can create as many sandbox environments as you need with different versions of your software in different states while personalizing and tailoring these environments to the training each learner needs. They are quick and easy to set up and maintain, and you can scale them to meet the needs of all your users.
With Appsembler Virtual Labs, you don’t have to install any software on a computer, and users only need a browser and internet connection to run the software sandbox. There are no technological constraints and no need to be running certain versions of software.
Get in touch if you have any more questions about how Appsembler Virtual Labs can benefit your business or would like to schedule a demo.