It’s not uncommon to hear people in the industry use tech product marketing and developer marketing interchangeably or even confuse one for the other. Let’s clear that up by defining these two marketing techniques in their most basic forms.
Tech product marketing is essentially product marketing with a narrowed focus on the technical specifications and features of a product. Typically, the audience for this kind of marketing is IT decision-makers (ITDMs) and business decision-makers (BDMs), as they have a solid understanding of the technology in and around the product, and make the general business recommendations based on business narrative and budget.
Developer marketing is a combination of tactics meant to grow awareness, adoption, and advocacy of software tools, solutions, and SaaS platforms. The audience in this case is a broad range of highly technical developers, including web architects, engineers, and data scientists. This audience makes technology recommendations rooted in adoption and implementation, such as compatibility, developer time, and performance improvements.
The biggest difference to note here, and this is foundational, is that a tech-savvy customer base is nowhere near the same as an audience of those who build that kind of technology. So, if you’re using tech product marketing efforts on a developer audience, you’re selling your entire marketing program short.
Now, you may be asking yourself, why would I need to market to developers at all? The truth is, if you’re selling B2B technology products, solutions, and services, then it’s highly likely your gatekeepers are developers working for those companies and advising on technology. While they might not be the person signing the check, most companies don’t want to make any decisions on adding or replacing technology without having IT look it over and give the thumbs up first.
This is why the smartest companies in the industry are taking a more holistic approach when selling their B2B technology. By using both of these marketing techniques, organizations can appeal to multiple people within a targeted account — decision-makers, influencers, developers, and executives — to accelerate their pipeline.
Taking a holistic approach to tech and developer marketing.
I recently had a discussion with Iron Horse Founder and CEO, Uzair Dada for a webinar called Decoding Developer Marketing, which looked at why companies selling technology solutions should be practicing developer marketing and how it can accelerate sales. One point Uzair made was that marketers in the B2B technology field have historically made a beeline to decision-makers and ignored all other players, believing there was only one point of contact that mattered. We’re starting to see this change as technology marketers realize there are influencers and other players involved that can make or break product adoption.
Think of it this way, do toy companies market to parents or children? Parents have the money, don’t they? That would make parents the decision-makers. However, children are the most influential people involved in any toy sale, which is why there is always a huge focus on appealing to children more than parents.
That being said, focusing marketing efforts on just one or the other would not be nearly as effective, just as using the same tactics and messaging for both parents and children would fail to fully appeal to either group. Toy companies don’t choose between marketing to decision-makers and users. They reach out to both audiences in combined efforts, providing both with the same information from two different perspectives. While children are shown the glitter, bright colors, and fun messaging, marketing tactics aimed at the parents will identify educational aspects, skill development, multiple-use cases, safety, and more.
This is also what great tech marketing programs do — they think of the audience as teams of people and appeal to the different levels of those teams as a whole. Essentially, if you sell B2B technology-based software, products, and other solutions, you should not be doing tech product marketing or developer marketing separately. You should be running a holistic tech marketing program.
What it takes to run a successful tech marketing program.
So, let’s talk about running a tech marketing program that speaks to both ITDMs and developers. What sets the effective programs apart from the ineffective really comes down to four foundational pieces, which set the stage for productivity and minimize wasteful resourcing. You could also refer to these as the four A’s of tech marketing programs.
Excuse this persistent buzzword, but team alignment is an often mentioned, seldom practiced pillar to almost everything a company does. When marketing and sales work well together, efficiency and effectiveness skyrocket. Being aligned means that everyone on both teams hold the same baselines and values for measuring success. Teams should be on the same page about the basics, such as ideal customer profile (ICP), account influencers, customer journey and engagement, and key actions for the ICP.
On a deeper level, sales and marketing must agree on what spaces their ICP frequents and what they want. For example, developers that frequent niche developer communities with a focus on particular solutions and resources are looking for specific answers, recommendations, and workarounds. If sales and marketing want to target this niche group, they need customized content that is solution-focused and direct. No developer that’s researching something specific wants to dig through marketing fluff or be pitched on additional product features/functions. That content must be geared towards solving the discussed issues at hand and not selling or promoting additional use cases.
Additionally, even with internal alignment, sales teams need to recognize that the best sales approach for a developer audience is a hands-off approach. As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam in my other developer marketing articles, developers are marketing-averse. This extends to sales as well, because developers trust developers. Rather than trying to reach out and check in with this audience using normal sales processes, it’s best to give them the keys and allow them to conduct their own research, only coming back when there is a “hand-raise” moment. This approach can actually have quite a fast funnel with a developer audience because they know what they want and once they see you have that, they want it immediately.
Understanding your customer is always a point of order. Know who these developers are and what they want, but also understand the different types of developers out there. When we say developer, we’re talking about a category. There are many different people involved in technology development. Organizations need to know the nuances of a DevOps person or a Dev security person versus a front-end developer or a backend developer. There are similarities and striking differences from one developer type to the next, and it’s extremely important to note because how you talk to them is critical.
Knowing your audience is different than knowing how to segment them. Segmentation is key. It’s not just separating DevOps from web developers and software engineers, but rather segmenting based on application and timeline. Most developers are acutely focused on their work, so understanding where they’re at in their development journey, what they’re working towards, and how a product can address that particular issue at a particular point in time is paramount. Bandwidth can be an issue for some companies because it’s a big task to create these numerous different pathways and journeys. But at the same time, companies do themselves a disservice by broadly deciding all DevOps people are going to be using this one specific application, and running full steam from that angle. Moreover, a lot of developers are somewhat turned off by being bucketed, so to speak. While one application might be similar to what they want, they’re looking for something specific and don’t have time to make something else work instead. When it comes to developers, painting broad strokes is not effective.
One thing that developers really want from an organization is authenticity. Organizations need to remember that impressing a developer audience is not all about chest-beating, boasting about new features, and telling users what makes a product great. It’s more about addressing how a particular solution affects them. Focus on how a product benefits your ICP as a developer to help them build something in this moment or in the future. Authenticity also extends into how an organization presents itself and its products to a community. Essentially, it’s critical to act as a part of the community, wanting to improve the knowledge on certain topics and help fellow developers solve problems.
One of the biggest things that we stress to our clients is talking with the developer communities, not at them. That’s probably the number one way to turn off a developer community. Suppose every conversation is about only using your product and staying within a proprietary range. In that case, developers will quickly see your focus is to sell, not assist and that your information is too predetermined to be helpful to them and their specific needs. Instead, try to build trust within the community and establish relationships with developers by speaking on topics from a community perspective. How do your products fit in with what the community is doing now? How does it solve issues that are broader across different communities? Be genuine and less pushy about your products, but still showcase how your product can potentially be effective or solve a problem.
One reason a lot of marketing programs come up short is that they focus on the short-term goal of conversion without also working toward the long-term goal of brand advocacy. Product or software solution adoption should not be the endpoint. From our perspective, a developer marketing plan should start at adoption, with the end goal being advocacy. This is crucial when dealing with developer audiences because they trust fellow developers over everything else. Developer marketing, as it’s defined, touches on the product adoption side, but when we dig deeper, developer marketing lives or dies based on how relationships and communities are managed.
The relationship management side of developer marketing, also known as DevRel, helps nudge developers into using and continuing to use a product or solution. Getting a download should not be how you define success. In the short term, it’s great, but continued use lays the groundwork for opportunities to grow accounts and land new ones using far less resourcing the more you grow. Don’t underestimate the effort needed on the DevRel side of your program either. A brand advocate isn’t created overnight, it’s created over a series of late nights when a developer is looking at broken code and needs fast and precise help, and they consistently get that help from customer service. When a developer can trust a product’s quality and customer service, then advocacy can become an obtainable (and rewarding) goal.
The Iron Horse insight.
Companies should market with the goal to influence the influencer (in this case the developer). Procurement often happens at a group level and the developer, while not always the decision-maker, will have a big influence (oftentimes the largest influence) on whoever is making the decision to adopt. Failing to attenuate to the developer in tech marketing misses the mark and dilutes messaging and value props. Developers and ITDMs evaluate products differently, and they are both important drivers of product adoption.