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You Can’t Market To Developers The SaaS/ B2B Way & Why You Shouldn’t Even Try

$225 million, my friend chuckled. 

We’re now one of India’s most valued SaaS startups. 

(Yes, you guessed it right, maybe)

My friend is a developer at Postman, a SaaS company that helps developers design APIs, and they recently closed their Series D round of funding at $225 million. 

The startup now has a total valuation of $5.6 billion and has emerged as one of India’s most popular SaaS companies. 

It got me thinking how API companies and dev tools are on fire right now, and marketing to them is so different than what any SaaS marketing playbook can tell you. 

Very often, when companies like Postman are looking to hire marketing-types, they realize that SaaS marketers are in large supply. However, marketers with experience selling to developers are far and few in between. 

So, they end up settling for a solid SaaS marketer to join their team. However, it’s critical for SaaS/B2B marketers to unlearn a few things before they start building a developer’s community and marketing to developers. 

This Article Contains:

(Click on links to jump to a particular section of the page)

  • Ditch the traditional SaaS/B2B marketing playbook
  • Measuring ROI
  • 5 Key Steps To Building Engagement

So, without further ado, let’s dive in. 

Ditch The Traditional SaaS/B2B Marketing Playbook

Your traditional SaaS/ B2B Marketing tactics won’t work with this community because developers are wary of anything that looks, feels, or smells like marketing. 

You cannot push them to sign up for your emails, whitepapers, “gated” stuff, or other link baits. 

Another cardinal sin that turns off developers is adding claims like “The only platform that <solves a problem>” on your marketing copy. 

Developers are a curious, analytical bunch, and they want to decide if they love your technology through hands-on experience instead of being courted with pushy tactics.

So, remove any lead capture technique that keeps them from trying your technology and make the marketing copy as concise, clear, and honest as possible. 

Take a look at Twilio Verify’s “getting started” copy.

Twilio Verify’s “Getting Started” page for Developers

It’s crisp and explains the usefulness of the API in a few lines. The headlines are easy to read and tell developers exactly what to expect from the content. 

Other well-known companies like Stripe, Gitlab, and Plaid also use simplicity to fuel their “developer-centric” brand image. 

But it isn’t the only tactic they follow. 

These companies have built a strong developer community because their marketing efforts are centered around the community with the sole purpose of adding value to developers. 

For instance, Ashley Smith, former CMO at Gitlab, always conducted lunch-and-learn roadshows with developer communities in New York, San Francisco, and London. 

She viewed these roadshows as a great way to educate developers about their products and add value to the community. 

Developers would also learn something valuable and relevant in addition to learning more about Gitlab. 

If you’re not on board with conducting events, you can still adopt Stream’s strategy to connect with consumers and win big. 

Stream allows developers to build event-driven social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram in a short time. 

Their marketing team leveraged the fact that developers would want to have a go at the product before committing to it. 

So, they created walkthroughs which developers could use to teach themselves the API’s workings. 

They included the code and the underlying SDK that allowed developers to understand what their product does in less than 3 minutes. 

Today, Stream has 500 million+ users, and Gitlab has 1 million+ active users and a thriving community with more than 3,000 contributors. 

So, building a developer community is the key to successfully marketing your product to developers. They’re fiercely loyal and won’t stop raving about your product to the community if they love it. 

Once your technology has a large enough fan base, you can dedicate an entire team to nurture and build developer relations. 

Measuring ROI

Measuring ROI for developer marketing is tough as it takes considerable time for companies to arrive at the payback. 

The task becomes tougher if your goals are indirectly related to revenue, like collaborating with developers to build an app using your API or reaching out to developers with a decent following to join your developer portal.  

But you can start with metrics like developer satisfaction, engagement, and retention, to get a sense of where you stand. 

Eventually, you’ll reach the point where you can track conversions and upsells to paid products. 

5 Strategies to Build Engagement

Discover 5 key strategies that’ll improve developer engagement and turn them into raving fans. 

1. Resources > Salesiness

Your website must be a repository of resources that’ll help developers understand your product quickly and not hinder them with sales messages. 

This means documentation, changelogs, and APIs must be easily accessible to developers.

The perfect example that demonstrates this strategy is Stripe’s homepage. It contains links to everything a developer might need to get started with their product. 

Stripe’s “developer-friendly” website

2. Features > Benefits 

Sounds outrageous, doesn’t it?

Developers don’t like marketing fluff. They don’t care about visualizing how the product will make their life better. 

All they want is accurate facts and important specifications. Also, be straightforward about the shortcomings of your technology while doing a product comparison with your competitors. 

If the data and claims are inaccurate or not what they seem, developers will sniff it out anyway.

3. Go out of your way to add value

Value isn’t limited only to tutorials, blogs, and other content that you publish. I mean going out of your way to make your community feel loved. 

This means giving away some cool merch like bottles, socks, t-shirts (who doesn’t love some cool t-shirts?), etc. 

If merch isn’t on your agenda, you can still add value and gain expertise by giving away more than 90% of your learnings for free. 

Publishing on Medium, Reddit communities, Quora spaces, etc., will help you get discovered by developers. 

4. Include a clear CTA

Developers love solving problems, but they can’t figure out what they must do next unless your website or guide helps them.

Here are a few hurdles your website must eliminate if you want to improve developer engagement:

  1. Ensure that your documentation lays out the next steps.
  1. Add enough data to your product. For instance, developers might need more than API documentation to understand how a product works. 
  1. Make your product’s value apparent to the developer. You don’t want to give them a vague idea like “our product helps with security” and let them figure out the rest. 

5. Run your marketing strategy by developers

The best way to put yourself in the shoes of a developer is to show them your copy and ask if they’d click on the headline or consume the content. 

If their answer is no, ask them why they wouldn’t take action. This small exercise will replace any hint of salesiness with simple, direct copy that developers love. 

Lastly, ensure that your copy is error-free and get to the point in as few words as possible. 

Conclusion

Developer marketing is gaining momentum as API companies and developer tools are taking over the startup space. 

But hiring marketers for this niche is proving to be a daunting task as marketers must unlearn conventional marketing strategies to get the attention of the developers. 

They must understand that all developer marketing activities involve less marketing and more community building. 

Go out of your way to add value to the community, provide accurate content, and convey the value of a product concisely to engage with developers and build a community that will pay for your services. 

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