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3 data strategies for selling to developers

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Image of a bar chart and rising lines on a blue background to represent sales growth to developers via a coherent data strategy.
Image Credits: Ong-ad Nuseewor (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Sam Richard

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Sam Richard is VP of Growth at OpenView.

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Yes, developers are a tough crowd. They hate being sold to, and it’s pretty easy for traditional marketing campaigns to fall flat with them because they’d much rather get a recommendation from a colleague. Failed campaign after failed campaign has led many software company executives to throw up their hands and declare all sales and marketing to be pointless.

And that’s just wrong. Selling to developers isn’t impossible — it’s just difficult. I cover why it’s difficult and offer examples of exceptional developer-focused marketing in my new playbook. Part of selling to developers involves balancing two things: building out a strong organic marketing function and targeting your audience with the right message at the right time throughout their buyer journey.

Easier said than done, right?

Yep. I see it all the time. Part of what’s blocking marketers from widening the top of the funnel (driving more developers to sign up for their free tools) for their developer-focused businesses is ensuring they have the right data and measurement capabilities in place to understand how much impact their activities have on the business.

That’s mostly because these marketers, community managers and developer relations experts have the most luck with organic marketing. In this industry, organic marketing is one of the most challenging to measure.

Organic marketing means investing in channels like referrals, organic search, organic social (community) and direct traffic to your website (brand). New users from paid marketing, banner ads, events or sales reps (the most measurable channels) don’t count as organic. We measure the fruits of these efforts with a new metric called Natural Rate of Growth.

In a digital, multi-touch-point world, it’s getting more challenging to measure which users hear about your brand from which channels. That’s why tools like Orbit, Tribe and Mighty have gained traction so quickly.

That’s all good, and it’ll be a huge boon for community managers in time, but these tools still don’t solve some of the core data strategy issues I see developer-focused software companies fighting. These quick tips should help your team align around what needs to be done and what’s just a “nice to have” so that selling to developers feels less like a battle.

 

  1. Treat data like a product where a core end user is the go-to-market side of the team.
  2. Map your customer’s journey from discovery to expansion and track it religiously.
  3. Don’t overthink it.

Treat data like a product

Some of the brightest minds in tech have struck off on their own to create software that solves a real problem in the market. They’re great builders, but they’re not necessarily great at looking at their product from a commercial standpoint. That is, they know what’s required to make the product delightful, but they don’t know how to communicate that delight or measure it effectively.

Usually, these businesses are running analytics off of a production (or production replication) database designed to actually run the product itself — it has no outputs or measures that align to the go-to-market side of the house. These teams are usually tying data back to customer relationship management (CRM) accounts using the account name or core email address.

It’s a hot mess. Don’t be a hot mess.

Sit down with the leaders and ops-focused employees on the revenue side of the house and ask them what product data they’re interested in, how they would use it (short term and long term), and how they define data-driven decisions. Assign a product manager to this and develop a minimum viable product and a roadmap. Dedicate 10% to 20% of your resources to getting this up and running, and then support its growth long term.

When your go-to-market team has access to data in the way that they understand it (i.e., real users, their product usage and real long-term cohorts to study), you’ll be surprised at how well teams align in your next roadmap planning meeting.

Map your customer’s journey

By now, you hopefully have every little bit of your product wired up to be measured. There’s nothing worse than marketing an awesome new feature everyone wants and then realizing you can’t tell how they’re using it.

It’s great when you can understand how a user is interacting with your software, but it’s fantastic when you can understand how they found you, what their decision-making process looked like to give you a try, and then how they discovered value.

Only some of this is supplied by server-side product analytics. The rest hinges upon tools often overlooked by the developer-focused founder community. I’m talking about good ol’ Google Analytics.

More often than not, Google lets me know what type of content is working, what isn’t and what needs to be updated. You’d be shocked at how many companies don’t understand SEO and how Google works, so they just ignore it.

Don’t overthink it

One of the greatest product-led operators out there said something that really stuck with me. Fareed Mosavat, former head of product at Slack, said that he believes companies should only track five to 10 events in their product. As a data professional, I was shocked to hear this.

Then I thought about it a little more. I worked with early-stage companies that were sitting on mounds of data and assumed they needed to hire a machine learning scientist to make sense of it all (they were B2B startups with 50 customers or more — we’re not talking social networks here).

Mosavat is right: You’ve got to keep it simple. Let the ideal customer’s journey be your guide with lots of inputs from your go-to-market team. There’s so much off-the-shelf technology out there that helps you get the work done, as well as amazing communities of professionals who have done it before.

The only thing holding you back is your attitude toward leveraging data to sell to your core customers. But when you think about it, doesn’t having the right message at the right time really provide a great experience for you? Isn’t it awesome when a business knows you might be stuck on something or helps you unlock a feature you didn’t know you needed?

I love these experiences, and I want more software businesses to have them. They just have to use data the right way.

Develop a buyer’s guide to educate your startup’s sales team and customers

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