I Asked 50+ Developers How They Buy Software. Here’s What I Learned.
Updated March 2022
Anyone who has ever tried to sell software to developers probably learned pretty quickly that traditional B2B marketing tactics just plain don’t work. Developers are a tough crowd, their time is extremely valuable, and they’re allergic to anything that even remotely feels, tastes, or smells like marketing. Add that to the fact that many developers are remote-first workers, and it’s pretty easy to see that unless you’re providing value to this persona, you’re not going to be able to reach them.
Companies like Stripe, Snyk, and MongoDB are nailing it when it comes to marketing to developers. (Not included: Atlassian, due to the fake news published in 2016 about how they’d never need a sales team.) So what’s the secret sauce? To find out, I interviewed more than 50 developers in DevOps, DevSecOps, and generalist back-end roles about how they prefer to discover, try, and purchase software. Most of these interviews were performed for the benefit of OpenView’s developer-focused portfolio companies, but I thought I’d share the highlights with the broader SaaS community.
From these conversations, I learned a ton about what devs are looking for in a software product’s website, in its developer documentation, in product onboarding, and even in sales and marketing interactions. Below, I’ve broken them down into the four biggest mistakes that I see expansion-stage software businesses making. And below that, I’ve included a SlideShare with more in-depth information to help founders, product managers, and all creators focused on growth take my learnings from these interviews and build better experiences for developers. They’re busy folks, after all.
1. Messaging is more important than you think
I’m more of a jump-in-and-get-started type ( I’ve signed up for thousands of products at this point), but I was surprised to see the busy engineers I interviewed thoughtfully going through product websites and asking questions like “So how does this work?”, “Will this work for my business’s existing stack?”, and the classic “How does this benefit me?” before they would consider signing up and getting into the product.
As businesses become more product-focused, I’ve noticed that websites have a tougher time answering those simple questions. In the SlideShare at the bottom of this post, you’ll see some examples of companies that are doing a great job.
2. Developers are super smart, but they still need to be told what to do in your app—it’s your app after all
Oh, boy. It’s wild how many software-engineer-focused products just land them on a blank screen after signup and expect them to click around and figure out how to connect it to their Kubernetes instance, or whatever.
3. If your product’s value isn’t apparent very quickly, you’re in trouble
Do you need your prospective buyer to connect your tool into their AWS account and then load in a ton of data in order for them to see the product in action? If so, expect a very small conversion rate. There are other ways you can show value without asking for such a heavy lift—consider doing something like Amplitude, they have an entire staging platform where you can see the product in action.
4. Some developers like to talk to salespeople—just not right away
Not all developers are sitting in front of a dark mode screen ignoring all other humans. They’re going to have questions about the product, and they might even want to connect with sales if they really love it. But for the prospects who are too busy to hop on a call, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have self-service options for both sales and support.
I’m always looking for new products to tear down and new developers to chat with about their preferred buying habits. If this deck resonates with you, reach out on LinkedIn or via email. And check out the Developer-Focused Go-to-Market Playbook, coming this June.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published on January 27, 2021 and updated in March 2022.