Forget Everything You Know About Selling to Developers

June 3, 2021

Imagine that you time-travel back to the early 2000s and get a job. On your first day in the office, you find out that you’ll need to spend the next several weeks learning the software they’re all using. It’s pretty frustrating, but because an executive bought this software—on an annual plan—you’re stuck with it. Forever.

No, you can’t suggest that they switch to something that’s easier to use—even if you’re certain it would help you work better and faster. Again: That executive, a person who won’t ever touch the software, chose it.

Back away from the ThinkPad, hop in your PT Cruiser, and set that time machine to return to 2021, where companies thankfully aren’t buying software like that anymore. The rise of product-led growth has led to individuals selecting and purchasing their own software to use at work.

This is good news for everyone who wants to be more productive, but it’s especially awesome for software developers with increasingly complicated tasks to automate and increasingly challenging problems to solve.

Software buying has evolved

Developers have always been a heavily-stereotyped bunch, but it’s gotten worse as more and more software businesses set out to sell to them. The biggest perpetrators? Developers who set out on their own to build software for other developers.

But it’s not their fault. In my opinion, the most damaging stereotype for developer-focused businesses emerged from Atlassian’s wild success leveraging the product itself to convert developers into paid customers. Somehow, it created this “I can be successful with no sales or marketing” mantra that’s still pervasive with technical founders—even after being debunked with cold, hard facts.


So what’s the real story? How can highly technical businesses break through the noise in the developer-focused tools space? I’ve spent the last two years studying public companies, speaking to developers about how they evaluate and purchase software, and learning from seasoned operators who have been there and done that.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The traditional software as a service (SaaS) go-to-market (GTM) playbook doesn’t work well with developers. If you’re selling to this audience, creativity and empathy are key.
  • Developers are a tough crowd, but it’s not impossible to sell to them. Be authentic and listen to their needs, and you’ll win their hearts forever.
  • Successful companies in the developer-focused space are at the bleeding edge of product-led innovation, and they should serve as inspiration for any go-to-market professional at a software business.

I assembled my learnings into an easy-to-follow playbook for early-stage founders and operators at developer-focused businesses, but I encourage all SaaS go-to-market professionals to take a peek. Maybe you’ll learn something—or, even better, you’ll lose the false perception you have of developers.

Get your copy of The Developer-Focused Go-to-Market Playbook

VP of Growth<br>OpenView

Sam Richard is VP of Growth at OpenView, helping our portfolio accelerate top-line growth through establishing best practices and processes to support product led growth. At OpenView, Sam works closely with portfolio leadership teams to discover and implement the most impactful strategies for growth, including onboarding and retention optimization, expansion strategy, funnel optimization and channel/partner strategy.