Marketing effectively to developers
Marketing your SaaS product to developers and engineers is a difficult thing to do well. A “one size fits all” approach is almost certain to end in failure, and many marketers fall into the habit of doing just that. In this post, I’ll cover some of the marketing initiatives that I’ve seen work successfully, and how you can take a pragmatic approach to building brand and demand for your company within the development community.
- Understanding the Audience
- Branding / Community
- Generating Demand
- Defining and Measuring Success
- Closing Thoughts
Understanding the Audience
The most important thing to understand as a marketer, in any industry, is the audience. Whether you’re promoting a line of awesome socks that never get holes in them (please, someone do this), or trying to build recognition and demand for a SaaS product aimed at developers, it all starts with having a deep understanding of your target market. You should understand at least these two things: what to say and where to say it.
Over the years, I’ve had conversations with hundreds of devs (and engineers, and devops, etc.) regarding what they find valuable when hearing about and/or trying a new tool, and I can summarize a large percentage of the answers with this: “It’s not marketing bullshit and the product doesn’t suck”. Assuming your product doesn’t suck (and if you think it does, we’re hiring), the key takeaway for marketers is how important it is to effectively convey value without sounding fluffy. Clever taglines and marketing pitches aimed at the dev community are almost always net negatives, so messaging should always be value- and outcome- oriented. Let’s take a look at two examples of different ways to write an ad:
- Check out Codacy, the world’s best code review tool – try free today!
- Codacy automatically flags errors so you can fix them quickly, directly from your current workflow. Get started on automating your code quality.
Example #1 is much more fluffy (even though it’s shorter), with a claim of the world’s best tool, having the word “free”, and ending with the much-hated exclamation point. Example #2 discusses the value of the product (what it does) and the outcome that it provides. As a failsafe, I even ask our in-house devs to help write ad copy (or at least look it over before I launch it).
On the point of “where to say it”, I try to ask those same devs which newsletters they’re reading, podcasts they’re listening to, events they’re attending, and sites they’re visiting. With this information, you can begin to understand where your demand marketing efforts should be focused (which we’ll cover in a later section).
Key takeaway: Think like a developer, not a marketer.
Branding / Community
When it comes to building your company’s brand in the devtools space, visual identity, PR, speaking opportunities, thought leadership, and social media presence are all significantly important (as is the case with nearly all B2B companies). However, I’m going to focus on one other component that plays a significant role with devs: community.
Building your brand within the development community is key to long-term success for any company in this space. Here are some great ways to ensure that your marketing is supporting the community as a whole, rather than just customers and prospects (both of whom are, of course, very important):
- Support and host local meetups to facilitate learning and connectivity.
- Enable your in-house devs and evangelists to be thought leaders in both physical (speaking engagements) and digital (Stackoverflow, Reddit, Y-comb, etc) .
- Promote and support a free version of your product (if you have it) for small teams and students. Don’t bury it on your site somewhere, let the world know about it!
- Work with open source contributors (if relevant) to leverage their input and feedback.
Key takeaway: Don’t neglect strategies aimed at community building; prioritize them!
Shifting gears from the brand side of marketing, let’s now talk a bit about demand generation. While brand marketing seeks to increase your company’s exposure, recognition, and reputation within the market, demand marketing seeks to actually deliver leads and pipeline to help the sales team generate revenue. Finding successful initiatives in generating demand with developers starts with was discussed earlier in the “Understanding the Audience” section: where to say it. However, before you kick off your strategies, you need to set yourself up for success.
First things first: do not start spending budget if you cannot properly track its return. This may seem pretty basic, but you wouldn’t believe how many marketers I’ve spoken with over the years that have run demand campaigns month after month without data to show that they actually worked. Don’t be that person. Set quantitative goals for your initiatives and make sure you have a deep understanding of your company’s CRM, marketing automation tool, and anything else that touches leads as they move through the pipeline. If you don’t have a marketing automation tool yet, I would strongly recommend implementing one (Marketo, Pardot, or Hubspot, to name a few options) before going after demand gen in earnest. Doing so will allow you to understand the sources, quality, and stages of your leads, as well as give you the ability to spin up great emails and landing pages.
Next, you’ll want to make sure that you have great copy/language in your ads. As mentioned above, I recommend actually working with devs that you know to create the most value-driven language possible.
Finally, it’s time to launch and start assessing your demand initiatives. Here are some of the most effective initiatives I’ve seen for reaching developers:
- Google Ads
- Newsletter sponsorships (check out Cooper Press, for example)
- Podcast sponsorships (Changelog, for example)
- Developer-focused events (AWS has several, or more specific events like PyCon)
- Webinars (especially co-hosted with another company)
It’s important to set the expectation with yourself and your team that not everything you try in demand gen will succeed. In fact, most will not be long-term successes. However, if you’re measuring properly and continuing to try out new initiatives, you’ll be setting yourself up to build repeatable and reliable sources of pipeline for your company.
Key takeaway: Set goals for your initiatives and keep testing new things
Defining and Measuring Success
Having led Marketing and Demand teams at fast-growing, VC-backed tech startups, I’ve been asked countless times by CEOs and Boards to spend more budget on marketing (with the outcome of driving more pipeline for Sales). While it’s awesome to have the support and financial wherewithal to do this, I think many marketers feel pressured to take the “throw money at the wall and see if it sticks” approach. Instead, I’ve found that quickly defining KPIs for your team/company and kicking off a “test, measure, act” approach to initiatives will allow you to begin to build (or scale) the engine that drives revenue.
Marketing at a SaaS/Enterprise software company can measure success in many ways, based on what I call the front end (when leads are still with Marketing) and the back end (after leads are passed to Sales). In my example below, our main call-to-action on the website it to sign up for a trial (which can be accessed immediately). Note that there are many more KPIs that could be used, especially when measuring the effects of brand marketing, but I’ll keep it short and more demand-specific here.
- Marketing Spend
- Site Traffic
- Signups (plus Cost Per, Conversion Rate)
- Marketing Qualified Leads (plus Cost Per, MQL rate)
- Quality Score (based on pages viewed, trial usage, etc.)
- Sales Qualified Leads (plus Cost Per, MQL > SQL rate)
- Opportunities (plus Cost Per, Avg. Amount, Opp Rate)
- Wins (plus Cost Per (CAC), Win Rate, Avg. Win (MRR, ARR, LTV), Payback Period (ROI))
The final KPI you see, payback period, is the most important one of all. This metric takes a look at cohorted marketing spend and the resulting revenue generated to produce a time (in months) that it will take to “pay back”, or break even. I’ll be writing a future post on how to calculate this number and use it most effectively in your marketing efforts.
Test, Measure, Act
The average sales cycle for SaaS companies is about 84 days (see Hubspot’s post), meaning it would be difficult to run a time-efficient test of all the “back end” KPIs above for a campaign or event. It would be a big roadblock to wait that amount of time to decide whether or not to continue or renew an ad campaign, or sign up for another (similar) event. Therefore, what I’ve found most effective is to tier your measurements to ensure your marketing initiatives are achieving benchmarks at certain points in time.
In the example of a newsletter sponsorship, I’d use something like the following, with x representing the day the newsletter was sent:
- x + 7 days: 10+ MQLs
- x + 14 days: 5+ SQLs
- x + 30 days: 1+ Opportunity
If a new campaign is achieving the first two benchmarks, I would likely consider renewing for the future. Obviously, at the end of the day, we want all of our events and campaigns producing actual revenue (or new users if that’s your goal), so it’s important to always keep assessing success. Once you identify the types of campaigns that have worked well, it becomes easier to scale that success and even find “lookalikes”.
Key takeaway: Define, Test, Measure, Act
I hope that these insights and ideas will prove useful as you seek to expand your product’s visibility and demand within the dev community. Remember that marketing efforts are often the first exposure that your audience has to your brand, so take the time to ensure that all your outward-facing initiatives are strategic and well-planned.
Please do follow up if you have any questions or comments on this post! firstname.lastname@example.org; @codacy
Rob DiNuzzo is the Head of Marketing at Codacy, based in NYC. Previously, he’s led marketing teams at Datadog, Smartly.io, and RoboForm.
Codacy is a tool used by thousands of developers and teams to analyze billions of lines of code every day, allowing them to ship better code at scale.