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SaaS business

How to Sell Developer Tools With Right Marketing, Sales, and Pricing Strategies

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It may be a bit ironic to speak of how hard it is to sell to developers when the majority of startup founders are developers (or have a tech background) themselves. Why would it be so hard to sell to the crowd they know so well?

We are a design agency, and we know the perfect answer to this question. Just kidding, of course we don’t pretend to be experts in marketing and sales for developers. Still, we have some thoughts on this because a) we’ve designed some developer tools, and b) we successfully collaborate with many clients, who have tech backgrounds.

Now, let’s step back to the question we started with.

Why is it so hard to sell to developers?

Not because they have little demand for digital products. Even though they create digital products, it doesn’t mean they would go and develop them themselves every time they need a digital solution to a problem. Developer tools market is growing rapidly (at annual growth rate between 7% to 14% or even 17%). So, the demand is there, and growing investments are there, too.

When people say “it’s hard to sell to developers”, they typically mean that developers are less likely to buy into marketing when it’s about things they are experts in. People are willing to buy a quality product, but they are less likely to trust marketing without being able to prove the quality.

Try before you buy

To trust a product, developers have to try it themselves. If you’ve got a quality product and a free trial available, 90% of work is done.

We know it from our own experience: though we sell design services and not digital products, we give a free 3-day trial to our clients — and we can say that many of our clients who are founders with tech backgrounds, just love the model “try before you buy”.

However, when people say that good developer tools should go by pure product-led growth, it is also a bit hypocritical. No matter how good the product is, the chances it becomes popular without any marketing are scarce.

Marketing is still there, but it has to be adjusted more than you might have thought to work well with developers. We’re talking not only about the messaging; it’s about the process and strategy, too.

SaaS scheme

Since the 2000s, the software buying process has shifted from executives making decisions to end users making purchase decisions after they try a product for free and want to continue using it regularly.

In 2022, Sam Richard and Sanjiv Kalevar conducted research by interviewing both GTM and operations executives at top-performing developer-focused SaaS businesses and developers themselves. It showed that 89% of developer-first companies in Cloud 100 offer free product or free trial. 

Trials In SaaS Scheme

Nothing more to say: you have to offer a free trial unless it is absolutely unfeasible.

We can say that a good trial is the most efficient way of winning developers’ love, but it’s not like they would just download 10 products, try each of them, and then choose the best one. Of course, they try as few products as possible, and to make them choose yours, some marketing would be good to have.

Activation strategies

How to make developers try your product in the first place? Gain influencers' trust. Sounds like Instagram influencer marketing, but the same principle works with most people. Communities and platforms are different, but peer experience has lots of weight in decision making of all kinds of people, developers included.

In our case, influencers aren’t people with hundred thousands of followers on YouTube who will charge you a fortune for a recommendation. These are just people with good reputations in relevant communities — it can be on Stack Overflow, Reddit, Quora, Discord, or others.

Another common way of discovery for developer tools is by searching solutions to workflow questions, also known as workflow-based discovery. Sounds like a very basic marketing tip, but that’s the point: selling to developers can be easier than it seems. So, invest in solid SEO to ensure devs won’t pass by your product when searching for something similar.

Last but not least, pay good attention to technical documentation. Rumor has it developers actually read it, and if it contains answers to their workflow questions, your product is likely to gain new users (at 0 marketing cost!).

How to price developer tools

Above mentioned study on developer tools it was found that 75% of researched companies with public pricing have a usage-based model, and 25% — user-based pricing model.

Packaging Of Public Developer-Focused Companies

It’s not as obvious as with a free trial, but if you are in doubt, consider going for a usage-based pricing model, as it may create a feeling of more fair value/price connection.

How to shape the sales team to earn developers' trust

There are some radical opinions regarding sales teams for dev tools. Common belief says developers don’t trust salespeople and “don’t like sales calls” (as if all salespeople like them…). Most people don’t enjoy talking to sales reps, so developers don’t quite stand out here.

However, there is a myth that successful dev tools can make it without any sales team at all (this is what Atlassian claimed at some point). When looking further, it turned out that Atlassian didn’t have a “direct” sales team, but many people were working for their sales — just with a different model.

It leads to the next extremum: “Only developers can sell to developers,” as said by Povilas Korop, founder and CEO of QuickAdminPanel. According to Povilas, sales professionals won’t do a good job for developers since they would have less expertise in the tech field.

What is more, he claims that developers should also do the support. This is a great practice for startups, but let’s be honest, it is unlikely to work for a growing business. You can’t just make developers do everything and expect them to do it better than sales professionals.

So, what realistic situation can you find between these two extremums? Here are some tips:

Involve developers in the sales process

You can make it in a way that is feasible for you: make them help customers directly, consult salespeople on how to work with devs, and advocate in their expert communities.

Opt for less “invasive” sales methods

If devs don’t like being called, don’t call them, as simple as that. Ideally, don’t call anyone if they haven’t specifically requested a call. Emails may also prove not the most efficient, as developers check their mailbox less than others, but at least it’s not that annoying.

Adjust sales guidelines for certain target audience

Get marketing, sales, and developers to sit together to prepare working guidelines. If your in-house developers approve them, chances are your future customers won’t hate it, too.

Be transparent in your marketing

This is a good lesson learned from top companies. Developers don’t trust marketing? Make it transparent! Take GitLab as an example, who published their marketing handbook on their website.

There are many other marketing, sales, and business tricks to cover on this topic, but we wouldn’t be a design agency if we didn’t mention the importance of keeping the target audience in mind when creating a design. And developers’ audience has certain preferences.

Designing for developers

First of all, developers love customization. More customization is not always better, but with developer tools, it’s hard to exaggerate.

Second, developers don’t need things to be super easy. These people are used to having several windows or screens open simultaneously, and they might not appreciate your best effort to make the product look “clean and minimalist.”

While designers often try to unclutter the screen and hide less used information in the menu, developers prefer having all of it on display and saving those extra clicks.

If you want to learn more about the topic, read our article about designing developer tools.

Polaris Security Dashboard
Design we created for a code security app

Conclusion

We have started with a breaking statement that traditional go-to-market strategies don’t work for developers' audience. The most logical reaction is finding out what’s wrong special with the developers. Certain things make them react differently to marketing. 

However, if we want to look at the root cause of the problem, we have to find out not just why developers don’t buy into marketing but how to adapt marketing strategy to fit different audiences. Typically, we would focus on adapting content to different customer personas, but sometimes, strategies need to be reviewed, too.

Once you take the courage to go away from templates and craft a custom go-to-market strategy, you’ll stop wondering why it is so hard to sell to developers, designers, or salespeople. You can find the right key to any type of customer if you take a special approach.

If you have a project idea that will surely conquer the hearts of developers, contact us, as we know well how to create the best user experience for developers.

Masha Panchenko

Author

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