5 Experiments To Find a Winning Developer Acquisition Strategy

Oct 21, 2022
5 Experiments To Find a Winning Developer Acquisition Strategy
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For this Work-Bench Masterclass, we hosted Martin Gontovnikas (also known as “Gonto”), General Partner and B2B Growth Advisor at HyperGrowth Partners and former SVP Marketing and Growth at Auth0. As a Software Engineer turned Marketer, Gonto grew the Auth0 Marketing team to 80+ employees and was responsible for doubling their ARR annually. Now at HyperGrowth Partners, he works on growth and marketing strategies for companies like Airbyte, Vercel, Maze, and more.

Gonto walked through
5 Experiments to Find a Winning Developer Acquisition Strategy with tons of real world examples. If you’re selling to developers, check out a recap of his top takeaways below and the event recording here.

#1: Always Start with Research 

There are a lot of Marketing execs who copy and paste strategies from job to job, in hopes that what works at one company will work at the next. However, a successful developer acquisition strategy can vary drastically depending on the problem space and product at hand. Why? Not all developers are the same.

To make sure you’re targeting the right developers for your market from the get go, Gonto recommends doing developer research interviews to understand their unique pain points, what they care about, what they’re interested in learning more about, what products have they used and liked/disliked, what communities they're in, who they follow, etc. This will dictate what type of marketing techniques will be the most effective.

How do you find developers to participate in research interviews? 

  1. Search for relevant companies on LinkedIn, then slide into developers’ DMs
  2. Run ads on social media 
  3. Have your company and/or other influencers in the space Tweet about it 
  4. Attend conferences, walk around the floor, and just ask people

But remember, these interviews should be about information gathering and not focus on selling your product. Instead, ask interviewees questions about their work and then offer them compensation (a small $50-$100 gift card is fine) for their time. 

Example: Through the research process, Rev (a speech-to-text transcription platform) learned that engineers building in the space were interested in learning more about how AI can be applied to speech-to-text vs. fixing errors. These engineers were participating in websites like Kaggle, which allows you to explore, analyze, and share quality data as well as implement AI algorithms. Based on this, the Rev team set out to create educational content around AI implementation, not authentication and back-end engineering as originally planned. 

#2: Focus on Your Developer’s Workflow 

It’s a lot easier to reach developers where they spend their day to day vs. trying to convince them to spend time on a new platform. Before creating any marketing plans, define your target developer’s workflow, then design your marketing efforts around showing up in that workflow.

Example: Developers only searched for Auth0 when they were up against an error page. Knowing this, the Auth0 team implemented 50 to 100 pages intended to help developers get “unblocked” from their specific error page. In this case, Auth0 was soft selling helpful information without requiring the developer to use Auth0 itself. This established trust for Auth0 without being too salesy.  

#3: To Convert Developers, Give Them Value

Once you get developers to sign up for the free tier of your product, the next (and bigger) challenge is to convert them into paying customers. Most companies task SDRs with this outbound sales process - where the SDR will contact a developer after two weeks of them using the product and ask them to engage in a conversation about upgrading to paid features. However, this approach generally has little success.

“Developers have a very high bull shit detector.”

To pass this detector, it's important your SDRs are technical (enough to talk to an engineer 1:1). However, technical SDRs are a rare breed and hiring engineers directly to do this work is expensive. What Gonto has done in the past is hire Apple Genius Bar or Best Buy Geek Squad employees, who have a baseline technical background upon onboarding and then can be quickly trained on the company’s product by its engineers. Another tactic to better upsell developers is to not upsell them at all. Instead, rebrand your SDR team to “Product Advocates” with the sole mission of providing developers implementation success. In this case, it’s not about getting a developer to pay for the product. Instead, the focus is on how to get them to deploy/implement the product successfully, making sure they’re receiving value from the product, and then upselling them.

#4: Content Products Are The New Content Marketing

Every company now has their own blog. To break through the noise and make sure your product is discoverable above the competition, you need to be different and think beyond traditional developer content.  

Conversions require four to six touch points, sometimes more. To hit that mark, you must have a multi-touch and high impact strategy. Enter “content products.” What are those? Content products help educate the market and build brand, but in a more fun and non-salesy manner. They can include microsites, interactive sandboxes, calculators, games and more, but to be successful, content products need to: 

  • Target you specific market 
  • Connect to your product core
  • Be interactive
  • Be useful at least weekly, hopefully more 
  • Ideally have their own branding different from the company branding 

Example: Algolia’s content product, DocSearch, allows developers to search and automatically extract content from technical documentation. 

Example: Twilio’s content product, TwilioQuest, explains how to code and prepares developers for real-world programming by helping them configure a local development environment and introducing tools used by professional programmers. It looks like an old-school 90s game and takes three months to complete, ensuring developers are repeatedly engaging with the product.

#5: Tap Into Existing Communities 

Community building is a must to spread brand awareness organically and authentically. Developers inherently trust other developers more than brand marketing ploys. The theory behind community development is that community members will invite others, who invite others, and so on.

“Non-staff evangelists are the best.”

Today, it seems like every company is trying to create their own community and according to Gonto, this is a mistake. Really only open-source projects should build their own communities. Commercial products should aim to tap into existing communities. Why?

Specifically for open-source projects, developers are motivated by learning, becoming an expert, and being recognized as an expert in that project. Docker is the poster child for community building success. They searched other communities, located Docker experts, and then offered them free swag and a position to run local meetups. In return, these meetup leaders became widely known as Docker experts, which is helpful in building their own personal brands, lobbying for a promotion, finding a job, and more. For closed-sourced products, it's less about fostering champions and more about viral brand awareness.

For more, check out the full event recording.

If you’re an early-stage enterprise founder or operator — connect with us directly to chat about anything GTM or check out our events page to stay in the loop on all things happening in the Work-Bench community.