Founder’s Guide to Building a Developer Tools Business- How to Sell to Engineers

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Understanding the dynamics of launching a product in the developer tools market

Developers and software engineers have unique interests and needs. Try to sell them goats cheese, for example, and you will find yourself explaining its benefits by showing them a table of its pros and cons, comparing it with cheddar or brie, offering free samples, and showing a video of how they can enjoy it baked or in a salad.

Given the enormous value of having developers approve your SaaS tool, recommend it to peers, and help you gain even more new customers by writing testimonials and technical reviews, you must understand how to get them to buy into and promote your product.

Below are some of the most effective techniques that you can use to sell your tool to developers.

Selling to devs 101

Understanding the developer persona

Developers live and breath technology. They like experimenting, and they are driven by ambition and curiosity. So, to sell them something or pique their interest, you have to lure them with clear and appealing features. Does your application enable users to deploy a MongoDB cluster with a click of a button? Make sure you mention that in bold letters. Does it integrate properly with Github and Slack? Make sure you put big icons and screencasts on the front page. The most valuable features are the ones that automate the dull stuff and do what they say they do.

Offer multiple/tiered pricing models

Developers love free stuff, and most of the time, they look at the pricing model of your product to see if you offer a free tier so that they can test your platform without investing anything. Ideally, you want to have as many tiers as possible so developers can unlock features as they utilize the platform. The following page from Sendgrid is an excellent model of tiering. As you can see, they have a free tier, an “Essentials tier,” which removes some limitations of the free tier, and then there are professional tiers for businesses.

Sendgridsource: sendgrid/pricing

Offer easy-to-navigate docs

Developers also enjoy seeing the documentation. Docs should be detailed, easy to read, and packed with examples. Ideally, everything should be on one page with sidebars for the separate sections, and you’ll want a search box so that they can look up keywords or relevant sections. The content should be arranged logically, with an introduction, installation instructions, and finally, comprehensive documentation for each feature. As you can see below, oauth.io has a great example of documentation, which is practical and easy to read. This example was created with Slate, a static documentation generator for APIs.

docs-oauthsource: docs.oauth

Offer demos, previews, and trials

If you don’t want to offer free tiers, you can still offer demos, trials, or quick screencasts to showcase your product. Developers want to use your platform before they decide to continue with a subscription, so you must give them access to its full functionality for a while. One example of this is the Phrase.com platform, which offers a free 14-day trial.

Phrase.comsource: phrase.com

Offer integrations and CLI tools

Developers love to connect things to their favorite tools so that they can do all of their work in one platform. If you offer integration with one or more relevant providers (such as Github, Slack, or Jira), then all the better for you. Also, CLI tools and language libraries enhance your chances of success in developers’ circles. An excellent model of this strategy is DigitalOcean’s integrations page, which allows you to see the available integration points and begin the steps to include them (as seen below).

DIgitalOceansource: DigitalOcean Tools and Integrations

Offer community support

It is crucial to offer support in case developers encounter issues or don’t understand some of the usage instructions. The most convenient way to do this is to create a community chatroom using Slack, Gitter, or Discord. Since these are universally available and engage more developers, your product can reach a wider audience if you utilize them as support channels. Word spreads fast if users can get support and resolve their issues quickly, and your product becomes more and more popular.

Final thoughts

Effectively selling your product to developers is challenging to do because we have changed the way that we sell software. The abundance of tools and options makes it difficult for vendors to differentiate themselves from the competition. Making your products more developer-friendly is a proven way to acquire more customers and enable vendors to gain more market share in their primary domain of interest.



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