Managing Director & Partner
Silicon Valley - Bay Area
Developers are wielding more clout when it comes to the technology their companies buy and use. Here’s how to get their attention.
Developers are creators, but in many companies they also wear a couple of other hats. They are buyers, purchasing software for their teams or even the organization. And they are influencers, often with a say on which vendors make the short list and which tools get the nod. For the makers of B2B enterprise technology, these three roles translate to one imperative: the developer is someone you really want to reach.
But like surgeons and sturgeons, developers come in different types. They work in different parts of the tech stack and for different kinds of companies—whether organizations born in the cloud or still brimming with legacy tech. So reaching—and wooing—this community requires more than a “developer relations” placard above some cubicles down the hall. It means uncovering and leveraging the nuances: identifying the developers that matter most to your business, understanding what matters most to them, and getting the word out that you deliver.
For many tech companies, the need to win over developers is more important than ever. Through organic growth and, notably, acquisitions, vendors increasingly are wading into areas, and making products, that require the skills and engagement of developers. IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat, Microsoft’s purchase of GitHub—the trend has been hard to miss. From 2010 through 2017, developer-focused M&A amounted to some $8 billion in deals. From 2018 through April 2021, the figure was approximately $58 billion.
There’s another trend to note, too. More and more, we are seeing a bottom-up dynamic when companies buy enterprise tech. As creators, buyers, and influencers, developers have become instrumental in deciding what products pass muster. Ultimately, the C-suite may call the shot, but the developer is often guiding its aim.
To be sure, the growing clout of developers hasn’t gone unnoticed by enterprise tech players. Companies like Red Hat and Datadog have teams—sometimes dozens or even hundreds of members strong—dedicated to developer-focused initiatives. But too often, vendors view developers as a monolithic block. They don’t explore or make the most of the nuances: the different needs, priorities, and influence levels among different types of developers. This leaves key insights—and the value they can generate—on the table.
So how do you take a more fine-tuned approach? The first step is to understand the different kinds of developers. While not an exhaustive list, the general breakdown looks like this:
Different developer segments will operate in different levels of the stack. (See Exhibit 1.)
A front-end developer, for instance, generally will work only in the application layer and, to some extent, the data layer. Automation and DevOps engineers, by contrast, generally work in all layers except the application layer. Keep in mind, too, the impact of the “shift left” mindset, where issues that traditionally came into play later in the software development process—like performance and maintenance—are now “early on” considerations. Accordingly, many cloud-native application developers now work in, or at least think strategically about, all levels of the tech stack.
Different segments prefer—and look for—specific things when it comes to enterprise tech. For example, a recent BCG survey found that cloud-native application developers prioritize easy, self-service testing, as well as access to vendor resources when onboarding and scaling a new solution. (See Exhibit 2.)
Developer needs and preferences also depend on the type of company where they work. At companies early in their cloud transformation, developers typically prefer an end-to-end application platform—one that offers a simple, streamlined experience. Meanwhile, developers in cloud-native companies tend to prefer best-of-breed point solutions, so they can create their platform to their own specifications.
Thus, that key commandment of sales—know thy customer—really has two prongs: identify the developer segments most relevant to your product and understand what matters most to them. Catering to those needs can help you win over the developers who can help you win sales.
But keep in mind that influence isn’t a constant. We’ve found that developer clout varies across the spectrum of software. In our experience, developers are particularly influential at shaping purchasing decisions in two product areas: application platforms and infrastructure software. So it’s worth taking a closer look at these categories and the dynamics at play.
Application platforms fall into two broad types:
Similarly, in the realm of infrastructure software, DevOps engineers and cloud-native app developers are the segments influencing decisions to purchase—or pass on—products:
Understanding developer preferences and influence can help you differentiate your products. But just as crucially, the insights help you shape—and optimize—your messaging. It’s not enough to meet the right needs of the right segments. You also must communicate that you meet them.
Getting that second part right means creating a developer-focused go-to-market model. To be sure, some vendors are on the right track here. They are looking at the four stages of the GTM process and shaping initiatives around developers’ behaviors and preferences:
But B2B tech companies can do even more to attract and win over developers. Again, it all comes down to letting the behaviors and preferences of developers inform strategy. And in this context, four strategies are particularly promising:
Personalization is another smart move: tailoring content feeds, product updates, and recommendations (regarding training options, groups to join, and so on) to individual needs and preferences. And consider gamification. We’ve found that game-like experiences can be a powerful way to boost engagement within communities. They also can facilitate product exploration and even onboarding through gamified online tutorials.
Traditionally, developers have wielded code, not clout. But today’s developers are having an increasingly strong say in purchasing decisions. They’re not a monolithic block, though, and different developers have different needs, preferences, and influence. To reach—and win over—this key audience, B2B enterprise tech companies need a deeper, more nuanced understanding of how developers work and what they want to see, from both a product and its vendor. These insights can shape and propel marketing, outreach, and support strategies. And they can help spark growth. Developers are no longer just users, but decision-makers who can seal—or kill—the deal.