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Why Software Sales Should Focus On The Developer Market

Ivan is responsible for navigating Infobip towards becoming a developer-centric organization through dedicated programs and initiatives.

It’s strange to look at where the developer market was 10 years ago. Many believed that digging into developers’ pockets was a waste of time and money — or saw them as a hard-to-reach audience and as challenging to engage with. This misconception has left many businesses missing out on lucrative business opportunities or failing to extend their products that complement the wider software revolution. 

Developers have become one of the most — if not the most — important buyers of technology and infrastructure. Demand has been driven by the growing startup culture, where product architecture is created from the ground up using developer platforms that offer interchangeable building blocks and collaboration. Ultimately, though, there has been a change in approach with companies realizing that selling to a developer isn’t just about securing a “big deal.” It’s about working with developers to understand and solve problems and promote a “try and test” approach. That’s where the wider value lies.

Why have developers been overlooked?

McKinsey’s Developer Velocity Index highlights that companies with strong core developer offerings appear to be more innovative, scoring 55% higher on innovation than bottom-quartile companies. Yet, despite their business-critical status, developers haven’t held the enterprise purse strings. Executives and vice presidents have historically been the guardians of the company coffers, hence why developers are often overlooked when it comes to technology vendors selling their products.

These sales models usually involve a top-down approach. For example, a vendor’s sales team would isolate an executive-level employee at a target company. The next step would be for the sales team to call said executive — say the VP of Engineering at a technology services company — and pitch their product. The VP is intrigued, persuaded and sold. They make a deal and sign a contract. Following the deal, the VP then liaises internally with their development team to implement the service. At this point, the developer has had no say and is simply handed the product to implement. 

The Challenge With The Traditional Sales Model

This traditional sales model disregards a critical component for developers — direct product feedback. Without being involved in the process from start to finish, or being able to explore the product, developers can’t manage or control the uptake of the software.

Often, by the time the product arrives to developers, it’s too late in the process for them to be effective and utilize the skills that they bring to the table. The executives or VPs who purchase the product are incidentally under a lot of pressure to deliver digital change. According to Gartner, 87% of senior business leaders say digitalization is a company priority, yet only 40% of organizations have brought digital initiatives to scale. This need to boost digitalization – especially with the pandemic — has led to many companies rushing IT purchases as a short-term fix.

The developer who implements the product has it land on their computer; they start to use it without having had any real agency in the platform acquisition process. It’s essentially an executive saying, “We’ve signed a contract, now use this software.”

Selling directly to the developer, however, means they will have first-hand experience of the value of that particular product or solution — and they’ll be able to see the long-term benefits it can bring to the entire organization with further development. Developers want to build, and they need the budget, solutions and independence to do so.

Catering To The Developer Experience

The fact that SaaS companies can grow to $20 million+ ARR with developer-focused productization demonstrates the size and influence of this market. But you can’t target developers with a showy marketing splash; practicality must be offered above all else.

Traditional B2B marketing techniques fail with developers because this is a community that is resistant to anything that looks, sounds or smells like marketing. They’re problem solvers, which is why marketing needs to be hands-on, with a “try before you buy” approach, so they can really get to grips with the technology. This happens through “give first” models, where developers access and explore the product or solution from the outset. This could mean the developer isn’t necessarily interested in your technology right now, but involving them at this stage of the process could result in a larger sale later down the line. Plus, their feedback will no doubt contribute to the development of a stronger solution.

What’s more, a developer’s recommendation goes a long way to “infiltrate” a business and build up revenue with an account in the long term. When they love a product, they will evangelize it among their wider communities.

The Future Of The Developer Market

Treating developers as customers has proven to be a profitable business. You only have to look at startups like Stripe, which has just secured a mind-blowing $95 billion valuation following Series H funding, to see the dividends. But it does require an investment in time, resource and experience to do it properly. What are you waiting for?


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