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Why do smaller companies succeed at developer marketing?

Read Time: 5 Mins

As the tech industry continues to evolve, more companies are recognizing the importance of developer marketing. Our recent survey of B2B marketing leaders confirmed that the practice is growing across industries and in companies of all sizes. However, the data showed a fundamental difference between how smaller companies (those with less than $100 million in revenue) are finding success with marketing to developers compared to larger, enterprise organizations (with more than $5B in annual revenue). What’s helping those smaller companies find growth through developer marketing? Based on the responses we received, the people involved play a huge role.

Marketing leaders from smaller companies were more likely to report that developer marketing was an important part of their organization’s growth objectives than their peers at larger companies (37% vs. 21%). They were also more likely to report feeling successful at the practice (85.4% vs. 74.6%).

We weren’t surprised to learn these organizations were experiencing success with developer marketing since they were also more likely to focus on developer engagement as a goal, and to prioritize creating the kinds of content developers value. 

Three bar charts showing that smaller companies strongly agree they focus on the content we know developers want - code samples and tutorials (39%); developer events (34%); and free engineering support (32%).

But they were also working with much smaller teams than their larger counterparts. More than half of companies in this range reported having 2 or fewer resources dedicated to developer marketing, and none reported having more than 5. By contrast, more than a quarter of the largest companies have 6 or more resources focused on marketing to developers.

Smaller companies are better at marketing to developers, even with fewer resources. Why?

The answer, we found, lay in the makeup of their developer marketing teams. When we asked whether a company’s marketing team had strong engineering or software backgrounds, 34% of companies with less than $100 million strongly agreed, while only 22% of companies above $5B said the same.

There’s a good reason for this. At some point in the growth of a small company, someone has to be in charge of marketing. In an emerging tech company, there’s a good chance the person who finds themselves in charge of marketing used to be a developer.

That background plays an outsized role in creating marketing campaigns that actually resonate with developers. Here’s why.

Developers know what developers want.

If your marketing team has a development background, it makes sense that developer marketing would come naturally. Code samples, documentation and tutorials, trainings, meet-ups, and the other major offerings of successful developer marketing campaigns aren’t just marketing tactics to a team with a development background. They’re the way those marketers learned about the programs, techniques, and strategies they used during their time in development. Marketers with a development background don’t have to be convinced that developer marketing works. They’ve already experienced it themselves.

Developer-turned-marketers are not as tied to the standard marketing playbook.

For years, companies have found growth via paid search, display ads, and inbound marketing strategies that focus on turning contacts into prospects and prospects into leads. That’s become the playbook for a simple reason—it works. 

The problem is that developers don’t want to be sold to. They want to see how a product or service works, they want to know that it makes sense for their current workflow, and they want to see that a community exists around a product to help with any problems that might arise. 

If a marketing team lacks development experience, there may be no one to speak up and say that reaching developer audiences takes more than creating a developer persona and running variations of the same tactics a company uses for the rest of their audiences.

Developers understand the role developers play in the buying group.

We’ve talked before about the importance of alignment between sales and marketing. With developer marketing, that shared focus is more important than ever. Developers are often part of a larger buying team. That can create some tension within an organization looking to target developers. Sales often wants the chance to close on every contact as soon as it officially becomes a lead. A well-aligned company will take an account-based approach to these sales and implement a lead scoring system that takes the whole buying team into account. Developers may be an important part of the buying team, but if they don’t have the “yes” you’re looking for, sending emails and leaving voicemails will likely be counterproductive.

A marketing team with a development background may have a stronger idea of how much info a developer needs to feel comfortable recommending a solution to the rest of the buying team. They’ll also have a better handle on what information a developer wants to be able to hand off to the person who can authorize a purchase.

This understanding allows them to build a campaign from the outset, not just to market to developers, but to turn them into a product champion within their own buying teams.

Larger companies aren’t locked out of developer marketing.

Smaller companies may have more developer experience in their marketing teams, but that doesn’t mean larger companies without that background can’t succeed at marketing to developers. A successful campaign aimed at developers does require knowing how to engage with them authentically. If that authenticity doesn’t come naturally from experience, there are a few ways to achieve it. 

If a company wants to make a serious investment, it’s possible to hire a developer marketing manager that brings development experience to the table. (Of course, as developer marketing continues to grow, those individuals will continue to become more valuable in the job market… and more expensive.) Many larger companies are finding success by working with partners who specialize in developer marketing, alongside their internal marketing teams or traditional agencies. This gives them the flexibility to run a developer marketing campaign alongside their traditional efforts, without committing to the long-term costs of on-boarding specific resources with a developer background.

Of course, some larger companies may choose just to leave dev marketing to smaller companies that organically have the ability to speak to that audience. It’s a risk, as developer marketing is steadily becoming more important as the tech marketplace continues to evolve. For the larger companies that do choose to market and sell specifically to a developer audience, rather than treat them as a secondary audience, there’s some real room to grow. 

The Iron Horse insight.

Smaller companies may have the advantage in developer marketing now, but time will tell if that’s only because they’ve had a head start. Smaller companies have learned to focus on outcomes, rather than vanity KPIs like email open and click-through rates. If larger companies choose to adopt that focus, the advantages that come with their size may let them quickly close the gap.

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