If your organization sells enterprise technology and only targets business leaders, you’re going to miss a rather big chunk of people that are the technology gatekeepers for their companies or at the very least are largely influential when it comes to purchasing enterprise technology. On top of that, traditional marketing tactics are all but ineffective on a developer audience. To reach and convert developers, you’ll need a developer marketing program.
Building and scaling a developer marketing program is quite different from a traditional marketing program. The biggest obstacle in marketing to developers is their aversion to marketing tactics, and disdain of marketing and sales fluff. While marketers traditionally love to talk up products, developers are laser-focused on finding solutions to their specific and current problems. (Want to get inside the mind of a developer? Read our 3-part Developer Interview Series.)
If you’re assuming that your product marketing is reaching developers, you’re probably wrong. To do developer marketing well and reach your goals, you need specific skill sets—which you can get through using a developer marketing agency, or by hiring a developer marketing manager.
What is a developer marketing manager?
Most people are familiar with the phrase, “a jack of all trades is a master of none,” but fewer people are familiar with the complete quote, which is, “a jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” This phrase was originally intended as a compliment to those that held talents in multiple areas and were able to accomplish more on their own than a master of a single craft could alone. That’s what a developer marketing manager must be able to do.
To gain the trust of developers and increase product adoption and advocacy, the developer marketing manager must understand both current marketing tactics and the developer mindset. A master of only marketing or engineering won’t be able to do the full job. To help you find the perfect candidate for the position, here’s what your jack of all trades needs to look like.
Roles and responsibilities of a developer marketing manager.
There are three main components to a developer marketing program; performed in unison, these activities help engage and grow developer communities to drive product adoption and advocacy. In smaller programs, this role is usually handled by a single person. However, as your program grows, you may divide and specialize these responsibilities across multiple team members.
The most obvious role a developer marketing manager plays is to create your program strategy. A common mistake is to believe that any marketing expert can perform this function. To create an effective developer marketing strategy, one needs a thorough understanding of the developer audience, including how they consume information, which online communities to engage with, and what content types perform best. For example, a good dev marketing manager would understand the strengths and weaknesses involved when engaging developers on Stack Overflow vs more niche channels. Mainly, larger communities like Stack Overflow are better for awareness, while smaller niche channels offer higher engagement opportunities and a better platform for building brand affinity. Furthermore, they would also know what content types are most helpful and shareable from community to community and audience to audience.
This person might be someone with working experience as a developer/engineer or someone with entry-level coding in their background but has since transitioned their career to marketing. The key is to find someone with an understanding of the developer experience, particularly, what they want, how, and why.
Determine if your candidate is right for the position by asking this person what the difference is between Developer Marketing and Developer Relations (DevRel).
A key part of developer marketing is engaging and growing developer communities. To perform this essential function, your program needs a developer evangelist. Whether that’s a role your manager takes on or it’s an additional team member, it’s essential to obtain insights and trends from the developer community.
Evangelism boils down to making honest, human-to-human connections with other developers. The developer evangelist is a friend within the community who is fully ingrained in the culture and helps fellow developers solve problems while also listening for trending topics that you can address with content and within your solution itself. Think of this role as your “ears on the ground.”
Look for someone with customer success experience. Your evangelist should know how to support and build relationships with customers.
Subject matter expertise (SME).
Community building skills are essential for the person-to-person side of developer relations. However, engineering expertise is also necessary for the person-to-product side of things. (See what we mean about a jack of all trades?) This is where prior engineer and coding experience is a must. Effective developer marketing managers speak the language of a developer and immediately know what kind of resource is going to be useful to the audience or not. Furthermore, while the main responsibility on the evangelism side of the job is to know what content the community wants, the SME side knows how they want to receive it. If your developer marketing manager is a true SME, they should have a lot of input when it comes to reviewing content and content ideas before it’s broadcast to the developer community.
As an SME, your manager should also be able to tell whether a resource is too top-level, has too much fluff, or doesn’t talk about products in ways that make sense to developers. Again, marketers and developers do not speak the same language when it comes to products. The reason an SME is so important to the success of your program is that developers want to direct their product-related questions to someone who can answer them (i.e. a fellow developer). Be advised, if a developer has an issue, they will not trust a non-developer that works in marketing or sales to help them.
Team structure tip:
If your budget allows for just one additional team member to support your developer marketing manager, focus your efforts on finding one person that can act as either the developer evangelist or the SME, whichever would best support your manager. Keep in mind, looking for one support person to act as both the evangelist and SME is a difficult task. Candidates with talents on both ends of that spectrum are often more suitable for a developer marketing manager role than a support position.
Qualities of a developer marketing manager.
Avoid posting a job description for a marketing manager that simply adds the word developer. If you want to put the best person in charge of your program, they’ll need certain qualities and experience.
We recommend searching for someone with these qualities:
- Former developer or prior engineering experience. It’s hard to understand how a developer thinks if you have never thought like a developer before. You need someone that has been through the late-night coding sessions, scoured the internet for solutions to mysterious bottlenecks, and contacted customer support when something with a product broke unexpectedly. The developer journey is unique and technical, and not easy to fully understand as an outsider.
- Community marketing experience. Your manager should know how to scale a community and understand that everything about a developer marketing program revolves around it. There’s going to be a lot of reputation management when your audience is a group of highly technical and blunt product reviewers. Knowing how to navigate those rough waters is a must.
- Data and audience-focused mindset. Creativity is great, but it’s far less important when it comes to developers, who want to get to the point. This person should think about everything from a quantifiable perspective. They should be able to fail often, optimize, and continue to optimize. Moreover, they need to know the right developer marketing metrics to use to inform their decisions and grow developer communities. When it comes to developer marketing there is always something new to learn, whether that’s about the release of innovative solutions, trending engineering needs, or new niche communities that have sprouted up.
- Excellent written communicator. Developers want direct and precise information, and it helps when the person at the top can oversee this aspect and ensure all content and messaging is clear and concise while remaining on-brand. Marketing will often get fancy and fluffy, and someone needs to ensure that excess is cut out. If it’s not, developers will lose interest and your product will lose authority.
Iron Horse insight.
If you’ve recognized the importance of the developer audience but are still trying to reach them through your product marketing, it may be time to take the plunge and hire a developer marketing manager. But if your hiring team has little to no knowledge about developers and developer marketing programs, then the person that gets hired likely won’t either. In addition to having marketers and/or executives define the needs of the position and conduct the interviews, bring in your product and engineering teams to help specify needs and interview candidates. To find your well-rounded jack of all trades, you need a well-rounded hiring process.