Software has become the driving force of our economy, and developers are emerging as the new "kingmakers" within enterprises. With their increasing influence on buying decisions and tooling selections, it's essential to recognize the power of developers and adopt strategies that cater to this audience. In this article, we will explore the concept of developer-led growth (DLG) and highlight its unique advantages for B2D (Business-to-Developers) companies. We also dive into practical steps for getting started with developer-led growth.
Developers are the new kingmakers
Software is still eating the world, and every company is transforming into a software business. As a result, developers are gaining more influence and becoming the new "kingmakers" within organizations. According to the State of Developer Nation 2021 report, experienced developers are not only influencing buying decisions (49%) but are even making final selections for company tooling (11%).
With every new technological advancement, a wave of new B2D companies emerges to assist developers in adopting these technologies more efficiently and affordably - whether it's SaaS, Web3, or, most recently, generative AI. Scrolling through TechCrunch, you'll find almost as many companies building generative AI infrastructure and developer tooling as you will find companies building AI applications. There were 26.8 million active software developers in the world at the end of 2021, and this number is predicted to reach 45 million by 2030. Building software solutions that are "developer-first" and convincing this key stakeholder in enterprise sales processes is a trillion-dollar market opportunity.
What is developer-led growth?
Developer-led growth is a Go-To-Market approach that shares similarities with product-led growth (PLG) but has distinct differences in sales motion and strategy. PLG focuses on user acquisition, activation, and retention driven primarily by the product itself. Developer-led growth instead revolves around empowering developers and leveraging their advocacy to drive growth.
In developer-led growth, the concept of "try before you buy" takes on a new dimension. Instead of merely testing out a product, developers are encouraged to "build before you buy." Providing developers with the necessary tools and access to create even the simplest projects, such as a "hello world" application, becomes crucial in establishing a relationship with them. By enabling developers to experience the value of a product through hands-on building, companies can establish trust and lay the foundation for a long-term partnership.
So, what makes developer-led growth so effective?
- PLG by default: Most developer tool companies executed product-led growth before it was trendy. Since developers hate classical marketing methods and want to “build before they buy”, companies are forced to convince developers with an outstanding product experience. This allows companies to benefit from typical PLG advantages, like low customer acquisition costs, by default
- Strong ambassadors: Convincing developers is hard, but once you do, they can become outspoken fans of your product and advocate for you in the broader developer community and within their company. Developers are usually well respected by management, and a strong recommendation for a tool by a developer is worth its weight in gold. By choosing a developer-led approach, companies can come into every enterprise sales process with a strong internal ambassador on their side.
- Community: Like no other audience, developers love to engage in online communities. It's where they discover products, ask questions to their peers, and make buying decisions. By enabling developers, companies can tap into the virality of community.
How to get started with developer-led growth for B2D
If you’re curious by now about developer-led growth and want to implement it for your B2D model, here are a few essential things you should consider:
Build a great product
While “if we build it, they will come” is not really true, you still have to build before you can go and get them. Developer-led growth only works if the developer experience of your product is great and makes developers talk about it. There are no shortcuts here.
Adapt usage-based pricing
If a pricing page requires "contact us for details”, developers often get frustrated and leave the website. It is crucial to offer a pricing structure that clearly communicates value delivered up-front rather than hiding essential features behind a paywall. To provide flexibility and control, you should implement a usage-based or consumption-based pricing model that allows for quick expansion and scalability.
Understand the developer buying journey
By now, you probably realized that the buying journey of developers is different from traditional B2B SaaS. In the world of B2D, developers have countless internal and external touchpoints with your brand and product along the buying journey. The downside of dropping your “lead magnets” is that it’s hard to understand which developers and companies are exploring your product - especially if it’s just a library on GitHub. We’re working on solving this problem here at crowd.dev, and I will soon publish a blog post on “The Developer Buying Journey”.
Invest heavily in educational content
More than for anyone else, educational content is king for developers. High-quality technical documentation, blog posts, video tutorials, live streams, and podcasts are great ways to communicate your message and let developers learn about your expertise and product. Always remember that it is about education, not promotion. Developers will notice marketing from far away.
Share your content where developers hang out
For distributing content, you should focus on platforms where developers hang out (even in their free time), namely, GitHub, Twitter, Reddit, Stack Overflow, HackerNews, or DEV. But also smaller platforms in your niche, industry newsletters, or guest blog posts can be a great way to reach developers with your content. As with almost everything, this should be a trial-and-error process.
Stop using “lead magnets”
If you build for developers, stop publishing whitepapers, ebooks, checklists, and webinars as "lead magnets". The only sign-up forms on your website should be for your product and your newsletter. Developers mistrust traditional inbound marketing methods, and it will limit the distribution of your content. In the best case, you will end up with some Gmail addresses that you can’t really use for marketing.
Go above and beyond for support
Rather than sending developers to ticket-based support processes or implementing AI-driven chatbots, you should establish a support channel that feels like you’re chatting with a colleague. Almost all developer-first companies use something like Slack, Discord, or Mattermost, today to collaborate with developers and answer their questions. This eliminates friction and ensures you meet developers where they already hang out.
Establish an active feedback loop
Collecting feedback is essential for building a great product. Just as important is getting back to feedback providers and informing them that you are addressing their input. Developers will be very disappointed if they took the time to provide extensive feedback only to receive no response in return.
If you’re interested in learning more about developer-led growth and Business-To-Developers (B2D) you should check out my recently launched Developer-led podcast, where I interview folks from companies like HashiCorp, Algolia, or GitHub about everything related to building and growing developer-first products. I’d also be more than happy to chat about your strategies and challenges around developer-led growth. You can reach me on Twitter or LinkedIn.