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Founder's Guide to Building a Developer Tools Business: Part 3

The relationship of your product and your go-to-market strategy

In the developer tools market, you cannot get by with only surface-level knowledge of the product. An understanding of major themes, tag lines, and elevator pitches is sufficient for the standard suite of campaigns in many other markets. However, the developer tools market requires you to understand how a tool is priced, how it is supported, and how it supports net new users to execute an effective marketing strategy.

You’ve already made the first impression, and you didn’t even know it.

In the digital age, techies often prefer to test a product before engaging with the company in any way. They can figure out a lot about the tool, as well as about the company, through this process.

Techies can quickly gauge the adeptness of the tool vendors’ development team. Since they tend to reverse-engineer on the fly, they can see if you are using things such as Laravel frameworks, PHP, or angular – with little effort. Also, they are quickly able to tell whether or not the company emphasizes user experience.

The developer also considers how easy it is to sign up. If the trial experience is painful, it won’t matter what functionality you have. This trial experience includes locating and registering for the service. At a minimum:

  1. Your registration should not ask for too much information at the outset.
  2. Your trial experience should not require much setup.
  3. Your registration emails should be clear and concise.

In addition to the trial experience, it is highly likely that they look at your pricing and docs.


Listing your pricing on your site is a double-edged sword: if you publish your prices, then your competitors find out what you charge as quickly as your prospective clients. But if you don’t publish your prices, most modern developers tend to assume that you charge too much.

Fortunately, there are many ways to keep pricing limited to active trial users, which enable you to list out the structure on your public site while still informing your potential clients of your pricing. At the very least, a user typically tries to figure out how the solution is priced before engaging with the marketers.


Like pricing, brand new users usually register for your trial and then immediately check out the docs. Documentation is a great place to get a listing of all core functionality of highly technical products, but developers often complain about the documentation.

The primary reason for their complaint is that most documentation is written to support the product rather than to lead new users to the critical functionality that differentiates your product and demonstrates its value. Documentation information architecture should be written to guide net new developers since an existing user is willing to invest time and effort to find answers. A net new user will not.

After the click

Sometimes developers find out about you from a marketing campaign, but their next step is usually engaging in a trial rather than contacting your sales team.

The same attributes above apply, but with one added element. They should not feel duped.  What they saw in the campaign sets an expectation, and if that expectation is not me on the first page of the application, they bail.

The dev tool marketer gets scrappy

This reality creates some unique challenges for marketers once you’ve made that first impression:

Many of these things may not even be in your control! There is a good chance that you won’t own all of the elements that impact the overall success of your marketing efforts. Depending on the size of the company, this might also involve technical writers, product management, and advocacy groups.

You could inadvertently mislead clients. If you design your programs around net new users who are (by definition) not familiar with your products, then your content might not match what others have already seen.

Here are some strategies to help:

  1. Be aware: realize that you are working in a very different kind of market.
  2. Know that the dev tooling market is unique, which means that your approach to marketing must be as well.
  3. Build partnerships: partnering with other vendors in the market (and even tool marketplaces) helps you build credibility and establish your place in the market by piggybacking off of your partners’ established reputations.
  4. Focus on marketing content that provides value: Everything that you put out there needs to be genuine, right down to your banner ads. If you focus on delivering something of value rather than fluff, you are less likely to be called out or encounter issues with the product trial, pricing, and docs.
  5. Don’t mislead: If people have already seen your product and your marketing campaigns match what they saw, they will quickly call BS, and you will lose a lot of credibility.
  6. Collaborate: Make sure that you work well with your product management team. The relationship needs to be an on-going collaboration that ensures pricing and documentation support and help conversions, as well as the market’s perception of your product.

As a marketer in the dev tooling market, you are expected to have a good understanding of the technical details of your product. The good news is that most dev tool vendors are more than happy to help you understand the market and its impact on the user base. They should understand that what they are doing on the product and documentation front is directly impacting your ability to market them.

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