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Founder's Guide to Building a Developer Tools Business: Part 5

Don't overestimate yourself

If you’re a software company, no one knows your product better than you. That’s both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing because knowing your product is (obviously) important for marketing, selling, and supporting it successfully. But at the same time, knowing your product better than anyone else can be a curse because you risk failing to understand your customers’ actual needs and use cases entirely -- as opposed to the needs and use cases you imagine the product to have.

What can you do to square this circle? How can you leverage your team’s product expertise effectively without growing out of touch with how the rest of the world sees your product? Keep reading for tips.

The technical marketer’s dilemma

Marketing and selling products effectively in the software industry often requires more technical expertise than in most other industries.

Think about it: you could plan a marketing campaign for a line of cars without knowing how a transmission works or what a carburetor does. You could sell ads for a website while having little, or no understanding of the HTML and JavaScript used to deploy those ads. You could design a marketing campaign for a restaurant even if your culinary skills end with making grilled cheese.

When it comes to marketing and selling software to technical users, things are different. You need to have a deep understanding of how your application works and which technical pain points it solves. You need to know how it gets deployed and which types of use cases it fits. You must be able to answer questions about the framework it’s written in, the API protocols it uses, and which types of cloud environments it supports. You may not need to know every line of code by heart (good luck trying to do that), but you do need pretty extensive technical expertise to convince other technical professionals to use the product.

This required expertise is why successful marketing and sales teams in the software industry typically have technical skills. If they didn’t write the product themselves, they at least work in close collaboration with the developers to ensure they know how the product works.

In many ways, that’s a strength. Again, it’s the only way to make sure you know the product well enough to answer the types of questions that prospective users have.

Getting lost in your own (technical) head

At the same time, however, knowing your software product well creates a challenge: you risk getting lost in your head, assuming that your customers approach the product from the same perspective, and with the same use cases and contexts in mind, as you do.

You might assume, for example, that everyone will always run your product in the cloud, and fail to conceive that there could be on-premises use cases as well. That would cause you to miss out on a lot of potential customers because you’d fail to market and sell to those with on-premises use cases.

Or, you may assume that all users have the same background and skill sets that you have, leading to a failure to communicate with potential customers effectively. Just because you know Kubernetes like the back of your hand, for example, or you grew up eating and bleeding .NET doesn’t mean all of your customers do, too. If your product is designed to integrate with these technologies and you wrongly assume that everyone who might use it already knows them, you risk alienating potential users or looking for them in the wrong places.

Likewise, you may assume that the pain points you have experienced -- and that the product solves -- are the only ones that potential customers face. This perspective would cause you to miss out on many potential use cases, leading you to fail to market your product effectively.

Ecosystem bias

Keep in mind, too, that it’s not just having too narrow of a technical mind that can get you into trouble. It’s also easy to get so absorbed in your company’s technical niche that you lose an authentic understanding of the ecosystem as a whole.

In other words, just because you or your existing customers think your company is the best-known provider of security scanning tools or the most innovative APM platform, doesn’t mean the rest of the world shares the same recognition of your brand.

Or, you might assume that everyone who uses your app is going to deploy in on a particular operating system, host it on a particular cloud, and monitor it with a particular APM suite. Therefore, you assume that these other tools and platforms compose your ecosystem, and you focus your marketing efforts on teams that are already using the other specific tools within that imagined ecosystem. In reality, your product may get combined with dozens of other options, and you may miss out on lots of leads if you fail to realize that.

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Gaining healthy self-perspective

Those are the problems facing many software companies today. What’s the solution? How, specifically, can software developers, and the technical marketers who help sell their products, gain a realistic viewpoint of their products? How can they get out of their heads and into the heads of their customers?

A few obvious strategies probably come to mind. One way to gain some perspective from people who could be your customers is to perform real-user testing of your product with third-party practitioners and making sure marketers see the results. Plugging marketers into your company’s customer support systems so that they can get feedback on the product from real users also helps. Allowing users to file bug reports directly may be helpful, too (as long as you don’t mind getting lots of bug reports).

Above all, an essential thing you should do to gain an accurate perspective on your product and your market is to take an unbiased look at the ecosystem surrounding you. Think about what competitors’ products look like, and evaluate their technical strengths and weaknesses relative to your own -- making sure, of course, to perform this evaluation objectively, without dismissing competitors’ features out of hand as being irrelevant, bloated, and so on. Just because competitors may appear in a particular light to you doesn’t mean your customers see them the same way.

You might even consider going through the exercise of developing an argument for why a competitor’s product is better than your own. In other words, argue against your marketing and viewpoint. By forcing yourself to think from the opposite perspective of the one you usually take toward your product, you put yourself in a better position to escape your technical biases and assumptions.

You can do something similar with partners’ products or services. Instead of simply assuming that your product combined with theirs makes for the best possible toolchain, force yourself to explain why a customer might decide not to adopt one of your partners’ tools, even if they use your product. Doing so helps you gain an objective perspective on your ecosystem and see it through the eyes of your customers.


Technical product expertise is part and parcel of marketing software effectively. You can never have too much knowledge of your own company’s product. But you can quickly run into the problem of having your judgment clouded by your team’s internal viewpoints and assumptions about the product and how it should get used. Taking a step back to think about your product and your company and ecosystem, from the perspective of an outsider, is critical for avoiding this pitfall and reaching customers effectively.


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