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How to win the market with developer education

In the modern software world, the developer may not be the one making the final purchasing decision, but they have a huge influence on the people who sign the checks. Research shows that you could lose 34% of your sales opportunities due to the influence of developers.

It’s important to realize that the way developers evaluate and buy software is different from your typical executive buyers. The traditional way of selling does not work anymore! Marketing teams experimenting to find strategies to reach and engage developers now see that education plays a huge role in their success. How can your tech brand effectively leverage product education to reach and engage developers? 

Here’s a quick rundown on how you can market to developers from Sean Carolan, a technologist, sales engineer, and tech community member who has spent his career successfully educating and selling to developers. 


  • Developers are busy, don’t tolerate BS, and don’t want to waste time with sales. To get their attention you need to stop selling and start educating. 
  • To sell without selling means to give your buyers a product experience they’ll remember. So instead of telling them, you’re actually showing them or letting them interact with your software.
  • A proven strategy for getting Developers’ attention is to offer valuable educational content on topics connected to your software. This way they derive value before purchase. 
  • Focus on building content that will educate developers on how they can succeed with your product by letting them get hands-on with it. 
  • If you want to sell to technical people, you need to make your content interesting, fun, engaging, and easy to access.
  • HashiCorp, Kasten, and Codefresh have created exciting educational content that is getting developers’ attention and filling up their sales pipelines.

Show Notes

HashiCorp Developer Portal

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Codefresh GitOps Certification

Datadog Learning Center

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Developer Marketing: Engage and convert developers by putting them in the driver’s seat

Read the transcript below 👇


In this video, I’ll show you how to sell without selling and reach your most difficult prospect, the developer, using hands-on technical education.

I’ll start with an overview of the technical software sales process and how it’s changed over the years. Then we’ll explore the developer’s mindset and why traditional sales techniques don’t work with them. We’ll go over some real-life examples of marketing teams in software companies that are seeing great results by adding hands-on learning to their sales process. Finally, we’ll discuss how to scale and reach larger audiences.

How the technical software sales process has changed

Think about the last time you went shopping for a car. What was that experience like? What’s the first thing a car salesman wants to do? That’s right. They want to get you in the driver’s seat and let you take it for a drive. 

If you go to the car dealership and say, “well, I just want to talk pricing immediately,” That friendly sales rep will say, “oh, we have plenty of time for that. Let’s get you in this car and see how you like how it feels.” 

Test driving the car is an important step in their sales process.

If you haven’t worked in sales, salespeople love to get you attached to their product right before we start talking about buying the car and pricing and all of that. They want to make sure you feel like you like driving this car; you feel like you can imagine yourself in the driver’s seat. 

“So when we say sell without selling, we’re talking about giving your users an experience instead of telling them you’re actually showing them or letting them participate in your software. “

Getting through to the developers

Now, who is the most difficult prospect in software sales? It’s this guy or gal, depending on where you work. Maybe everybody knows this person, or maybe you are this guy or gal. Imagine trying to sell to this person. 

the most difficult prospect the developer

This is Guilfoyle from HBO, Silicon Valley. If you haven’t seen it, he’s your standard developer. He is brilliant, probably much smarter than you. In the end, he has a snarky attitude. He’s busy, and he doesn’t tolerate B.S. 

He usually builds his own tools. Gilfoyle definitely doesn’t want to spend his time talking to a sales rep. 

Now, think about the traditional software sales process. Maybe you have a slide deck — that’s not going to work here. A video of your software with flashy transitions and a catchy soundtrack —nope. Catchy marketing slogans— not going to work. 

How do you get through to someone like Gilfoyle, the developer, and convince them to advocate for your product? 

In the past, software sales worked a bit differently. Imagine some executives playing golf and making deals on the golf course or over dinner. They shake hands and write a contract then the users get told, “well, this is the software that you get to use.” 

Fast forward to today, the developers have much more of a say, They have a stake in the game, and people rely on their developers and technical staff to help them make buying decisions. 

So while Gilfoyle or people like him might not be signing the check to buy technology, they greatly influence decision-making. What tools will we use? Where will we buy these tools, or will we build our own? So they’re very influential nowadays. 

There’s even a book some years ago called, The New Kingmakers, about how developers are now choosing their own tools and charting their own course. The managers are happy to let them decide because they are crucial to the software development process.

Why traditional sales strategy does not work for developers

So if you’re not a developer, let’s go on a little journey. Look at this cartoon to imagine yourself and put yourself in the developer’s shoes. 

So here’s our developer deep down some rabbit hole, and they’re troubleshooting a complex bit of code, and they may be getting close to finding the solution to a bug that’s been causing issues for several months.

If you’re not a programmer, imagine a twisty maze inside another maze, and maybe all the walls are made of mirrors. If you are a developer, you already know, substitute your favorite programing language into this comic. 

how the developer works

So we’re deep, deep in this complex problem. We probably have been working on it for an hour or two, and then out of the blue, you receive an email. 

“Hey, so did you get my email about that thing?” 

You reply, “Yes. I got your email going to read it later”. Then, poof, everything we were working on vanished in a puff of smoke. 

So what happens when we distract the technical developer? Studies have shown that when you interrupt someone deep in the flow of a complex technical problem or programming issue, it takes up to 30 minutes or longer to get back to where they were before the interruption.

Now, imagine this person getting interrupted by a sales call. How do you think they feel about that? And why does this even matter? Why do we care? 

Well, we should care, especially if we’re in the business of selling software or complex technical solutions. In the modern software world, the developer may not be the one making the final purchasing decision, but they have a massive influence on the people who sign the checks.

Why do developers influence software buying decisions?

Well, it’s because most of the leaders and managers in the organization don’t understand how the software works at a deep technical level, especially in the IT industry and IT sector. Our leaders rely heavily on their technical users to help them decide what software and solutions to buy. 

Do they trust the salesperson with their charm and slick product pitch? No. The manager or director will go back internally with the dev team and say, Hey, devs, what do you think of this software? Is this something that we can use? Is it a tool you feel comfortable with and have used before? So if you don’t win the hearts and minds of developers, you could lose a lot of sales opportunities.

The Traditional Sales Funnel is Broken

traditional marketing funnel

Everyone’s probably seen some version of this. It’s the funnel, the sales funnel. How does it work? 

Well, you pour a bunch of visitors and leads into the top, and then ideally, some come out the bottom as customers. But what about the users who refuse to get in the funnel? 

Think about the developers, dev-ops, operations, and technical staff. These people have they have ad blockers on their web browsers. They don’t even see your banner ad. We run into this internally. It’s kind of funny. Our marketing team says, “Hey, how do you think of this campaign?” 

The developer team says, “What campaign? I didn’t see any links” because they’re blocking the ads, so they don’t even see them. This audience is almost invisible online.

Not only are they not near the funnel, but they also have no desire to get in this funnel. Because developers know it will waste a lot of time, they don’t have time for that. So what do you do? How do you sell to this very difficult, most difficult of prospects and convince them to be on your side to do this?

Getting into the mind of the developers

We need to understand what is in the mind of the developer. How they think, and what motivates them. 

Busy, deadlines, demands

Now, I come from a technical background. I used to be a sysadmin, so I worked among many developers, and they’re busy. They’re always busy. Why do they have headphones on? Because they don’t want you to bother them. The headphones are a little message like, Hey, I’m coding. Can you give me some space? 

They’re busy. They’ve got deadlines. They have demands. They’ve got a sprint they have to work on to get certain features and bugs shipped by the end of the week, or else they’ll miss the deadline, and the project manager will be upset. So they’re very busy people. 

Measured by productive output

Developers are measured by productive output. While sales are measured by how much money they bring in. How many deals can we create?

People are looking at the developer in a different way. How much code did you commit? How many features did you deliver? Is the app working the way we expected it to? So they’re very much measured by metrics,   

Sales calls are at best a distraction

Then sales calls are, at best, a distraction and, at worst, a huge waste of time for these technical people. This is especially if the thing you’re selling doesn’t solve a real problem for them. Developers want something that will make their lives easier, so it’s up to us to prove that our software can solve a real-world problem they’re experiencing.

Skeptical. We’ve seen it all before

And, of course, they’re skeptical. I’ve heard the story many times from developers and technical teams about the situation when a piece of software is bought for them.

Strong influence on the economic buyer

In the beginning, it was all unicorns and rainbows. It was going to make everything awesome, then that software ended up sitting on the shelf. There’s even a word for this. They call it a shelf. A situation when many, many organizations spend millions of dollars on software that sits there, not getting used. Mainly because nobody asked the developers, “Hey, is this something you actually would use or have time to implement and understand”.

Wanna sell to developers? Get them to use it first.

Another problem is they often prefer to build their own tools. 

Developers are impatient. They don’t want to wait or have to go shopping and do this software sales process. So what do they typically do? 

They go to Google. They search the Internet. They ask their friends. What tools do you use? Maybe we could find an open-source thing that would solve this problem. So that’s just in a nutshell, some of the things that are on the developer’s mind. 

Here’s the kicker, though. They have a very strong influence over the economic buyer. Who’s the economic buyer? That’s the manager, the director, maybe the CTO. These folks are leaning very heavily on their devs for advice. “Hey, what tools should we use as sales reps? Talk to me he said we should buy this thing. Would you use this thing?” So it’s incumbent upon us. 

“It’s critical that we get the developers to use our software and understand that if we want to stand a chance of selling software to a prospect.”

Build a better mousetrap

So that brings us to the next section. How can we engage someone who doesn’t want to be sold to? That’s the crux of the problem. The answer is you build a better mousetrap. You need a way to bring these people in without clobbering them over the head with an aggressive sales pitch.

Add learning by doing elements to your developer education

What you see here is the first version of Instruqt. Instruqt was actually born inside of a video game cabinet. Hashicorp wanted a fun and innovative way to get people using their tools, such as Terraform and Vault. So they hired us to create these video game cabinets where you could play Terraform just like it’s a video game.

The machines were a huge hit with the developer crowd. Let’s face it. Nerds love to play video games and get their hands on technology.

So if you try to convince a developer with a slide deck or a flat, flashy sales pitch, you probably won’t get anywhere but put a gamified hands-on experience in front of them. They can’t resist. 

Make developer education fun

make product education fun

This is one of my favorite museums in the world. It’s called the Exploratorium. This place is in San Francisco. Do you ever happen to be in San Francisco? Set aside a few hours for the Exploratorium. It’s amazing. I have been visiting this place since I was six years old. I took my daughter to the Exploratorium a few years ago. Unlike traditional museums where you can’t touch anything in this museum, everything is a hands-on experience. 

One of my first physics and space travel lessons happened in this museum, where they had an early video game called Lunar Lander. In this game, you have to land a little spaceship. The Lunar Lander is on the moon, and you only have a limited amount of fuel to get the spaceship down safely. So for the first time, young, we got to understand momentum, Velocity, and acceleration. So I’ll never forget that experience. It stuck with me all these years. 

“Let’s face it, most technical training content is so boring, but developers love to play with something that’s fun. Maybe a little bit like a game. So make it fun.”

That’s another point. If you want to sell to technical people, make it interesting, fun, and engaging. 

Make developer education easy to access

make product education easy

Finally, make it easy. One of the greatest barriers to selling often is just getting your software installed. Imagine you got a developer’s attention and sent them to the trigger software page. The developer opens the page, and they realize they have to download your software, then have to install it, and then they need to follow along on how to document with dozens of steps.

Guess what usually happens? Yeah, they take one look and go. I don’t have time for this. I’m going to go and finish that code that I was working on before. 

Imagine if they could open a web browser and immediately begin tinkering with your software. Now you’ve got their attention, and they can start to see the value of your solution and the problems it solves. For them right away. 

This is the key question you need to answer for the developer, is this going to make my job easier? Will it make me more efficient or make some pain disappear? That’s what they care about. 

Why your demos don’t work for developers

Seeing is not believing

Unfortunately, in this case, developers are very skeptical. I could show you a great demo of the front end. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret about demos. They’re very, very idealized stories. Think of the art of the impossible. Every technology vendor has got a flashy demo where nothing goes wrong.

In most cases, usually, the demo is working correctly it tells this story about how great your life will be when you use this software. But the demo is a very curated sandbox environment. It’s specially designed to make things look nice. So we hide the bugs and all the weirdness of the platform and only show you the good stuff.

So a slide-based demo, or even just like a CAMS video, is a demo of your front-end, developers see right through that. Let’s be honest. They’re going to take one look at your front-end demo and go, “Oh, can you click on that thing? Does it do X, Y, or Z?” And then you go, Oh, yeah, that’s not included in the demo. I’ll have to find an SE to show you that later. 

The cute front-end demo isn’t fooling anyone

The cute front-end demo will probably not work on this skeptical audience. They want to see the real thing. They want to play with the software in a real environment. 

Users want to get hands-on experience with the tool because there’s no other way to know how a piece of software works. Seeing you run it in your cloud environment is different from running it in our own environment. They’re generally immune to high-pressure sales tactics.

Developers make the best champions

If you can convince the skeptical hardcore sysadmin DevOps persona, “yes, I like this software, and I want it now, you have the best salesperson ever.” They will go back to their boss and sell on your behalf. 

I’ve seen it many times. People find the tool they like and feel like it will work. It’s going to meet their needs. You could just sit back and let them do the selling for you. In the world of sales, we call this the champion. This is the fan who works at your prospects. They work for your customer and understand your software right they want it. So they tell their boss, I want this thing.

The Proof of the Pudding is in the Testing

You have no better advocate than the actual user who has been hands-on with your software. They are going to campaign for it actively to help the purchase. So as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the testing. 

Sometimes this is misquoted as the proof is in the pudding, but it’s the testing. That’s the important part. Developers want to see this thing in action. So you may be curious, does this work? Yes, it does. I could speak from experience. This education can be an instrumental part of your sales process. 

HashiCorp Launched New Developer Portal Running on Instruqt

Let’s start with an example. Hashicorp is one of our biggest users of the Instruqt platform. Thousands of users have undergone Instruqt training using the Hashicorp Learn and Developer Portal. 

Now there’s a new developer portal just launched. So be sure to check out the Hashicorp developer portal. If you’d like to, you can take Instruqt for a spin right now. There are links on that site where you can click it and start playing with HashiCorp tools with the tutorials and hands-on labs you just do in your browser. It’s so easy. Everyone has a web browser,   

So thousands of users have been through this training, which has led to increased awareness, more sales, happier users, and a reduced burden on support. Because the educated customers don’t need as much help with the tools.

How tech companies scale developer education

Now, the other question that might be on your mind is, well, will it scale? I’ve got this tiny team of people, and our budget is limited. How can we reach out to thousands of users without having hundreds of technical trainers or CEOs hold their hands and walk them through the process? 

Kubernetes Learning Platform by Kasten

kasten's kubernetes learning platform

Kasten by Veeam does Kubernetes backups, Kubernetes Security, and Kubernetes Disaster Recovery. They’ve a whole suite of tools to help you improve at Kubernetes. Their challenge was how we get through to technical users who are kind of wary of the traditional sales pitch. 

So they created a free course to free Kubernetes class, with no obligations. You could just sign up and learn how to do Kubernetes on your own time. It’s a very lightweight kind of way to get people looking at your company,   

So you’re learning Kubernetes, and then somewhere in the course, they say, Hey, have you thought about backups? By the way, we have this backup solution. You’ve got all this data and stuff and Kubernetes. Here’s a short chapter and a side detour that you can take to look at the Kasten solution for backups and disaster recovery. 

This was launched at KubeCon last year, and the results were amazing. Beyond their expectations, over 7000 leads came in, and these aren’t just scanned my badge kind of leads like you typically would expect from a trade show. That’s a very transactional type of lead. I want a T-shirt, scan my badge, and I’m going to take your swag. Right. 

Is that a lead? I mean, let’s be honest. You could mark up some pretty big numbers by scanning badges. 

This is a different type of lead. These leads have gotten hands-on with your software and maybe used it in a real virtual environment. So that they’re at least qualified, that they’ve seen your product, they’ve tried it out. They might even have some questions about what they could do with that. Much, much more quality in addition to quantity.

 So you’ll get more leads, and you’ll also get better quality leads because an educated customer or an educated prospect is a better prospect. Here’s another one you could do for free.


codefresh gitops training

Our friends at Code Fresh have a free GitOps fundamentals class. This is a really fun course. I started the course. I’ve got my newbie badge. I was so proud when I got my little VB badge. I wanted to keep going, so I learned how to do Git, a version control system. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for ten years, you’ve probably heard of it yet. 

But it can be complex and a little scary for a new user. So this is a nice, lightweight way to get people to understand dev and ops and also, at the same time, introduce Argo CI/CD. 

So thousands of leads have poured in. Over a thousand have got the certification and finished the course, and more users keep coming. Because of free training, there’s nothing quite like free rides. 


datadog learning environment

And finally, my final example is our friends over at Datadog. Datadog just launched a learning portal. In this portal, you can take training courses and learn how to use Datadog for free. 

I’m doing the Datadog one-on-one course right now, and it’s great. I didn’t have to figure out how to build a VM and sign up for it into a Datadog account. 

Everything I needed was right in this learning environment so that I could just log in any time I had spare time and start figuring out how to use Datadog in a safe environment to secure people. I’ve been struck because it’s a private sandbox outside the corporate network and these instruqt training labs clean themselves up when you’re done, so you don’t have to manage any of it. 

So Datadog has also put thousands of people through this training, and they have plans to expand it even more. How great is that? When you have a prospect, show up, and they’ve already done all the basics and know how to use your complex software before you’ve even tried to engage with them?  

Prospects come to a sales call already understanding your product and how to use it.

Are you ready to sell without selling?

If you’re ready to sell without selling, we would love to hear from you. Instruqt is a browser-based Virtual Labs platform that developers and content creators love worldwide.  


Is there any difference between developer education and customer training? 

Developer education will go a bit deeper than customer training. Customer training is often about helping you get started. So the goals may be slightly different. You may be new to a platform, and the customer success team needs to help you get started quickly without holding everybody’s hand and spending a lot of personal time and one-on-one meetings with each user. 

The customer success team is busy because they’re doing support tickets. How do you educate your customers and get them successful with your software in a short time? 

So I think customer training, often these training tracks could be a shorter, more effective, more targeted toward beginners. Developer education will often take the next step and go a bit deeper. You can have longer content or training that might go a half-day or a full day and go much more in-depth into how to use the product or achieve certain things with your solution. But often, there’s some overlap, too,   

You can reuse some of the same content for developer education, public workshops, and maybe employee and/or customer training. Many times the content could be reused because it’s the same content. Right. So there’s some overlap and also some differences. Great, great question. Thank you. 

What is the backend used at Instruqt, and what’s the deployment method for labs?

So the Instruqt back end runs on the Google Cloud platform, but we support all three clouds. All three of the major clouds, meaning AWS, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure, you can even combine all three. But the Instruqt backplane, our infrastructure itself runs on GCP. 

The method for deploying a lab is pretty simple. You can use our web-based creator portal, where you simply click some buttons and configure what VMs, containers, and apps you want to run. Then, we have a command-line tool for our power users, and you can edit YAML files. 

So if you’ve ever used Ansible or Docker or any tools like TerraForm Instruct Works very similarly, you write a little bit of simple code, and then you run a command to push your changes into the track, and that makes the lab come up in the web browser.

Developers often just start using tools that they find or that they like. Are there any tips for reaching developers directly? 

Yeah, this is a great point. Developers either already know some tool and try to use it again at their next job because they’re already familiar with it, or they search for a tool on their own. Any tips for reaching those folks directly? Some of this is about awareness. They need to know that you exist.

So some traditional marketing is helpful. If I can’t find you on Google. Yeah, that’s going to be a problem, Because I’ll search for the Virtual Labs platform or something similar and probably just start clicking through the links. My main advice here is to be visible but not pushy. So you show up at big and small conferences, have a booth, have your T-shirts, and get your brand out there. 

But perhaps more importantly, build an army of happy users. So one thing that’s worked well for us at Instruqt is that our users love our platform so much that they take it with the right to their job they tell other people about it. 

So you can build evangelists for your products, and the product can sell itself. Sometimes this is called product-led growth, and Instruqt can be a part of that solution. 

Because with this platform, I can send a link to a developer or put it somewhere or the developer might find it and allow them to click the link and take a free test drive. So mainly, it’s about awareness with these folks because traditional outbound sales don’t always work. 

But if they see you or hear about you, they’ll find you. If a developer has a real problem, they will come and find you.

Sean Carolan
Sean is the Head of Presales at Instruqt. With over 10 years of experience as a technologist and sales engineer, Sean understands how to take complex concepts and simplify them for customers to understand. For Sean, nothing beats engaging your customers with fun, interactive product experiences!

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