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

Today, developers are influential in the software purchase process. According to StackOverflow, 57% of developers and technologists say they have influence ranging from some to a great over technology purchases within their organization.

However, developers are known to be a difficult audience for marketing professionals because they’re not always the most receptive to traditional marketing methods. So how can you reach them? 

It was a privilege to find answers to my questions during an interview with Roland Wolters, a technical marketer who’s also dabbled in the dark side (pre-sales). Roland knows the tech market well, having worked in marketing roles at Red Hat and now at Isovalent, the company behind Cilium leading the eBPF-Powered revolution in cloud-native networking & security.


  • Developers are very practical. To get their attention, put your expertise forth and provide the technical information to help them make an informed decision about whether your product is right for them.
  • You should stop the one-to-many webinars because there’s no interaction, no engagement. And the new normal makes it even more challenging to reach developers with a broadcast approach.
  • The secret to getting developers engaged is to offer hands-on product experience: help developers experience the actual code, seeing the actual program. Seeing is believing!
  •  The storytelling approach is a great way to get their attention. And you need to guide them along with steps of discovery and achievement, a little bit like gamification. 
  • While you want to offer hands-on experience to developers, don’t rush to build your home-grown sandbox environment yet. You may very likely end up spending time managing the sandbox environment rather than building your content. Roland explained why he found Instruqt so useful for him as a technical marketer.
  • Finally, when you enable developers to be in the driver’s seat, you need to train your sales team to adapt to this new way of selling. 

Why is it hard to reach developers with traditional marketing strategies?

Developers want to know all about your product before purchase.

Developers are increasingly important in making decisions on software purchases. But it’s challenging to market to them. The main thing about developers is they are tech-savvy. They want to have a solid understanding of the technology they’re about to purchase or use. So you cannot just give them a few nice words and sentences and say, well, this is a nice place. 

Developers have a negative attitude towards traditional sales/marketing

Also, developers have a pretty negative attitude, often towards typical sales methods, let’s say, presentations, marketing videos. Advertisement. I mean, many developers run blockers on their systems, so you can’t even reach them with ads. Mm-hmm. So it’s hard to reach them with the traditional methods.

Developers are critical about data and numbers.

At the same time, they’re very critical of data and numbers. So if you tell them analyst study shows we are five times faster than the others. So developers might take you up on data and say, OK, let’s do a POC, show us this five times increase. 

How does the new normal add to the challenge of marketing to developers?

Before the pandemic hit, we had conferences, workshops, and meet-ups. We have the meetings. So you were in your room with the people you could read the room and see, are they onboard? Do they understand it? Is it working for them? Are we talking about something interesting to them? And at the same time, you could also basically walk up to them and start talking to them. 

Now we are currently in a remote world. And this affects everyone everywhere. So we will not go back to the past, and best case, the future will be hybrid. So we have to find ways to do this, all in a remote way.

Remote sessions are hard. However, I like to add that there’s one slight advantage here. Sometimes we had customers who couldn’t be reached at all in the past. For example, I worked with government customers who told me they didn’t have internet access for security reasons. This changed; at least with the new normal, everyone now can get on the internet with browsers and have remote sessions. 

The webinar fatigue

Everyone is bored by presentations. There are just too many webinars out there, and it’s not only the webinars, sales webinars, internal conferences, and internal conference calls. It goes even so far that I know of companies who speak about or are planning to introduce conference-free or call-free days where one day you are not allowed to have any web calls because there are just so many. And based on this, people lose attention quickly, and I think everyone here knows this. Everyone has already has been in a webinar where they realized the last five minutes were not listening at all—looking out of the window, maybe.

And at the very same time, there is an additional problem. I don’t see what’s going on. The developers turn off their cameras so I can talk for 15 minutes. I have no idea if anyone is listening or even there and their reaction because usually, there is only very little feedback. There are very few people interacting or asking questions. And again, this is when you have developers in the room, it gets even more challenging because they are not keen to look at slides. They are not eager to talk to salespeople or marketing people at all. 

You should stop doing the one-to-many webinars

Let’s stop the traditional selling. Don’t do the one-to-many webinars anymore where you have many developers on the other side and hope that they’re listening to you. This is not an efficient usage of your time as a marketer or salesperson. And it’s not an efficient use of their time.  So basically, we should stop this approach because there is no interaction, and no interaction means you lose. 

Start offering hands-on product experience

What you need is something that the developers like to consume. Developers do not prefer to consume a presentation about a product. 

As a matter of fact, what they like to consume is something about features and use cases. And what we need is constant interaction and engagement with developers. 

You need to tell a story. And make sure you package the story in the right way. Meaning you need to make the developers live this story. That means you need to guide them along with steps of discovery and achievement, a little bit like gamification. Along the side, go through your product and show the features. 

Your content needs to be structured in the right way. It needs to be packaged in the right way, and it needs to be consumable upon request. Everyone in IT is always busy. We need to make it easy to click a button and consume it when they have the time.  

Interaction and engagement in this format are getting hands-on. Help developers experience the actual code, seeing the actual program. Seeing is believing! 

There are many downsides to the traditional how-to guides

As a marketer, I am used to writing the How-to’s guides. I would ask the developers to install this vagrant environment; or this virtual machine. I explained you have to use this software code and then do this and that. But there are many downsides to this traditional approach. 

First, this requires a lot from the customer side. Before they even start with your product, they need to install VMs, and so on. Some people can’t even do this on their enterprise laptops, and they don’t want to invest this time. 

And as the marketing person, you have no idea if this is actually being used. So you have no idea if people are running through the tests. And worst case, after half a year, you run through this How-To again and realize, oh, the very first download link is broken for half a year, and no one ever told you. 

So this is tricky. This is the easiest way to run how-tos, but it’s also the most tricky one without any insight.

And don’t waste time building your home-grown labs

The next step and I did this a lot in the past, is to start building your own hands-on environment, where you can spin up labs for people whenever they need it. And this worked.  We did this a lot back then at Red Hat. We deployed our environment, for example, on AWS. There were so many environments that I even got into fights with the support people at AWS and told them their clouds were not big enough.

Labs maintenance eats up marketer’s time

The problem was that we spent a lot of time just maintaining our homegrown labs. We wanted to add features like progress tracking or feedback forms. But it took us even more time and work, and more maintenance before we wrote the first line of product content. 

At some point, I was investing up to 50-60% of my time to maintain this all. This wasn’t a good use of my time. 

Cloud costs were getting out of control

Another thing to consider is cloud cost management. Back then, I wondered who was paying for this for all these AWS machines. Then I was shocked to see invoices of six-digit or seven-digit numbers. 

At that moment, I realized I had spent my marketing budget for the next ten years. So it’s not only about maintaining your code and the entire environment; it’s also about maintaining the resources and money and the billing.

So, in the end, I sadly became a software vendor for hands-on labs environments without even writing a single line of product content. 

Developer marketing solution x Instruqt

The experiences mentioned above led us to do it in the best approach, the right approach. We made use of Instruqt, hands-on virtual IT labs. We can jump in and focus on writing about our product right from the start. 

Along with it, we get our required features, including feedback forms and progress tracking. We get to set up the environment and billing, and so on. And it’s cost-effective. We get to focus on what we do best and what we want to achieve by building hands-on product education. 

Cilium is open-source software for transparently securing the network connectivity between application services deployed using Linux container management platforms like Docker and Kubernetes. 

What does your product content look like on instruqt?

Getting started with Cilium track: it gives a little bit of introduction, but quickly, if I scroll down, it goes into the actual challenges, and the challenges are what I meant by the steps of discovery and achievement. Each challenge introduces a certain, let’s say, piece of the entire story. Shows it to the developers or the technical folks and gives them some tasks. They will do the tasks and come to the next challenge.

Know what is happening in your labs with Statistics

The interesting piece here is that I can see if they started it and stopped it within each challenge. So I get a lot of instead of detailed insight. How is this working? The statistics can quickly show you this. 

You can see based on a challenge; how many people started, how many stopped, and where’s the drop-off.  Using this data, I can see many drop-offs and dig into why.

I have had this in the past, actually at the third challenge where I realized there’s something wrong. A lot of people drop off in the middle of the third challenge. I have to look into this, and I find bugs in my how-to. This is very helpful.

The content editor is flexible — I create the hands-on content I need

At the same time, if we look into a challenge. In the challenge itself, I can also discuss the data I want to provide to my technical people, but I can also provide the actual technology done in the so-called tabs.

Let me quickly go through them. I define tabs the people can work in, and a tap is not only, let’s say, a command-line interface, but it can also be a web page, it can be a program working there on the machines, and it can have multiple of these tips.

So I am not bound to create one content format for all audiences. I can present a whole environment to my customers, another to developers, and another for us. The fascinating part is — it’s not limited to one machine.

Show your real product in personalized environments — no screenshots

We are dealing with Kubernetes at Isovalent. And so Kubernetes is about clusters, so if I want to show this to developers, I better have my cluster to show. So Instruqt supports me by enabling me to run entire clusters just for this one single developer who started the track.

And let’s have a look into how this actually looks like in the beginning when a person clicks, Yeah, start this track. Start this lab. They still see, or they can see a few, let’s say, slides a little bit of context where you guide them through. 

What is this all about? What’s the story here? What are the advantages of giving them a short, small image or architecture diagram? 

Until this stage is set and then they click on Start. And as you can see on the left side, we actually have a command-line interface here. And this is the real deal. This is not a mock-up. This is not a faked environment or something I can type in here, anything I want. 

Guide your developer audience to the product value

But I can even check out details about the machine I’m running on, but I can also follow the steps lined out on the right side where it said No, let’s enter this command. Enter it in here. And see what’s actually happening. So it’s a real interactive system,  at the very same time. 

For example, I can also show them the Kubernetes Dashboard dashboard, so I can let the people click forth and back between a CLI, a dashboard, and whatever I need to properly show them the product and the capabilities of the product. 

Collect User Feedback

When you write a How-To, you don’t get any feedback. You can bring in feedback forms when you build your own environment, but it’s pretty hard here.

With Instruqt, it’s all embedded. The happiness bar, because I like it so much, because I even see how many people give feedback and on what level, and there’s one who just entered the two, by the way, this happened yesterday, so I’m really wondering what happened there. 

I can’t reach out to them, but at least I see it’s 100% for everyone. But there’s some more to dig into as a marketer. This is very relevant, understanding how your audience interacts with it.

Let them know when they’re wrong and how to do it right

Oh yes. And as a technical person here, I’d like to add one thing if I’m done with something here, as a user, as a developer, I click on the next. I want to go to the next challenge and click on a check button here, and the check button verifies that everything is working.

So from challenge to challenge and I offer guidance to the users. And if something is not done in the right way, I’m even told, “Hey, you developer, you did something wrong. How about you better look into this point again.

So it’s even if the developers or the people consuming the marketing content to you, even if they make mistakes, they get help right away. This is very important because imagine the developer starts using your content at, I don’t know, 11:00 p.m. 

They can’t call someone and say, “Hey, something is not working, makes the entire environment, and helps us guide through this.”  

And as you see, by the way, we do tell a story here. We even have a Star Wars theme! 

Instruqt is better than homegrown labs

After creating our own homegrown labs, I started to use Instruqt at Red Hat. And when I joined I Isovlent half a year ago, we started right away with Instruqt. 

I can only recommend Instruqt to everyone. Using Instruqt gives us the advantage of value right from the start. 

Tips for Developer Marketers

Don’t let your cloud costs span out of control

Offering hands-on product education is well received by developers and has cost implications. I mentioned the enormous AWS bill earlier. If you hand this out to developers, they can start it on themselves to consume it a lot. 

Instruqt helps you keep cloud costs under control. I can define many limits like overall limits, or I can only set it to a developer and tell this developer he can. Or they can only play a couple of times, or it expires, and so on. I am well protected. I only need to keep an eye on it.

From hands-on to hands-off -— developers are in the driver’s seat

When you embark on this product-led journey, you hand over the buyer journey to the developers. They are driving it now. They’re in the driver’s seat. And this is sometimes hard for salespeople because they used to drive it on their own. 

Salespeople used to be in control, and they had to learn a new way of selling. Based on my previous experience in sales, I say this feeling of control of the salespeople was an illusion. Nevertheless, this is something new for them, and you got to enable them to succeed in this new way of selling.

In short, Rolands’ advice for all developer marketers

  • Want to make developers happy? Offer content that educates and inspires with your expertise.
  • Developers love hands-on product experience. Get them hands-on with your products and let them experience how you can make their life easy.
  • Instead of building your own sandbox environment, you should use a robust virtual IT labs platform like Instruqt that understands the needs of developers. Then you can focus on creating content that delights developers and builds advocacy.

Like what you read? Get inspired with Instruqt’s test drive

Let us show you how to use Instruqt to generate demand for your products through education. 👉  Take Instruqt for a Test Drive

Show notes

Isovalent: Leading the eBPF-Powered Revolution in Cloud-Native Networking & Security

Roland Wolters on LinkedIn

Developer Marketing Alliance

Connie Tai
As the CMO at Instruqt, Connie oversees the overall marketing strategy across all marketing initiatives, acquisition channels, and distribution channels. Together with her team, she's responsible for the company's blogs, podcasts, overall content strategy, and product launch and customer demand campaigns.

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