DevRel: What is it?

DevRel's philosophy overcomes the typical developers' skeptical attitude toward traditional hard-sell marketing. Learn more about DevRel.

DevRel: What is it?
Photo by Brianna Tucker / Unsplash

“So, it’s share the knowledge first. Educate people, make them better at what they do, and then demonstrate how to implement those things through [what] you’re trying to sell.”

—Brandon West, on the Scaling DevTools podcast.

Despite having been around since the 1980s, when Apple Computer invented it in Cupertino, many still wonder what exactly Developer Relations (DevRel) is.

The answer to that question isn’t obvious. You see, DevRel is a philosophy, not merely a job title or step-by-step process. DevRel is all three at once.

Share the Knowledge

Software development exists to solve problems. Developers often look for value in the form of ample and accurate knowledge to help them solve the engineering and product issues they face at the moment.

Educate Your Customers

There are many ways to educate developers, making them better at what they do. Offers such as a free hands-on trial help them determine if your product solves the problems they face. If it solves them, your product sells. Everyone is happy.

DevRel Provides Value

Providing real value for developers before trying to sell them your product is DevRel key to success. Most marketers must still learn that the developer community tends to be sensitive to–and highly skeptical of–traditional hard sales and marketing techniques.

Be Authentic

According to Amy Middleton via Twitter, “Authenticity is oxygen to seekers of real info. No one wants to read the poorly researched keyword-rich SEO post to help with rankings. People want meaning and answers.”

Nurture Your Community

Another primary DevRel philosophy is to nurture ongoing relationships with the software development communities you wish to serve.

Community support goes both ways. If you become an authentic supporter of your developer communities, they will support you.

This mutual relationship can begin long before launching your product or service. Reach out to your communities early and consistently. Describe what you are building and get input on whether your ideas are beneficial to them. Listen and allow their input to guide your design choices.

In other words, let your potential customers help you tailor your product directly to them.

Don’t Wait

Brandon West, the first Developer Relations advocate at SendGrid, later of AWS and Datadog, explained it this way on a recent Scaling DevTools podcast.

“If you’re at an early-stage startup, in DevRel you have to be comfortable with representing a product that’s not quite done yet. You’re running experiments, you’re iterating, you’re trying to have those conversations with your customers to figure out what you should be building, what’s working, and what’s not.”

Avoid Product Bias

According to DevRel philosophy, after you help the developers find the answers they need, only then can you begin to suggest your product as a potential solution to the situation. Showing your bias towards your product from the start smacks of hard-sell marketing. Developers hate that.

But you can authentically explain how your product may be a good choice compared to the other solutions you should mention. Be transparent about the situations in which your product may not be a good fit.

The goodwill enabled by building a valuable relationship with developers instead of trying to push a product on them goes a long way. This goodwill can also positively affect your sales.

Do It All the DevRel Way

Brandon West, again:

“Right. So, it’s share the knowledge first. Educate people, make them better at what they do, and then demonstrate how to implement those things through the thing that you’re trying to sell.”

Content Isn’t Only Social Media and Blogs

Content for developers falls into many categories beyond blog posts and social media. Make every document and media piece conform to the DevRel “share the knowledge” philosophy.

Support your community with exceptional documentation and media, including videos, tutorials, and user guides. Give developers all the resources they need to use and integrate your offerings into their workflow. If they can’t live without your product, you’ve made a solid sale, and more will follow.

Publish your stunningly good documentation and media online for easy searching and finding. Update it constantly. Make it searchable and quotable.

Active developers despise wrong answers and bad or insufficient information. Don’t let your documentation become out-of-sync with the versions of their products, regardless of the version you are currently shipping.

Stay Connected

Software development takes place in real-time. Make your support contact information widely available. Respond quickly. Developers work day and night, including on weekends. Be available for questions and supply immediate answers as often as possible.

Be on the watch for feature suggestions that maybe you haven’t thought of but are crucial to your customers’ needs.

Make Purchasing Easy

Survey your communities for their thoughts on how to present your product for sale. Include marketing, pricing, and subscription plans or one-time sales.

Design an intuitive, quick, and transparent purchasing system. Make it possible for a developer to buy your product anytime they need it, day or night, with the click of a button or two in your shopping cart.

Conclusion: The DevRel Philosophy for Success

Connect with your communities. Share the knowledge. Be Authentic. Document everything. Avoid bias and hard-sell tactics.

Make developers better at what they do, and they will notice. Your product will almost sell itself when you’ve done your job the DevRel way.

Don Hamilton, founder of UsefulWriter

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