Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly is Achieve's Vice President of Business Development, managing the client services team and organizing the sales structure.

About the Author

Attracting developers and more importantly, their organizations, to your API’s isn’t just about providing API documentation and an authentication key. While senior management make most final buying decisions for SaaS products, Clutch reports that “most businesses rely on groups of younger, digital-savvy employees to research and evaluate B2B companies”. Reaching this group, especially when they are comprised mostly of developers, is a challenge facing many companies today.

Recognition of the importance of attracting an active and enthusiastic developer community around a company’s API products is growing. New roles are emerging, like developer evangelists who bridge marketing and development groups in a company and who seek to build dev communities around a company’s API products. New approaches to offering developers access to resources are rapidly gaining speed – putting up API documentation doesn’t matter if no one knows they exist.

The 4 Keys to Attracting and Retaining Developers

  1. Developers need to know that your API exists. To make sure developers find their APIs, businesses are expanding their outreach through social media, creating informative content, reaching out to larger developer communities like Stack Overflow, Hacker News, and Reddit, and building developer advocacy groups within their organization.

  2. Developers want API products that meet their needs, helping improve the products they’re working to build. Thus, by focusing on usability and intuitiveness you increase the chances of your API offering being taken by and grown by third-party developers.

  3. Developers want to be a part of a community. Developing software can be isolating and the rapid evolution in the industry creates great pressure on developers to keep up. There’s a strong ethos among developers to help each other, and an effective community can leverage the work of a small number of staff developer advocates into a community supporting hundreds or thousands of API customers.

  4. But most importantly, developers need a great experience using your API.

If signing up is difficult, authentication is a barrier, documentation is hard to use or incomplete, terms of use are unclear, or there is little transparency in your offerings concerning restrictions and availability status, you’ll likely alienate developers quickly.

Past these basics, developers need a space that has the resources they need to build great and innovative products. That’s where API portals come in.

Why is Marketing to Developers Challenging?

Driven by the need to stay up to date and informed in the face of an onslaught of content, developers are nearly immune to conventional marketing-speak.

Developers must filter an enormous amount of information to be effective in their jobs. The entire discipline is evolving at a torrential pace. While there are best practices, rules of thumb, and favored software products, the most effective answer to most problems is far from settled.

In the past, targeted ads and sponsored search results generated leads with buying intent that could be turned over to the sales team to pursue. Trade show booths and freebies often succeeded in getting sign-ups. But the software-as-a-service marketplace has become much more competitive.

Paid approaches are now most useful as a top-of-funnel technique to attract developers, who often make the buying decision for API offerings, to technical conferences, webinars, content, and newsletters that can help educate developers to the compelling arguments for adopting a given API solution from the sea of alternatives.

The problem with paid approaches is that they don't address developer needs in an effective way. Developers want to build their skills, deliver innovative products, gain recognition, and to get paid for their work. Tools including API offerings are a means to those ends.

The marketplace is providing help to companies in winning developer mind-share and buy-in. The role of developer advocate is relatively new and can offer personalized engagement on a technical level with developers, helping to leverage communities around a company’s products.

Developer communities themselves are being fostered through company Slack, Teams, or Discord channels, and branded discussion forums both in-house and in communities like Reddit. Support is an increasing area of focus, holding developer’s hands as they have questions and raise concerns. Social media is an important venue for providing technical support.

API portals are the gateway to educating developers about the resources available to them when using a company’s API offerings – from easy access to support, links to communities, announcements and feature road maps, documentation, code sandboxes to allow exploration of the APIs, working code examples, to app galleries highlighting creative and innovative work being done with the platform.

Why is a Great Developer Experience Worth Investing In?

In many traditional IT departments, developer workflow lacks autonomy on the part of engineers. Team leads and management vet work tickets for bugs or new features and flesh out most of the key details necessary to perform the work.

Communication mostly concerns clarifying details about the work to be done. Developers have little transparency into the rest of the business and little opportunity to interact with other departments. Business metrics and KPIs aren’t considered relevant to the tasks at hand for development staff.

In contrast, many top of the line organizations are creating real value for their businesses from leveraging their development staff.

Developers are given autonomy and decision-making responsibilities, and their compensation is often tied to the success of the company through equity sharing. They are being given the incentive to look at the big picture of their organization, solve any problem they see, and question whether a feature request even makes sense to offer within the context of a company’s strategy.

In order for developers to return maximum value to their organizations, they need to be able to move fast and not break things. API growth is exploding, but the number of capable developers is not.

A great developer experience w