Who Are Developers and What Do They Want?

Marie Huwe, VP of Developer Marketing, DocuSign
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Marie Huwe, VP of Developer Marketing, DocuSign

For more and more technology companies, the API is the product–and developers are the customers.

APIs are not just about integrating tools and apps. Increasingly, they are the new way of doing business and the new way of building cutting-edge experiences. It is true that if the last decade was the decade of the app, the coming decade is the decade of the API.

As a result, companies that have not defined developers as a critical audience to engage are at risk of falling behind. In addition, developers are a very different audience. They do not care about your UI or user-experience in the same way end-users do. They care about what they can create with your API that will integrate into some bigger experience they themselves are creating. In addition, the experience they require in order to be successful is unique.They care about the ease of working with your API and the robust tools and resources you offer to help them quickly and easily integrate with your API.

A well-designed platform knows how to cater to a broad range of developers and meet a variety of needs. You cannot just expose an API against whatever your product, service or platform is and then declare victory. If you are not thinking about developers as a very distinct and specific audience, you will not get it right.

  ​For more and more technology companies, the API is the product–and developers are the customers  

For any company that is trying to be ‘API first,’ to really epitomize ‘the API as the product,’ they must keep in mind that developer success equals a great APIintegration plusan experience their users or customers love. Following are two tips for getting there by demonstrating deep understanding of the developer community:

Empower self-service. Developers are the ultimate self-service customers. They want easy, low-friction technology that will enable them to get up and running with your API without having to talk to you. They need to be able to very quickly kick the tires on your API to assess it, and just as quickly get answers to any questions they might have.

Make sure your support is readily accessible and plentiful. Developers will pick up the phone to call a care team with a question if they must, but they would rather be able to go online and find the answerfrom other developers who have experience with your API.

It is critical that you have great documentation and clear technical requirements – including samples of code, sample applications, examples of best practices. Documentation is one of the things a developer will use to determine whether they are going to use your API versus somebody else’s. They will look at your support forums to see what kind of questions is being asked and how well you are providing the answers.

Expect to be put to the test. In addition to thoroughly reading your documentation, developers will search all kinds of combinations of negative keywords related to an API to see what comes up. Part of building a great experience means focusing on the community, where you can build much goodwill. Creating and enabling a strong developer community is a must.Consider early API access to engage developers and get feedback, and VIP programs to recognize your external evangelists and harness them in the community.

For developers, transparency is a key factor when selecting the best API for their needs. Ensure that at every step of the way, you are as transparent as possible as you strive to empower an excellent self-service experience for developers.

Understand different developer personas.A common misconception is that all developers are the same and have the same goals. Make no mistake: They are different, and so are their goals.

One approach I recommend is to focus on a few different types of developer 'personas' as a way of understanding their different needs. From that exercise, you can then understand which segment is most important for what your business is trying to accomplish. When you determine which personas are the highest priorities to accomplish your business objectives, also make sure you talk to developers and base those personas on real people.

Enterprise developers, for instance, want a battle-tested platform, and need tools and templates that support multiple use cases. They are also very willing to pay for premium support. In addition, while they value self-service, they want to know your company will be around for a long time and are most likely to invest in a relationship with your professional services team.

Client-driven solution providers, as another example, care about certification in a way that most others do not. Developers like this face big challenges in navigating client requirements – rapid deployment is necessary for them.

Developers building applications or services, which they sell at volume, will care a lot about a reliable experience that seamlessly scales to mobile scenarios and many devices. Legal compliance and security will be critical. 

Still other developers might have different requirements–perhaps around reporting and administration consoles, for example. Depending on whether they are reselling services or not, they might want to manage everything on behalf of their customers.

Based on the right personas you can create a developer taxonomy that is important for the success of your API. Traditional developer segmentation – enterprise, internal, third party–is not necessarily useful or actionable. Consider a more nuanced approach, dividing 'third party' developers into a few smaller buckets based on an understanding that size matters and motivations can change. Again, talking to the developers you think fit those personas, doing the right qualitative research, will make your personas much more actionable.

The Bottom Line

Developers are a distinct audience that when properly activated, can drive exponential growth for your business. Build a holistic yet tailored experience for them by listening; being responsive and transparent and you might just be amazed at the results.

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