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Developers are notoriously hard to reach out to. What strategies work best when attempting to convince a developer to use your platform? What strategies suck? How can you be a successful developer evangelist?

Japheth Dillman, Blogger

September 9, 2012

7 Min Read

How Not to Suck at Developer Evangelism!

The new breed of evangelism in the developer world is an entirely different beast than traditional “Sales” roles previously seen.  Here at YetiZen, by watching sponsors of our monthly events, we have seen many uber fail in their traditional sales approach and we have seen some smashing successes in the way Business Development teams romance developers to their new sparkly platforms.  What are the characteristics that define these failures or successes?  How can an evangelist convert developers to their platform?

fail whale

Fail Whale




I’ve identified five striking attributes to avoid being a fail whale.  Moreover, I’ll cite specific sponsors from our own San Francisco Game Developer Workshop series and how they were a WIN or a Fail Whale.

1.  It’s the Benefits stupid, not the features.

Here’s the scenario:

You’re at a trade show.  There’s two booths across the isle from each other.  One booth has a biz dev guy in a pinstripe suit with pie charts, numbers, and stats.  He’s shouting out to you, “63.5% faster render times in your customers’ Chrome Browser.”  The other fellow at the second booth, shouts out, “Make your customers engage with your site more!”

 Who do you spend your 5 minutes with between sessions?  Who’s informational do you grab off the booth?

Obviously the second is much more compelling.  What if I told you the second biz dev fellow was selling you something that makes your customers’ Chrome Browser render 63.5% faster, thus allowing them to browse more pages in less time?  In other words, both were selling the same exact product but the second caught your attention because he told you the benefit.  Developers don’t always think about the purpose (benefit) of a feature.  All features have a purpose but don’t assume a developer is going to sift through your feature to realize the benefit!  Spell it out for them.

As the idiom goes, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

You know who was great at this?  W3i.  Nick Bhardwaj really sold the sizzle.  Instead of telling developers they had to install an incentivized offer wall in their game, he promised them visibility in the AppStore.  Discoverability being one of the problems mobile game developers are hungriest to solve made Nick like a big pot of honey in a room full of bears.

2.  Create Customer Evangelists… And USE them!

This one is easy.  Who gets developers?  Other developers. 

Developers are a unique bunch.  They have a kindred nerdspirit that can sniff out their own Geek-kind.  They can just as easily smell a salesperson 100 feet out.  Developers have a connection, a kinship with one another that can’t readily be replicated. 

Find a developer who has successfully used your tool/platform and convert them to an evangelist.  Developers in the crowd, who sniff out one of their own kind on stage have their interest peaked.  Oh, what’s that?  You found success using XYZ tool?  Hmmm, when I get home I’m going to try that out too!

Every nerdculture speaks it’s own language.  Don’t try to emulate their dialect, use someone who is fluent and let them speak of their successes using your tools/platform. 

Unity is a shining star example here.  Every year at GDC they pack their booth with the uber nerd indie game developers that are the superstars of GDC.  Developers flood their booth looking on with awe at the fantastic darling games built using the Unity toolset.

In contrast, look at the ghost town that is the Unreal Game Engine booth.

3.  Pair Yourself with Education

What does every developer have on their bookshelf?  Training books, script books, code monkey toolsets, and usually a Dungeon Master’s Guide (but let’s ignore that one for now, we can slay dragons and roll d20’s later).  Specifically, developers love education.  They are greedy sponges thirsting to soak up every ounce of learning to be had.  Why not take advantage of this, make yourself look smart, put on your reading glasses and take the stage.  Show off your knowledge and be the hot school teacher that everyone wants to attend class to hear. 

Developers look at the various tracks at a conference.  Do they want to go to a session to hear a sales pitch?  Or do they want to go to a session to learn something valuable (thus making you look smart)? 

Time for a story…

In the early days of YetiZen we had two sponsors for an event.  The first sponsor, New Relic, came up to speak.  They went through their sales pitch, highlighting the various web application performance management features of their product.   After the event, nary a developer could be seen at their booth.  Was their product compelling?  Sure.  Features nifty?  You bet. 

But, the second sponsor speaker, Pillsbury Law Firm, came up and told horror stories of some of their video game clients (without mentioning client names of course) and how these young upstart game entrepreneurs could avoid similar pitfalls.  After the event the Pillsbury lawyers were swamped with developers asking for their contact info.

Sure, lawyers are smart… but it was the education they provided that sparked interest. 

4.  Target the Mid-Tier

As a new platform in the market you have limited resources to pursue new clients.  Your Biz Dev team is limited to you and an intern.  Where do you spend your time? 

The small guys.  These developers can be found in droves.  Usually you can attend meetups and find a dozen right around you having a beer.  You could sign up a thousand small developers, but will you ever find the attraction of the big guys in the space?

The BIG guys.  Let’s be honest right now.  They will never take your call.  You have no proof, no traction points, no success stories.  The Zyngas of this world will only open their calendar to you once you have proven your new platform.  And no, making a two person garage developer with 500 installs 27% more money in their free-to-play game doesn’t count.  These BIG guys demand BIG proof.  They don’t gamble, they want the odds to be stacked in their favor.  Remember, they’ve taken on millions in VC funding at this point and MUST… absolutely MUST… make a big success.

Where does this leave us?

The Mid-Tier.  These developers will more readily try out a new tool. They have fewer decision makers.  One person on the other side of a table can say yes without having to approve the use of your tool up through a gazillion ranks.  They have fewer stake-holders and investors.  They are willing to gamble. 

Once you have some traction points with these “Mid-Tier” developers you will begin to turn the eyes and attention of the BIG guys.  Now you will start to see their calendars open up space for you.

Another tale of two cities seems appropriate here…

I used to serve on the Board of Advisors for a startup called Wild Pockets.  We had garnered a relatively large scale of developers using the free online 3D engine toolset.  Well over 5,000 garage developers were creating games using Wild Pockets.  But these games had relatively NO visibility.  Wild Pockets never really took off to become a massive force in the 3D engines of today.

Unity on the other hand, went with the Mid-Tier strategy.  Suffice it to say, it was recently announced that they have an overwhelming majority market share.  Even Adobe has now adopted to becoming a partner with Unity.  Nearly every major game developer under the sun on every platform under the sun is using Unity somewhere somehow.

Market. Dominance.

Like I said, pursue the Mid-tier.

5.  Don’t Be a WallFlower!

This one is probably the easiest to convey, but the most difficult to practice.  Developers… aka nerdom… are notoriously socially awkward.




You can’t sit behind your booth and expect that developers will flood you in droves because you have the coolest product the internets have ever seen.  Dive in!  Don’t expect the fish to come to you.

Yet another tale of two cities…

Aarki has been sponsoring the YetiZen events as of recent times, but they have been upset at the results.  Most sponsors bring 2 Biz Dev people to the event.  Aarki has shown up with six!  Yet their results are minor.  They sit behind the booth and wait for the fish to come and bite.

In contrast, Moolah Media… spent $4k on a single booth.  They brought two biz dev folks and dove into the crowd.  The next week they had over $200,000 in sales from the contacts AT THAT ONE EVENT.  That’s 50x return. 

Diving into the waters to find your own fish is MUCH more productive.

Follow these 5 keys to evangelism, you too will NOT suck at developer evangelism!  

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