Developers Should Understand Business & Marketing

July 11th, 2011 No Comments

In my last post, I wrote about how marketers need to understand technology and web and software/hardware development.

But do developers also need to speak the language of business and marketers?
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Developers need to understand marketing, to understand that the needs of the users who will be using their product, understand their personalities, and understand the needs of those who are actually buying the product. Particularly in a business-to-business environment, the person signing the check is usually not the person using the software or hardware.

Developers, guided by their product managers, need to get what the stakeholders want and ensure that the product actually speaks to their needs. The point isn’t just for the end-user to have a cool new toy. In the end, Jerry McGuire was correct: show me the money. Providing long-term value requires meeting financial goals. This requires a strong sales and marketing team, and cooperation between the teams.

This requires creating a great product, in the right space, and persuasively communicating the benefits of the product to the correct audiences. This can be achieved much better when both sides can understand the same language.

Gil Zilberfield speaks about this from the developer side. Developers need to speak both business and developer-ish. “It’s much easier to build the bridge when everyone talking the same language,” says Gil.

At the end of the day, you need to tell the story. When working in a commercial software environment, you have to get the sign off from those who have the purchasing authority. These are usually the business managers (who may not have a technical background): those who are purchasing the software or hardware because it fits a business need. If they don’t understand your product, or if it doesn’t fit their business need, they won’t buy it no matter how cool it might be to the technical user.

A commercial project isn’t the same as an open source project. For an open source project, you may only need to please the end users. But, for a commercial product, you’re not going to sell more than a handful if you can’t show that your product has a positive ROI: it helps save money – whether through saved time, better quality, reduced support costs, or other operational efficiencies. In order to be a market leader, you must be useful for all involved.

This is the same values for both business and developers. Businesses want a good product that is well-developed because it saves them money. Developers want a good product because it showcases their craftsmanship and ability to turn complex problems into a useful (and cool) solution. Either way: the end goal is providing value to the stakeholders (not only the end-user).

Being useful also means listening to your customers and your community. Some developers have claimed that marketing ruins the software community. However, that is a market failure – poor business management – not the job of marketing. According to Surfing the Long Summer, a book about how businesses can lead their market, one of the core criteria for success is a focus on the long-term vision. This is not achieved by focusing on short-term balance sheets or providing shareholder value. Short-term balance sheets are required only in order to have the resources to provide long-term value. If marketers of developer software upset their core community, that wasn’t the job of marketing but rather the failure of specific individuals who didn’t do their job. On the other hand, every developer evangelist or MVP program in the end is really there in order to sell more products or raise awareness. It, like everything else in a company, can only exist as long as it serves a defined business objective.

As another colleague wrote in his blog post Meet Marketing: The Dark Side of Software Development (even if I take issue with the title), “marketing is a necessary step towards releasing a great product. It’s imperative that the marketing department understands the product and the target audience for it. It is especially true if you’re building something other than a twitter client – a software development tool perhaps.” Of course, whether or not you are making development tools, the developers need to understand the users involved in the process from purchasing decisions to product usage. They need marketing to help with product usability and ensuring that it meets the functions that can give real business value. The software or hardware needs to meet the needs of those buying and using it.

Developers need marketing in order to help decide what the product is supposed to do and make sure that existing and potential customers’ needs are being met. Sitting closest to the customers, it’s the role of marketing and sales to help define the business requirements that the developers will then code. Only when both sides can effectively communicate, can they truly develop and sell a truly winning product.

In the end, success is achieved when teams can come together and silos can be broken in order to achieve mutual and integrated success. If one department isn’t successful, than the company can’t succeed.

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