Mary Thengvall

Author of Apress Book, The Business Value of Developer Relations
Co-Chair of The REdeploy Conference

The Business Value of Building Communities for B2B Businesses

Mary Thengvall: Hi everyone. My name's Mary Thengvall. I'm here today to talk to you about developer relations. Um, I'm guessing many of you in the room are familiar with the term at least. Yes. Nods, hands something. Okay, cool. Um, so I'm going to approach it from a slightly different angle today as you might be able to tell by the title slide behind me. Um, I'm going to be explaining the business value of developer race relations by using the fruit that's famous throughout San Francisco, the avocado. So why Avocados you might ask, uh, besides the fact that are amazing little delicious. And I can say that because I liked them before they were popular. Um, developer relations is become known as the good kind of fat over the last few years and the tech industry, and this was an analogy that picked up steam about three years ago when I was working with the developer relations team over at SparkPost, which is an email API company based here in the Bay.

Mary Thengvall: One of our project managers had a hard time saying developer advocacy and it often came out as developer avocado when she got to talking quickly and given how much my coworker Adrian Howard loved avocados, he took on the mantle of developer avocado without much prompting at all. We added to the team and we became known as the developer Avocado team. We decided to own this title and not only internally but externally as well. And pretty soon an analogy was born out of it. So who am I pre avocado. I'm obviously not a product product manager, I'm not involved in product teams typically. Um, I actually have a journalism background, but as I was entering the workforce was right around the time when all of the newspapers decided to start laying off their writing staff. So I really great timing. Um, but I pivoted as most tech companies learn to do and I wound up using my future writing and storytelling abilities to help companies build the communities.

Mary Thengvall: So figuring out where that fits, figuring out where the developer audience fits within marketing, where it fits within product, how we work with them because it's a somewhat unique group. Uh, as far as just the relative audiences go in the tech realm right there a little bit harder to approach, a little bit harder to know how to deal with a little bit harder to know how to interact with. So I worked with various developer communities for over the last 10 years now with companies like O'Reilly, media, chef software, and like I said lately at SparkPost as well. And I love figuring out what makes each of them tick, what sets them apart, what problems they're facing and what solutions work for their particular developer audience these days I'm running my own company per say, a consulting. Um, yes, those are avocados in my company. Persea is the scientific genius for Avocado.

Mary Thengvall: And the goal of Persea Consulting is to provide resources and education for folks who are doing developer relations on a day to day basis as well as stakeholders and the companies who don't really understand what that means and how to approach it. These are a bunch of resources that I maintain or manage as a part of that. Um, the most relevant one for today is on the far left, the book up there in business value in developer relations. Um, I just finished that. I've got my hands on my first print copies, a couple, no last week. So it's, it's a little surreal still. Uh, but I do have a few copies to give away to folks who are interested at the end of the talk. Um, but all this to say I do a lot and have a lot of side projects and I'm very involved in a lot of things that are mostly all based around driving the developer relations industry forward and helping people like you and other companies really truly understand the business value that's behind this industry.

Mary Thengvall: So that's where all of this developer avocado thing started. Um, and it's really only grown from there. But what does it mean for you today? So in short, it means that I really understand the confusion around developer relations, what it is, how it applies to you, what it means, and the fact that also most companies acknowledge that it's a good thing to have. But when they're confronted with the why, they should have it. They don't really know what to say other than, you know, we are told to by our VC or everyone else is doing it. Or we have a developer audience. So that's the thing that you do, right? And I'll be the first to tell you, Dev Raul is not an easy one size fits all silver bullet kind of a solution. But because it doesn't fit within your business value metrics that you're used to, it takes a little more digging into, it takes a little more understanding.

Mary Thengvall: But if you approach it with patients and ask the right questions, it can be a true amount of value that's contributed back to your business. So there's four principles that I'm going to be presenting today. They're not only explain why develop relations is like avocados, but it will also show you that by applying these principles, Dev rel can be a valuable and healthy part of your business. So before we jump into those principles, let's start with two important definitions. So we're kind of all on the same page. So first off community community is a group of people who not only share common principles but also develop and share practices that help individuals in the group thrive. And how you define who falls into the realm of your community at your particular company will depend on your intentions and we'll get to that in a minute. But depending on where you want to go with it, what you want to do, how you want to handle it will all drive that definition for you.

Mary Thengvall: But for me, in general, community includes your current customers and includes potential customers and your prospects. It also includes anyone who could in the future be interested in your product, which is why developer relations is such a broad topic because hypothetically any developer, if their friend and developer and you have front end product, if you have a backend product, their backend developer, all of those things could someday be interested in your product even if your product doesn't work for their particular company that they're at right now. And we'll talk about that more in a bit. So how does this fit into developer relations? First of all, developer relations isn't just another name for developer advocates. It's the umbrella term for community building both online and offline. So it includes developer advocates and includes developer event management, includes developers, social media, and includes building an online community of your customers.

Mary Thengvall: All of those types of things. It can even go so far as to include things like documentation and training like companies totally go does. But at its foundation, the purpose of developer relations or Dev role is to build relationships with the developer community. So we have this mantra to the community. I represent the company to the company. I represent the community. I'm just have both of their interests in mind at all times. And this is slightly different than how most of us approached the business, right? You normally have well the businesses in in the forefront of your mind at all times. And it's not to say that Dev role professionals don't have the business interests in mind after all that pays their bills. But they also understand that if the community is happy and if the community is successful as a result of using the product, then the businesses farm are more likely to succeed as well.

Mary Thengvall: But in order for the Dev rel team to succeed, they must be fully supported by the company. So they need to have a clear set of business goals. They need to have a clear set of expectations. They need to know that their work is seen as valuable throughout the company and is therefore not only allowed, but as actively encouraged by the stakeholders. Which brings us back to why I'm here today, helping you understand the value of dealt developer relations via the analogy of Avocados. So here's our first principle, which you might've guessed from the title slide. Dev Relations is the good kind of fat and avocados are the good kind of fat, right? We've heard that a lot. Um, and this relates to Dev Rel because it tends to be considered the expensive or fatty department in the business, which makes sense given that a lot of times sponsorships or conferences or the shwag budget or helping out with open source projects that aren't related necessarily to the core software that you're producing, but use it the right times in the right ways with the right combinations of items.

Mary Thengvall: Develop a relationship. You have amazingly healthy benefits for your company as well as for your community. So what are some of those right times, right ways, right? Combinations of items, things like talking to developers about product feedback like Yana (editor: Yana Welinder) was just talking about, um, things like having one on one conversations with top community members and then being the liaison between those community members and your product and engineering teams and creating open source tooling and documentation around your product as well that make your developer's lives easier. So I call these connections made while doing this liaison work. Warm handoffs. These handoffs aren't limited to sales. They can be able to a variety of groups. It can be a product where it could be, you know, this company could be a really great a company for us to partner with in the future with various projects. Could be a great, uh, symbiotic relationship for them to list us on their website.

Mary Thengvall: So list them on our website. It could be to marketing a customer who's interested in being featured in a case study or a community member who's interested in writing a blog post. A, it's a product, someone who's willing to give extensive feedback to engineering, someone who stumbled on a particularly hard to figure out bug. And of course sales. And depending on the person, depending on the company that they work for and the role that they have, you might not be passing them off. It might be their manager or it might be passing them off to a technical side of it, of the sales team so they can have a conversation about where things are going. But these warm handoffs are incredibly important to keep track of for a number of reasons. The most obvious one and the most relevant one today is that it's a definitive way to attribute value back to the activities of the developer relations team is doing on a day to day basis.

Mary Thengvall: Additionally, in aggregate, it's a valuable way for them to see which activities are particularly valuable and which ones contribute the most value back to the company. Twilio's developer evangelism team puts it this way. Our job is to inspire and equip developers to build the next generation of amazing applications. This means understanding what they're trying to do, pointing them to tools and training and generally helping them be successful. Is this an inexpensive endeavor? No, but it is worthwhile and when Twilio was first founded, they were told they didn't stand a chance with a developer focused strategy. They were told, that's not worth your time. They were told you need a more enterprise strategy. They were told that's not going to succeed if you keep saying no, we have a developer focus and not a developer enterprise focus, but just to develop a focus in general. But they went on to land a million dollar seed round.

Mary Thengvall: Their first full time employee that they hired. Danielle Morrell built out what is now acknowledged as the startup world's most effective developer marketing program. And now they've got customers like Dell, Twitter, Lyft, Salesforce, Hulu, Twitch Intuit, list goes on, but they continue to cater to developers and build out what's now known as one of the top developer relations teams in the entire industry. And they've invested a significant amount of money into something that they were told would never make them successful because they understood the tree. True value of developer relations. If you can prove to developers in equivocally that you not only want, but we'll listen to and implement their feedback, you will gain the loyalty.

Mary Thengvall: Principle number two, avocados take on the flavor of things around them. So there was a time in my life that I'm ashamed to say I didn't understand the appeal of Avocados. Uh, you know, they're kind of somewhat mushy. They're a little bit bland, they're kind of odd looking. And one day my aunt introduced me to the super simple lunch that we were having out at the beach that's just a white cheddar rice cake and you put some on top and you put have already cheese on top of there and a later experimented and figured out if you add fried getting on top of that, it makes it delicious breakfast as well. And it's this idea that it pulls out the flavors that are surrounding it, right? So the nuttiness of authority or the like really yummy but kind of fake taste of the white Cheddar rice cake.

Mary Thengvall: And now that I've made all of us Hungary, what's my point? So that didn't sound good, but I hope they're okay. Um, anyway, in the same way as Avocados kind of pull out the flavors of the things around it. Developer relations teams tend to take on the flavor of the product that they're working with. They can be fluid and goals, they can be fluid in what department that they're in, which is a whole other talk for a whole other day. Um, and what the group looks like depending on the needs and goals of the company. So what I'm saying here is there's no one size fits all solution. What's worked amazingly well for Twillio and get hub and other companies may or may not work well for you. Case in point, this meme, if you're not familiar with it, says we checked with Twillio, did we copy out on a lower budget?

Mary Thengvall: We Buy Beers for developers and then Doug and marketing asks what our team is for. CEO notices team is disbanded, right? So there's this, this common theme of people go, oh well it worked for that company and they're doing great things and let's just copy paste exactly what they did. And it's funny, but it's also unfortunately kind of true. Like a lot of companies do this, but when you're looking at someone else's strategy for developer relations, you're looking at what they've developed for their specific audience and what they have honed over the years that they know works for them. And you can't just copy paste that. You have to take the time to figure out what works for you, which means you need to ask the right questions. And the first question is why? Why do you actually want a community? I didn't actually ask, do you have a community, which might be interesting for some of you, but whether or not you've spent the time to build up that community, you have one, you've got your customers, you've got people using you.

Mary Thengvall: It's just a matter of whether or not you're going to take the time to invest in it and actually be actively involved in fostering that community. So if you're familiar with Simon Sinek, I have anybody. Yes. Cool. So this question won't be news to you then. For those of you who aren't familiar, it's this idea that you have to ask why you're doing something before you can set goals. Before you can figure out how to implement those goals. Because our why drives how we respond to people. It drives what we actually say. It drives a structure of who handles it and who's in charge of it, who's responsible for those different aspects. It drives how we respond to community members, where we send people from our resources, all of those types of things. So why do we want a community? Um, your answer to this doesn't have to be quantitative metrics.

Mary Thengvall: It could be abstract, but you need to make sure that it aligns with the company's goals. And you also need to make sure that it explains the purpose behind all of your company. Unrelated, excuse me, your community related endeavors at your company. And this becomes your North Star of why you're doing what you're doing. So every goal that you write out in the future, you make sure it points back to this. Any initiative that you set up, make sure it points back to your why. Because if it doesn't, you either need to reevaluate your why or you shouldn't be doing that aspect of the community building. The other thing to remember is you want to make sure that your why is driven by a reason not driven by a result. So for example, to make a profit is a result of what you're doing. It's a result of growing relationships as a result of nurturing leads.

Mary Thengvall: It's a result of having great product, not a reason to do it initially. So your reason for establishing community might be a generating engagement. It might be making a better product, it might be customer retention. The results of that reason might be warm handoffs like we mentioned earlier, opportunities to further product feedback pass along possible recruits facilitate sales opportunities or more. But your why needs to be the reason, your motivating factor for doing what you're doing. Next question, what do you hope to accomplish with this community? And this question helps you determine whether you're trying to create a community of customers or simply define your specific market. You might be looking for a core group of customers to get periodic feedback or set up people to do Beta testing on your product. Um, maybe you wanna follow up on trends that you're seeing throughout the industry and verify that those things are actually happening.

Mary Thengvall: But the answers to this question can help you determine not only how to best serve your community, but also which department is the best fit for your Dev rel team. So are they mostly writing contents, creating resources, maybe product is a good place. Are they speaking at events? So the educating people about why it's important that you know, this topic and this product at this time is important. Maybe marketing, if they're working on sample apps and developer experience, maybe engineering is a good fit. So as you can see, depending on what the goals of the team are, which are determined by the why and the what do you hope to accomplish, you figure out the placement of the team. Like I said, that's a whole other talk. If you're interested in talking about that, I'm happy to afterwards. Um, but the key here is figuring out what, excuse me, not only what will allow your team to succeed, but also what makes the most sense for the community.

Mary Thengvall: Principle number three, avocados go well with many different cuisines and this matches up closely with the last point, right? But you've got Avocados in Mexican dishes, you've got them in breakfast dishes, you've got 'em in BLTs. Um, but you can find them in all different sorts of cuisines today. And this, like I said, matches up nicely with the last point about it takes on the flavor and compliments the flavors of other things, but also it's not going to look or feel the same at every company. So not only can dev all goals and the department they be in that they report to be different in each company, but the tactics that they're using to build that community changes depending on the circumstances and the type of the product. There's really a set way to engage with the community. It's going to depend on what your needs are at that time, and you experiment and pull those variety of levers and then observe the outcomes and continue.

Mary Thengvall: So something that the community team at keen knows well and this is their team mission that says we use our superpowers to help Kenai grow into a sustainable business by supporting other teams within the organization, our internal community in accomplishing their missions and also helping our customers, partners, investors, advisors, fans, friends and family, et Cetera, our extended community be everything that they dream to be and it makes it clear that they want to do whatever they can to serve both of those communities. Internal and external, which goes back to the point that I made earlier about to the community. You represent the company to the company or represent the community, right? You have both of those interests in mind at all time and again, more often than not, this success is achieved through connections. So if you're looking for one silver bullet, one simple principle, it's answering this, what is it that only Debra all can do?

Mary Thengvall: And I would pause it that the one thing that Debra really, really excels at doing. We can write, we can speak, we can do product, we can code. Sometimes depending on who you are within the organization. But we excel at making connections and my friend Amy Hermes calls this being a technical cruise director. So where the, where the people that kind of stand at the back of the room and go, okay, that person's standing by themselves. I know they really like this program and language and pair over there. She really likes that too. Let me go introduce them. Let me talk to both of them about the new feature that we just put out. Let me see if I can solve both of their pain points and stepping back and letting them take the conversation from there and then following up with them afterward, making that warm handoff, community manager, community member to community member and then following up with them to say, hey, how did that conversation go?

Mary Thengvall: Is there any feedback that I can give to my team? Is there anything else that I can help you with going forward? And in doing so we become the spoke of the wheel. Not Not an offshoot, but the center. Right. Absolutely essential to keep that wheel of progress turning, but also the connection point between all of the departments, the internal community as well as the external community members and between those two segments as well. All right, last principle here. Avocados take a long time to ripen, which I know at least for me is really annoying. Um, but it's an even longer process if you take into account that it takes five years for an avocado tree to be fruitful once the fruit's ripe, it's not only delicious, but it yields a good profit for the farmers. So if you haven't guessed it already or if you didn't hear me, say it earlier, Debra is not a quick fix, right?

Mary Thengvall: It's a longterm goal. It's a long tail thing that you're going to be focused on. But with good upfront and careful nurturing, that final harvest can be really rewarding. So you might be asking, it's a long tail game, that's fine, but what do we track? Logical thing to go to is work output. That's what's tracked by a lot of other departments, right? How does your work input impact the bottom line? But please, please, please, please, please, if you don't hear him say anything else today, please don't track for, for your Dev role team and you might ask why. But part of the problem with that is if one of the things that they're going out and doing is speaking at conferences, for example, like this one, they can check off the box. You know today, after this is done, I can check the box saying, yes, I spoke at a conference, I accomplished that goal.

Mary Thengvall: That doesn't take into account any of the previous work that I put into this. So it doesn't take into account the research that I had to do to make sure that I was submitting to the right conferences or then filling out all of the CFPs to make sure that I have a chance of getting approved at one and then getting accepted and then having to write the talk and make sure that it fits the audience that I'm speaking to. And then practice the talk and then book the travel if it's out of town and then travel and then give the talk and then, okay, today I can check that off. Right. But that's only one thing according to my normal work output. And if you're lucky and only if you're lucky, once you're done with the talk, then no one asks you what impact you had on the bottom line for the business.

Mary Thengvall: But typically people start to see you as the person or the team who spends a lot of money flying around the world to see exotic locations like Pittsburgh and Raleigh and Pasadena, California. But you're partying with the community and you're not actually accomplishing anything. Right. You just, you spoke at that conference and that was one afternoon, but what do you do the rest of the quarter? So devil needs business alignment to have a ramp up time to be able to succeed on these longer commitment deadlines, which building a community frequently requires. So what is the better metric? And at this point you can probably say it with me, tracking connections or warm handoffs, right? Because here's the deal. When you're Dev Rel team is out at those speaking engagements, when they're out at the meetups, when they're online on the forums, when they're wasting time on Twitter, quote unquote, they're building connections.

Mary Thengvall: They're meeting customers, they're meeting potential customers, they're meeting competition, they're meeting influencers, it's what they do. And it's what they're good at. They're good at making connections and being those technical cruise directors that I mentioned earlier, and if you encourage them then to pass those connections that they've made back into the company, making the appropriate connections to sales, product marketing, all of his different departments. And if they know that they can trust the people that they're making the handoffs to, to treat those people appropriately. And to not take advantage of those relationships, then you're enabling them to do what they're best at, what only they can do. Going back to that question we said earlier and turning that into a metric that directly proves just how valuable they are and the impact that they can have on your company. Like you also allow them to continue serving the community in the best way possible when these opportunities do ripe and down the road cause they will.

Mary Thengvall: So when the developer who's currently at the tiny startup that never has a use case for your product suddenly moves to the biggest enterprise that you've been trying to get on your customer list for years, that community member is going to remember, Hey, I know this company. I trust that company because of these people that I've met and because of these conversations that I've had. And they will then become the internal advocate at that company to get them signed up as your newest customer. But if you put a metric of sales or recruiting or any ROI goal that needs to prove an immediate return, they're going to fail because they don't, they aren't able to keep up with those metrics because they aren't able to do what you've hired them to do, which is represent the community. So the company and the company to the community because there'll be too focused on those other goals to be able to pay attention to that or they'll be too worried about losing their job because of the people coming to them going, what is it you actually do here?

Mary Thengvall: And what is the value that you provide? But by focusing on the warm handoffs, you set the devout, the Dev role team and your community out for success. So quick recap. We've covered four principles today. Avocados are the good kind of fat. They take on the flavor of things around them. They go well with many different cuisines and they take a long time to ripen. And hopefully these four principles, while they're a little bit quirky, will help you remember the true value that develop relations can bring to any developer focus, product, and business. Because I believe strongly, as I said at the beginning, that using the right ways at the right times and the right combination of items that Dev Raul can bring about the type of value that your company needs, that your product needs, and that your community needs and can ultimately transform your entire method of doing business. Why? Because bonus principle, Avocados are good for your heart. The more that you look into the research and data on Avocados, the more that you realize just how good they are for you. And likewise, with more research and data around developer relations, you realize it's not only good for your business, but in many cases essential to maintaining a healthy product. So no one can deny that happy humidity and a healthy product are good for the heart of every company, just like avocados.

Mary Thengvall: How about that? Thanks.


Keep me posted on Empower 2019.