Understanding the developer activation funnel

Your developer experience should be your best marketing tool

As we’ve interviewed companies building developer-facing SaaS products, I’ve seen some common patterns emerging in the way companies build for developers. In this blog post, I’ll explain at a high level the journey that a developer will typically take with a SaaS product. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first attempt to explain how developers get activated as B2B customers.

1. Awareness

macbook pro on persons lap

Developers will start by searching for a problem they need solved, often on a search engine or by posting on StackOverflow. For example, a developer might search “Dropbox API” if trying to programmatically access a Dropbox file, or something less targeted, like “speech to text” if they have a problem in mind but no attachment to a particular solution. At this point, the developer’s interaction is primarily mediated by the marketing team, which is in charge of search engine optimization and paid advertising. Awareness might also happen due to a developer relations/evangelism team that presents about your product at a conference.

2. Free trial sign up

Very few developers will type questions into a chat box on your website (probably because they’ve written their fair share of chatbots before) but they will happily sign up for free trials, especially if no credit card is required. Free trials are also usually governed by the marketing team, though there may be a handoff to an inbound sales team especially if the developer’s domain name matches with an existing account.

3. Hello world

Once the developer is signed up (and oftentimes before they sign up), they will open your documentation pages looking for a tutorial, quickstart, or Getting Started guide. If the developer doesn’t yet have credentials, it can be helpful to have a sandbox environment set up with something like codesandbox or codepen. This setup is usually done by developer relations teams or technical content writers.

Hello World text
Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

4. Client library selection

At this point, the developer will usually look for examples written in an SDK in their preferred language, treating REST APIs as a last resort. SDKs are usually generated by developer relations teams, or sometimes the developer relations teams maintain the infrastructure for generation but actually pushing the button is done by product teams.

5. Index search 

Index search – Developers don’t usually start by browsing for samples, unless they found out about your product through an existing sample. Instead, they will try to parse your marketing or documentation tables of contents looking for something that seems relevant to their use cases. Usually SaaS companies have 2-3 sets of documentation: 

  • API reference, often auto-generated from source code and comments therein
  • Conceptual, hand-written by a documentation or product team
  • (optional) marketing copy – very high-level description of what the service can do, especially including case studies

6. Sample search

If developers can’t quickly find what they think they need in your table of contents, they will then try searching for samples corresponding to their use case. These samples are usually written by product teams or developer relations teams.

7. Initial integration

Developers will spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour trying to write code to do something useful within their own application. If they don’t succeed, one of two things may happen:

  • If you have a strong competitor (especially one known for developer experience), a developer will try that competitor instead
  • If you seem to be the only option, a developer will create a support ticket or reach out to their embedded integration team/sales engineering team

8. Support ticket

The support team will use a pre-defined troubleshooting guide to attempt to debug the customer issue. Depending on your service level agreement, this may involve 3-7 days of back-and-forth emailing. If the support engineer is unable to help, they will escalate. At some companies, escalations go directly to the product team whereas at others developer relations gets involved first.

9. Purchase

Assuming the developer does actually succeed in using their free trial for something useful, they can then become an internal champion for your product, helping sales teams to close the deal.

man using black laptop computer


Building a common language about the developer experience across the wide array of personas involved is critical if you are going to succeed in selling to developers. Usabl can help with that. We provide you the ability to quickly get recordings of developers using your product, so you can align terminology and build shared understandings about how you can better meet the needs of developers. Get in touch with sales today to learn more.

Journey stepPersonas involved
AwarenessDeveloper relations, marketing
Free trial sign upMarketing, sales
Hello world + client selectionDocumentation, developer relations
Index searchDocumentation
Sample searchDeveloper relations
Initial integrationIntegration engineers
Support ticketSupport engineers, may escalate to product/developer relations

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