The tech industry can sometimes feel weighed down by buzzwords.
There are so many different approaches, methodologies, mental models, and conventionalized wisdoms that it can feel difficult to separate the signal from the noise.
Are you agile? Do you use scrum or squads? Are you in a department or a program?
Sometimes these distinctions can feel arbitrary. Even when they’re conceptually distinct, you see teams put them into practice and they’re executed the same.
As a tech leader, you have to be able to hone in on what paradigms or models are most useful for your team and company, and then leverage that approach effectively in a way which makes a difference.
Taking a B2D approach is substantively different to similar sounding ideas, and there’s value in it if it’s right for your product.
In this Orbit article, we’re going to look at what it is and why that matters, along with both practical and strategic tips for how to leverage a business-to-developer approach.
B2D - or business-to-developer - is a mode of sales where a product’s customers are software developers or engineers.
This is pretty apparent. What makes it interesting is that it’s kind of the customer touchstone of product-led growth.
It used to be that you sold to companies or leaders or buying committees, but the changing nature of software companies has led increasingly to selling into a company by selling to the end user: the developer.
B2D describes what’s needed from your company to reach these developers and meet them at their buying and usage habits. It understands and respects their differences from other types of buyers; their scepticism, open-source tendencies, and priorities.
The classic positions of B2C and B2B are pretty simple enough: B2C means business to consumer, and B2B means business to business. The two initialisms describe the flow of activity; products are sold from the business to the consumer.
Over time these distinctions have cultivated their own approaches. This has resulted in degree of specialization where companies will adopt different playbooks depending on the segment they’re hoping to target.
To reach the market you aim for, it helps to know effective plays that are proven to work - this reduces a company’s learning curve and increases the growth curve. This specialization is one of the things that comes with market maturity.
When trying to reach consumers it might be useful to leverage wide reaching social ads, prominent influencers, or TV advertising. When selling to businesses, while these strategies might still be useful, it’s likely there will be a lot more outbound activity. No one cold emails me to sell me sneakers, but they do to sell me software.
Proven playbooks within mature markets give stakeholders reasons to have faith in these markets. This could be internal leaders or external investors - the impact is the same. More trust means more money means more resources. Winning playbooks in industries help those industries grow and succeed.
B2D describes an approach which is in the process of maturing. These playbooks aren’t as numerous but some of them are well proven and have resulted in exploding sectors; community most of all.
B2D ties into the fact that developers are a rapidly growing category of the workforce. Software has an incredible inherent scalability which justifies spending large amounts of money on it, and tech companies are often cash rich.
What this means is that B2D isn’t a new set of businesses you couldn’t reach another way, but a new route into businesses you would have approached differently in the past.
The level of specialized knowledge that is required to become a top developer means a central Operations team is no longer equipped to make purchasing decisions for them. It has been this way for a while. This has led to a culture change within the tech industry that has bled into broader company structures and departments - let the end user make their own buying decisions. Specialist software chosen by specialist contributors.
The reaction to that is something we know as Product Led Growth. This is a strategy where you make a great product, get people using it, and then build revenue based on the value you generate. Many companies will give their product away for free in the form of a free trial or freemium tier. This gets new users through the door and as the product is used more, the value generated justifies a transition to a paid plan. A kind of land and expand approach.
It is PLG that has boosted the interest in B2D as a sales model. PLG is a strategy which can direct a company’s top level decision making, but it doesn’t necessarily explain how your sales team or marketing team, or other company functions optimize around the user.
The core gap in the theoretical work around this is filled to a large extent by the Orbit Model. The Orbit Model in its most simple sense removes the concept of the sales/marketing funnel and replaces it with a circular map showing the increasing gravity of people to the product.
Like with giving away software for free to get people to buy it once they’ve discovered its value, the Orbit Model is value oriented. The idea is to focus on two stages: value creation vs value capture. Viewing company outreach and communication efforts through the lens of community then means we see how our efforts impact everyone in that circle.
If your marketing and community teams are focused on creating value, then you become a trusted source for information and advice in your sector. Through strong community efforts you can become a meeting point for potential customers to learn from each other, and unleash value themselves. This drives what some call Community-Led Growth.
The second stage after value creation is value capture. In this stage, the people within your company’s orbit come to learn the value of your product and begin to buy it, and you assist them in that journey providing reciprocal value. It’s a view of business that is less transactional and more collaborative.
Developers as an audience do not like transactional engagement. They are less likely than other segments to give a real email for a gated report, more likely to have ad blockers as they browse, and they’re less likely to open your sales emails.
As Ashley Smith puts it in conversation with Openview: "They know when someone's trying to trick them".
Developers are, however, typically collaborative. You don’t need to believe the core premise of Linus Torvalds 2001 book The Hacker Ethic to recognize that developers willingly work together and collaboratively share value. One quick trip to StackOverflow can show you that.
As such, if you’re aiming for a customer base of developers - if you’re B2D - then there’s great value to be had in learning and using PLG and Orbit Model techniques. The other playbooks simply aren’t as effective here, and the responsibility is on you to adapt.
Here are 7 key tactics to consider when you’re thinking about how you can be more effective in B2D through putting your customer first and spoiling them with value!
What is zero-click content? Well, it’s not an entirely new thing. The term itself I first came across thanks to Amanda Natividad and Rand Fishkin of SparkToro, and I decided to adopt it because it was a better way of saying what was previously a bit of a mouthful. Zero-click content is the idea that you should just give value away to your users. Instead of email-gating a report or a webinar or a template, you just give it away for free. Reduce the obstacles between the value you’re creating and the person who you want to receive that value.
There has been a huge investment into content in the past decade by companies across loads of different sectors. With the internet being how it is, we are in a place of information saturation. Someone else is trying to create the content you’re creating at any given moment. If you lock yours, someone can just find it for free somewhere else.
The reason we lock is because we want to capture value. We want to get an email address that we can give to sales so they can pester it. But in the Orbit Model it doesn’t work quite like that. In the Orbit model, you want to increase the gravity of a potential customer before you ask them to buy - you want to feed them with value until it’s the right moment to capture it in return.
I’ve had a lot of joy with zero-click content in the past. At Process Street, we made templates using the product for how to complete a whole range of different workflows and tasks. Then we gave them away for free. All that work. Hundreds of these templates. But each template had a button to add it to your Process Street account - which led you to create one if you didn’t already have one. This became 1/3rd of all new account signups. We gave the value away for free, but left the door open to collect more at a price.
So how do you convert? In the example above you’re converting straight into being a customer. This is the low friction of Product Led Growth. But not every prospect is ready to become a customer just yet; it’s why in traditional marketing you aim to collect an email, a means of contact through which you can warm them up.
In the Orbit Model, the useful conversion point is more to bring them closer in their orbit - in this case, to bring them into your community.
How you bring them into your community or what your community is, is not the most important part. Maybe email is one of your main comms channels - you give loads of value once a week and people rave about your newsletter. Or maybe your community is in Slack, Discord, or Reddit.
Getting people to participate in your community is a huge opportunity and a huge value offer. This is a place where this person can find more things they’re interested in, where they can discover peers and potential colleagues, where they can ask questions directly and trust the answers more than Google. Finding the right community is a blessing.
Consider using your community as an upsell at the end of content value you generate. Offer it out there to the people who love what you do and get them involved.
If you’re truly embracing the collaborative nature of B2D then you can merge it with one of the core premises of traditional marketing approaches: social proof.
Your customers and community members all bring with them their own expertise and experiences. They have stories to tell and tactics that work. So reach out to them and collaborate.
It’s easier than ever to co-create media with your community. You could create a podcast that’s super specific, designed around the needs, wants, and painpoints of your community members - where you celebrate and champion one member as a staging point for discussion with other members.
This gives you case studies, social content, and user research you can use for various purposes. But you’re also giving someone else an opportunity. An opportunity for someone to share their story, to grow their brand, or to represent their company to a broader audience; boosting their perception internally. You’re helping your community members grow and advance in their careers while providing value for everyone involved.
You can’t be truly customer centric until you’re celebrating them.
You know how I said earlier about developers and them not liking email? Remember that, two minutes ago? Well, forget it. Because developers do like email, they just don’t like the emails you send them.
There’s email and there’s email. Traditional approaches would find any reason to ratchet up the cadence and send emails at every opportunity. A new blog post? That’s an email. Changed the color of a button? That’s an email. A Wednesday? That’s an email.
Developers are going to open at poor rates if your emails are not offering real value. In some sectors, the people you email literally do email as their job. Developers do not.
Consider offering a really interesting and engaging newsletter that speaks to them and is fun or insightful. Maybe email them when you’ve done some new and original research about their field of work which you know they’ll be interested in. Or email them when you’ve made a change to the product they’ll care about, and you can explain what the change was and why you’ve made it.
If your emails come soaked in value rather than at an arbitrary hyper-regular cadence, you’ll find much greater success in high email rates and other engagement signals.
If you’re going to take on community efforts as a core part of your strategy, then you need to really do it. It’s not enough to just say you value community.
A simple and effective way to build community in a meaningful way which will also produce value for your company is to get staff involved. If you nominate a person to lead community and leave them on their own to do it, you’ll miss out on so many good discussions that could come from having other team members in there, participating.
At Orbit, we do open office hours in our Discord community where both staff and community members pop in to have a chat, ask questions, or give feedback. It’s a completely different kind of feedback when the feature being praised or critiqued has been made by a developer who’s in the room!
Taking community seriously in this way removes barriers between team members and community members and creates a better space as a result. That extra authenticity and value shines through in a way that’s hard to fake.
If you’re doing B2D then it feels like the most obvious thing in the world that you should have a DevRel team. Hire great people and give them budget.
One area that really seems to thrive when done from a DevRel perspective is events. There are loads of different strategies your DevRel team could undertake, but a well run event is one which can add a huge deal of value.
Lots of events or conferences are very sales and promotion focused. The sales team leads the pitching at the booth and talks are about the market or ARR or other things that developers are interested in but not fascinated by.
When you put budget in the hands of your DevRel team, though, you can approach it differently and put on micro-events or local meetups where people who do the same things can talk in depth about their craft and their place in the industry. These interactions are hyper-focused and powerful and can be game changers for the growth and stability of your community.
Trust in your DevRel team and let them go focused, not big, if that’s what they think is best.
Though Baldwin’s character may disagree, the ABC of business in the world of B2D has changed. It’s no longer all about closing, but about collaborating.
There are countless examples above of collaborative efforts you can take with your dev community, but there are so many more we haven’t mentioned. Many will be specific to you in ways we haven’t imagined yet.
If you’re working on a new feature, when is the earliest moment you can bring your community into the process? Can you work with them as a dedicated testing group all the way through?
Developers love tutorials on how to use your toolset or how to optimize their workflows. As you make these, can you bring on board community members to contribute with their best practices and what works for them?
With a mantra like ABC, you can think about it like a core value or another management term for things you remind yourself to take seriously. By keeping this in mind, you can assess each decision you make for how well it fits into the philosophy you’re choosing to operate with.
Community and B2D go hand in hand.
Why not check out some of our resources to help you grow and master this new realm?
To learn the Orbit Model quickly and easily, you can check out our interactive microsite: Orbit Model.
We have a quarterly magazine called Gravity which features contributions from some of the top minds in community building and leadership. You can check it out here: Gravity.
We keep our blog regularly updated with new community think pieces, product tips, and actionable gameplans and playbooks: Orbit Blog.
Or you can get involved and chat with our community in our Discord: Orbit Discord.
Orbit is a Community Growth Platform which plugs into all the places your community lives and gives you a single pane of glass through which you can see it all. You can take the right actions in the right moments and demonstrate your impact.
Come join in!