Usually people think of technical documentation as helping existing users. Documentation lets customers find answers to questions themselves. It reduces load on your support team. But when you are selling to developers, your technical documentation is a sales tool.
Your ability to win customers will depend on how developers perceive your documentation, and thus your product. Bad documentation leads to lost sales. But great documentation can make you stand out in the market and help you win over developers and close deals.
Don’t make me talk to a human
Developers have become an important buyer in modern tech organisations. Unlike many other buyers, the customer journey software engineers take is self-serve. This means:
- They do not want to talk to a sales person
- They want to try it before they buy it
In one survey, 57% of developers said they wouldn’t reach out for a sales demo 1.
Looking at the best companies that sell to developers, they make it easy for customers to buy how they want. 89% of developer-first Cloud 100 companies offer a freemium product or a free trial 1
They give their prospects the ability to try out their product and form an opinion themselves. This is where your documentation comes in.
Documentation builds trust with developers. If they buy your product, they will be spending hours or even months interacting with your service/API/SDK. Good documentation reassures developers. It lets them know they will not have to contact a support agent when they have an issue or something is unclear in your product. It is also an indirect sign of your product quality. If your documentation is sub-par, is your product that good either? 2
Stripe is the canonical example of a company with world-class technical documentation. So much so, that it has almost become a meme at this point. Every developer-tools company wants to have docs like Stripe. Their whole brand of being developer-friendly is built upon excellent documentation (and a product to match, of course). Building a payments integration can be hard. But they know that Stripe is a solid service that will guide them through the process.
If your documentation is unclear, hard to read, full of obvious mistakes or outdated screenshots, developers will turn away.
Guiding towards the “Aha-moment”
Another key function of your documentation is guiding developers on how to get started. It is important to help your users get to the point in your product where they have the “aha-moment” where they understand the value you can provide.
For any even slightly complex product, it is hard to get your users to this point through only an onboarding flow. You need tutorials and guides that help new users navigate your product.
In other words, you need good docs.
Docs are like air. It’s impossible for a developer to be successful without them
- Andrew Baker, Twilio Director of Developer Education 3
Twilio is another company that prides itself on having high quality documentation. They provide “Quickstart” guides to introduce developers to various parts of their product. They have goal-based tutorials that walk through real examples of building a full Twilio-integration for different use cases.
Everything is pushing a developer new to the platform towards success.
Docs in sales
When I said developers never want to talk to salespeople, this is only partly true. Large enterprises with a complex list of requirements will still expect to talk to a human. But only after their developers have first developed an understanding of your offering on their own.
Even Atlassian, which at times claimed to have no sales staff, does sales:
If you’re a large enterprise customer that has more complexity, or potentially more value to us, we have a team that can help steer you in the right direction and answer a more complicated set of questions that you have.
- Jay Simmons, Atlassian President 4
Our customers tell us documentation is something their sales representatives reference constantly on calls. We have even heard of companies giving early access to feature documentation privately to some customers, before releasing the feature publicly.
Documentation helps close deals.
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If you are selling to developers, your documentation has to be a high priority. Developers want to try out products themselves, and you have to be able to support them with proper guides, tutorials, and references. Having world-class documentation will make you stand out in the market.
Here are a few takeaways about how to improve your docs:
- Make sure someone is responsible for the quality of your documentation
- Have proper analytics to measure how people are consuming your documentation
- Consider docs-as-code if you want your developers to be able to contribute to docs easily
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