See all posts

10 min read

How to define an ICP for developers
Nov 20th, 2020

How to define an ICP for developers

When I work with clients to build developer engagement strategies, I always begin by creating an ideal customer profile. Oftentimes, my ICP for each client overlaps because it is valid for most developer audiences. So, I thought I should share a few common developer personas.

What is an ICP?

An ideal customer profile is a representation of your most valuable customers. It demonstrates who is most likely to purchase from you, engage in larger transactions, exhibit high satisfaction, and maintain long-term customer relationships.

These profiles often include industry, company size, location, budget, specific needs or problems, and more. This information can be used to improve everything from marketing outreach and sales tactics to product development and community strategy.

For DevRel teams, a developer ICP can be invaluable for delivering an excellent developer experience.

Why DevRel teams use ICPs for developers

As a whole, developers are a unique audience. One thing they usually have in common? They're extremely busy, meaning they won’t waste time (or money) on a product or community that doesn’t serve their needs.

By understanding the types of developers you’re trying to attract to your community, you can take a more strategic approach to:

  • Developing community-growth strategies
  • Producing valuable documentation, guides, and other content
  • Planning networking and educational events
  • Identifying leads with high intent to buy
  • Developing new products or features

If you haven’t done this process before, it may seem daunting. Rest assured, the juice is worth the squeeze.

How to define developer ICPs

While they may share a profession, developers are not a monolithic group. They work on different types of products, in different industries, and are motivated by different things.

Before diving into your research, get clear on the scope of the information you’ll be gathering. Demographics will absolutely be important, but also seek out the more nuanced details like specific interests, pain points, and motivations.

4 steps to creating your ICP

Follow these four steps to start creating your developer ICP:

1. Know exactly how your product works and what problem it solves

This is different from being able to repeat your marketing department’s elevator pitch. Turn the tables and look at things from the developer’s point of view. Try to understand their specific pain points.

It’s possible that your product could be used by different types of developers or in various industries, but we’re not talking about those use cases necessarily. If your product were a key, which specific solution would it unlock?

2. Engage in exploratory conversations with other departments

The DevRel team has a specific relationship with developers in the community. When you’re down in the weeds every day, it can be hard to zoom out for a higher-level view. This is where other stakeholders come into play.

For example, ask sales about their best calls and their biggest deals to identify your most lucrative customers. Customer service teams can provide insight into who's found the most success with your product, who was eager to upgrade or expand their account, and who is most loyal to the brand. Start looking for commonalities between these high-value customers.

3. Talk to your customers and be open to their feedback

Some of the most valuable ICP information will come directly from the source via surveys, check-in calls, or community conversations. Current customers can tell you what brought them to your product or community in the first place, and exactly how it’s helped them.

Maybe they’re using your product in a way you didn’t expect, so you may need to refine the problem you identified above. Or perhaps you’ll notice that companies over a certain size tend to be less satisfied than others. Be open to both positive and negative feedback!

4. Draft and refine your ICP

It’s time to sift through all of the data you’ve gathered and document your findings. As you distill the information, a picture should begin to take shape. It should contain quantitative characteristics such as revenue or business size, and qualitative characteristics like pain points. Document your brand new developer ICP and share it with internal stakeholders.

Remember, this profile will continue to evolve over time. Don’t be afraid to update it as your industry shifts, your technology advances, and your customer base grows.

Examples of developer ICPs

My ICPs are drafted based on motivation, not just who developers are as a person. I want to know the best way to motivate my target audience to engage with me.

We’ll look at four of my favorite dev ICPs and what drives their decision-making:

  • Passionate open-source developers
  • High-product usage developers
  • Career search-driven developers
  • Thought leader developers

Passionate open-source developers: doing what they love

They're motivated by:

  • A sense of belonging: They want to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
  • Status symbols: Are they one of the best?
  • Public or social recognition: Do people know who they are in the community?
  • Self-actualization: This is their true passion and contributing to open-source projects helps them feel good about themselves.

How they think:

Open -ource developers are passionate about their work and will usually build things with no intent of seeing their investment returned. They are generous about giving back to the open-source ecosystem.

One pitfall with OSS developers is that they're more vocal and opinionated when they feel wronged. Ensure you're listening to them and implementing their feedback.

They're incentivized by:

  • Open-source contribution credits
  • Sponsorship for their work
  • Reputation growth
  • Sponsorship for communities they participate in
  • Marketing their new business or venture

Keep in mind that OSS developers are not motivated by money. They do appreciate things like thought leadership opportunities, rank, status, and showcasing their work—especially if that work helps them earn an income.

They enjoy swag, but swag is plentiful in the developer space. So be creative if you go the swag route.

If you really want to incentivize these developers, sponsor the open-source projects they contribute to. Not many companies are giving back to open source and it earns major trust with the developer community.

High-product usage developers: better product experience

They're motivated by:

  • Basic needs: How well can they do their job daily?
  • Status: Sometimes they want to be the best person using your tool or recognized as a power user.
  • Safety and protection: Will changes to your product directly affect them and their ability to do their job? Can they influence this at all?

How they think:

These kinds of developers use your product frequently in their day-to-day lives.

You'll most likely find these developers working for an agency or freelancing. They use your product to build many projects for clients. As a result, they're hyper-focused on how to better it in ways that would improve their daily work.

They're incentivized by:

  • Roadmap reviews and input
  • Feedback opportunities
  • Showcasing their work
  • Free access to your product
  • Extra product benefits
  • Access to your product team
  • Beta testing new features
  • Swag (even better if it’s related to a feedback program)

Remember that these developers need to use your product or one like it. So the more influence they have over it, or feel like they have over it, the better. If they don't feel like their motivations and needs are being met, they may choose a competitor with more opportunity for feedback.

Career search-driven developers: financial stability

They're motivated by:

  • Basic needs: Can they find a job by participating in this community? Will it bring them opportunities for freelancing?
  • Status: Will this give them a leg up on their competition in their job hunt?
  • Public recognition: The more people who know them, the more in demand their work will be as they apply for jobs.

How they think:

Developers who are looking for work are either seeking freelance gigs or their next career opportunity. These folks are both personally and professionally invested in their involvement with you. Every action they take is most likely a strategic move in their job search.

Consider doing showcases and shoutout’s as soon as you recognize that there are job-seeking developers in your community. A solid reputation boost through a social shout out, presentation, or other opportunity to showcase their work will build a very strong relationship with this person. They need financial stability and every bit of public recognition or acknowledgement of their status helps them achieve it.

Depending on how long they’ve been seeking work, they may actually be open to paid gigs. It’s rare that I recommend money as an incentive, but you may be able to swoop in and be a hero when they need it most.

They're incentivized by:

  • Thought leadership opportunities, like public speaking
  • Podcast interviews
  • Technical writing
  • Open-source contributions that are displayed publicly
  • Reputation within your community
  • Paid gigs
  • Unpaid gigs (like authoring eBooks, hosting webinars, etc.)
  • Network introductions (job leads)

Both paid and unpaid work is appealing to this developer. While they're actively seeking advancements in their career, they may need to add to their portfolio so they can prove their expertise. Remember that anything you can do to help them get more work will incentivize this developer.

Thought leader developers: status

They're motivated by:

  • Status: This person cherishes their status above all else. They want to be the very best at what they do and get recognized for it.
  • Social and public recognition: Do people know their name? They want people to know who they are.
  • Sense of belonging: Thought leaders need people to follow them, but they also want to feel like they are a valued part of this community.
  • Self-actualization: This is their true passion and what makes them who they are at the very core.

How they think:

These folks are working hard to build their own personal brand and reputation.

It could be due to their geographical location and their lack of opportunity there. Or it could be that they are seeking to shift into a more public-facing role, such as developer relations, and they want to become a more appealing candidate.

Whatever the reason, something is motivating this developer to care about their reputation. Provide them opportunities to be publicly recognized and showcase their work. They will see this engagement as a major incentive. They care about things like badges and roles in your community. They make great core contributors and moderators in forums, as long as you make sure their work is public.

They're incentivized by:

  • Elevated leadership statuses in programs with ranks
  • Public recognition
  • Swag that makes it clear you’re in their corner
  • Social shoutouts that recognize their expertise
  • Public speaking invitations
  • Content creation—blog posts, tutorials, webinars, videos, paid programming, etc.
  • Networking opportunities
  • Placement on your core contributor list
  • Recognition on GitHub

Just a start

These profiles are just a start. If you’re creating ICPs for your developer audiences, they may get you close.

Make sure you focus your profiles on motivation in addition to who developers are and what they do. You want to know what's going to motivate developers to engage with you first, then learn more about how to engage with them as they evolve in your community.

This article was originally posted on Devocate, which joined the Common Room family in August 2022. For more developer relations insights and resources, check out the Common Room blog. Learn more about Common Room’s solution for DevRel teams if you're looking for an intelligent community growth platform to educate, empower, and enable your community.