Repurposing a common business metric for DevRel


Mary Thengvall speaking at DevRelCon London 2019

What if we could make conversations about dev rel metrics much easier by adapting the metrics our colleagues are already familiar with?

In this talk from DevRelCon London, Mary Thengvall proposes the Dev Rel Qualified Lead as a measurement of developer relations success.


Mary: Hi everybody. Thanks Brandon. As Brandon said, my name is Mary Thengvall. I’ve been consulting with developer relations, or excuse me, companies looking to start and develop relations initiative for a couple of years. Yesterday was officially my first day as director of developer relations at Camunda.

Audience: [Cheers]

Mary: So it’s a little weird to start at a conference, but I’m excited about it. And especially at DevOpsCon. We have a super supportive audience, so. Thanks for having me. I am talking today about dev rel metrics, which is a popular topic here. One note that I wanted to make before I start, I posted my slides online and my Twitter handle is up in that upper-right corner there, @mary_grace, it’s a pin tweet, so if you want to check out my slides later, easy place to find them.

So, for most of us, I think we can agree metrics have kind of been the bane of our existence, right? I think I made this exact face when I’ve been asked by stakeholder or a team member or a board member like “hey, by the way, what are the metrics that you’re talking” or “what are the ROI of the work that you’re doing?” It’s a difficult conversation to have and we struggle with representing the value that we bring to the rest of the company.

But, I have a proposal. What if we change the way that people are thinking about metrics, and not necessarily other people, but what if we change the way that we’re thinking about metrics. What if we kind of pivot and we’re not so much focused on the amount of things that we’re doing or the work output that we have, but the value that we’re bringing to both our community and our company simultaneously, instead of feeling like, well, I have to bring value to the community, and then I have to figure out a way to prove that back to the company, but my main focus is only the community. So we’re gonna look at slightly different way to look at things these days.

I’m going to start out with a term that a lot of us are kind of familiar with, or at least pieces of which we’re familiar with. It’s this term called Dev Rel Qualified Leads. And it comes from marketing qualified leads which I’m sure a lot of you are instantly going to go, hang on, hang on, that’s not what we do, and it’s not who we are, we don’t do sales quotas, and we don’t do MQLs and how many of you are familiar with this term, marketing qualified leads? Show of hands? Everybody, right. So the basics of it is if your badge gets scanned at a conference, if you sign up for a white paper online, anything that allows a company to have your information, you are now in their system. And whether or not you qualify as a qualified lead depends on your company, it depends on your role, it depends on your geographic location, all of those things.

But the long and short of it is, the marketing team is responsible in a lot of cases for pulling in these qualified leads, and then the important piece is once they’ve passed those off to sales, their job is done. They aren’t going back and forth with sales on well, are they are are they not a qualified lead, right, those conversations have already happened, they’ve determined here’s the criteria for making someone a qualified lead, and we’ve passed them off and we’re done, we aren’t responsible for whether or not they become customers, we aren’t responsible for the sales, we’re done. We go back to finding more qualified leads. So that’s something to keep in mind as we keep going here.

So, like I said, a lot of people know this definition, the lead who has indicated interest in what a brand has to offer based on marketing efforts or is otherwise more likely to become a customer than other leads. And I’d encourage us today to expand our viewpoint of this idea of qualified lead. And instead of it just being someone who could become a customer down the road, we expand it into a lead is anyone who can provide value to the company, right, so value in their becoming a customer, or any other value along the way. We’ll dig into some of those specifics later. But first of all, like I said, there’s some of us in the room who are going, qualified leads, why qualified leads, that gets into dangerous territory, I don’t know if we want to think about the work we do in that sense.

So why qualified leads, why this term? First of all, it’s an accepted term in the business world. We’re not trying to come up with a completely new metric that people don’t understand, we’re not trying to help people understand their value through a frame of reference that they’ve never had, and I know this one personally, because I do have a book, as Brandon referenced earlier, and in that book, I talk about this concept called warm handoffs. And like I said I’ve worked with clients for the last two years and talked to them about how to build a team, the metrics they should set up, the goals they should have, and I walked into a client on-site one day and we talked about warm handoffs and how they should handle these conversations and these relationships that they’re building, that I’ll talk about more in a minute, and the CTO looked at me and said I can’t walk into a board meeting and say my team brought on X-number of warm handoffs. Like, I’m gonna get laughed out of the room. I need a metric that people know and understand, and can at least relate to. I said, well basically, they’re leads, it’s information that you bring about people who can bring value back to the company. He goes, that I can use. I was like, cool, dev rel qualified leads. And he goes done, that will be our metric for the next quarter. And so bringing the context that people already understand and putting that in place of let’s figure out what our metrics should be, right, bringing the context that they already know to give people a foundation of where we’re coming from is a huge part because then we’re not asking people to pivot completely and understand things from a completely different angle, we’re saying no, we’re meeting you where you’re at, we’re speaking your language, we understand these are business questions that you have to take back to the board to justify why we have a team, because they have to do that for every team across the company. But we’re meeting them where they are instead of asking them to relearn their entire business strategy.

So, dev rel qualified leads, what am I talking about here. So, in some cases, it’s someone who might bring value to the marketing team. They might be someone that has written an awesome article in your forum or responded in a really great way, maybe somebody’s posted a blog post on our LM website talking about their experience with onboarding with your application or your API, but they might be a great person to write a case study, or give a customer testimonial, or guest content on your blog, or any of those things, so this is a community member you can take to your marketing team and say “hey, what are the topics you’re looking to fill on the blog? What kinds of questions are you looking for us to answer? What type of information might be helpful for your efforts? I have community members that I can pass off to you directly”.

Next up is product. This is a fairly basic one, and I think it’s one that we do on a regular basis anyway, right? Passing product feedback off, and sometimes, when we play that messenger, because it’s, you know, five community members came to me and gave me this feedback, and that’s fine, but sometimes there’s a particular community member who continues to come back with more and more feedback, and we recognize that they’re not just giving us feedback as a one-off at a conference as they’re walking by our booth, but they’re really invested in giving back to our products, and have those deeper conversations, and instead of us being the messenger, we can pass them directly off to a product manager or someone else on our product team who can have that in-depth conversation and really benefit from the community feedback that they’re getting. They could also be a beta tester. You’re looking to launch a new product, looking to test out a different type of website or a slightly different thing in your API, bringing on customers and community members to say hey, does this work, is this what you’re looking for, does this answer your questions, is a great way to get that instant value. And by us being the one making that connection, the value isn’t just attributed back to the community, it’s also attributed back to us, and our team who is making that connection in the first place. Engineering, maybe there’s a hard-to-solve bug or someone who’s posted an issue in an open source repo, and if you know that community member, you connect them to engineering and engineering’s willing to sit down and help them figure out what’s going and the community member’s willing to sit down and plug around and play with on their machine so it’s not just a back-and-forth of this doesn’t work for me, and you send that email to engineering, and engineering writes back, well, works on my machine, and you go back and forth, right. But connecting those two to help them actually solve the problem together.

Next up, business development, it’s called partnerships in some companies, kind of depends on what your terminology is, but working with integrations. So if you’ve got a developer advocate that you meet at a different conference, he says “hey, our APIs would go really, really well together, and I would love to connect our communities and offer this opportunity”. And you can go ahead and build out that integration with them, or you can introduce them to someone in your partnership team depending on how your company’s set up again and they can walk through it with them. But making those connections and making sure those connections come from us, so the company and the various departments are seeing the value. Recruiting is another option. Sometimes especially I see this in open source projects a lot, you’ll find someone who knows your stack, who knows your product, who loves your product and is super passionate about it, and they might be a fantastic hire for an open engineering headcount because they already know your technology, they’re already passionate about giving back to it, they usually are already giving back to it in their free time, and they’d be a great fit for your community and your culture as well.

And then last up, let’s not forget sales. There are opportunities where we’ve been talking to a community member for awhile or maybe it’s someone who walks up and we have a five-minute conversation with them at a conference booth, and they wind up being a customer. And all of these examples are things that we’re already doing on a regular basis, right? They’re already conversations that we’re having with the community, they’re usually already conversations that we’re having internally as well. But formalizing this process a little bit gives us a way to put some value behind the work that we’re already doing in our day-to-day that doesn’t usually get accounted for. It attributes business value, right?

Because suddenly it’s not just an off-hand email that we send, but we’re formalizing it, and that’s some of what Steve was talking about this morning, making those metrics formal, putting the word out there that, now this is the value that we provide. Here’s what we’re doing, here’s why it’s important to the business, and if we just put a simple structure around it, sometimes that’s all it takes to get it from “Oh yeah, that’s a connection that we got from the dev rel team” to “No, they made this many connections this past quarter, there’s no way we’re getting rid of them because look at all of the value that they brought back to the company as they were out speaking at conferences, or talking to people on Twitter or writing blog posts or doing webinars or live coding or any of the other things that we do on a daily basis”.

It also brings huge value back to the community because all of those connections that we’ve made are huge connections for the community members as well because they love talking to us, and that’s great, and not to diminish that at all, but if we can introduce them to our employees, then they get to see the instant gratification of, I had a conversation with a product person, and that was announced on the next product roadmap, or there’s the change that happened directly as a result of the feedback that I gave, or my blog post is now up on the company website. And that’s huge, right? The corporate account tweeted my handle because I wrote a blog post for them, so it’s a way for them to step up in their careers, and it’s a way for us to acknowledge the work that they’re doing, and also amplify the work that they’re doing because we usually have a bigger following or a bigger spotlight, at least, to be able to shine back on them. David, at the end of his talk, if you weren’t able to see it you should watch the video, but at the end of his talk he talked about how if we have a pie, and even in our privilege, if we have a pie, we should be responsible to give that out to other people throughout the day. I’m paraphrasing it, he said it way better, but the idea of being able to take the spotlight that’s on us as a public face and figure in the company and shine it back on our community members, and give them the credit for the work that they’re doing as well, then also gives us a way to take it back to the business and say, this is what they’re doing, and we’re that conduit for them to be able to do this work and we’re bringing connections both to the community as well as to the company, and there’s value on both sides.

This is what I like to call being a cruise director. That’s my boyfriend and I, we dressed up as cruise tourists, tourists on a cruise, couple of years ago for Halloween, but it’s this idea of being a technical cruise director. My friend Amy Hermes uses that term. And how many of you’ve been on a cruise? Anybody? A handful? So that person who kind of stays in the background and is a little big behind the scenes, but makes sure that you’re always having a good time, that you’re always talking to someone, that you always have something to do, that’s a big part of our role in developer relations is making sure that those connections are being made and we might see Brandon across the room, who is super interested in this new topic that he just learned about at AWS, and someone else is interested in learning more but doesn’t really know where to start, and so we pull the two of them together and say “hey, you should get to know each other, you’d really enjoy each other’s company but also, here’s these interesting topics that you’re both exploring” and then we kind of take a step back, and fade into the background and let them have that conversation and then follow up with them later and say “hey, how did that go? Is there anything I can do to help? Or there resources that I can provide as well?”

But the community members know now to come back to us if there’s future connections that they need or help that they need, or resources that they need, and we now become an intimate, indispensable part of their growth as well, which then, when they post a blog post, or give a great talk or are offering feedback, we can make that connection again back to the company, and that value goes both ways, it’s a very symbiotic relationship. I mentioned this a little bit earlier, but the second reason for why qualified leads. It highlights our unique value. We have so much that we’re accomplishing in our normal day-to-day jobs, right? Blog posts, content, speaking, emails, helping other teams, the list goes on and on. This is something that we’re already doing in our day-to-day work. And it’s not really something we’ve been able to pinpoint and put value on, and to being able to say this is something we do automatically, for most of us this is something we do in both our personal lives and our private life, or excuse me, personal and professional lives, and being able to put a metric behind that and say, the work that I’ve been doing naturally all along is something that definitively brings value to the community as well as to the company, and now I can get credit for that internally and use it to help the company understand that value that I bring as well.

So who cares, right? So what? The biggest thing that I have seen in my 12/13 years in the industry is so many teams get into a company and go great, we have this great initiative, we have this great community, we don’t have a need to report our metrics right now, that’s fantastic, it just lets us focus on our work, right? And you get about a year in and the pattern that I see time and time again is that after a year of not being asked for metrics, someone comes back to them and goes, “hey, by the way, we now need metrics because the board meeting’s tomorrow and I need something to put on my slide”. And the whole team goes, “haha, what? Because I haven’t been asked for metrics all year, so I haven’t been tracking anything because I haven’t had to track anything, so I don’t have any metrics to give you, but the work that we’re doing is valuable, I promise. It’s really influential, and it’s really helpful, and the community knows it and the company knows it” and your manager suddenly has to go back to the board and be like “they’re valuable, just trust me. I don’t have any proof for it, but just trust me, they’re valuable”.

And even little things like the behind-the-scenes work that we’re doing, if we can put metrics behind that. As Steve said this morning, it protects our teams, it formalizes our processes, and it helps the business side of our tech industry understand the value that we bring to the table. And at the end of the day, people know the developer’s valuable because they’re the ones producing the products, right? But almost everyone else in the company is responsible to show that value as well. And so being able to formalize that gives us a way to say, look, we’re valuable because we’ve made this many connections, we’ve assisted in this many people getting hired across the company, we’ve been directly involved in getting this much guest content posted, we’ve been a huge part in these sales because we had a conversation with those people up front. So all of those connections that you’re making, and mind you we’re not responsible for making sure that person gets hired, we’re not responsible for making sure that content hits the blog, we’re not responsible for that sale, but making those connections is the first step in that road.

Zan Markan has a great blog post from last year, maybe the year before, that says enabled developers are productive, less likely to churn, and better suited to champion our products and services inside their teams, organizations, and wider networks. And one of our big goals of developer relations is enabling developers, and a part of that is making those connections, both internally from the community to the company as well as externally, community member to community member. And the more connections we’re able to make, the more we’re enabling those developers, the less likely they are to churn, which is a business word, better suited to champion our products, which is a term that marketing is going to understand, and it’s not just champion our products, you know, when they’re talking to us, but inside their teams, inside their organizations, and inside their wider networks, and those are all things that our business counterparts are gonna understand. But making sure that we’re highlighting that value and showing the piece that we have played in that realm is huge.

The Twilio’s team mission illustrates this in a great way. They say 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. And I think we often focus on this pointing them to tools and training, right, as providing resources externally to them instead of us being able to enable them or amplify the work that they’re doing. And so doing both of those hand-in-hand, not only enables them to be better at their jobs, not only allows them to be more successful, but also allows them to be more connected, also amplifies their career, gives them a leg up in the career ladder perhaps, and helps us prove our value internally. I’ve touched on this throughout the entire talk.

But the third reason why qualified leads, we need a single metric that can be used across the industry. And this doesn’t have to be the only metric we track, and I in fact do not suggest that it’s the only metric that we track. There’s a lot of other things that are dependent on your company, dependent on your goals, and what direction you’re heading in, but they’re so often, that when we’re talking to each other and talking to our business counterparts, and you go “hey, so what’s the metric that you’re using for your team?” or “what’s the best metric for dev rel?” Our common answer is always, well, it depends. Which is fine, and it’s also true, but that’s not gonna explain our value to people who don’t understand developer relations and are trying to get a grasp on whether or not it’s beneficial for their company. Having a single thing that we can go back to and say, look, we make connections internally from community to company, we make connections between community members, here’s the value that we bring. In addition to that, we provide content, we help out with developer experience, we provide ways for developers to be more successful with the work that they’re doing, but we make these connections, and we call these connections leads because people internally in the business understand that. So I would say that this is one way that we can prove our value. Again, it’s not the be all end all, but it is one way that we can show the value that we’re bringing and it’s a term that people are going to understand, it’s a term that they will remember, and it will stick with them because we’re building on a foundation of what’s already in the business, not trying to create something completely new.

That’s it for today. Like I said my slides are up on @mary_grace on Twitter, I’m gonna have a blog post up with some more resources and things like that later this week as well. I have information about my book, and always, I am happy to talk to people, happy to receive DMs, I would be, I don’t know what the word is, but I should mention that we are hiring, which I’m sure everyone’s saying that, like I said it’s day two for me, so I don’t know much information about what that’s going to look like, but part of my role at Camunda is to be building globally-distributed developer relations team. So in the next few months keep an eye out for announcements for on what we’re hiring for, and how you might be able to help. And I hope to talk to y’all soon. Thanks.

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