Why should a developer be your first marketing hire?

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Why should a developer be your first marketing hire?
Madhukar Kumar

“Will I be writing code for the product?” the first-ever candidate I was interviewing for our marketing team asked.

I was mildly bothered. “Why does it matter?” I thought. Then I realized that the concept of product merging with the marketing website is a relatively new concept for someone about to graduate college.

“You will be writing code for a Product-led Growth (PLG) experience,” I answered, only to quickly realize I had opened up the door to more questions rather than answering what was asked. The interviewer had become the interviewee!

At this point, just like my interviewee, you are probably asking yourself the same questions — “Wait a minute. Did you say a marketing team? Why does a marketing team make a developer its first new hire?”

I am glad you asked.

Picture this. You are part of a startup marketing team. I am willing to wager $50 that you have conversations with others in your company that often go like this.

-We need a website with personalization.

-We need a CRM.

-We need .

If this sounds familiar to you, then you probably already know that a few months later, usually, the conversations tend to take on a different tone:

-We need to create free trials for our product, and the trial experience needs to talk to all our marketing tools so that we have attribution!

-Should we hire an agency, or should our engineering team work on integrating our marketing website with our product?

Then, a few months further on, as more and more people join the marketing team, the cacophony of frustration around impediments to go faster starts reaching a shrill pitch.

If there is one thing that has proven itself as a stark reminder over the last 12 months, it is this: Every company is now firmly a “code” company. Business processes and customer experiences within a company are increasingly being driven by code, and some companies, one might argue, have already turned into code.
These code-driven companies have to maintain features and continuously fix bugs irrespective of whether they sell physical products or code-driven products and experiences. It is thus appropriate to think that marketing too, in many ways, has turned into code.

It used to be that marketing teams would create content, hold webinars and run campaigns to drive prospects to sign up. Now, it is about getting your products into the hands of your potential customers as quickly as possible, providing an elegant experience, and earning and retaining their business in a seamless zero-touch experience.

Yes, this new way of operating it even has a name — Product-Led Growth aka PLG

When building these experiences, you need to think through your customer’s end-to-end journey. How does someone discover your product? What happens when they sign up? What authentication method do you plan to use for trials? What happens to customer data once someone signs up?

A picture similar to this one below starts to emerge:

An intersection of Marketing and Product

By now, you will have realized that a lot of what marketing does today has started to overlap somewhat with product experience. So now that we have established how marketing’s role is changing, let me ask you: Who do you need to build your customer journeys? Who do you need to think through data flows and integrations? Who do you need to write and maintain code?

A software engineer, of course. The sooner a marketing organization accepts this, the faster they will get the market to understand and to test a product-market fit.

Let me explain.

A software engineer will tell you straight up how to build a website that has a clear separation of code and content, how to rely on APIs instead of putting everything inside a monolithic system, and how to integrate with other systems, including the core product. In addition, a software engineer can also design for an experience that relies on real-time communications to bridge the gap between your prospects and your team.

In addition, here are some additional benefits you gain when you as a marketer invest in a developer and a growth engineering team early on in your PLG journey:

Create a trial experience — A well-regimented developer and a development team can help you build a compelling trial experience grounded in customer journeys and interaction design. Sometimes this is an extension of the product and, at other times, it may be an instantiation of the product for a shorter term, for example, a Test Drive experience. However, it is the interaction design, tightly knitted with your nurture campaigns, that will help in building a continuously delightful experience for your prospects and customers.

Build a resilient and scalable system: A good developer also designs for scalability so that if and when you are lucky to go through a hockey-stick growth curve, your systems don’t keel over. An architecture that considers not just how to scale elastically, but does so in a cost-effective fashion is something software engineers have to think through before writing a single line of code. As a bonus, your website gets rewarded with better SEO ranking if your performance scores are high.

Create a data-driven experience: Just like your product, you need telemetry information to understand some of the attributes that may have a higher correlation to trial users turning into paid users, aka markers for Product Qualified Leads (more of this in another blog). You need to build the foundations early on to read into daily metrics and to provide recommendations to the marketing team to improve the experiences incrementally.

Automate: One of the most significant advantages of having software engineers in your team is the DRY mindset often used in programming. DRY stands for Don’t Repeat Yourself. This line of thinking enables developers to look at existing manual tasks and to build an automated process that saves your team hours of effort.

Hopefully, at this point, you realize why it is critical to build a developer/engineering team in your marketing organization before you hire anyone else. Hopefully, just like my interviewee, I have convinced you that the lines have started to blur between writing code for marketing vs. writing code for the product.

In the end, we are all serving our prospects and customers through code these days, and you need outstanding engineers and creative professionals to think through how to build delightful experiences. Feel free to leave a comment if you have an opinion on this topic or have other ideas and would like to collaborate.

Madhukar Kumar