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Mary Thengvall
Mary Thengvall

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DevRel Qualified Leads: Repurposing a Common Business Metric to Prove Value

Metrics -- and the stakeholders who continually ask “what’s the ROI on that?” -- have often been the bane of our existence. I know I can relate with this meme… I believe I’ve made that face myself more than once after a frustrating conversation with an executive who just doesn’t understand the value that my team provides on a daily basis.

But what if we shift the mentality -- not their mentality… but our mentality? What if we view metrics, not as the bane of our existence and as something that we constantly have to fight against, but as the way to prove our value?

One way for us to do this is to focus on metrics that reflect the talents that we have. Before we’re forced into metrics that don’t fit our skill set, before we’re given metrics that don’t line up with the work we’re doing, let’s set our own metrics that truly reflect the value of the work that we can uniquely do.

What metrics are these, you may ask?

I call these metrics “DevRel Qualified Leads.”

What are “DevRel Qualified Leads”?

But what exactly do I mean by DevRel Qualified Leads? And how exactly does this apply to metrics?

Let me put it this way: if you’ve ever attended a conference and had your badge scanned by a sponsor, or filled out a form on a company website to receive a special report, you’re now a Marketing Qualified Lead for a company out there.

In other words, you’re someone who the Marketing team has identified as a potential customer. They produced content that you were interested in, and as a result, got your information. They then vetted your information to make sure you met their standards or expectations, and then handed your information off to Sales for them to reach out to you down the road. Marketing has now done its job of filling the Sales pipeline, and their job is done. They aren’t responsible for making sure that person becomes a customer. That’s the Sales team’s responsibility.

This is a fairly well-understood business metric in most companies. It’s also typically accepted that sales is a multi-step process and Marketing has the top-of-funnel responsibilities.

Once Marketing’s job is done, they go back to finding new ways to create more “leads,” or people who have found the website, the company, or the product in some way, which they then “qualify,” or vet to make sure that they’re potential customers, and again, pass off to Sales.

Why Qualified Leads?

So some of you may be asking, why did I choose a term like “qualified leads,” particularly when the jump can so easily be made to sales?

For those of you who are familiar with my work, you know that I don’t believe DevRel or Community teams should ever (EVER!) have sales metrics to gauge their success. It muddies our work too much and changes what should be a genuine relationship into one that revolves around money, which isn’t sustainable.

1) It’s an accepted term in the business world.

However, most business people know what you mean when you say “qualified leads.” While they might initially only think of additional customers or sales metrics as the resulting success, you can add to their foundational knowledge rather than trying to introduce a completely new business concept and metric that people aren’t familiar with. Tweaking something slightly is always easier than completely rebranding, and in an industry where we struggle to be accepted for the value we provide, we need to start adopting some of the known business terms in order to gain the respect and understanding of our colleagues.

By asking people to adopt the new definition of “leads” to include “folks who can contribute value to the company in some way” rather than just potential customers, we can expand the meaning of the word and therefore insert ourselves into the business conversations in a way that’s not only understood, because we’re speaking the same language, but is also respected by stakeholders and executives throughout the industry.

I came up with this term after meeting with one of my clients, whose team had metrics that were traditionally given to another department, such as Sales (how many people signed up for an account this month?), Recruitment (how many applicants did we get this quarter?), or Marketing (how many leads did you get at that conference?). These are all things that DevRel and Community Professionals have zero control over. Who knows whether the person you met at the most recent conference will even apply for the job, let alone whether the hiring manager will hire them. Maybe their application won’t make it through the system because of the one quirky thing about their education, or perhaps they don’t click with the hiring manager.

Whatever the case may be, you can’t be held responsible for whether or not that individual got hired… you have no say as far as salary, compensation, or any number of other negotiating factors go, or whether they’ll be a good fit with all of the other team members once they are onboard.

But you are capable of passing along those connections to the right team in hopes that together, they will be able to accomplish a task that furthers the overarching company goals. What does this look like? Here are a few examples:

  • Marketing: Case Study or Guest Content

Maybe you’ve encountered someone who’s consistently answering questions on your forum and has obviously had a very good experience with your product. They might be a good contact to pass off to Marketing for a Case Study, or perhaps they’d be interested in turning some of their longer forum pieces into a blogpost.

  • Product: Feedback or Beta Testing

If you’re getting exceptional feedback from an individual, passing them directly to Product might be a good idea. The Product team will be able to have a longer-form conversation with that community member and parse the important pieces that they’ll implement in future features rather than you playing messenger. Or if you’re getting close to rolling out a new feature that a handful of community members have been asking for some time, perhaps you pull them in before it’s released to the public for beta testing.

  • Engineering: Hard-to-solve Bugs

At times, you’ll meet community members who have stumbled on a particularly hard-to-solve bug and is willing to help your engineering team get to the bottom of it. By making this introduction, you’re actively helping your community (the bug is fixed rather than ignored) as well as your company (they’re able to more quickly solve the bug and return to day-to-day work).

  • Business Development / Partnerships: Integrations

Maybe you’ve run into a community member at another company who’s willing to help build out an integration that will help customers use your products in tandem. Your Business Development or Partnerships team would likely be more than happy to handle that conversation going forward.

  • Recruiting: Potential New Hires

On occasion, we’ll come across community members who just “get it.” They click with everyone at the company. They understand the product. They’re passionate about the cause. If you have an open source product, perhaps they’re already contributing during their free time anyway, so when a position opens up, they’re a perfect person to pass off to Recruiting.

  • Sales: Potential Customers

And of course, if you run into someone who’s interested in purchasing your product, you can pass them (or their manager or team lead) off to Sales.

You get the idea… these connections are incredibly valuable and might not have ever happened were it not for the DevRel or Community team’s direct involvement in the community who now knows and trusts them.

DevRel Qualified Leads = Business Value

These DevRel Qualified Leads are incredibly important to keep track of for a number of reasons, the most obvious reason being, of course, that it’s a definitive way to attribute value to the activities that the DevRel team is involved in. Additionally, in aggregate, it’s a valuable way to see which activities overall are more effective than others in the long run as well as track themes throughout the industry.

For instance, if you run across three front-end developers who are really interested in your product, which is traditionally focused on the ops or security professionals, you’ll want to make a note of that. Or perhaps you start to see more interest from a non-technical group of folks. Keeping track of these outliers and reviewing your notes once per month, quarter, or year, will help you determine new patterns in your audience, which can help inform the personas that the marketing and products teams work on.

DevRel Qualified Leads = Community Value

These leads also contribute community value, because as you’re making these introductions between community members and your coworkers, you’re also making introductions between community members. And this leads us to my favorite analogy for Community Building, thanks to my good friend Amy Hermes: Community Management is a pseudonym for cruise director.

How many of you have been on a cruise? I haven’t, but my partner and I dressed up as over-the-top tourists a few years back. You know the person who makes sure that you have everything that you need… that you’re not feeling left out… that you have someone to talk to and relate to, so that you’re having the best possible experience? That’s the cruise director, and likewise, we’re the cruise directors of our communities.

Those people who all mentioned the new topic that they were pursuing? I, as the community cruise director, am responsible to introduce them, foster that relationship, and make sure that they’re not only pursuing that topic and reporting back to me with interesting tidbits, but that they’re enjoying doing so! Part of what we can do to ensure this is build a community around that topic, which, of course, requires other people. So I’ll introduce Marie to Bob, and the two of them can chat about the latest doodads and thingamabobs that they’re looking into while I fade into the background as the two of them get more and more excited about this fascinating topic. Later on, I can follow up to see how the conversation went and if there are any patterns or otherwise interesting information that I can parse from it.

2) It highlights our unique value

We as Community Managers have a unique talent. We usually don’t wind up in DevRel by accident -- we’re already doing all of these things in our personal lives, and many of us just seemed to stumble into this work by default. We have a talent of connecting people, bringing people together, and making people feeling comfortable and confident and empowered. This slightly expanded definition of Qualified Leads (folks who can contribute value to the company in some way) allows us to highlight this value rather than be forced to find a more traditional metric that encapsulates our unique abilities.

But so what? Who cares? Why, at the end of the day, do these connections truly matter? They matter because of the core definition and purpose of community building. At its foundation, the purpose of community building is to build relationships with, empower, and enable our various communities. And this empowerment is beneficial for both the community and the company.

I love this quote from Zan Markan’s blogpost “Developer Relations is Developer Enablement” and I think it applies to all communities, whether they’re technical or not:

“Enabled developers are productive, less likely to churn, and better suited to champion our products and services inside their teams, organisations, and wider networks.”

— Zan Markan, Developer Relations is Developer Enablement

Twilio’s Developer Evangelism team puts it this way:

“Our job is to inspire and equip developers to build the next generation of amazing applications. This means understanding what they are trying to do, pointing them to tools and training, and generally helping them be successful.”

— Twilio's Developer Evangelism Team Mission

Is this an inexpensive endeavor? No! But is it worthwhile? Signs point to yes! Twilio has invested a significant amount of money into something they were told would never make them successful, simply because they understood the true value of community building: if you can prove to your community unequivocally that you not only want, but will listen to and implement their feedback, you will gain their loyalty.

Part of inspiring, equipping, enabling, and empowering our communities is connecting them with each other as well as with our coworkers. We’re already making these connections instinctively! We build relationships, make introductions, and connect people in ways that make them more successful. Now it’s time to take that thing that we already do without thinking about it -- dare I say, one of the things that we are uniquely qualified to do -- and turn it into a metric that can not only benefit the company, but the community as well, and at the same time, give us a tangible way to prove our value.

3) We need a single metric that can be used across the industry.

And this leads me to my final point. We need a single metric of success that can be used across the industry. Far too often, our answer to the question “what are your metrics of success?” is “well… it depends!” and let me be clear -- that’s not a bad or wrong answer. What success metrics you use really does depend on the company! I tell my clients, “Your goals for the community need to be aligned with goals for the company,” which means, realistically speaking, that the DevRel initiative is not going to look exactly the same in every company.

But having a single metric across the industry that everyone can point to and understand is an important part of moving our industry forward, because it helps executives and stakeholders hold onto something. Even if they know they won’t be able to understand all of the nuances, and that it may take time to figure out all of the good practices specific to their company, they’ll be able to point to the connections that the team is making in and through the community they’re serving. They’ll be able to point to a known value, which, as we all know, is an important piece of maintaining a sustainable community team.

It’s because of all of these reasons that I propose this metric: DevRel Qualified Leads , as one accepted metric by which to prove the value of our Developer Relations and Community teams across the industry.

This post was originally presented in the form of a talk at CMX Summit 2019 and again at DevRelCon London 2019. You can view the slides for each on Notist.

Comments? Thoughts? Reactions? I always love to hear what you think! Leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter.

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