The #1 Marketing Mistake I Made As A Developer Turned Marketer: Pitching To Robots, Not Humans

Why Software Engineers Are Prone To Number-Based Sales & Marketing, Why This Strategy Is NOT Effective, The Power of Brand, And Why Stephen Curry Spoke At A B2B Sales Software Conference

In 2018, I left my job as a Software Engineer at Facebook to run marketing at SafeGraph as their first Growth & Marketing hire. Having never held a marketing job in my life, I obviously made a lot of mistakes.  The biggest mistake I made in my first 30 days as a Software Engineer turned Marketer was treating my buyers as robots, not people. Robots might buy on numbers and facts alone, but effectively selling to humans is a lot more complicated.

Developers, after reading this post, will hopefully not make the same mistake I made when it comes time to market their side project or startup. Technical folks reading this will walk away with a a better mental model - and greater appreciation - for how sales & marketing works.

Programmers And Robots Are Hyper-Logical. But Most Buyers Are Not.

Thrown into the deep end, I learned very quickly that effective marketing needs to keep humans, and human nature, in mind at all times. Because we’re selling to humans - not robots. And humans are predictably irrational, making buying decisions in seemingly irrational ways at times.

Predictably Irrational: Dan Ariely's insights into marketing & sales
Dan Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways. But our behaviors are neither random nor senseless. They're systematic and predictable—making us predictably irrational.

While the above might seem obvious, I found myself falling into the trap where I thought everyone buying was just like me. That everyone was as logical and rational as a typical developer when it comes to buying products.

I naively thought to myself:

"If I just publish a technical specs sheet which shows our product’s superior stats compared to our biggest competitor, it's game over. Everyone will buy us"

WRONG! It's bad to assume that the audience you are selling to thinks just like you.

From talking to other Software Engineers, I realized this pattern of thinking is endemic amongst technical folks.

Developers tend to believe that a very numbers-driven, logical argument would make for a good marketing or sales pitch. And while this might work when selling to other Software Engineers, it doesn't accurately represent how and why most people buy products. Because developers are a weird lot. Most everyone is not as number and logic savvy as engineers.

Silicon Valley' Quotes: Best Gilfoyle One Liners from the HBO ...
Software Engineers are a weird lot. Gilfoyle is just the tip of the iceberg.

Everyone Isn't As Numbers Savvy As Software Engineers

For particular products selling to certain segments, a spec sheet might be enough to demonstrate technical superiority of your product and win the sale. One example that comes to mind: graphics cards for gamers. Just look at the cost and technical performance of each graphics card side-by-side, pick the one that meets your needs, and go on your merry way.

A specs sheet comparison might be enough when selling small-ticket items to technical audiences. But for most sales of big-ticket items, you need more than numbers.

But these types of numbers-only sales are rare, especially for big-ticket items. Not everyone is as data-savvy as Software Engineers. Additionally, I realized that the people buying SafeGraph’s products (and most products in general) had complicated multi-faceted concerns. Straight-up numbers often can’t address the myriad of buyer concerns.

Don’t get me wrong - the spec sheet on SafeGraph data’s accuracy, coverage, and fill-rate was helpful in making a sale and was an early marketing deliverable at SafeGraph. But I quickly realized a numbers-only sales & marketing strategy wouldn't be enough to win enterprise customers. I realized that I needed to move beyond a numbers-driven spec-sheet marketing strategy to address the many non-technical buying concerns.

SafeGraph's data docs & spec sheet. Good first step, but not sufficient for closing a large enterprise data deal.

Humans Have Many Non-Technical Concerns Which A Spec-Sheet Can’t Address. Good Marketing Is The Art Of Addressing These Concerns

For consumer products, marketing has to address concerns like "Will buying this product make me feel better?" and "Will buying this product get me in trouble with the spouse?"

Just laying out facts and numbers doesn't adequately address the above concerns.

For B2B products, good marketing needs to address concerns like:

  1. How will this product improve my business’s revenue, profit, or productivity?
  2. Will buying this help me get promoted?
  3. Will buying this get me in trouble with the boss or finance department?
  4. Is the company trustworthy - will this purchase do what I'm told?
  5. Will this company be around to support the product during its full lifecycle?

This is why the phrase “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” exists! Buyers are human...and humans prioritize putting food on their table and not get fired! In my first 30 days I realized it’s not all about buying the technically superior product. Sometimes you buy the industry leader so you don’t get fired!

Nobody Ever Got Fired for Buying IBM - Special Inauguration ...
“Will buying this help me get promoted or get me fired” is a powerful concern that B2B marketers needs to address.

Understanding how many more concerns my customers had that needed to be addressed via marketing was the big realization I had in my first month on the go-to-market side of a tech company. I realized the marketer’s job was to address these concerns. The function and importance of content marketing, brand marketing, PR, and product marketing clicked in my mind that first month.

Good Brand Marketing Addresses Human Concerns

While hyper-logical robots might not care about brands, humans making buying decisions do. Because a good brand makes humans feel better about buying a product from your company. Good brand marketing helps you convey your product’s qualities and your company’s reputation in a more subtle, subconscious way. Brand marketing can evenbeat an overt numbers-driven marketing pitch.

One real-world example of the power of branding: the Pepsi Paradox. Scientists found in double-blind experiments people prefer the taste of Pepsi over Coke. Yet, when the brand is revealed - people think Coke tastes better. The Pepsi Paradox shows it's not all about the objective qualities you might find in a spec-sheet. Subjective qualities - best communicated via other forms of marketing - can strongly influence buying decisions.

Double-blind experiments show people prefer the taste of Pepsi over Coke. Yet when you can see a label, people prefer Coke over Pepsi.

It’s Not Just Brand Marketing; Many Marketing Sub-Disciplines Work In Concert To Educate Buyers on Benefit’s And Assuage Buyer Concerns

Once I realized how many concerns marketing needs to address, I gained an appreciation for marketing’s many sub-disciplines. I gained an appreciation for product marketing’s role which is to explain to buyers the benefits, not the technical features of a product. Copy-writing is the art of conveying these benefits clearly in writing across ads and your website and sales collateral. Press & PR is the art of getting the media to say good things about you, so that the humans buying your product feel better that trusted authorities vouch for it. It’s why even in the era of review sites and product ratings, celebrity endorsements still work.

When all these marketing disciplines work in concert, the buyer’s multi-faceted concerns are mitigated in ways a simple numbers-driven spec sheet can’t. After realizing this, I had a marketing roadmap that far extended any simple numbers-based marketing strategy.

Why Stephen Curry Spoke at A B2B Sales Software Conference

My past Software Engineer self would have been perplexed by Salesforce's Dreamforce speaker lineup. What does soccer star David Beckham know about sales productivity software? What marketing-ops problems has NBA Player Stephen Curry solved?

Dreamforce & Salesforce Events on Twitter: "An all-star line-up of ...
David Beckham, Stephen Curry, and other celebrities are part of Salesforce’s Dreamforce Conference Speaker Lineup.

But once I understood that humans, not data-driven robots are buying products, things like having David Beckham & Stephen Curry speak at a B2B Sales software conference started to make sense.A robot put in charge of buying sales & marketing software could care less about a celebrity. But a human watching David Beckham talk about B2B Software makes you feel better about buying Salesforce since Beckham is cool and you want to be cool too. Plus, it subtly conveys how solid and trust-worthy that company. I mean, why else would Stephen and Ayesha Curry implicitly endorse Salesforce by being on stage?

So Stephen Curry, if you are reading this – please help us further elevate SafeGraph’s marketing beyond a numbers-based spec sheet. Consider this your formal invitation to speak at SafeGraph’s next event on geospatial data.

Peak Stephen Curry was unleashed in the Western Conference finals ...