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A Complete Introduction to Technical Marketing

One of the challenges many business-to-business marketers face is selling a complex product to a knowledgeable audience. For example, companies like Okta, SendGrid, and AWS must convince software developers—often a skeptical audience—that their tools are up to the job. This means that even non-technical marketing and salespeople at these companies might be asked in-depth technical questions or encounter complex jargon from time-to-time. This is where technical marketing comes in.

Technical marketing is the portion of your marketing efforts detailing the technical specifications of your product or service. Unlike typical business-to-business marketing, technical marketing often focuses on individual features rather than the high-level advantages of your product.

For example, in the context of developer tools companies like the ones I mentioned above, technical marketing might mean defining the API endpoints and interface options available to engineers. It might mean talking about storage capacity and service limitations.

This page about Amazon DynamoDB is a good example of technical marketing in action:

Table limits are a form of technical marketing

The table above shows the limits developers face when implementing DynamoDB’s Global Tables. While most customers might not care about this level of granular detail, it could be important in specific use cases, so by providing it on their website, sales and marketing people can reference this technical marketing material when asked.

Of course, technical marketing isn’t just about limitations; it’s also about selling features.

Take the SendGrid quick start guide here. It shows developers how easy it is to send their first email with Sendgrid:

SendGrid quick start as technical marketing

By highlighting SendGrid’s ease of use, they break down objections that developers might have about the product and inspire them to start building something sooner rather than later.

These are just two examples of technical marketing in action, and we’ll look at more later. First, let’s talk about where technical marketing fits into your overall content strategy.

Examples of Technical Marketing

Technical marketing can take many forms, but it’s often content-heavy. Because subject matter experts will be viewing and scrutinizing it, most technical marketing material must also be created by subject matter experts who can speak with authority. But, before I get into skills and tips for technical marketing, let’s look at some examples.

Sales Collateral

Many b2b sales cycles involve multiple stakeholders. For example, if you’re going to implement a new AWS cost monitoring tool like CloudForecast, you might need representatives from Finance, Engineering, and DevOps to sign off on the tool. Each of these stakeholders will require their own set of sales collateral.

Technical marketing material that can be used in a sales process like this includes white papers, specification sheets, product catalogs, and competitor comparisons. A salesperson may only be able to get on the phone with representatives in one or two departments and may have to let the technical marketing material speak to the others.

Documentation

“Well-indexed, example-filled, hyperlink-saturated documentation is evidence that my team won’t have to struggle to use your tool. If you show docs only to paying customers, you’re effectively saying ‘trust me, it’s really easy to work with.’” - Matt Hackett, Former VP Engineering at Tumblr

Even before implementation time, technical documentation is an important part of your marketing material. More companies are making their documentation available for free as a way to show customers how easy it is to use their tools, and in markets like software developer tools, engineers expect to see documentation for new tools before they commit to them.

Tutorials

Technical tutorials that show customers how to use your products and the benefits they can get from them are really powerful. Whether created in written or video formats, tutorials go a step further than documentation by showing specific use cases and the reasoning behind each step in the process. As I said earlier this year on the Stack Overflow podcast:

“A good software tutorial explains the How. A great one explains the Why.”

Webinars and Training Sessions

Another form of technical marketing that can help during the final evaluation and implementation phases of your funnel are webinars and training sessions. Whether done virtually or in-person, giving prospects the chance to ask questions live and talk to experts on your team is a great way to build trust and overcome objections by understanding each buyer’s unique situation.

Bitmovin does a great job of this, releasing dozens of webinars and courses each year. They then take these videos and turn them into blog posts, social collateral, and sales resources to increase the value of each piece of content. It takes a lot of work, but it’s allowed Bitmovin to capture market share resulting in a $25 million Series C round earlier this year.

Diagrams and Visuals

“The brain processes images 60,000 times faster than it does text. And it’s more accustomed to processing images—ninety percent of the information sent to the brain is visual, and 93% of all human communication is visual.” - Ritu Pant, VP of marketing at Infographic World

A picture truly does say 1000 words, especially when it comes to technical content. Telling software engineers about your service’s architecture might be tough to do in a single blog post, but showing them a diagram might tell the story in half a page. Architecture diagrams, workflows, and animated gifs can all show customers how your product works rather than counting on them to imagine it correctly.

An architecture diagram I used in a blog post

Building Technical Marketing Skills

Technical marketing is a tough field to come into from a marketing background. Many technical marketers start as subject matter experts and then transition into marketing where their technical skills make them a unique part of their team. This was my experience as I transitioned from software engineering to content marketing.

That said, I’ve met plenty of technical marketers who don’t have a technical background. They’ve developed skills to help them bridge the gap between marketing and the tech-savvy buyers of their products. Here are a few things you can do to build technical marketing skills, no matter your background or education:

Embed Yourself With Engineers and Subject Matter Experts

You want to get a great shot of the elusive white tiger. Where do you go? How about where the tigers hang out? Where is their watering hole? Odds are pretty good that if you hang out where the tigers hang out — you’ll get that shot. - McLellan Marketing Group

In order to understand a technical audience, you have to enter their world. Set up meetings—both formal and informal—with your customers and internal engineering teams. Get to know them” learn how they think; learn what’s easy and hard for them to do; learn about what bugs them.

As you learn about the subject matter experts who use your technical marketing content, you’ll naturally get better at appealing to them. Yes, this takes time, but it will make you much more valuable in the field of marketing. According to ZipRecruiter, Technical Marketing Managers typically make over 65% more than Marketing Managers in the United States.

Technical marketing manager vs. marketing manager salaries

Learn to Meet Your Audience Where They’re At

Not all technical marketing is aimed at advanced users. For example, some companies write tutorials and implementation guides as if everyone using their product is a senior engineer with years of experience behind them. This isolates a huge part of their user base who might be new to the field, and it inevitably leads to frustrated users and support requests.

On the other hand, you can’t leave your advanced users out of your technical marketing either. I’ve seen companies only show the most trivial use cases in their documentation, leaving users with special requirements or needing to access more advanced features frustrated and contacting support.

It’s a tricky balance, but this is one of the skills you’ll need in technical marketing.

Get Good at Using Your Own Product

Good technical marketers talk to subject matter experts. Great technical marketers are subject matter experts.

For example, I could probably talk to a few programmers and learn enough about using code tools to generate music to write about the topic. But, it would take me years to do what Juan Romero & Patrick Borgeat do in this live-coded concert for TEDx:

Becoming a subject matter expert might take years, but the better you get at using and demonstrating your own product, the better you’ll be as a technical marketer.

Hiring a Technical Marketer

Finally, if you’re looking for someone to join your team as a technical marketer, you might be in for a difficult journey.

“[Technical marketers] are rare, very rare. Someone who can blend creativity, psychology and branding with code, statistics and math. They are the new Don Drapers of the advertising world, and there aren’t enough of them to go around.” - Steve Olenski, Communications Director at Oracle

Still, there are a few tips I can offer. First, you need to be very clear with the expectations. What do you need them to do? What skills must they have to do this? Will they have access to your internal resources or will they need to bring the skills with them?

Second, consider moving someone already familiar with your product (maybe a customer, early adopter, or engineer) into a technical marketing role. It’s typically easier to teach an engineer marketing skills than to teach a marketer engineering skills.

And last but not least, consider hiring an outside technical marketing agency or consultant. Many of the clients we serve at Draft.dev use our subject matter experts to augment their in-house marketing efforts for blog posts, whitepapers, ebooks, and tutorials. While we’re not the right fit for everyone, I’m also happy to make referrals or introductions to others, so book a call with me if you’d like to learn more.

Karl Hughes

By Karl Hughes

Karl is a former startup CTO and the founder of Draft.dev. He writes about technical blogging and content management.