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Aligning DevRel and Sales for Growth: Q&A Twilio CMO Sara Varni Mina Benothman

During a recent Speaker Series, Twilio’s CMO Sara Varni discussed how closely aligning your Sales and DevRel teams can open the door to new growth opportunities. If you’ve already watched her, read on to learn more as she responds to some questions from the audience.

What are the top signals aside from a developer actually hitting you in a contact form, that might signal they’re ready to talk to sales?

It’s going to differ by company. At Twilio, we look at milestones in terms of spend and if we see that person hitting that particular milestone, we know that they’ve got a project going on. If there’s enough activity, there must be a real project behind it. But we also don’t look at the sign-up individually either. We also look at 1.) are there a number of signups coming from a particular company at a time? 2). did they then go to an in-person event?

It all goes back to lead scoring and attribution. Jon Miller, the co-founder of Marketo, has a long career in marketing automation and lead scoring. He’s all about the time on the site and the time that the experience requires, so if you think about someone downloading a white paper versus someone attending a live webinar, that webinar’s going to be rated higher in your scoring model. And so we apply that same kind of thinking to the developer journey and thinking about what the level of commitment tied to this activity is to indicate how interested they are. It’s not all that different from lead scoring in the traditional B2B buyer journey.

If sign-ups, activation, and monthly active users are the Dev Advocate KPIs, what are the growth teams or the marketing acquisition teams focused on?

They’re two separate teams in terms of reporting structure but they really act together as one team. Our developer evangelists are focused on, what is the content that can get people engaged and interested in Twilio and get them to the site. Sometimes the content is product specific, but often it’s on topics that we think are just generally going to be interesting to developers right now. And then they work closely with our growth team to make sure post-signup, people are getting to those meaningful milestones in terms of spend.

So we look at, are people getting through the sign-up and creation process? Are they provisioning in a way that’s very easy and turnkey? We also take a really close look at our documentation to make sure that if we see people stumbling in certain parts of the journey, do we have the right set of documentation to step them through that? And if not, how do we rejigger a roadmap to make sure that we’re tackling some of those items where people are getting blocked?

A lot of times devs will sign up with their personal accounts. How do you sell to their enterprise?

I wish I had some magic answer there but we don’t. That’s honestly a challenge when you’re trying to target enterprise customers. Often when people are signing up with their personal account, you can’t track that they’re from one of your target customers. I don’t have a silver bullet there, but our hope is that as we get them up to speed on the platform, even with their name, their personal email address, that eventually they’ll convert and become a buyer on behalf of their company

You used to do a lot of in-person engagements. How have engagements changed?

We’ve had a lot of discussions now that everything’s virtual. Should we be doing events every week? We experimented a bunch in the second quarter, but for us, I actually don’t think that that’s the right approach. Zoom fatigue is real. So the approach that we’ve taken is, and this is less about developer-centric events and more just broadly for Twilio, let’s have one really high-value, high production-content event a month and really drive as much energy as we can to that.

I think one thing that’s been interesting in the world of COVID is, where we used to be very city-centric, a local customer panel is less relevant now. So we can do different things that we couldn’t do in a city-approach before, we can have more of an industry focus. In May we did a healthcare session. In June we did a retail session and those were new experiments for us. Even though the turnout was lower, I think that the quality of attendee and their engagement was much higher. So that’s something that we plan to continue in the second half of the year.

How do you know when to scale from doing 1:1 engagements to multi-customer calls/live events?

I do think that the customers I’ve seen over the first half of the year, especially during COVID, have seen huge value in just getting together with like-minded people, whether it be by role or by industry. Being the connector for those groups has been really great. If you’re going to make it a networking session, you have to be careful to not go beyond 20 people. Otherwise, it’s hard for everyone to get a word in.

I was on one of these calls where they brought together a bunch of marketers to talk about what they were doing in COVID and it was an hour session and we spent 45 minutes on introduction. It’s always a dance because at the same time, you want to get enough people registered to make up for fall off. You have to figure out what your attrition rates are going to be. Figure out what’s that sweet spot of registrations where you can have enough people talking, but not so many people that people don’t feel like they get to participate.

How are you capturing and repackaging the conversations that are happening during these live events?

If you’re going to create a big project, like the monthly events that we do, and make a big production out of it, you want to get the most PR value out of it. If you have a great conversation, repackage the content into segments. I think about those customer conversations in the same way. You of course have to get permission for certain brands and not everyone wants to, but if you get the go ahead, you should absolutely use that to create content so that not just the 10 people on call get value out of it.

How do you determine what the size of your DevRel team should be? Is it based on the number of devs in your community, ARR, etc.?

If you’re going to do a new market, especially if you’re a developer focused platform, it’s super critical to have a developer as your first hire in the region, almost even more important than like a GM for that region. As we’re thinking about entering new markets as Twilio, our approach is, “let’s make sure we’ve got some, developer evangelists on the ground to just get the word out and start talking about what Twilio is at the right local events.”

Beyond that, it can totally differ by organization. It depends on the surface area you have to cover, how much language specialization you have to have given your platform. There’s a bunch of different ways that we could size the team. It comes down to your platform and how many different outside communities you’re going have to target.

C-suite officers work for the members of the board. What are some of the best ways that sales and DevRel can show positive customer impact?

It all comes back to helping. When we do those enterprise hackathons, the magic is watching these teams work together. We’ve gone to large hospitals in the U.S. for example, and they’ll come to us with certain problems around patient communication or workflows in their hospital. Over the course of the day, let’s say we tackle three use cases. They come up with a proof of concept that they could go and demo to the board to say, “Look, this is how we’re going to improve the customer experience with new engagement channels.”

Show how the work of your DevRel team and sales team together are helping customers use your product in a different way. You’re not talking in vagaries, it’s a real project with real impact. Especially when you’re offering your services free of charge and coming onsite to help customers through these problems, the customer is going to have great things to say about your product and your team.

How do you strike a balance between sales and DevRel when the prospect they’re talking to might not be a perfect fit for your product?

This is another thing that I think perceptions can sometimes be off. There are plenty of salespeople that might write checks that they can’t necessarily cash so you have to be careful with that. But I do think generally, those sales people are not going to survive long-term because if they’re getting ahead of themselves with their product promises, it’s eventually going to catch up with them. Developers that are involved with the sales organization in this situation should feel empowered to voice and express where there’s limitations. Your teams should all be aligned on who you should be selling to and who you shouldn’t or else, you’re going to have problems down the road.

ACV is a lagging indicator, especially for DevRel teams where most of the activities are super high top of the funnel. What are better indicators that DevRel teams can use to gauge success/impact?

It’s hard because you’re focused on top of funnel and that’s further away from actual bookings or even revenue down the road. If you’re programmatic about the communities and population of developers you’re targeting, you’ll get more buy-in from people across the business. So it’s not, “Oh, we’re just going to go to all these different events and we’ll see what happens” or “Let’s see who comes to the site.” It needs to be, “We are going to try and get every developer from this programming language in North America” or “We’re going to get to 20% of this population.” That shows that you’re not just winging it, you have a targeted approach, are measuring on a regular basis, and are showing continued improvement.

It’s a challenge for all DevRel teams, that balance of trying to talk about your products and get people excited about your products, while not being too pushy on that front. The flip side is talking about all the cool trends and things happening for developers, to kind of lure people in. It’s an intersection. Where’s your product relevance and developer relevance? Focus your energy in that quadrant.

How do you measure developer awareness?

Signups are one way. Unique visitor traffic is another, you can also do surveys. We do regular annual surveys on developer awareness. I have my question marks about some of those. There’s always kind of weird data points that come back and things that don’t seem logical or in-tune with how I really think the developer landscape works. But I think if you can triangulate those three points and you’re looking at those consistently year-over-year, you should get to a general understanding of how you’re pacing and if your programs are paying off.

For the DevRels on your team who were previously traveling all the time, what kinds of activities are they doing now?

We shifted a lot of our DevRel team over to content projects that we were just not getting to. We do over 400 face-to-face events a year, it’s a lot, so we’ve asked a lot of those people to come and help with some of the virtual deployments of these programs. Now we’re doing a virtual Superclass, so there’ll be TAs and they’ll help staff and help be more hands on with those virtual assignments. Any program that we were running basically face to face, we’ve thought about how we can make it digital and how we can still make it the best experience possible. There’s also just a lot of maintenance things that we’ve always wanted to fix.

What has been the biggest challenge for you in managing both a bottom-up and a top-down approach inside Twilio?

It’s just making sure you’re not losing your way on either front. If I came in with my Salesforce playbook and started walking around with a lead scanner at hackathons, that’s bad. Similarly, if I walked into the sales team and just talked about top of funnel stuff and not really how I’m driving pipeline or being focused on how I’m feeding these growing teams of reps, that would be bad too. It’s just constantly trying to find that balance and making sure I’m not pushing either team too far in the wrong direction.

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