Winning Over Your Most Critical Customer: The Developer

Creating APIs that appeal to developers is more complicated than it sounds. The best APIs are those that developers rarely have to think about.

The explosive growth of the API Economy has produced a marked increase in platform-based businesses and marketplaces, which demand open environments and agile technology stacks that can quickly adapt to shifting consumer demand and diverse use cases.

Alongside this growth, we’ve seen a significant shift in the role of developer. Never before has the developer been more critical to business, helping to deliver on customer expectations and attract end users while also streamlining and economizing backend business functions.

In the past, developers were largely behind the scenes, focused on the work of internal systems. However, now, developers are a crucial customer in today’s enterprise marketplace. For companies providing API-driven services, it’s critical to attract developers with the kind of open API experience that makes it easy and intuitive to build great products.

Consider the API experience

In many ways, developers are the very best kind of customers. They’re particularly savvy in their areas of expertise and have a clear understanding of how third-party technologies can best serve their company’s needs. This, in turn, has given rise to a robust API economy that provides developers with off-the-shelf solutions.

But creating APIs that appeal to developers isn’t as simple as it may sound. Developers need to feel confident that API providers know what they’re doing, that they understand the developer’s job, and that they’re working to make that job as easy as possible. Simplicity is key. The best APIs are the ones that developers rarely even have to think about.

In an ideal world, the technical integration of your API should be the shortest part of the process. Starting from sign-up, the process to go-live should be short, simple, and quick. Ongoing administration tasks should be kept to an absolute minimum. Once deployed, an API should be consistent, reliable, and as self-documenting as possible. The less admin time an API requires, the more likely a developer is to deploy it.

This spirit of simplicity should go well beyond backend setup and maintenance, carrying over to the end-user experience for the developer. Your developer experience should be natural, intuitive and empower them to manage their experience without outside help. This ethos carries over to API documentation. API functionality should be clearly documented in API guides and openly available. If your API is lacking in either of these areas, the developer will have a heavy (and frequent) lift in educating themselves to use your product. Instead, your API should be designed with usability in mind.

Give your APIs broad appeal

Having clear and concise communication — not just to end users, but for developers and decision-makers — should be considered essential at every step of your design. Whether it’s in documentation, marketing, or release notes, language should be simple and free of industry or technical jargon. Clarity is key. Even error messages should paint a clean, complete picture. If a developer needs to research other documentation to try and understand what’s wrong, that’s a severe failure of execution that creates further roadblocks for the developer to use and deploy your API, damaging their confidence in your service.

It’s worth remembering that while the developer is your customer, they will often need buy-in from non-technical people before they can commit to deploying your product. Keeping everything simple and clear will help them in presenting your solution to their internal partners. As the old adage goes, “if you can’t explain it plainly, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Simple doesn’t mean basic

In all facets of developing and marketing an API to developers, you should be focused on making their job easier. And while the keyword here is “simplicity,” that doesn’t mean that your offering can’t be technically robust. In fact, one of the most important things to provide for developers is a substantial sandbox to allow for end-to-end testing. In many ways, this is anything but simple — but so long as the sandbox is accessible and properly designed to reflect how a live environment might act, developers can have confidence that your solution is the right one for them.

By offering an API that is easy to work with, clearly communicated, and provides well-formed architecture, you can instill confidence in developers and create a broader brand reputation. Your API will enable developers to build amazing products, and in turn, those products will tangibly demonstrate the value of your platform. 


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Susan French

Susan is Head of Product at BBVA Open Platform. She lead the design and development of Open Platform’s groundbreaking suite of white-label, banking-as-a-service APIs in the US. Susan is a payment, digital commerce and financial services expert, with an unparalleled understanding of what fintech companies navigating this landscape want from an API platform – and how to deliver it. Susan has been working in the financial services sector for more than 25 years, most recently leading the team that created and launched Visa’s Developer Program, a suite of APIs that opened up Visa’s network to all developers, from startups to large financial institutions. A former CTO, Head of Enterprise Architecture and Technology Strategist at Visa, Susan also worked as Chief Operating Officer at Euphorion, a website design and development startup in Silicon Valley, and started her own independent consulting business.