Technical Evangelism From The Trenches

French soldiers, 1917 (Image: Frederic Duriez / BDIC / media)

It’s the product, stupid

You should obsess about bringing value to your audience. It’s the respectful thing to do, you should never waste anyone’s time. It’s also the best way to engage in meaningful conversations with potential customers.

  • Real-life use cases specific to their industry, that show how to solve problems and create business value with your product,
  • How easy it is to add your product to their existing workflows,
  • How easy it is for users to adopt your product,
  • How good your documentation and your technical support are.

User experience and business value über alles.

Be customer #1

Are you using your own product every day? When is the last time you found a mistake in the documentation? Or filed a bug report? Or suggested a new feature?

Eat your own dog food, don’t drink the Kool Aid.

Talk to customers

It’s tempting for a tech evangelist to live exclusively in the fantasy land of keynotes, conferences and social media. “It’s not my role to attend sales meetings.” Really? Tell me then, my dear tech hipster, how the hell will you know what problems customers have in real life, from developers to projects managers to business users?

Customer calls are the single source of truth.

Always side with the customer

A tech evangelist should not have skin in the sales game. I never had a sales incentive and never wanted one. Sales teams want to close the deal, hit their quota, and get paid. That’s perfectly fine, and I never had any problem with that. Hungry sales teams keep companies running.

You’re the voice of the customer. Let it be heard loud and clear.

Never discuss the competition

You shouldn’t mention competing products in your content or with customers. In large companies, Legal will tell you that’s because blah blah blah blah blah (sorry, I wasn’t listening). My reasons are much more pragmatic:

  • You’ll never know competing products as well as your own. Anything you say is likely to be vague, incorrect or outdated. Customers will notice that when they talk to the other party, and you’ll sound like an idiot.
  • Why would you even bring your competition to the customer’s attention? They may not be aware of them. Any company that you mention will immediately pique their curiosity.
  • More than anything, you should use 100% of your time listening to customers and figuring out how your product may help them.
  • I don’t know XYZ because 100% of my time is spent improving our own products.
  • I recommend that they run their own PoC or benchmark, instead of listening to sales pitches.
  • I’d love to hear their feedback on how to improve our products.

Focus on building great products that customers love. Let the competition worry about you.

Show, don’t tell

To be successful at technical evangelism, you need to find the right mix of story telling and product demos. Too much of the former, and you’re not giving the customer actionable advice. Too much of the latter, and you’re narrowing the scope of your presentation to “have this problem? here’s the solution.”

  1. You won’t be intimately familiar with it, and it won’t flow naturally. That intimacy can only come from hundreds of hours of work, whether you’re writing code, drafting blog posts, and designing a new slide deck.
  2. Canned content is often too generic, especially if it’s been designed by people who generally have no real-life experience with the product and who don’t talk to customers (you know who you are).
  3. Delivering fresh content increases your on-stage focus (thank you, adrenaline), and you’ll come across as a more engaging speaker

Your talks, your slides, your demos.

Walk the Earth

You can’t call yourself an evangelist and not go meet people where they are. Yes, yes, COVID blah blah blah. I went from 100+ flights a year to zero. That was nice for a while, but now I’m getting restless, and so should you. The world is coming back to some level of normality (for meetups and tech conferences, at least), so let’s enjoy it again. Who knows how long that will last?

Get off your ass and meet people IRL. It pays off.

Embrace the suck

Technical evangelism is an uncomfortable job by design. Ambiguity is the rule. Sales, marketing and engineering have their own goals, often contradictory. You’ll have to fight every step of the way to earn respect and make yourself heard.

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