How to Work With Developers: 6 Tips for Improving Your Relationship

As a marketer, your relationship with developers can make or break your ability to deliver high-impact campaigns and digital experiences. According to a recent Gartner study, marketing teams that collaborate effectively with IT colleagues are 50% more likely to exceed their organizational goals (full report available to Gartner clients).

However, the reality is that many marketing and development teams still operate in silos, with different priorities, incentives and ways of working. A 2022 Forrester survey found that 68% of marketing leaders feel their developers don‘t understand marketing‘s needs, while 59% of developers say marketers set unrealistic expectations (Forrester report).

This disconnect often leads to friction, delays and subpar outcomes. Marketing launches get held up waiting for bug fixes, or new features don‘t meet user needs because developers were looped in too late. Meanwhile, developers get stuck with last-minute fire drills and feel their expertise is undervalued.

As someone who‘s worked at the intersection of marketing and development for the past decade, I‘ve seen firsthand how damaging this dynamic can be – but also how powerful it is when marketers and developers gel as a united team. The key is learning how to speak each other‘s language and build trust through open communication.

In this post, I‘ll share six hard-won lessons for collaborating more effectively with your development colleagues. These tips are based on my experience shipping hundreds of digital campaigns and products, from mobile apps to web experiences to data pipelines, in partnership with developers. I‘ll also include real-world examples, data points and tactical advice you can put into practice right away.

By the end of this guide, you‘ll be equipped to build stronger, more productive relationships with your developers that help you create better work together. Let‘s dive in!

1. Involve Developers Early and Often

One of the most common mistakes I see marketers make is treating developers as short-order cooks. They‘ll spend weeks or months hashing out campaign strategies, creative concepts and detailed requirements docs (PRDs), often in close collaboration with agencies and consultancies. Then when everything is supposedly finalized, they‘ll loop in development and expect them to start executing immediately.

The problem with this "waterfall" approach is that it wastes time and money on designs and plans that may not be feasible. It also breeds resentment among developers who feel cut out of key decisions that impact their work. They‘re reduced to being "code monkeys" versus equal partners.

In contrast, high-performing teams bring developers into the process from the very beginning. They solicit developer input during ideation and planning sessions to gut-check technical viability. They collaborate with developers on requirements and technical design before pixel-perfect mockups are finalized. This allows them to identify risks and dependencies early, and craft solutions that balance user, business and technical needs.

For example, when I was working on a mobile app redesign project last year, we held a kickoff workshop with marketing and development leads to align on goals and brainstorm ideas. One of our developers pointed out that a proposed onboarding flow would be complex to implement given our back-end setup, and suggested an alternative that would only take a day versus weeks to build. This early feedback saved us from committing to an overscoped plan, while still achieving our core objectives.

Of course, this doesn‘t mean you need to bog down developers in every planning conversation. Aim to get their input at natural checkpoints, like finalizing a creative brief or reviewing solution options before detailed design. The more opportunities you create for them to ask questions and raise concerns, the smoother your collaboration will be.

2. Communicate Clearly and Completely

Poor communication is another common source of marketing-developer friction. Marketers often struggle to convey their needs and constraints in terms developers understand. They‘ll make offhand requests like "make the logo bigger" or "add a WhatsApp integration" without realizing the technical implications. Or they‘ll provide vague, incomplete requirements that leave developers guessing.

On the flip side, developers often fall into the trap of talking in jargon and abstractions that marketers can‘t follow. They‘ll go into excruciating detail about code dependencies or edge cases, when marketers really just need a plain-English summary. Or they‘ll push for a certain technical approach without fully explaining the benefits and tradeoffs.

The solution is to over-communicate and clarify assumptions on both sides. Marketers should provide clear, complete briefs that explain the business context and objectives, not just what to build. They should aim to be as specific as possible about acceptance criteria and get signoff from development that the requirements are understood.

For complex requests, consider using annotated wireframes or interactive prototypes to illustrate the desired UX. I‘m a big fan of tools like Whimsical, Figma and InVision for this purpose. But even a quick whiteboard sketch or bullet list of key details can help get everyone on the same page.

Developers, in turn, should practice distilling their feedback and recommendations for non-technical audiences. I coach my development teams to focus on the "why" and "so what", not just the "how". What are the benefits, risks and limitations of a proposed approach? How will it impact the user experience, development timeline or ability to make changes down the road?

Use analogies, visuals and examples to explain technical concepts in relatable terms. One trick I like is asking "How would you explain this to your grandma?" If you can‘t break it down in simple language, chances are your marketing colleagues won‘t get it either.

Finally, both sides should be proactive about asking clarifying questions and calling out potential misunderstandings. Foster a culture where there are no dumb questions and it‘s safe to say "I don‘t understand." The more you can align on terminology and level-set on technical literacy, the easier it will be to communicate.

3. Create a Single Source of Truth

In complex, fast-moving projects, it‘s all too easy for requirements and decisions to get lost in a blur of meetings, emails and chat threads. Without clear documentation and ownership, work gets duplicated, blockers get overlooked and teams end up chasing misaligned goals.

That‘s why high-performing marketing-development teams rely on centralized project management tools to keep everyone aligned. Whether it‘s Asana, Trello, Jira, Airtable or something else, the goal is to have a single authoritative record of the work to be done, who‘s responsible, and the latest status.

The exact tool and workflow will vary based on your team‘s needs, but at minimum, your source of truth should include:

  • A prioritized list of marketing requests and development tasks, broken down into specific units of work
  • Clear owners and due dates for each task
  • Links to supporting documentation like marketing briefs, wireframes, technical specs and QA scripts
  • Regular status updates from the team on progress, blockers and changes

Ideally, your system should integrate with the other tools developers use to manage their work, like GitHub for code repos and Slack for communication. This allows you to automate handoffs and alerts, rather than having to manually update status across multiple places.

For example, at my current company, we use Asana as our central marketing-development task tracker. We have an Asana-GitHub integration that automatically moves tasks to "In Progress" when a related pull request is opened, and to "Ready for Review" when the PR is submitted. We also have an Asana-Slack integration that notifies the team when tasks are completed or commented on.

By keeping all work visible in a shared system, marketing and development can see how the pieces fit together and adapt more quickly to changes. It helps avoid the all-too-common scenario of marketers wondering why a campaign is delayed, while developers are waiting on specs or approvals they didn‘t know they needed.

4. Learn Each Other‘s Language

As a marketer, you don‘t need to become a programming expert to collaborate well with developers. But investing time to learn key development concepts, tools and terminology is essential for communicating effectively.

At minimum, every digital marketer should have a basic grasp of:

  • The difference between front-end, back-end and full-stack development
  • Key web development languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript
  • How web browsers, APIs and servers work together to display content
  • Common development tools like Git, IDEs and the command line
  • The product development lifecycle and methodologies like Agile and Scrum
  • Technical constraints that impact your work, like page weight, cross-browser compatibility, data regulations, etc.

You can pick up this knowledge through a combination of online courses, tutorials, books and hands-on experience. I‘m a big believer in learning by doing – try building a simple webpage or editing a WordPress template to get a feel for the basics. Ask your developers to walk you through their development environment and show you how they work.

But beyond technical fluency, it‘s just as important to understand the typical developer mindset and what motivates them. In my experience, great developers tend to be:

  • Deeply curious problem-solvers who love learning new things
  • Detail-oriented and thorough, sometimes to a fault
  • Skeptical of authority and resistant to top-down mandates
  • Eager to automate repetitive tasks and optimize processes
  • Protective of their focus time and wary of distractions
  • Blunt in their communication and feedback (but usually not intending to be harsh)
  • Motivated by building elegant, efficent and scalable solutions

Of course, every developer is different, but these traits are common threads I‘ve noticed across the hundreds I‘ve worked with. Understanding these defaults can help you tailor your communication and management style to bring out their best.

For example, I‘ve learned that most developers bristle at being handed solutions to simply execute. They want to be part of defining the problem and evaluating options. So rather than saying "Here are the detailed specs, please build this", I‘ll present the user need and business goals, and ask for their ideas on how to tackle it. We‘ll collaborate to weigh the tradeoffs and align on an approach they feel ownership over.

I also try to be respectful of their maker‘s schedule and shield them from unnecessary meetings and interruptions. We‘ll agree on blocks of focus time and regular developer syncs, rather than pinging them constantly throughout the day.

The more you can put yourself in your developers‘ shoes and engage them on their terms, the more productive your relationship will be. And the greater understanding you have of their world, the better you‘ll be able to advocate for development best practices and rally stakeholders around realistic tradeoffs.

5. Celebrate Milestones Together

Marketing and development teams often have different definitions of success and ways of measuring progress. Marketers tend to focus on external metrics like leads, conversions and revenue. Developers often prioritize internal measures like code quality, system stability and technical debt.

This mismatch can lead to a feeling that the teams are working towards different goals. Marketers get frustrated when launches keep slipping, while developers feel constant pressure to cut corners and ship faster.

The antidote is setting shared success metrics and milestones that both teams can rally around. As a marketing leader, I‘ve found it effective to:

  • Align on a "true north" metric that ties marketing and development work to a top-level business KPI
  • Example: at an ecommerce company, a north star could be increasing average order value
  • Break large projects into smaller deliverables with clear success criteria
  • Example: launch new product detail page template by Black Friday with goal of X% conversion lift
  • Celebrate milestone progress as a team and show how it ladders up to big-picture impact
  • Example: shoutout the launch of a checkout flow revamp that increased revenue by $Y

For one product launch I worked on, we created a shared dashboard showing progress towards our sign-up and activation targets. Each week, we‘d review trends as a cross-functional team and brainstorm ideas to improve. Seeing the numbers tick up became a point of pride and friendly competition between marketing and development.

These shared goals help unite your teams around a common purpose and strengthen empathy for each other‘s roles. Developers start to internalize how their work powers growth, while marketers gain appreciation for the effort that goes into each release.

It‘s also important to make space to celebrate major milestones. Host a demo at your next all-hands to show off that slick new app feature. Treat the team to a nice lunch after a successful campaign wrap. Or just take a few minutes in your next stand-up to recognize great collaboration.

The more you reinforce that you‘re one team working together towards big goals, the more your developers will feel bought into marketing priorities. At the end of the day, we all want to feel that our work matters and is valued.

6. Invest in Relationships and Rituals

My final tip is to prioritize building authentic relationships with your development colleagues outside of project work. The better you get to know each other as people, the easier it will be to navigate conflicts and give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Some of my favorite ways to bond with developers:

  • Grab regular 1:1 coffee or lunch to check in on how things are going
  • Sit with them for a few hours and observe how they work
  • Ask them to teach you something technical they‘re passionate about
  • Host a team hackathon or bug bash to collaborate on fun side projects
  • Volunteer together at a local school or nonprofit
  • Celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries and personal milestones
  • Organize a team game night or offsite (escape rooms are always a hit!)

The key is finding natural opportunities to interact in low-pressure settings and learn what makes them tick.

I also recommend establishing rituals and rhythms that foster ongoing collaboration. At my last company, we had a weekly "Scrum of Scrums" where marketing and development leads shared updates and synced on cross-team dependencies. We also held quarterly planning sessions where we reviewed roadmaps, capacity and constraints together.

These kinds of recurring touchpoints create space to surface issues early, build trust and align on shared priorities. Over time, they help instill a culture of "we" versus "us and them".

Investing in relationships takes commitment and patience, but it‘s one of the highest-leverage things you can do to create a high-performing marketing-development machine. The teams I‘ve seen consistently deliver breakthrough results have one thing in common: a foundation of trust and mutual respect.

Go Forth and Collaborate

Effectively partnering with developers is one of the most powerful skills modern marketers can cultivate. As technology and customer expectations evolve at warp speed, you need your development colleagues bought in and firing on all cylinders to realize your boldest visions.

Shifting from an order-taker dynamic to a true collaboration mindset isn‘t always easy. It takes active effort to find common ground, build technical fluency and create systems that bring out the best in everyone. There will be moments of friction and failures along the way.

But when marketing and development click, the results speak for themselves. You‘re able to move faster, learn quicker and punch above your weight. You come up with creative solutions that perfectly balance user needs, business goals and technical realities. You actually enjoy working together!

So start putting these principles into practice with your team. Identify one thing you can do this week to strengthen your developer relationships – whether it‘s inviting them to your next brainstorm, scheduling a leadership sync, or simply grabbing coffee and asking about their weekend.

Then keep showing up, day after day, to have the hard conversations, celebrate the wins and learn from the failures. The small choices you make each day to include, appreciate and adapt to your development peers will compound into lasting impact.

So what are you waiting for? Go forth and collaborate!