Let’s assume that you have built a great API.  Your plan for the API may have been for internal consumption by your company developers (e.g. creating a mobile app), or for partner engagement or on-boarding, or a public API to allow for comparison Apps written by third parties to send business to you.  But, for some reason, the API is just not being used as much as expected (or at all).  What happened?

Perhaps the better question is “what didn’t happen?”  Something is missing or causing a problem between product development (i.e. API creation) and product use.  Most likely the issue is with your API marketing or sales process.  I have intentionally used these business terms (“marketing” and “sales”) to emphasize that your API is a product.  So, let’s look at the likely issues.


Whose Job Is It?

Do you have someone assigned to the role of API Product Manager (other than your API developer)?  Your API developer is a technical role to build the API, set up the security, test it, etc.  This is a different
skill set than product management.  Relying on the developer to do this role in addition to the technical work is a very common issue in API initiatives and frequent cause of poor adoption.  The API Product Manager role (see recommended roles) is responsible for driving the success of the API product.  This typically includes understanding marketplace needs and driving the consumption of the API after it is created.


If You Build It, They Will Come – Doesn’t Work

“If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”, “Creature of habit” – once a person finds a way to do something, they continue to use the same technique when faced with a similar problem.  Your great API may be a better way to address the issue, but the target audience for your API already has experienced a way to address the issue that they have used before.  So, just making the API available is not sufficient.


The API Product Manager needs to market and sell the benefits of using the API as a better option over the prior techniques that the developer is already comfortable using.  The fact that it is also better for you is not important to this audience.  Your approach and messages delivered should be tailored to the specific audience:

  • Do lunch and learns for internals – in person with a demo. Show the developers how much easier it is to do self-service consumption of an API than to put in a request for access to a back-end system and wait.
  • Use your partner channel communications – do a recorded live event to support questions and replay
  • Publicize external APIs on common sites (e.g. Programmable web).
  • Run Hackathons, attend/run events, meetups, conferences, etc.
  • Create Youtube videos


Do not forget that part of the Product Manager role (or API Initiative leader role) is also to communicate internally to executives the status of the initiative and the achievement toward the initiative goals.  This is an entirely distinct set of messages, but also critically important.


Tailor the message to what the audience needs to know. Communication drives the value and helps keep the funding and expansion of the initiative.


Engaging Experience

So far, we have:

An API Product Manager responsible to drive API usage

An App developer who has been convinced that the API is a better approach through targeted communication


Now we need to close the sale!  But, we have all experienced a situation where you are interested in a product but cannot find the information you need on the web site, or the web site is so difficult to use that you just give up and go elsewhere.


We need to provide an engaging experience on our developer portal that provides the information the developer needs and makes it simple for them to sign up and use our API.  This should include sample code, the ability to try the API, good documentation, simple sign up capability, Q&A, the ability to provide feedback and more.


Perhaps the best way to describe this is to point to a few good examples of developer portals:

Royal Mail


Citi Bank


PSA Peugeot Citroen


You would not expect to sell a product to a customer without advertising or telling them about the product.  And, if you make the sale process difficult to use, the customer will get frustrated and shop elsewhere.  The same is true for your API.  Your customer is the App Developer – internal, partner, or public, they are your customer.  You need to market your API to the intended audience and make it easy for them to buy.  Unfortunately, lack of attention to these issues is all too common in API initiatives.  Staffing roles and poor communication are two issues I have called out in my 7 biggest mistakes blog.  Creating a great API is a good start but without focus on these critical factors it is not sufficient to drive success.


To understand more about IBM’s thoughts on the API Economy visit the IBM API Economy website.  IBM API Connect is IBM’s complete foundation to Create, Run, Manage, and Secure APIs.  You can find more information about IBM API Connect at the API Connect website.  And you can also experience a trial version of API Connect.


If you have questions, please let me know.  Connect with me through comments here or via twitter @Arglick to continue the discussion.

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