Welcome to Episode 19 of the Sales Influencer Series, where we interview leaders on the cutting edge of sales and marketing. In today's episode, Ambition Director of Marketing Jeremy Boudinet interviews Drift Head of Growth, Kevin Karner.

Drift is a brand-new prospect communication tool that enables sales teams to communicate with prospects in an AIM-like chat experience directly on the company website. Its Head of Growth is longtime HubSpot lieutenant and SaaS veteran, Kevin Karner, who joins us to discuss how sales communication is changing and the new ways prospects are interacting with reps and content.

Ep 19. The New Wave of Sales Communication

Interview Topics 

1. Introductions 0:00 - 4:15.

Synopsis: Kevin is currently the Head of Growth at Drift, a SaaS company which just raised a Series A and is figuring out how to hit high-growth mode. Prior to that, Kevin spent 4.5 years at HubSpot, where he began as a Sales Engineer and moved over into running the ad-on sales team leader. He also has a year-and-a-half of experience at Performable, where he helped build out their sales and marketing teams before they were acquired by HubSpot.

Kevin is a rare triple threat, in that he has experience building sales teams and working within new-age marketing and client success environments.

2. Kevin's Background with HubSpot. 4:15 - 12:50. (Jump here)

Synopsis: Kevin was Employee 152 at HubSpot, a company that has since grown to over 1800 employees. It's been crazy to see the evolution of HubSpot in years past. One takeaway from HubSpot that Kevin is trying to apply at Drift is the principle of doing one thing really well. In certain ways, it slows growth down. But it also fixes problems really fast.

By keeping everyone focused on the same thing, HubSpot was able to make big bets that paid off and grew really fast. Once they had a core strategy in place, they were able to know what their mission was and attack it.

For Kevin, the ad-on sales team was Brian Halligan's idea. He approached Kevin and asked him to lead it and see what happened. Prior to that point, HubSpot was not proactive about reaching out to clients and encouraging them to buy new features to get more out of HubSpot. It was a very 'startup within a startup' type of situation. There were lots of little pockets within HubSpot where people were dedicated to a single goal. For example, HubSpot has its own team that is dedicated to selling HubSpot CRM. 

Kevin's mission was to prevent churn and increase sales with current customers. HubSpot had pretty good tracking in place to see that clients were reading certain content on the HubSpot blog. So for example, if a company was reading enterprise-related content on the blog but not on the enterprise platform, Kevin knew to reach out to them and see if they wanted to upgrade. Another key aspect of Kevin's role was that they didn't approach from a sales perspective as much as they did from a "trusted advisor" perspective. They didn't have to sell clients on the platform, since they were already on it, they just figured out how to proactively see upgrade opportunities and transform client issues into upgrade opportunities. Who wants to switch solutions, right?

3. How to Drive Upsells with Current Users. 12:50 - 15:29. (Jump here)

Synopsis: When you're selling software that is very versatile and multi-faceted, sometimes you need to proactively engage current customers about how best to optimize the product. At HubSpot they used content tracking, calls-to-action within the product and other mechanisms to drive client adoption of new features, renewals and upgrades. 

It ties really nicely into what Kevin is doing at Drift. Their sole focus is getting people on the product. Their goal is to get as much feedback as possible so they can learn really fast and figure out how to optimize the product. They start by giving out a free product, but then offer upgrade options within the product. And they've had people upgrade quickly and consistently with next-to-zero promotion. They're getting good traction just from getting people in the product and making it as easy as possible for them to upgrade to a paid plan.

4. How Drift is Changing Prospect Communication. 15:29 - 20:27. (Jump here)

Synopsis: Drift's goal is to open up your website to drive sales, not through forms, but through keeping prospect conversations online. Drift's mentality is, rather than use email or phone to take prospect conversations offline, why not click a button and engage with prospects online in a chat pop-up while they're on the website. Essentially, Drift lets sales teams use the website as a communication channel.

Drift's goal, like Slack, is to keep people out of inboxes. The difference between Drift and similar website chatboxes is that they serve as a real conversation-starter. Instead of stock outreach from a random person, it's the same person you've been chatting with already. 

5. How Kevin Evaluates Hiring Candidates. 20:27 - 28:30. (Jump here)

Synopsis: There are two pointers for sales hiring.

Number one: You want to have a beer with that person and when you do, you have a great conversation. Those types of people are critical. You need to be able to communicate with people extremely well. It can't be awkward. You can't be a really good salesperson if you can't have a quality conversation.

Number two: You have to know what people want. "Oh, you want to be in Growth?" Well, what does that mean? Kevin was interviewing someone a few weeks ago, and the candidate said he wanted to be in growth, which led Kevin to turn around and gesture towards the entire Drift team. "Everyone here is in growth." On the other hand, someone who says, "I want to do sales. I want to close million dollar deals. I want to have a Ferrari." That's what to look for. That person knows what he or she wants.

In other words, proper communication and focus are what you look for in hiring. Pretty much everything can be taught. But you can't teach people to want to have conversations with people. Or want to be in sales. According to Kevin, there's been a small dip in seeing candidates who are willing to cold call. No one wants to cold call, right? No one enjoys that conversation, typically. It still works a lot of the time, though. And while it's less important that you have those raw cold calling skills, it's still important that you have strong conversation skills.

Drift approaches sales with the idea: We are not going to be overly-aggressive. We are going to use marketing to get you interested. Then, if you have questions, we'll be immediately there to help. The nice thing about chat for the buyer is that it's so easy to get out of. On cold calls, people rarely hang up on you. Even if they want to, they sit there and suffer through the call. In chat, however, it's much easier for the buyer to opt out.

6. The Changing Nature of Sales Communication. 28:30 - 34:15. (Jump here)

Synopsis: Drift is doing away with forms. They posted a blog post recently announcing their decision to do away with forms. The tradition approach in B2B is that a prospect requests a demo or downloads an eBook, and then gets a phone call from a sales rep two minutes later. The latter is going away. The eBook, white paper and webinar forms are going away. All content should be open. You still have a newsletter and still develop great content. But instead of calling people who fill out forms, you give the content away and use chat and other vehicles to let prospects make the initial outreach to you and from there, you start answering questions, qualifying them and such. Or, they'll just sign up and buy.

That's how things are changing. It's much better to have a conversation with a prospect who just signed up for a free trial with our product than to call a prospect and say, "Hey, I saw you just download the Live Chat for Sales eBook. What problems are you trying to solve that led you to download the eBook from me?" Those conversations typically end with, "Oh, I was just looking." Just make that content available and they'll come back.

Buyers have so much more power now. And they don't have to talk with a sales person. Everyone can figure out everything about Drift from our website, Help Docs and so forth. That's all available for free on the internet.

7. Inbound's Role in Account Based Sales. 34:15 - 38:02. (Jump here)

Synopsis: Kevin's philosophy is that, over time, enterprise is going to become more of a transactional sales model over time. White papers, eBooks and so forth will go away. There's always going to be the account-based selling aspect, of course, but the key is enabling those conversations to happen.

The key is enabling those conversations to happen rather than trying to restrict things via forms. Using chat, you can talk directly to prospects, find out their issue, get their bosses' contact information and then take the conversation.

8. How Drift Impacts the Sales Process. 38:02 - 42:40. (Jump here)

Synopsis: Any time you buy anything, you have to figure out what you want, you have to assess your options and there was this annoying thing that companies did in the past where they said, "let's hold back key information and make prospects talk to a sales person to get the information they want."

Buying has changed, now. People are saying, "I don't want to have to talk to a prospect to see if you integrate with Slack." Regardless if it's enterprise sales or transactional sales, people are saying, "I don't want to have to fill out a form to read this case study." Buyers have more access to information than ever and that's the new expectation. Businesses need to adapt.

To check out Drift, go to Drift.com and try it out for free. If you break it, we can help you fix it. You can reach Kevin at kk@drift.com. Drift has a rapidly growing customer base. Kevin loves getting email and tweets from clients that say, "We just closed 3 deals completely through live chat. And we accepted payment through live chat."

We have customers doing that and moving their sales process from being very email-heavy to being oriented around live chat. And we're just getting started. We just completed a $15 million Series A Round and we're looking to scale quickly.

The Sales Influencer Series Library

To check out further episodes and see why CloserIQ has ranked the Sales Influencer Series as one of the very best sales podcasts of 2016, just click on the links below. 

Episode 1. John Barrows

Episode 2. Lori Richardson

Episode 3. Max Altschuler

Episode 4. Matt Heinz

Episode 5. Mark Leslie

Episode 6. Kyle Porter

Episode 7. Jon Bradford

Episode 8. Eks Anderson

Episode 9. Matt Hottle

Episode 10. Heather Morgan

Episode 11. Ilan Ferdman

​Episode 12. Ryan Jenkins

Episode 13. Tamara Schenk

Episode 14. Mike Weinberg

Episode 15. Scott Britton

Episode 16. Mark Kosoglow

Episode 17. Dionne Mischler

Episode 18. Ken Barton

Episode 19. Kevin Karner

Episode 20. Jill Rowley

Episode 21. Brandon Redlinger

Episode 22. Will Wickey

Episode 23. Drew Woodcock

Episode 24. Dail Wilson

Episode 25. Nathan Sexton

Episode 26. Tucker Max

Episode 27. Bruce Tulgan

Episode 28. Dallas Hogensen

Episode 29. Morgan J. Ingram

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