Drift CEO Discusses Conversational Marketing, New Marketo Integrations & Ongoing Consumerization Of B2B

Published: April 17, 2019

B2B business has a bad reputation for continuing to push traditional, lengthy, inhuman sales cycles on its prospective buyers. However, a variety of vendors and practitioners in the space are making the push to turn the B2B buying process into a conversational, personal experience. At this year’s Adobe Summit, in particular, we saw Marketo and Adobe unveil integrations with a variety of companies in an effort to better enable companies to offer frictionless customer experiences with a conversational approach.

One of those companies, Drift, has been leading the charge in the conversational marketing discussion taking place in the B2B marketplace. The company’s new integrations with Marketo better position marketing teams to bring a more conversational approach to their account-based strategies by tying insights from conversations with stakeholders back into Marketo towards those accounts.

I had a chance to chat with David Cancel, CEO and Co-Founder of Drift, on the show floor at the Adobe Summit. He shared his thoughts on the new integrations with Marketo, the ongoing trend of conversational marketing, as well as the growing consumerization of B2B as the line with its B2C counterpart continues to blur.

Demand Gen Report: Conversational marketing is something that a lot of B2B organizations have struggled with. When it comes to the announcement of Drift’s integration with Marketo, what is your perspective on how this partnership will impact the community?

Get the latest B2B Marketing News & Trends delivered directly to your inbox!

David Cancel: I think we all struggle when there are big shifts in the landscape. I’ve been in the marketing world long enough to have witnessed a bunch of [shifts], like when we went from mostly offline to digital marketing. The whole idea of digital marketing blew people’s minds! Then we went to creating content and blogging and inbound [marketing]. Content marketing also blew people’s minds, because you had a whole generation that were like, “I’m going to write a blog? What am I going to write about? What if I do something wrong?” They didn’t know how because they weren’t native in it. And then there was a whole next generation of markers that were native in content marketing.

Now we’re seeing the same thing with conversational marketing. We have people who are what we call “conversational natives” because they’ve grown up on messaging. This is just normal to them. And they’re actually teaching this older generation — these business leaders — how to do it. This is the way that young conversational native people interact everywhere.

The thing that we’re focused on with this integration with Marketo is that marketing and sales do all their hard work, but still bring [prospects] back to an anonymous visit and interaction model. They spent all this money, got the swag, sent them the gift and had the meetings, but when they come back to their website, it’s still the same generic website. It should be comparable to real-world interactions. That’s just a natural human pattern.

How do we treat all those VIPs with a personal experience? It sounds simple, but up until now it has been kind of impossible. We’re using conversations to accelerate the sale because no sale ever happens until you have a conversation. We’re looking to accelerate conversations instead of deflecting them.

DGR: Another key takeaway from the event was that Marketo is aiming to help users identify key anonymous stakeholders. What is Drift’s role in that?

Cancel: The first thing that we do is leverage the Marketo cookie so that we have any identifier that’s already available. We also instrument any third-party sales outbound tool that may be used, such as Outreach or SalesLoft. Let’s say a marketer didn’t send out a nurture flow, but I’m a sales rep that sent out a flow. We have the instruments so that, when prospects come back, we know what rep had sent that out and who the identity of that person is.

We then pass that back to Marketo. We’re catching the sales outflow, as well as the marketing outbound, and unifying that in the Marketo contact database — and, of course, linking that back to whatever CRM is being used.

DGR: Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen companies like Adobe and Marketo starting to understand the importance of buyer experiences. As the CEO of one of the bigger contenders in the conversational marketing space, what’s your initial interpretation of the trends you’re seeing within these big brands?

Cancel: I think when we started out and started thinking about this category, we thought, “what if we’re not even remotely on the right track?” Now that we set this timeline that came true, every one of these companies of every size — whether it’s Salesforce, Adobe or Marketo — have to have a conversational kind of answer because this is what’s happening in the world.

That was the basis of what we started. The user behavior has already changed. Now, it’s been changed in the buying cycle, as well. People are buying all over the world via messaging interfaces, and we’re just basically catching up now on the B2B side of things.

But again, we have the weight of martech’s history on our shoulders. So, for us, what we do today, which is not conversational, seems normal to all of these older generations. It’s not normal — this idea of filling out forms and nurturing is the most boring thing because they could buy everything on demand. We’re now taking a behavior that has already happened and bringing it in to the B2B space.

DGR: Another key theme at the event is the whole idea of the blurring of the lines between B2B and B2C or even having that type of conversation. What is Drift’s stance on the trend?

Cancel: We’ve been talking about consumerization of the enterprise for at least 10 years, maybe 12 years from what I can remember. But now it’s finally true. It wasn’t true even five or six years ago. You walk into every company now and anyone can make a buying decision. It might be a micro-buying decision, but they’re making a buying decision.

Why that’s important is that this is the first time you have a wave of people who are not professional buyers. They’re not procurement, and not a CIO or CMO. They’re not used to going through these buying processes. So, they want to buy like they buy normally.

At the same time, we saw the subscription and “SaaS-ifying” of everything, which takes down a lot of the competitive moats that existed before. So now in any category, you’re not only competing with one or two other vendors, you are competing globally with hundreds — if not thousands — of vendors. So, you have infinite choice, you have people that are not professional buyers and want a consumer-like experience, and you have all these things coming true at one time. This is why we’re seeing this shift from companies having more control of the buying process to the buyer.

DGR: Can you share any forward-looking thoughts on where you see Drift headed?

Cancel: The way that we think about it is that we did one major thing, which was in the way that we thought about the company. We don’t think about ourselves as a company that helps you provide software to help you sell more, we inverted the model and said, “we are focused on one thing, which is helping the buyer buy.” If we help the buyer buy and they’re delighted because of all the powers moving in their direction, then you have better company dynamics and better sales performance. It sounds fluffy, but it changes the whole perspective.

In terms of where we’re going, we’re just following the buyer down the entire process from awareness to purchase, and saying, “how would we rethink these things? What doesn’t make sense anymore? What does make sense? Where do we integrate? What do we think?” You’ll see us staying close to the revenue side of things. That’s how we measure our stuff. I mean, we’ve gone from having a goal of like, how does Drift influence 100 billion in revenue by this time? Now we’re thinking about how do we get closer to that revenue and not only influence it, but how do we get deeper in that in the buying process? You’ll see us following that stuff along.

B2B Marketing Exchange
B2B Marketing Exchange East
Campaign Optimization Series
Buyer Insights & Intelligence Series
Strategy & Planning Series