Introduction: Searching for the New Normal
When the dot-com bubble burst, the stock market imploded. Within a couple days, huge technology companies shed virtually all of their value. Many innovative, exciting businesses closed. A decade later, Lehman Brothers, one of the world’s largest investment banks, went bust, triggering a global financial crisis that affected hundreds of thousands of lives.
It took time, but after both events society gradually returned to normal – albeit a new normal.
You might feel that today’s crisis, the global COVID-19 pandemic, feels different.
Those earlier crises I mentioned were financial challenges. This one’s a healthcare emergency. The old crises started on Wall Street and cascaded down. This one started with a forced shutdown of Main Street and laddered up.
Even though it feels unique and new, society will eventually return to a new normal just as it did with old crises. But it’s time to accept that the old normal is gone, and a new normal is emerging before us. The world will be different. In many ways, it already is.
Don’t let that scare you. While entrepreneurs are used to seeing the world as they want it to be, rather than how it is, that doesn’t work during a crisis.
In a crisis, the world is dictated to you, not the other way around. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to accept that the world is changing, to find that new normal, and to work out where our business fits in.
When we started Drift, the communication landscape was evolving. Old technologies like phone and SMS were dying, and messaging was taking off. Billions of people around the world were using apps like Messages, Snapchat, and WhatsApp. In other words, a new normal was emerging – and it was out of that new normal that we built Drift.
Today, as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country and around the world, upending our personal and professional lives, I’m looking, once again, for the new normal. How will consumers ask store clerks for advice when they can’t be within six feet? How will kids chat with their friends? How will families gather? How will we buy things? How will we relax?
These are huge questions without easy answers. But I know that by searching for those answers – by searching for the new normal – I’ll be closer to working out where Drift fits in and how we can better support our customers in the future.
I hope this is the start of your search, too.
To help you in your search, I’ve called on my colleagues at Drift and my peers across the technology landscape to share how we’re adapting from marketing and sales to customer experience and more. Our goal is to help you understand what’s going on, weather the storm, and emerge more resilient on the other side.
Over the following chapters, you’ll learn how to adapt your events for a world where social distancing is the new norm. You’ll discover strategies for migrating your team from traditional offices to a distributed collection of living rooms, garages, and kitchens. And you’ll understand how this crisis provides us with an opportunity to focus on our customers and be better, more empathetic marketers and salespeople.
Table of Contents
- Keeping Your Pipeline Flowing When the World is Frozen
- When Your Events Get Cancelled, Lean into the Challenge
- Right Now, Your Customers Need Your Content and a Conversation
- Succeeding With a Distributed Sales Team
- Maintaining Strong Customer Relationships
- The Goldilocks Ratio: Getting Your Sales Messaging Just Right
- Safeguarding the Core of Your Culture When You Go Remote
- In Times of Crisis, Look for the Helpers
- Helping Your Customers Adapt Based on Their Needs
How to Serve Your Customers and Maintain Pipeline in a Post-Events World
Keeping Your Pipeline Flowing When the World is Frozen
In my career I’ve suffered my share of strategic setbacks. I’ve had product launches delayed because CTOs weren’t happy with the tech. I’ve had speakers pull out of events because they missed their flights. And I’ve seen whole events get canned because the organizer had a change of heart.
But I’ve never seen an entire strategy grind to a halt.
Yet that’s exactly what happened to my team. Within a 72-hour window, my event and field marketing strategy crumbled to the ground – every trade show cancelled, every road show postponed, every event called off.
My initial reaction was shock. We’d set ambitious pipeline goals, which on a normal day I’d be ready to attack. But this was obviously different. It felt like I was being asked to hit ambitious targets with one hand tied behind my back.
My biggest worry was that if I wasn’t successful as a marketer – if our pipeline dried up – then our business wouldn’t be successful, either. And if our business isn’t successful, then we can’t protect our employees and their families.
I knew it wasn’t the time to sit back and throw a pity party. That wouldn’t fix anything. I knew I needed to pick myself up, accept this new reality, and get creative.
Adapt and Overcome
As marketers, we’ve had to say goodbye to certain channels. In-person events and direct mail – they’re gone. If you were relying on these channels, now is the time to pivot hard, because no one knows when they’re coming back.
Take our flagship event, HYPERGROWTH, which we were planning on running twice this year. With in-person events off the table for the foreseeable future, we organized RevGrowth, an online-only, two-day training and knowledge-sharing party.
Before COVID-19, we would never have thought of doing a virtual event on this scale. But circumstance forced us to experiment, and I’m glad it did. We worked with 20 different partners to deliver great talks on everything from customer retention and journalistic storytelling to remote work and brand humanization.
It was a big bet, but we learned that online events can work for us – and work well. Going forward, we’ll probably always include a virtual element in our in-person events.
While we’ve said goodbye to some channels, others have become instantly more important. For example, we’ve seen an uptick in some of our paid social channels. It makes sense with billions of people around the world confined to their homes relying on social media to connect and communicate. Since identifying the trend, we’ve doubled down on paid social and are seeing the importance of digital channels across the board.
Weathering a crisis of this magnitude means reading the wind and sailing with the currents.
Get Outside Your Box
For years, we’ve been guilty of sticking to marketing strategies that we know work. The idea of doing a virtual event wasn’t new – we’ve always thought of doing it with HYPERGROWTH – but we’ve been too distracted with other things to make it work.
This is something I’ve heard a lot in roundtables, Slack groups, and industry meetups. “We’d love to try webinars, but we don’t have the time,” I saw one person say recently. “I’ve always wanted to experiment with conversational marketing,” said another.
Given limited resources, we’ve all sat in our boxes, sticking to the strategies we know will return results. But that safety comes at a cost: innovation and improvement.
The COVID-19 pandemic has leveled our marketing strategies and sent us back to the drawing board to design new campaigns from scratch. If you want to try something more ambitious or experimental, now’s the perfect time to do so.
The upshot of all this experimentation is that when society returns to some level of normal, if you’ve used this time to develop new strategies, you’ll have more tools in your toolbox and more skills in your repertoire. In other words, you’ll be a better, more versatile marketer than you would have if this pandemic never happened.
When Your Events Get Cancelled, Lean into the Challenge
2020 was supposed to be the fourth year of HYPERGROWTH, Drift’s annual tech conference, leadership summit, and motivational series rolled into one. This year was going to be bigger and better than ever. We were due in London, England in the summer, and Austin, Texas in the fall. We had great speakers, awesome entertainment, and brilliant venues lined up.
And then things started going wrong.
The COVID-19 epidemic in Italy got worse, new cases appeared in previously unaffected areas, and the news coverage suddenly flipped from a regional story into a global emergency. With our employees’ and attendees’ health at risk, we hit pause on all of our in-person events.
In a split second, our creativity, strategy, and planning was undone. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from under us. Fortunately, that feeling didn’t last long. Like marketing teams all over the world, we had to quickly shift gears and design a new events strategy from scratch.
Now, after a few weeks of productive, heads-down work, I’m feeling positive. The crisis has been a huge disruption, but I can already see it leading to positive things for events. It’s tossed us from our comfort zone, forcing us to get creative. The tried-and-true events playbook is no longer available, and that means we’re free to experiment with new ideas. If we lean into the challenge, we can use this crisis to learn, grow, and improve as marketers.
But before you start experimenting, you need to tweak your planning mindset.
From Multi-Year to Month-to-Month
When I joined Drift in the fall of 2017, I started pushing a long-term events strategy. Instead of planning one or two quarters ahead, I encouraged everyone on the team to think in terms of years. What events do we want to run next year? What venues do we need for those events? Can we secure them now? Who can we sign up to speak?
That approach worked back then. But now, not so much.
Everything is changing so quickly. America recorded its first COVID-19 case on January 20th. A couple weeks later, the country suspended inbound flights from China. In early March, everyone at Drift started working from home. By mid-March, states were issuing stay-at-home orders. Come April, nearly the whole world was frozen solid. No one knows what changes we’ll see next week, let alone next month.
It’s impossible to plan a long-term events strategy with this sort of uncertainty. Instead, you’ve got to reel in your plans and focus on the short-term.
A Time to Experiment
When an organization hits on a successful formula, they tend to get trapped in an endless growth cycle. “Last year was big, so this year needs to be huge – and the next year must be massive.” When you’re stuck in this perpetual growth mindset, innovation and experimentation fall by the wayside as you focus solely on what works.
For many companies, the COVID-19 pandemic has acted like a reset button. It’s forced marketers to cancel their events and go back to the drawing board.
If you combine creativity with an agile short-term mentality, you can get experimental with your events. That’s why this period of forced rebuilding has been, in a weird way, kind of fun.
Take HYPERGROWTH. We’ve always wanted to run an online component – streamed talks, online webinars, that sort of thing – but we’ve never had time to put a plan together. But with all our old plans erased, now is the perfect time to experiment. After postponing our 2020 HYPERGROWTH events, we immediately started planning RevGrowth, a virtual summit we ran in collaboration with 20 amazing partners.
With in-person events, it’s impossible to track engagement and attention. Even while people are sitting and watching a talk, they might be in their emails or scrolling through Instagram. But with RevGrowth, we generated some amazing data and insights.
We learned what content resonated with people. Splitting the event into two themed days, one sales and the other marketing, worked like a charm. Attendees remained engaged throughout the day. And we learned whether attendees got the same experience from a virtual event as an in-person one. It was new and different, people told us. Of our 8,500 attendees, the vast majority said they got a ton of value from RevGrowth.
And it’s not only the nuts and bolts of how we host our events that changed. While HYPERGROWTH is part tech conference, part leadership summit, and part motivational talk, RevGrowth was all shared learning. We brought together industry leaders to share what they’ve learned about this crazy new world. It was cooperative and collaborative, and it helped forge relationships with dozens of neighboring organizations.
A Roadblock or an Opportunity
It’s easy to see COVID-19 as a roadblock – a crisis that derailed your plans and wasted all your hard work. But that perspective won’t get you anywhere. If anything, it’ll set you back.
Marketers need to treat COVID-19 as an opportunity. An opportunity to break from the safe status quo, an opportunity to try all the ideas you’ve toyed with for years, and an opportunity to become a better event marketer.
Right Now, Your Customers Need Your Content and a Conversation
Back in February, my wife and I had our first child. After taking some time off, I began working from home full-time. It was like I was back in my old life, but everything was virtual. I was dealing with everyone online – colleagues, friends, and other businesses.
I’d never have guessed that just two months later, this would be everyone’s new normal.
COVID-19 changed our lives practically overnight. Everyone packed up their desks, went home, and never came back to the office. In the blink of an eye, all our interactions (save for the odd trip to the grocery store) flipped from a mix of in-person and online to just the latter.
It’s a scary and unsettling time, especially for frontline employees like healthcare workers who are in contact with the public every day. Business owners feel the fear, too. With budget and spending top of mind for everyone, it’s tempting to pump the brakes on marketing and sales.
But that’s not going to help you or your customers.
Now, more than ever, is the time to fight to keep your business afloat. The important thing is knowing where to invest your time and resources. And my number-one investment is content.
The Times Are Changing
Shelter in place orders have totally changed the way we live and work. Shops, offices, restaurants, and bars are all closed. Consumers have been pushed online. Today, when someone wants to interact with your business, they go straight to your website.
While these orders are short-term measures, they’ll have long-term implications. When Main Street opens back up, people won’t snap back to their old consumer behaviors immediately. It could take months or years before people are happy to crowd into stadiums, shops, or restaurants.
For the foreseeable future, your website is your most important marketing tool. And the most effective strategy to utilize it is a two-pronged approach of content and conversational marketing.
The partnership between content and conversation marketing is about three things. One, it keeps engagement going. Right now, you can’t fall out of your customer’s minds. If people forget you, it’s a long way back to the top of their mind. Two, it keeps your pipeline full. Without traditional channels like events and field sales, there’s a big gap in many of our pipelines. Content and conversational marketing can help fill the gap. And three, it helps your customers get more value from your product. And happy customers make for healthy businesses.
There’s a restaurant near my house that’s doing this perfectly. They’ve been closed for weeks, so they’re getting their chefs to record recipe videos. Local folks, who obviously can’t go out to eat, love it because they can get a restaurant-like experience without leaving their home. And it’s great business for the restaurant, too.
Even though their kitchens are quiet, they’re staying in their diner’s social media feeds and email inboxes. They’re turning that engagement into conversions by promoting vouchers, newsletter subscriptions, and advanced bookings – that’s keeping their pipeline full. And they’re maximizing what their customers get out of their business by making sure they can enjoy their dishes through this crisis.
At Drift, we’re doing the same thing – just with less pasta.
To get content out quickly, we’re pouring over our existing content, looking for material we can reuse and republish. We ran an event on the future of funnels back in February, for example, and now we’re turning it into a new Drift Insider course. It’s meant we can bring a new course to market in weeks, not months.
We’re also recording a ton of original video – and you should be, too. Video content doesn’t have to be highly produced and full of fancy effects. We’re entering an era where people are used to Zoom, Hangouts, and Drift Video and expect most other video content to feel just as authentic. Take this interview I had with our senior conversational marketing specialist, Sammi Reinstein. We just jumped on a video call, broadcasted the conversation live, and saved the video recording to use later. Is it in line for an Oscar? No. Does it help out our customers? You bet.
Another thing businesses can do is enroll support from across the organization – just like that restaurant did with its chefs. Philosophically, you should have everyone at your company be part of your marketing team. Your CEO should be telling everyone, “You are all part of the marketing team. It’s all of our jobs to engage with our community so we need all of us to create content.”
But that doesn’t mean everyone hammering out blog posts, whitepapers, and eBooks. Not everyone can write – and that’s okay. Get creative and work out how everyone can contribute in their own way. Can you record an interview with someone and transcribe it on Rev? Can you jump on a call with an expert and publish the conversation? Or can they flip their phone into selfie mode and record a quick video? It really is that simple.
But content marketing is only half the solution.
Say you create a piece of great, helpful content that attracts a potential customer to your website. Now what? If you don’t have a way to engage that customer, they’re going to leave.
To turn good feelings into cold hard cash, you need something else. That’s where conversational marketing comes in.
Conversational marketing lets you add a natural, frictionless conversion opportunity to each piece of content. Oh, you liked that recipe video? Maybe you want to buy a gift card for when the restaurant is open. You nailed that pre-recorded workout routine? Well, let’s get you signed up to the personal trainer’s newsletter. Like our article on using video in sales pitches? Let’s chat about Drift Video.
It’s Like an Annuity
This pandemic will end, eventually, and the world will get back to some sort of normality. Shops will roll up their shutters, and restaurants will open their doors. And when that happens, customers will pay back the businesses that stuck by them through the chaos.
So think about your content and conversational marketing as an annuity. You put in all the effort now, knowing that you’ll reap the rewards in the future.
How to Nail Sales Messaging While Staying Close to Your Team and Customers
Succeeding With a Distributed Sales Team
In the early hours of March 9, 2020, I got a call from David Cancel, our CEO.
“Hey, Josh,” he said. “With the coronavirus trends we’re seeing, we can’t keep our employees in the office. Let’s send them home starting tomorrow.”
It wasn’t an easy decision for David to make. We’re an office-centric organization, and we rely on those physical spaces to reinforce a deliberate culture, attitude, and way of working. When you’re constantly around the people you work with, it creates an underlying vibrance or tonality in the office. If something’s not quite right, it’s easy to spot, because it sticks out.
We also rely on our offices for learning. When you’re surrounded by your peers, you hear their sales calls, you pick up tidbits of information naturally. You hear what pitches work best, what demo strategies get the best responses, and how to overcome objections.
We gave up all of that overnight – and we’d do it again.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a healthcare emergency. Asking our employees to work from home is the most effective action we can take to help keep them safe. As states and countries issued stay-at-home orders, we saw more and more organizations migrate from the office to a distributed structure, too.
But running a distributed team isn’t easy, especially if you’re used to relying on the benefits of physical workplaces.
Replicating the Office Environment
Although going remote has meant a disruption to our organization, I was never concerned from a sales productivity standpoint. Like any contemporary sales org, we use tools, services, and platforms that live on the cloud. As long as our employees have internet access, I know they can do their work.
The bigger adjustment, by far, is at an individual level.
Leading a sales team is all about managing the performance and well-being of your individual team members.
When you can walk by their desk and clock their body language, attitude, and energy – and when you can interact with them in person – it’s easier to keep your finger on the pulse. But in times like these, when you’re miles away and all you see is their Slack status, you need to create new, intentional touchpoints.
Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “Hey, I’d love to catch up for five minutes and see how things are going. Let’s jump on Zoom.” This is the virtual version of stopping by someone’s desk for a chat. You can read their body language, hear their tone of voice, and see their face.
Alongside regular one-on-ones, some of Drift’s sales leaders are doing happy hours, spontaneous lunches, and virtual coffee breaks. They’re intentionally creating new touchpoints that mimic office interactions and replicate their social benefits.
The other important tweak we’ve made is around learning. When everyone’s working from home, you lose all that valuable learning through osmosis. And when you let your sales org stagnate, you risk letting your competitors gain ground and steal your market share. In the current climate, you can’t afford to let that happen.
We’re creating new learning opportunities by intentionally designing virtual touchpoints. For example, every week I meet with 20-40 members of our team to talk through a specific topic, discuss new strategies, and practice techniques. We call it Coach’s Corner. Recently, we discussed tone – how do you have a conversation with somebody while also presenting business value? It’s a simple question and idea, but it created a new opportunity for our remote team to come together and learn from each other.
Learning From Crisis
While our team has been remote for over a month, in the grand scheme of things we’re still at the start of our journey. We’re still testing ideas and learning what works. And while no one would wish for these circumstances, some positives have emerged from the crisis.
Our sales team saw an uptick in activity levels the first week we were out of office. Drift employees, from the quiet and calm of their homes, have delved into deep, thoughtful work, the kind that’s harder to do in a busy office environment. Within a few weeks, they had cranked out a couple of new case studies, some metric proof points, and new training tracks.
When this pandemic has passed, sales teams like ours won’t instantly snap back to normal (or what we used to perceive as normal). We’ll take the positive parts of remote work – the flexibility, solitude, and distraction-free environments – and combine it with the culture-rich office we all love and crave.
If you take this time to lean into the advantages of remote work, your business, too, will emerge from this crisis more resilient and adaptable than when it began.
Maintaining Strong Customer Relationships
For a lot of businesses, COVID-19 arrived like a bolt from the blue. One week, it was business as normal. The next, there was a state-mandated shutdown of Main Street. Not many people out there have experienced an economic shock like that.
Initially, there was a lot of panic. “Oh, God!” everyone thought. “This is going to hit us hard. Let’s put everything on freeze and start cutting costs.”
But as the reality of COVID-19 started to sink in, the panic faded, and people started thinking about how their organizations needed to adapt in order to survive.
“How do we evolve our business strategy to fit this new world? Do we pivot? Do we tweak our go-to-market strategy?”
As a sales director, I’ve seen first-hand how dozens of organizations have responded. Some have totally refocused on new projects. Others have switched from net-new logo acquisition to protecting their current client base. A few have entirely redesigned their business.
On a personal level, things are tumultuous, too. Right now, millions of people are working from home, balancing a totally new way of working with other significant demands like homeschooling their kids. As the substitute teacher for two young girls, I understand the challenge all too well.
While it’s inspiring to see how people are positively responding to the crisis, it does throw our existing customer relationships into doubt. After all, virtually all of our customers signed deals with us back when our biggest concerns were making plans for the weekend and helping our kids with their homework.
To ensure we can keep supporting our customers and continue delivering value during these uncertain times, we’ve adopted a two-pronged approach: get close to your customers, and think unscalable.
Hopefully you can borrow these ideas to shore up your existing customer relationships, too.
Get Close to Your Customers
Right now, there’s no substitute for being close to your customers. You need to be emailing, calling, and video chatting with them to learn what’s going on. Are they fighting to survive after losing a significant amount of business? Are they struggling to cope under a massive influx of work? Are they unsure what to do with the future so uncertain?
If you’re not close to your customers, you’ll never know what’s going on.
For example, recently I learned that one of our best customers was totally ripping up their marketing strategy for 2020. I jumped on a call with their CMO, and she told me they were throwing all their resources behind customer retention for the foreseeable future. That was concerning, as we’d sold her on Drift as a way for her company to push net-new logo acquisition.
“If you can help us with our shifting of initiatives and priorities,” she said, “we’ll keep you on as a vendor.”
Immediately we began brainstorming how she could use conversational marketing to create an awesome customer experience. It was a great call, and we agreed on how to realign our service so Drift could continue playing a role in the company’s marketing strategy.
I only got that opportunity to save the deal because I was close to that customer. If we had a surface-level relationship and I only reached out around renewal time, she’d have cut us from her tech stack – and I would never have found out why.
Another important nuance is how you communicate.
Right now, I’m part dad, part sales professional, and part teacher. My days are a blur of lesson plans and sales meetings and I measure my free time in minutes, not hours. Loads of people I speak to are in the same boat – and that makes it tricky to have real conversations. It’s not like people can take an hour out of their day to talk shop when they’ve got kids asking for help with their math homework.
What we’ve found works well is asynchronous video communication, which we run through Drift Video. We record a video, send it over, and our prospects can watch it whenever they have free time. It taps into all the good aspects of live, face-to-face conversation – personal connection, visual storytelling, tone of voice – without needing both parties to be on the call at the same time. And right now, that’s a huge advantage.
At Drift, we like to do things that don’t scale. That means ditching all our stock images and replacing them with in-house photography. And recruiting a network of external supporters. We even taught literally every member of the marketing team how to write for our brand.
These ideas don’t scale, but they do help create moments of delight.
And right now, with our customers fighting to survive, we decided it was time to double down on more unscalable ideas.
For some customers, we’ve bumped up the services they can access even if they’re not typically available as part of their plan. For others, we’ve run some bespoke analysis to help them justify spend to their managers. When someone is seeing results drop, we’ll hook them up with one of our operations experts to discuss implementation.
Going the extra mile isn’t always sustainable in the long-term, but we think it’s important right now. Our customers need help, and we’re in a position to provide it. It’s a no-brainer.
The Goldilocks Ratio: Getting Your Sales Messaging Just Right
Drift reacted to the coronavirus pandemic early. We’ve been working from home since early March, a full 10 days before even California issued its stay-at-home order. But although we changed our working habits, we didn’t overhaul our sales strategy right away.
For a while we were business as usual, sticking with our tried-and-trusted sales pitch. We’d identify inefficiencies and highlight opportunities where prospects could be doing more to get ahead in their market and generate more revenue from their website traffic.
At first, it seemed to work. We contacted leads, negotiated contacts, and closed deals. But as the coronavirus spread across America, our response rates dropped off – fast. In the west, one of our key regions, our response in verticals had dropped significantly. However, we noticed several trends that indicated we needed to pivot our messaging and who we were targeting.
Things were changing. Our sales approach needed to change – and so does yours.
The Goldilocks Approach
As sales reps and leaders, we’re in a good position to understand what’s going on in the world. We speak to prospects every day and listen as they share their fears, worries, and concerns.
As we got deeper into spring, it was clear the fallout from the coronavirus was going to be bigger than a lot of people first thought. When we realized the situation had evolved from a health emergency into a global economic crisis, we swung our sales approach a full 180 degrees.
We told our reps to be as empathetic as possible: check in with prospects, make sure they’re okay, and focus on the customer before looking to bring them onboard. “How are you and your loved ones?” we’d say. If things were tough and the conversation needed to be paused, we’d arrange to catch up in a few weeks.
But being overly empathetic had the opposite result – slowing down deals where we could add immediate value.
Looking back, I realize we were looking for a silver bullet – a proven playbook that would work throughout this crisis. But the reality is there isn’t one. The only thing we know for sure is that nothing is consistent, and every deal is unique. To sell through this crisis, you’ve got to combine a traditional sales approach with enhanced empathy.
In today’s frozen markets, no one knows what’s going to happen a week from now, let alone months or quarters down the road. With so much uncertainty, buyers aren’t as willing to put their neck on the line to purchase new products and services. While you can’t ignore their genuine worries and concerns, you have to remember your role as a salesperson: sell your product and provide value for your customers.
Landing sales during a crisis requires an adaptable mix of empathy and pragmatism. You need to get the ratio “just right” – it’s different from deal to deal.
One company you’re selling to may be buried under a sudden influx of work. Healthcare businesses, for example, are experiencing a huge uptick in diagnosis enquiries. They need some of the old-style selling: “Thank you for helping us all through a crisis. Allow us to help automate your customer engagement and free up your employees to focus on the tasks at hand.”
Another business may be struggling to survive as their foot traffic dries up. Think of all the physical retailers that rely on people walking down Main Street. They need an empathetic partner, someone who can listen to their struggles and understand what they’re going through. At the same time, they need to keep improving. If they sit back on their heels, they will be left behind.
“I get that times are tough and uncertain,” you might say to these prospects, “but in order to stay afloat, businesses have to embrace new ideas and find new ways of engaging customers. Can we have a conversation about how similar businesses are doing that?”
However you change your messaging, you’ve got to make prospects realize that now is not the time to retreat. If they stop their marketing, pause their advertising, and quit selling, they’re not going to exist a couple quarters from now, let alone when things get back to normal for good. With your help, they can get the support they need to survive this crisis.
Customer & Company Success
How to Support Your Employees and Customers in a Distributed World
Safeguarding the Core of Your Culture When You Go Remote
When Drift was founded in 2015, our founders made the conscious decision to build the company in a physical office. They wanted everyone in a shared workspace where they could concentrate their energy and momentum. That strategy worked.
In our offices in Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa, the enthusiasm is palpable. It inspires you to think more creatively, collaborate more openly, and work harder.
Healthy work cultures don’t grow by accident. We consciously decided what sort of culture we wanted at Drift, and we intentionally designed processes and policies to nurture its growth.
For example, we run a lot of events – mentor series, family day, diversity discussions, and so on – to bring colleagues together. Sitting around a table, everyone gets to know each other, discuss ideas, and share knowledge. Our book club has been a hit, too. We’ve worked through an eclectic mix of titles, including Peter Druckers’ The Effective Executive, Kim Scott’s Radical Candor, and Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs.
Then there are department-specific rituals like the design team’s Wingmasters. One designer makes an image-only slideshow, and another designer presents it to the wider team. The fun part is that the presenter hasn’t seen the slideshow beforehand. It’s all about thinking on your feet, and it’s a great way to bring people closer together.
Most of our cultural rituals rely on having a physical office – a shared space where we can meet in person and interact. So when Drift went remote in early March, I was concerned about our ability to adapt our culture to a new distributed structure.
Wartime Cultural Leadership
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our CEO David Cancel has talked a lot about wartime business leadership, a concept popularized by venture capitalist Ben Horowitz.
In wartime, Horowitz says, organizations are fighting off an imminent hazard, such as a sudden increase in competition, supply chain management, or dramatic macroeconomic change. When faced with an existential threat, leaders must focus less on expanding their business and more on fending off the threat.
Once I flipped my mindset into wartime mode, it was easier to reconcile the fact that our culture will change without an office. We must work from home for our safety. What’s important is that we safeguard the core of our culture, not that we try to replicate our in-office culture exactly.
We’re not thinking about our fringe events. Pizza parties, recruitment events, and happy hours are all on hold. Instead, we’ve separated out the cultural rituals that underpin our values, purpose, and mission, and we’ve worked out how to run them digitally.
Two of those keystone rituals bookend our week: Monday Metrics and Friday Show-and-Tell.
Monday Metrics is an opportunity for leaders across the organization to talk about how we’re performing by the numbers. What deals do we have in front of us? How’s retention looking? Do we have product launches coming up?
For Friday Show-and-Tell, one person from each business unit gives a presentation on what’s been happening. People get really into it – there are gifts, presentations, videos, and more.
Both of these rituals are pillars for one of our core values: transparency. We believe everyone is an owner of Drift, so it’s important to share as much information about the company as possible, even if we’re not doing it in person. From a culture standpoint, it was especially important to safeguard these two events and keep them going even while we’re out of the office.
With a couple of minor tweaks, we’ve worked out how to run Monday Metrics and Show-and-Tell digitally. The only difference is that we’re meeting over video, rather than face-to-face.
Safeguard What Makes You Special
When an organization moves from an office to a distributed structure, its culture will change. But that doesn’t mean you should say goodbye to your culture entirely.
Work out what elements of your culture are most important. Perhaps there’s a certain value you promote, like innovation, honesty, or transparency.
Then protect the rituals that support your core cultural values. If innovation is important, you could retain a weekly brainstorming session. If transparency is a core value, you might make your (now virtual) town hall weekly rather than monthly.
By prioritizing the most important pillars of your culture, and by retaining the rituals that support them, you can keep your culture familiar, even if it’s not exactly the same as before.
In Times of Crisis, Look for the Helpers
January 2020 feels like a lifetime ago. At Drift, it was an exciting time full of new ideas and ambitious goals. We had dozens of fresh campaigns and strategies ready to kick off. By March, everything had changed. The spread of COVID-19 disrupted all of our priorities, sending us back to the drawing board to create a new roadmap for the year.
When I talk to our customers, it’s clear they’re going through many of the same struggles. Whole industries have disappeared overnight, while others have doubled or tripled in size. Faced with an uncertain economic landscape, many businesses have scrapped their plans, choosing instead to refocus their attention and resources on short-term goals.
But amid the chaos and uncertainty, we’ve kept hold of one part of our strategy: customer experience. In fact, we’ve doubled down on it.
At the start of the year, we discussed what customer experience meant. We decided a good experience was one where a brand was helpful. Now, with our customers struggling to navigate this uncertain world, being helpful is even more important. If you’re serious about providing a great experience when your customers need it most, it should be a core part of your culture, too.
Look for the Helpers
Our head of operations, Will Collins, put it best when he reminded everyone at Drift of a Mr. Rogers quote: “Look for the helpers.”
The TV host famously said that in times of crisis, whether it’s a house fire, tornado, or car crash, you can always find people willing to help. Their bravery reminds us that each crisis is temporary, and that there’s something worth fighting for on the other side. Today, with COVID-19 spreading panic and uncertainty all over the world, we all have an opportunity to be the helpers Mr. Rogers was talking about.
Becoming a helper starts with your mindset. It means deciding, no matter where you sit in a company, to help your customers as best you can. That idea becomes your new North Star. It’s the thing that guides everything you do.
Once you’ve aligned your team behind your new North Star, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start helping. One of the most effective ways you can do that is by jumping on calls with customers and asking how they’re doing. These conversations can’t follow your normal script or process. We are in unprecedented times, and everyone is responding differently. To actually help people, you’ve got to understand what’s happening in their life. How are they doing? Are they coping professionally? Are they struggling personally?
By putting business to the side for a moment and asking the important questions, you can uncover opportunities to provide high-impact help.
Take a simple conversation I had with a customer last week. I’ve known this customer for years, and every time we get on the phone, we talk about his experience with Drift. But this time, we didn’t talk shop. I asked how he was doing, and he told me times were tough. His employer had laid off 40% of its staff, and he was concerned for his own future. He was struggling personally, too. He lives alone in New York City, and the lockdown was getting to him.
That hit me like a ton of bricks. But it also created an opportunity for me to become a helper. We spent an hour talking, and I offered to introduce him to some of my connections in his industry. It was a human conversation, and it only came about because I pivoted my approach away from traditional customer experience and focused instead on helping.
Customers Will Remember
People like to think of customer experience as the “spirit and swag” department of an organization, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Real customer experience is about helping people.
In times like these, your customers need your advice, your friendship, your network, and your support more than ever. If you give it to them, you can turn your company’s customer experience into a superpower.
So lose the spreadsheets and start talking to your customers like people, not prospects. Understand what they’re going through, both at work and in their personal lives. Then, do whatever you can to support them.
When this is all over, your customers will remember. They’ll remember if your brand was kind, trustworthy, and helpful – and they’ll pay you back many times over.
Helping Your Customers Adapt Based on Their Needs
Every major crisis in living memory has been compartmentalized. The burst of the dot-com bubble saw tech stocks plummet. The Great Recession turned the financial industry on its head, although its shockwaves later devastated the entire economy. Those crises primarily affected specific regions and segments of the economy, making it simpler for companies to pick through their customer base and identify at-risk accounts in need of support.
The COVID-19 pandemic is different. It’s geographically indiscriminate, affecting virtually every country in the world. It doesn’t distinguish by industry, either. Supply chains are disrupted and overwhelmed. Restaurants and hotels have closed, hospitals are overflowing, and airlines have warehoused their fleets. And it’s fast. While crises like the Great Recession evolved over years, the coronavirus disruption happened seemingly overnight.
We’re in uncharted waters, and that poses fresh problems for all business leaders, especially customer success professionals. Because this crisis doesn’t discriminate by country or industry, it’s harder to know how your customers are impacted and responding. And if you don’t know which customers are struggling and which are thriving, providing the guidance and support they need can be exceptionally challenging.
The Pandemic’s Three Groups
At Drift we invest heavily in data operations. Doing so allows us to track customer health in a few different ways. In each account we can see a broad range of metrics, such as what percentage of a website’s audience sees the Drift chatbot, what percentage of those people start a conversation, and how many of those leads book a meeting.
By looking at this data and comparing it to a baseline, we can see how customers are faring. The data suggests three main groups that I’ll call ballooning, business as usual, and struggling.
The first group, ballooning, includes a lot of companies in healthcare, ecommerce, and online collaboration – the sorts of businesses people have turned to now that they are confined to their homes. These businesses are booming, although not always in a positive or controllable way. For example, the healthcare system is overwhelmed by the demand for care and medical supplies brought on by COVID-19. However, hospitals and healthcare providers are struggling to stay afloat as they’ve been forced to cancel the elective care that drives so much of their revenue and solvency. Customer success for these companies means helping them cope with sudden, unexpected growth, and pivot their resources and tactics in this extraordinary environment.
The second group, business as usual, covers organizations that have experienced little disruption – so far. However, surrounded by predictions of recession and economic instability, these companies are pumping the brakes on many projects, campaigns, and purchases. Success for these clients is more difficult to pin down, because they all react differently. Your interactions should be more exploratory and designed to uncover how the customer’s operation is being impacted by the pandemic and what you can do to help.
Ensuring these customers can draw a straight line between their investment in your product or service and the outcomes you are delivering is essential to building and maintaining an enduring partnership.
The final group, struggling, covers organizations in trouble. They’re experiencing severe disruption to their business, and they’re in serious decline. This group includes a diverse collection of companies, ranging from events and hospitality through to the entire supply chain for certain manufactured goods like automobiles. Success here means survival. Helping these customers requires a healthy dose of empathy. Try to see yourself as a part of their team rather than a vendor. Start thinking about outcomes rather than invoices or contracts.
For businesses that are struggling, think about what you can do to help them weather this storm – even if it means cutting unnecessary spending on products including your own. You may lose out on some revenue now, but the customers you help will remember you when things pick back up.
The Next Best Time Is Now
We’re lucky at Drift that we prioritized data operations so early. When the pandemic struck, we already had the data we needed to categorize our customers and roll out tailored support.
But not all organizations have access to that data. And while the best time to set up a good data operations system was a year ago, the next best time is right now.
To analyze your own customer base, first look for the key outcomes that indicate success as it relates to your offering. In other words, look for the outcomes that can prove you deliver value. At Drift, for example, we help customers engage more of their online traffic, understand their needs, provide them with value, and build a more robust pipeline for their business. When you’ve found your outcomes, look for ways to measure them all the way upstream.
After you’ve identified your key outcomes and determined how to measure them, you can start analyzing your customers. Are they straining under a ballooning workload? Are they struggling in a collapsing market? Are they somewhere in between? Once you know how your customers are faring, you can start helping them get through this.
Stories From the Field
How Gong, Acquia and Outreach Are Adapting in a Crisis
Searching for New Opportunities
Gong is the leading revenue intelligence platform. In fact, they invented the whole category. We sat down with Udi Ledergor, CMO at Gong, to discuss the “new normal”, emerging opportunities, and how he’s adapted his marketing strategy since COVID-19.
Some of the responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Everyone is talking about the “new normal” that emerged after COVID-19. What does that look like for you?
Personally, it looks like working from home. There are good sides to that. I definitely enjoy sitting down to have both lunch and dinner with my family, a privilege usually reserved for weekends. I spend my afternoons with the kids in the yard as they search for bugs or bounce on their bouncy house. That’s something I never got to do other than on weekends. I think there are some things that we’ll look back on and cherish in this period.
On the work side, I’m impressed with how quickly my team adapted to working from home. I had my concerns when we switched to working remotely, but it’s been going better than I imagined. Maybe it’s because my team is still pretty small. We’re only a dozen people. Perhaps managing a hundred is harder.
If I look at the macro environment, I think the world is focused on the “must-haves” rather than the “nice-to-haves.” In the current economic environment, we’re going to see businesses focus on the short term and what they really need. You can only switch your focus to the long-term when you have stability and the ability to forecast what’s happening. We don’t have that right now. People are like, “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this week, month, or quarter. Don’t talk to me about three-year initiatives right now.”
Has COVID-19 created new opportunities for Gong?
There are a lot of great businesses plummeting right now, through no fault of their own – any company in entertainment, hospitality, or travel. Their industries have been pulled out from under them, and no one could have prepared for that.
We’re very fortunate to find ourselves in a situation where there are probably an equal number of opportunities and threats, if not more opportunities.
Right now every salesperson in the world needs Gong, and we’re seeing opportunities that didn’t present themselves before this crisis. I’ll give you two examples.
First, when salespeople work together in an office, the sales manager can swivel their chair, look around, and see what their salespeople are doing. What accounts are they working on? What calls are going on? How healthy is everyone’s pipeline? Now that everyone’s working remotely, that’s very difficult to do without a tool like Gong.
Second, field sales teams were not big users of Gong because most of their meetings were face-to-face. While they could still capture their meetings with Gong’s mobile app, it wasn’t a common use case. Now those field teams are stranded at home and they’re trying to use technology to communicate with their customers and update their managers on how things are going. Again, a tool like Gong was built for this.
Those are just two opportunities that are helping Gong thrive right now. That’s not to say that our business is completely immune to the impact of the situation. We have customers who are suffering. Some of our customers make software for restaurants. Some of our customers make software for hiring. Those industries are taking it hard right now.
How have you adapted your marketing strategies in response to the crisis?
I think it’s useful to make a broad distinction between product and go-to-market.
Our product team quickly identified opportunities to see what’s changed in our customers’ needs when everyone switched to working from home. Now that uncertainty is our biggest enemy, sales managers are craving visibility, certainty, and predictability. We have already started releasing new features tailored to those changing needs. For example, allowing managers more visibility into what their teams are working on, what deals are being neglected, what deals are at risk, and what deals are moving forward in a healthy way.
We’re enhancing the product, not pivoting the product. We’re still the leading revenue intelligence platform. That hasn’t changed. Our goal is to help our customers get a true view of their reality and be able to react in the best way. We’re helping them do that in this new remote and work from home environment.
To turn that into a piece of advice for other companies: home in on what your customers need from you most right now and give them that in your product.
A couple of examples of companies pivoting well are Sendoso and Bizzabo.
Sendoso, a platform for sending small gifts to customers at the office, has quickly enhanced its product to allow users to send gifts to people’s homes. Bizzabo, a software platform for field events, has worked over the last month to produce a virtual event management platform to help companies do virtual events.
These are the type of changes you need to make right now. I realize that for some companies it’s going to be harder. If your entire business is in hospitality or travel, it’s going to be much harder. But you’ve got to turn every stone and look for how you can enhance your product to give your customers what they need right now.
On the go-to-market side, our main focus is on messaging and target audience. Those are two elements we are constantly experimenting with. In the last month, we’ve done more experiments than in a typical quarter to see what is going to resonate now.
One of our hypotheses was that people would be looking for remote sales management tools. We have never advertised Gong as a remote sales management tool because that was just one use case of our product. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to remote sales management.
About four weeks ago, we started advertising on LinkedIn and other platforms, positioning Gong as the number one remote sales management tool. People have been eating it up. We’re drowning in hundreds of demo requests. The conversion rates and the cost per lead are both better than our standard messaging because this is what’s top of people’s minds right now.
To abstract this to a piece of general advice: put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What is going to get their attention in the sea of emails that they’re getting? What would make them stop mid-scroll on a social media feed? It might be your standard messaging if you’re lucky, but it probably is not.
As long as we’re on messaging, another important lesson we very quickly learned is that when everyone zigs, you zag. At the start of the crisis, everyone was writing about COVID-19, so we went the other direction and focused on positive, reinforcing messages that gave people hope and practical solutions.
Now we have enough data from our own emails to show that emails about COVID-19 just don’t get opened anymore. Nobody wants that negativity. People know that the situation is bad. They want someone to provide something helpful and positive – that’s what we’re trying to do.
We’re still using humor, too. We’re still educating our customers and entertaining them at the same time. We’re goofing around on Zoom meetings and getting llamas to join our meetings. We’re giving dance classes to our employees, and we’re dressing up in funny wigs once a week. We’re having fun and sharing that with our customers. That’s what’s keeping us and them motivated and happy and productive and moving forward.
Where does conversational marketing fit into your marketing strategy?
We’ve been strong believers in conversational marketing for years, which is why we have the Drift bot set up on pretty much all of our landing pages and web pages. We see customers using them 24/7. I think round-the-clock usage has become an even stronger trend in the current environment because people are working all sorts of weird hours now. They’re taking the night shift because they’ve got to be with their kids in the morning or happen to be browsing our website after finally putting their kid down to sleep at four in the morning.
We’ve been experimenting with messaging changes across all of our mediums, including our Drift bot.
Shortly before COVID-19 struck, we decided to take our Drift bot in a very Gong-esque direction and turned it into a Bruno bot. Bruno is our bulldog mascot. If you go to our website, you’ll see that the Drift bot chat is actually a dog. We’re not even pretending that it’s human. Bruno manages our chatbot. He might bark at you or woof at you. He has quite the personality.
When COVID-19 became serious, we leaned into that messaging further. Now Bruno offers our website visitors information on how to work from home more efficiently. If Bruno sees you’re hanging around our website for more than a few seconds, he will bark at you and say, “Hey, David! Got a sec?” If you say yes, he’ll open a chat with you and ask what you’re looking for. We’re seeing a huge demand for that, and our bot is generating a lot of conversations and meetings for our sales team.
How do you picture your business unit and Gong as a company two or three years down the line?
I don’t know if I see any radical changes to Gong as a company. We’re lucky enough to be in a group of companies that stand a high likelihood of thriving during COVID-19. That helps us focus on what’s truly important and filter out some of our other initiatives that were just nice to have.
I suspect our appetite for remote work will grow. We have traditionally been against hiring remote workers. We’re a very centralized company in terms of geographies. We have two geographies where all the employees reside – but this situation has shown us that we can actually thrive working remotely.
I don’t think we’ll become a fully remote company. That’s not in our DNA. But I think our appetite for remote work has gone up, and that’ll probably remain the case.
It’ll also be interesting to see what the workplace looks like if social distancing continues. I’m hearing talks about working in the office in shifts or teams coming in for half-days or two days a week to allow for social distancing. It’ll be interesting to see those sorts of changes
At the end of the day, this is a kick in the butt for all businesses. You could be knocked out by it, or you could use it as a wakeup call to refocus yourself. Work out the number one, two, and three initiatives. Then throw most everything else out to focus on those initiatives.
Responding to Adversity With Empathy
Acquia is the digital experience platform behind some of the biggest brands in the world. We jumped on a call with Eric Williamson, Acquia’s VP of Brand and Digital Marketing, to learn how he’s pivoted his marketing and management strategies in adverse circumstances.
Some of the responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
How has your life changed during the Coronavirus Pandemic?
A little under a third of our workforce was fully remote – but I’m not one of them. I used to spend most of my time in the office. Much like other people who didn’t work remotely, this has been a huge shift for me. We’re thinking, “How does this work? How do you operate your day?” I’ve adjusted, but I’m not wired for working remotely all the time. It’s been an interesting first couple of weeks.
We’ve seen a massive increase in meetings, although they’re a different type of meeting. Before you had one-hour meetings and big blocks of time in between where you could get work done. But now you have almost a full day of these 30-minute meetings that seem to replace some of the impromptu and informal office conversations.
From a time management and productivity standpoint, it took some adjustment. I have four teams underneath me, and managing them requires a different mindset now that they’re remote. All of us had to adjust, shifting to something that allows for a more remote style of management and execution.
We’re also going through all the emotional aspects of this crisis from an individual standpoint. We’re worried about our family, the stock market, and everything else. I think it takes a toll on all of us.
Recognizing that new stress and being self-aware about it is quite helpful.
Sometimes as businesses and marketers, we tend to shift into a company mindset. What was helpful for us is to step back and reflect on the impact on us as humans.
How have you adapted your marketing strategies in response to the crisis?
There were a few steps to our response. The first, which we did very quickly, was a full messaging audit. We looked at all of our ads, email subject lines, and so on, and we removed or adjusted anything that could come off as insensitive during this time.
Then we did an industry audit using some of the information coming from financial analysts. We identified three or four industries – travel, hospitality, energy – that aren’t going to be spending any money until 2021 at the earliest. We pushed pause on our media targeting for the industries we know are not able to be in the market right now.
From a messaging standpoint, we created guidelines. They were almost like a manifesto. We had a couple of key principles. For example, early on when this crisis was new, everybody was in a state of shock. Everybody was thinking, “What the heck is going on?” During that stage, our main goal with our messaging was to do something, not just say something. During that state of shock, people appreciated action more than words.
Our main campaign was an offer to help. Our company offers a digital experience platform. We have a lot of government and healthcare clients, so we made sure we were offering free services to customers in those industries to ensure they could scale up their bandwidth.
In terms of our overall messaging, we’ve shifted to a more empathetic tone. What I mean by that is not simply acknowledging the situation, which everybody is doing. Instead, we are acknowledging the situation and focusing on how we’re going to come through this together.
Are there any new marketing challenges Acquia is facing?
As a B2B company, events are a big part of our marketing strategy, both in terms of pipeline and engagement. In fact, Q2 and Q3 were scheduled to be our busiest quarters in terms of events.
So we’ve had to come up with a lot of different things we can do, such as virtual events and taking our events budget and moving it to other marketing strategies.
We’ve been really transparent and said, “We’re going to try these things out and see if they work.” That comes back to our campaign, too. We’re trying things out, seeing what works, and sharing that advice with our customers.
What role does conversational marketing play in your marketing strategy?
We’ve continued to increase our investment in conversational marketing, as it’s been one of the stars within our marketing strategy. We expanded our investment with Drift right at the onset of this crisis. We’re trying out their automation platform. So far, it’s performing really well. This isn’t something that we decided on because of this crisis, but I’m glad we were in the middle of testing it out when things went down.
How will this crisis change Acquia? What do you think the company will look like in two or three years?
Throughout the crisis, our CEO and executive team have done a great job with employee communication. They’ve always been very good about having quarterly company-wide meetings, but during this crisis they’ve gone to a new level.
For example, our CEO holds Q&A open hours on Zoom every other week. Hundreds of people will join the call and ask him questions, and he’ll just answer them. If he doesn’t know the answer, he’ll find out and follow up.
While I see internal communication tapering off, I think we’re going to see an increase in transparency and more frequent communications overall.
From a business standpoint, I think one of the biggest shifts will be moving our focus from net new logos and ARR growth to retention. We’re probably going to see more of an intense focus on our existing customers to ensure they’re having a really excellent product experience.
I can see our messaging staying empathetic, too. It might be less “we’re in this crisis together” and more “we’re in this transformation together.” We’ll continue to focus more on the positive value-based messaging, as opposed to the pain points and negatives.
Building on Solid Foundations
Outreach is a sales enablement platform bent on changing the way companies engage with customers throughout their lifecycle. We caught up with Stephen Farnsworth, Outreach’s Head of Partnerships, to find out how his team has been coping since they moved to distributed work.
Some of the responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
How have your personal and professional lives changed during the Coronavirus Pandemic?
We’ve all been forced to work remotely. I think SaaS companies are probably better equipped to manage the change. We’re still operating at pretty close to 100% productivity.
But as an organization there have been a lot of changes.
For example, we used to onboard people in the office. We’d have some slides for them, we’d bring in lunch, and they would meet some of our executives. It was a very personal experience. We’ve had to figure out how we replicate that virtually.
We brought on 30 people a couple of weeks ago – all remotely. It was our largest hiring week class ever. We had to work out how to get them their work laptop, how to make sure they felt appreciated, how to get them access to all the data and systems they needed. That was a very unique thing for us to do.
How are you supporting new and existing employees through this transition?
Communication has been key, so we’ve introduced more syncs with our employees. I manage our partnerships team, which is relatively small. Since going remote, we’ve had a daily stand up each morning that we simply didn’t need when we were in the office. It’s a small change, but it helps us stay on track.
We’ve used more software, too. I’ve always been somebody that’s struggled to use project management software on a day-to-day basis. But our project management platform helps us understand our day-to-day priorities and keep track of projects that are on our list.
There’s been a lot of company-driven efforts to make sure people feel included and feel part of the company. We have Slack channels filled with remote working tips and other informal channels where people anonymously post old pictures of themselves and everyone else tries to get to know them and guess who it is. It’s meant to try to bring people a little bit closer together.
We’re also careful to acknowledge everyone’s individual schedule. Some of our team members have kids at home. It’s impossible to work a regular nine-to-five when you’re balancing your work with homeschooling. We’re trying to figure out the best way to manage that.
We’re providing a lot of flexibility, and we’ve even added a $100 per week stipend for parents to spend on educational materials and tools.
What new challenges and pressures are you and your business facing?
We’ve had to adapt as we’ve seen some of our customers struggle.
Say we sell a thousand licenses to a company and all of a sudden they have to cut half their sales reps. Even though their contract says they have to pay for all their licenses for the full year, we have to be realistic with the situation. We need to act more like a partner and make sure that we can help that company get through this crisis.
How have you adapted your business strategy in response to the crisis?
No one can make concrete predictions on what’s going to happen and that means they can’t plan how they’re going to continue to sell. Even large public companies aren’t issuing guidance.
We’re in a similar spot so we’re planning for a dozen different situations at once. If things happen one way, our executive team has Plan A prepared. We’ll hire more and go aggressive. But if things go another way, we go with Plan B. We slow down our hiring and think more pragmatically.
There’s a plan for everything at this point and what we’re looking for are the triggers for each of those plans.
I think we have a very clear strategy and a set of tactics with different options and clear criteria around them. We know how to handle our business based on the way things go with this crisis. We’re not just operating on a knee-jerk basis.
We’re also validating our strategies with the help of our board and investors. We’re taking our plans to them and asking, “Is this in line with your other investments and companies? Are we being too aggressive, or are we being too passive here?”
We’ve got all the options, but we’re still looking for feedback on the best operating model.
How do you picture your business two or three years down the line?
We’re very grateful for how frugal and careful we’ve been as a business. For example, last year, when we didn’t need to raise money, our leadership group still decided to do a round of fundraising. They took a long-term view, and now we’re at a point where we’re in a really solid spot.
When I think of two or three years down the line, I think we’ll double down on that. We will continue to be cautious while still investing heavily for the future – and doing so in a really sustainable way.
We want to be in a position where we can continue to innovate rather than pull back. That’ll allow us to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves to us.
I think that that mentality will persist for the next two to three years. We will find more ways to do things at scale while making sure we’re being very efficient with our resources.
Conclusion: Creating a More Compassionate, Empathetic Future
When I joined Drift in November 2019, I knew right away we had a special culture. The San Francisco office was small, and the team there was clearly a close-knit group. It was the sort of place where everyone knows each other, and they ask how your weekend was not just to be polite, but because they genuinely care.
Little did I know this was all about to change – but in ways you might not expect.
A lot of people think work relationships suffer when an organization switches to working from home. With an empty office, there are no more watercooler catch-ups, impromptu lunches, or drive-by desk conversations.
But when we switched to working remotely, I found our relationships actually got stronger.
Every day, we see each other’s living rooms, kitchens, and makeshift offices. We meet their significant others, get to know their kids, and chat to their dogs. We’re connecting on an entirely new level.
That’s particularly powerful given what we’re living through. Sure, some of us have experienced economic and health crises before – but never on this scale.
This unique exposure to our colleagues’ personal lives, in the midst of an extreme human experience, has transformed our relationships. These are no longer just work connections – these are relationships forged between people.
It’s not just at Drift where people are becoming more compassionate and empathetic. This is something I’m seeing all over the B2B marketing and sales world, and across society as a whole. I’m optimistic that it could lead us to a more compassionate and empathetic future.
Christmas Connection in Spring
When I was a kid, we would get together for Christmas every year with my mom’s brothers and sisters. I remember once we had 28 people around the table. As a young, excitable kid, it was fantastic. But like all good things, our Christmas tradition had to come to an end. As my aunts and uncles started getting married, they’d say, “Oh, I have to go to my in-laws.” Year by year, our meetup dwindled until just a handful of us remained.
But recently, COVID-19 has rekindled that tradition, albeit in the spring.
With everyone going through this together, people are feeling a desire to be more connected. So my aunts and uncles have started an every-other-week Zoom call for the whole family. We sometimes have three generations on the call at the same time. It’s busy and chaotic, and it feels just like those Christmases when I was a kid.
Even in the professional world, people are more willing to reach out and talk. Our sales reps are calling prospects, but those prospects aren’t in an office or a cubicle – they’re in their homes. And when you’re talking to someone while their baby is crying in the background, it’s difficult to stick to a normal sales playbook. Instead, it drives you to understand the human being on the other end of the line and empathize with their individual situation.
But this feeling of connection goes further – much further.
Most executives realize that their organizations live within a society. And they know their businesses can only thrive when that society is healthy. So as the COVID outbreak grew, executives didn’t just sit back and wait for some faceless government official to fix everything. Instead, they’re getting out there and doing it themselves where they can.
Take Salesforce, for example. The San Francisco-based company teamed up with Alibaba to purchase and distribute 50 million pieces of protective personal equipment to medical workers across America. Then there’s the New England Patriots football team. Their owner, Robert Kraft, dispatched the team jet to China to pick up 1.2 million N95 masks and deliver them to Massachusetts hospitals. Tech firms like Google and Apple are getting involved, too. They’re collaborating on an app that can anonymously track your movements and alert you when you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
At Drift, we’re doing what we can to make a difference. We’ve given Drift Video away to 25,000 schools to support their sudden transition to distance learning. We discounted our Drift Insider subscription fee, and we’re redirecting all profits to Feeding America. And we’ve partnered with healthcare firms to provide COVID-19 assessment chatbots to hospitals.
Learning from Crises
Crises can bring about positive change in the world. The 1918 flu pandemic, for example, pushed many European governments to create national health services. Decades later, the Great Depression set the stage for the modern welfare state.
The COVID-19 crisis is yet another fulcrum for our society, and which way we fall depends on what we do. If we ignore the opportunity for change, we’ll fall back into our old status quo. But if we seize this crisis as an opportunity to build a better world, we can create a future that is compassionate, empathetic, resilient, and prosperous.