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Guillaume Cabane: The Mind Behind Drift & Segment’s Explosive Growth
   

Guillaume Cabane: The Mind Behind Drift & Segment’s Explosive Growth

As the growth mind behind Mention, Segment, and Drift, Guillaume Cabane has helped scale some of the most successful B2B brands in the world. In our interview, Guillaume dives into the value of creating new growth strategies rather than just copying what everyone else in the market is doing.

We’ll learn about how Guillaume’s network of peers help him evaluate his new ideas and verify different growth strategies before they’re launched to market.

Find out why the future of marketing is less about a spray and pray mentality, but more about creating a great experience. Guillaume is a proponent of looking at the customized personal experiences that B2C companies provide and bringing them into the B2B world. You don’t want to miss this one…

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In This Episode You’ll Learn:

1:24 Learn about Guillaume’s philosophy on growth
5:32 What creates customer satisfaction? 
10:07 Insider secrets to growth strategies 
17:32 Big trends for B2B Marketing over the next 5-10 years 
22:35 The Salty Six

Full Transcript:

DR: Today, I’ve got somebody that I deeply respect.

He’s known in the industry as the Mad Scientist of Startup Growth, and this is Guillaume Cabane, who goes by G with his close friends, so I’ll kind of just assume I’m on the inside there.

But G is the former VP of Growth at Drift, and has been behind the scenes, working and advising companies like Segment, Mention, Madkudu, and a bunch more, and so, G, welcome to the show. I’m so excited to hear your unique take about growth.

Drift homepage

GC: Thanks, Dave. Welcome, everyone, and I’m super excited to share some of the tips, tricks, tactics, and also long, I’d say, serving strategies with the community here.

DR: I think more than anybody that I follow or look at, you kind of come at growth from first principles, and you’re not just saying, hey, they’re doing this, I’m gonna steal that, they’re doing this. You’re kinda saying, okay, here’s what we’re trying to do at the core level. Let’s build up from there.

I’m just curious, like how do you come up with that philosophy and your own unique take on growth?

GC: It’s actually something that a lot of us who have a bit of experience in growth have started saying for a couple of years, Brian and Andrew also. A couple of us have been starting to say, and trying to educate our younger peers in the market, that tips and tricks will only bring you so far, one thing.

Second thing is that it’s good to read the articles about what has worked with other companies. It’s not good to replicate them, right? Because what has worked for them is probably not gonna work for you.

Andrew actually has a great blog post on the diminishing returns of new channels, new strategies over time, right? And so, you really need to understand what’s the value of growth? Why has growth worked at such and such company, and what’s beyond just the tips and tricks?

And that is, as you said, yeah, it’s principles of experimentation, and I think, if you want to understand that, you gotta look at it as kind of like either skunk labs or just like a fundamental research.

You don’t know if you’re gonna find something, and if you do, you don’t know if it’s gonna work, which means you need to be really vigorous about your experimentation process — so that you find something that’s unique to your company, to your customers, to your market, that works really well, and that creates a competitive advantage.

That’s what I try to do every day. Every day, my job is to help my team find the competitive advantage that my competitors don’t have.

DR: Interesting, and so, I’ve heard you say, I was listening to Drift’s growth podcast, which is awesome, the other day, and you were talking about when you get a new tool, you don’t really care about the existing use cases, because everybody already has those.

You’re kinda saying, okay, what can this thing do that nobody has? Is that kinda your mindset with most things?

GC: You know, everything, everything. I think, even if you wanna take a step back, I’m married to a saleswoman, and she taught me a lot about how to treat the customer right to get the deal, right? And that’s what we all want in businesses. We want to bring some revenue, and the revenue comes from the customer.

And I think the mistake that people can have when they think about growth is they think of the hacking side of growth and they say, hey, this is gonna be spamming, something like a low quality, and it’s gonna harm my brand. It doesn’t have to be, really, and it can be quite the opposite.

If you want an extra buck, my thinking is how can I improve the customer experience? How can I make the customer experience so unique, deliver more value, earlier, faster to the customer, and the customer’s gonna want to buy from me?

They’re gonna say that company, it feels right, and a good example of that is, I’m gonna repeat something I’ve used in the past, is I started my career a long time ago, 16, 17 years ago at Apple, and Apple is a distinct company, and people think of the Apple products, which is true, but the Apple products are not the sum of innovation. Most of the features you find in Apple products is in other products.

NPS

Source: CloudApp

What’s unique at Apple is the NPS or the satisfaction score from Apple’s customers and Apple’s marketing. That’s what makes that company. People are very satisfied on the product and they’re very satisfied with the marketing, and there’s a lot you can learn from that. So, it’s not the product innovation as much as the customer innovation that they’re doing.

DR: Do you think it’s more like the sum total of everything Apple’s doing that is creating that? Like it’s not just these individuals pieces? What creates customer satisfaction in your mind, looking at Apple?

GC: Yeah, well, when I was there, it was a lot about Apple, at the same time, building the hardware and the software, so the customer experience of a product which has both makes sense, and I think it’s interesting to think about that in our day to day lives, because we all have kind of the same problem, you know?

If you think of any SaaS product out there, of course it’s only software, but if you think about it, you have the shift between the marketing side promises, feature explanation, and the actual product, and I have a chart that I often like to use where you see a progression of likelihood to convert over time.

Likelihood to buy from a customer survey will drop after signup, and why is that? When we look into it, it’s because reality hits you in the face. All the promises of your marketing website, eventually, they’re just promises, right?

And what you find out is that you need to set up the product, you need to do some effort, you need to go through pain before you get the reward. And of course, our marketing websites or pages never talk about the need to do that, right? Because we don’t want to put that forward.

And that’s where I think we can all work so that our customers’ experience is as good as Apple, where you get the product and you immediately feel joy, benefit, value, without friction and pain.

DR: Gotcha. So, one thing I wondered in this is where do you get your inspiration from? ‘Cause you’re not pulling from the other B2B SaaS competitors. If you’re doing that, you would just already be behind, but I hear you mentioning your wife, the salesperson. I hear you mentioning Apple hardware.

Where do you kind of get the inspiration to come up with the experiments that you’re running?

GC: Yeah, so I read quite a few books in human psychology, and those really helped me understand how to think like a customer, but also I look at what has worked with completely different businesses. What has worked for them, including some things that are on the edge, like cults, you know?

It’s interesting to see how cults are able to change the perception of certain people and how that works. And so, we can share at the end a list of the books I read, but I think going really beyond just like usual marketing and growth stuff, that’s one.

Second thing is I have a pretty good network, and I think Brian really embodies that. I have a pretty good network of peers in growth that I can exchange ideas that are not public yet. I think what has helped me this past decade is the ability to exchange non-public strategies with friends to understand what has worked and what hasn’t. What is public has very quickly little value.

I think one of the things that I really want people to understand this show is marketing, growth marketing, in Silicon Valley is extremely competitive, extremely competitive, right?

The cost per lead is so high that we can now dedicate significant resources, engineering resources, marketing, design resources, to improve our conversion rates, improve our customer experience, to a point where a newcomer, a new business in that market, will find it very hard to create a better experience than us, which means they’re gonna need to compensate, either with an insane product, and if they can, good for them, or with a lot of cash.

So, we’re creating a barrier to entry with really good growth and marketing strategies, and I think that’s the sum of me doing my job well, right? If I can create a strong barrier to entry, I can acquire satisfied customers at a cheaper cost than anyone else, then I’m doing my job.

DR: Yeah, yeah, so for those listening, obviously they can’t get into your little brain trust, but if they wanna replicate something like that to share information, is this something that you formally have set up and you guys are in a Slack group together? Or you’re just kind of talking over texts and at conferences and whatnot? Like how do you communicate those insider secrets?

GC: Yeah, I mean, there are some people who I talk one to one just on text or WhatsApp. Brian Balfour has this WhatsApp group for all of the managers of Reforge, and I think one of the things that really helped me, if you want to get like my story, is that I was a fellow entrepreneur, and I had a bit of time on my hand, and so I became a mentor in a French incubator, and I started giving some advice on growth and stuff like that, and I saw that, through mentorship, I was able to test strategies at a much higher pace than just with a company where I was employed or that I was running, right?

I could not only do that, I could test some experiments in markets I was never gonna touch. I mentor a company that was in the food delivery business when that was hot in Paris, and it’s very interesting. I could learn a lot of stuff from text-based messaging that are not really applicable to me in SaaS, but give me some good insights about how consumers react in specific industries, and so I created those connections, also, with those entrepreneurs that I can now say, hey, can you test this? What are the results?

Or what’s been working really well for you? And so I get those other insights, and of course, then I create connections with other people who are mentors, and those connections have a super high value.

So I think that’s where. A lot of stuff, we have a very good implementation process at Drift, and so I have a PM who was also on our podcast, Matt Bilotti, and we replicated the experimentation process from Darius Contractor, the one that he built when he was at Dropbox, since he moved to Facebook, but he built this experimentation process in our table, which is really well-done, where we can evaluate the potential of each idea, the cost of each idea.

And I think what’s interesting about that process is most people evaluate just the opportunity sides, how likely is it to succeed, what’s the revenue it’s gonna generate? We evaluate the cost of building, and we try to have our salespeople, our engineers, be like salespeople, to have a quota, which means they need to be able to ship about $1,000 worth of ideas per day.

It’s either because they’re going to slow, they misevaluated the cost and the number of days to ship, or the PM did not evaluate the opportunity well enough, so it’s a team thing, right? But it’s really interesting to put engineers in the mindset of shipping a certain number of dollars worth of ideas.

DR: Do you track that for the engineers?

GC: We do, and we did a forecast.

For example, our 2019 forecast this year, we requested, of course, an increase in team size, and we justified that by looking backward at the revenue per person per day, what our goals were, and thus, how much headcount we needed in 2019.

DR: Very cool. I love that. Yeah, that’s so much more granular and like organized than our process right now, but it’s super inspiring to hear that that’s how you guys are doing that.

So, I’m curious, you guys obviously are running tons of experience, experiments. I’ve watched Drift, you guys are blowing up.

I’m just curious, kind of turning into 2019, what’s working for you guys right now? What are you guys doing that is really cool and exciting, and you’re like, okay, this is really starting to take off?

GC: Yeah, I’d say for the past two years, all of the work I’ve been doing with the team on leveraging intent data is really starting to pick up. Our ability to predict which company’s gonna buy Drift or a Drift competitor in the next couple weeks has really gone, it’s now to a point where it’s really good. So we’re really able to predict that. That’s really cool. That’s one, and that’s more on like the sales-assisted side of the business.

On the self-service side, I think it’s the ability to customize the experience to the individual at scale, and I think, in a simplified way, it’s replicating what we have learned from B2C, Amazon and the others, into the B2B world. Amazon is well-known for customizing their website based on your past behavior on the site. Netflix is also very well-known for that, and B2B is just slowly replicating those learnings.

Netflix-Recommendation

Netflix’s powerful personalization platform

How can Drift’s website, I’d say, adapt itself to the company size, to the company technology, to their location, so that the content is more relevant and makes sense? I did that in my past job, with Segment’s website, which is a data infrastructure product, and support many different tools to source the data from, and the tools that were presented in the box on the site were actually dynamic, and based on the technology we knew that visitor had in that company real-time, right?

Segment customized stack

Segment’s personalized homepage featuring logos of other products

And so it just made sense. Oh, I use this, I use that, I use that. Well, great, right? I need this thing. And so, yeah, that’s very much the same thing, making the entire experience more relevant.

DR: Oh, it sounds like a lot of that’s data because you can’t even personalize or change until you have accurate enough data. Then you said you’re kind of sending better leads to the sales team. Is that right?

How have you run into that? Have you seen that true? It’s like you’re only as good as the data that you can capture. How are you kind of solving that problem in that?

GC: That’s true. Something specific, I have a growth team with engineers, back-end engineers. I have three back-end engineers and two front-end engineers, which is not super common. Most teams out there, in terms of growth, you’re gonna find like two types of teams, usually. You have either an engineering-first team that’s gonna work on the product to reduce the product friction, or you’re gonna have a marketing growth team, which does acquisition, data acquisition, SEO, and stuff like that, right?

What we have is a bit unique. We have engineers applied to acquisition challenges, right? And so that’s not super common, but it really enables us to create that competitive advantage where we can pull data from different APIs, from different intent data vendors, into a central database that we have created ourselves, and that we then sync with Salesforce.

And so, it might sound a bit complex, but it’s not that hard a product for engineers, and because most people out there don’t do it, that’s our competitive advantage. And that’s really interesting, so we can pull data from the Datanyze, from G2 Crowd, from Clearbit and all of that, and then try and synthesize that in a way that makes sense for the salespeople.

DR: That, and you’re making sure that you’re storing it in a centralized place that’s usable and consumable by everything else.

GC: Correct, yes.

DR: Very cool, I love that. I guess, kinda looking ahead, what do you see for B2B marketing over the next five, 10 years?

Are there some big trends that you’re watching and keeping your eye on that you think will be huge components of the winners of the next generation?

GC: Yeah, I think Tom Tunguz from Redpoint Capital regularly posts an update every year on the cost of acquisition in B2B.

It’s a very interesting chart, and you can see it rising gradually every year, right? I think, in the past five years, it has 3X-ed, something like that, right? And so, I don’t think that trend’s stopping, so I see the cost of acquisition in B2B rising.

And I see the number of Martech vendors are going to increase, right?

5,000, 7,000, if you look at the Martech chart where we are on now, the competition is increasing, and only the fittest will survive. So those who are able to be smart with their marketing dollars or maybe, as we are, not use any marketing dollars to find our customers.

Martech

Martech 5000 growth

So, I think there’s gonna be a shift where some are gonna be very aggressive and try to win market share through overspend. That’s possible, and then you’re gonna have some people who are going to do the opposite and try to create a great experience either through product or through marketing and minimize dollar spend.

That’s what I’m seeing, so there’s gonna be a lot of work on reducing the friction on personalization of the stuff which increases conversion rates.

I think the days of spray and pray, the days where you could just like put dollars on Facebook and get cheap users, and some of them would convert and it would offset your costs, those days are over. And if they’re not over yet in your industry, they’re soon to be over.

DR: Yeah, we used to sell courses on how to do Facebook ads, how-to trainings, and we’d sell it through an automated webinar, and then you’d sell a course for $1,000 at the end, and I was just looking back at it, and it was like we could never make money now on the things that even worked and were profitable three, four years ago.

The cost per lead would just be far too expensive. It’s just amazing how fast it is, and just how rigorous and militant you have to be about getting this right. Because yeah, you’ll get eaten alive.

GC: And I think, in B2B, the trend of replicated B2C learning is gonna continue like if you go back to Facebook, I’ve talked with people who buy millions worth, they spend millions of ad spend on Facebook for mobile games and stuff like that. I’m talking millions per month, right?

And they are really good at acquiring and monetizing those users on a per-user basis. And to be honest, most of the B2B people out there are not there yet, right?

And that’s because we are not yet at the level of competition that is required. We will get there. And so, I think the smartest within our industry are starting to look and to hire the talent from those industries, like who’s running the paid acquisition at such and such mobile game? Who’s doing like mobile acquisition, and who’s building a product like Fortnite, which you know is viral?

DR: You see that happening a ton in product, too, not just marketing, but people looking at, you know, what are B2C products like, and the design and the elegance and the intuitiveness.

It used to be you could just win with this B2B product and it was loaded and had every functionality and have a lot of views, and you could win with that, but now people are used to opening up their iPhone and using all their amazing apps, and they don’t wanna open up your app and have this.

You wanna shift from this B2C experience to B2B, you just demand it all to be really nice and really good at the competition and driving that.

GC: We have at Drift, one point we often make is that, when you buy B2B, most companies don’t ask you, they ask you to fill a form and enter all of your details so you can be in touch with them, and if you think about it, it’s crazy.

Just like if you went to a pretty high-end store, you’re gonna spend a couple thousand dollars, and they say, hey, please fill out this form before we can talk.

What the hell? Like they can’t just have a talk? Like I’m the customer, I’m buying it. I’m the one asking questions. I have the money. And so, the buying process is really the opposite of what it should be in B2B, and I think the expectations are shifting.

I think that’s what’s happening. The expectations are shifting. We have such a good experience with some companies on the B2C side if you think of Amazon’s customer service. Second to none, like I’ve complained a number of times. It’s amazing, right? And I expect my B2B vendors to have the same customer service.

If I complain, I just want an apology, I want the product to be fixed, I want a conversation. Those are my expectations. You could think of those to be real like the market has trained me to get those expectations. Yeah, for sure.

DR: Yeah, no, totally. Very cool, man. Well, kind of turning the corner and wrapping up here, we always finish up with what we call the Salty Six.

It’s six rapid-fire questions for us to just get to know you better and hear what’s going on in your life, so you ready?

GC: Yeah.

DR: Kinda nerve-wracking, but these are good.

All right, so, number one, what do you do for fun besides geek out over marketing experiments?

GC: I try to catch my kid, who’s biking faster than I can run, and he’s 3 1/2 years old.

DR: That’s awesome. I’ve got an 18-month old now and he just started walking, and I’m already gettin’ a little tired of catching him.

Cool, okay, do you have a morning routine, and if so, what is it?

GC: Yeah, so as I said, I have two kids, so morning routine is trying to be at work at 8:30, even though I need to drop everyone at school and whatnot, so I think kids push you to have a very strict morning routine, which, unfortunately, I have not yet found the time to exercise in the morning as I want, and have kids. So, if someone in the audience does that, tell me how to do.

DR: I love that. Yeah, my wife and I, we set yearly goals this year, and one of them is to go to bed by 9:30 or 10, then we can wake up by like six or 6:30, ’cause we know that when seven o’clock hits, there’s no pushing back the alarm clock. He’s up, he’s ready to go, and the morning is gone at that point.

Cool, okay, how do you focus and get work done during the day? You’ve got a lot of stuff comin’ at you. How do you actually do this?

GC: Yeah, I have two strategies. One is I block time, so I block time two ways. I learned something from my past job, no-meeting Wednesdays, and so Wednesdays are blocked and there are no scheduled meetings.

I still take one-offs and emergencies, but there’s no scheduled meeting, and then, during the week, I block a couple of hours here and there so I can focus. To be honest, most of the day, it’s hard to focus more than half an hour on anything, so I usually focus at night, so my routine is that I actually work very well once the kids are in bed, and so I’ll work from usually nine p.m. to 11 p.m. Those two hours are very productive for me, and I can pack out some pretty interesting problems.

DR: Very cool, love that. What’s a book that has impacted you deeply in the last few years? Whether it’s personal or business.

GC: Sure. I think Pre-Suasion. So, Pre-Suasion is a book that I think relates really well to the work I’ve been doing on predictive marketing.

Presuasion

DR: Interesting. Is that Cialdini?

GC: It is.

DR: Very cool, I love his other book, Influence.

GC: Influence, yeah. Influence is a really good book, something that I think started my career, and Pre-Suasion, recently, really pushed me to understand what pre-suades someone before they even engage with you?

DR: Yeah, I love that. I haven’t read that. I think Influence was the book that made me wanna become a marketer. I read that and I was like I found the secret to unlocking everybody else’s mind, and it just was so groundbreaking, refreshing reading that.

GC: The translation in French is not as good, but the title is way more honest, of Influence. In French, the translation of the title goes as Influence and Manipulation.

DR: Gotcha. That’s pretty true, that is more honest. Okay, what’s the best purchase you’ve made recently under 150 bucks?

GC: A case for my phone. A good case for my phone. I mean, I worked at Apple, so obviously I have an iPhone, but 1,000 bucks iPhone, I think one thing that made me realize, I was at a dinner with VCs and other entrepreneurs who all have succeeded more than I have, and I realized I could see the wealth of people by those who actually don’t have a case, right?

If you have an iPhone, like a recent iPhone, and you don’t have a case, it means you don’t care if you shatter it. It means you’re really wealthy, right? So I’m not there yet, so my goal in life is to be wealthy enough that I don’t even need a case, case-less. Case-less wealthy.

DR: That’s so true. I’ve noticed, also, designers don’t use cases. Our designer here, like creative people don’t use cases. Rich people, creatives. I like that, though, someday I’ll be case-less, too.

Okay, cool, and last one, I know you say that you’re not very successful yet but I think you are, and what’s one trait or characteristic that you feel like you have that has led to the success that you have right now?

GC: I’m crazy, so that’s my trait.

I’ll often think out of the box and attempt things that are prone to fail just because I find them fun, and so I think it’s nerve-wracking for my team, but I really like to attempt what looks like crazy ideas to find out if they’re gonna work, right?

So, you could call that craziness, you could call that creativity, but whatever you want to call it, that is one thing that I truly have.

DR: Very cool, and were you curious growing up and as a kid? Has that kinda been a trait your whole life?

GC: Yeah, yeah. I was opening my mom’s computer when I was six, up to the point where I actually got my computer, so I think that’s, and opening all sorts of stuff, you understand how it works and how you can change it.

And sure, like I could probably only fix 10% and close properly in a functional state like only half of the stuff, but yes, often, when I see, I’ve been doing marketing for the past 15 years and internet probably for over 20 years, and that has given me a really good understanding of how things work.

It can give me, like most SaaS products, most hardware products that are technological, and I’ll understand not only just how it works, but also what did the designer, what did the engineer, try to get the user to do, right?

I’ve worked with enough engineers and designers, it’s like I say, okay, the designer actually wants to push us to do that ’cause this is how he or she thinks. And that gives me a pretty good ability to go faster than most people with like-new products.

DR: Very cool, man. Well, G, this has been hugely insightful for me. I know I’m gonna apply a bunch of this stuff at Proof, and I just love your perspective. I love your philosophy. It’s super cool to hear about what you’re thinking the next 10 years is gonna look like.

If people wanna find you, look you up, where can they find you? You on Twitter, you have a website?

GC: I am on Twitter with Guillaume Cabane, on LinkedIn also. Those are probably the two good places to find me.

DR: Very cool, man. Yeah, well, thanks so much for being on and sharing your knowledge with us.

GC: Thanks for having me, Dave.

DR: Awesome, thanks for watching Scale or Die. We’ll see you guys in the next episode.

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This interview has been edited and condensed.