An Alternative Approach to Growth: One Part of the Funnel at a Time

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Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part interview featuring Dave Gerhardt. In the first installment, Gerhardt shared tactical details about the strategy he and his team used to nail their product launch on Product Hunt.

Singular focus is the basic premise behind Dave Gerhardt’s unique approach to growth at Drift. Tackling the huge task of building your user base can feel like trying to launch a rocket into deep space, but when you break the process down and focus on each part of the funnel separately, it suddenly becomes a lot easier.

Gerhardt spent five years in marketing roles with Constant Contact, Privy, and HubSpot, before taking on the role of Marketing Lead at Drift, a messaging app that makes it easier for businesses to talk to their website visitors and customers, which in turn helps these businesses generate more leads, learn about their customers, and deliver an enhanced customer experience. In this role, Gerhardt is helping the company transition from an enterprise sales model to a product-led growth model.

Gerhardt’s work began by launching Drift 2.0 using a very successful strategy that leveraged Product Hunt to reach his audience via an influencer-driven campaign. Part of the reason the campaign was such a success was because, for the duration of the campaign, Gerhardt’s team was 100% focused on one thing: getting people signed up for the product.

“What we were getting wrong in the beginning, and what I think a lot of startups get wrong, is that we were trying to focus on the entire funnel from day one,” Gerhardt explains.

This approach of trying to cover all the bases at once can leave a team stretched thin and unable to do an effective job at any of the critical tasks: driving traffic, getting signups, facilitating activation, or supporting retention. Instead, Gerhardt focused his team around sprint-type goals that focused exclusively on one part of the funnel – and one performance metric – each quarter.

First Quarter Focus: Signups

For the first few months, Gerhardt and his team were trying to sell Drift using a traditional enterprise sales approach – sell a big platform and give it to everyone at once – but they were only landing a few customers a week. So, they switched tactics to a freemium model that would allow customers to use the entire product without ever having to engage with a salesperson.

Having made this pivot, Drift’s CEO, David Cancel, made the decision to focus on just one thing: proving that they could get people to sign up for the product. “We intentionally said that we weren’t focusing on activation or retention at all,” he says. “In the quarter that we launched, all we cared about was signups, so everything the product team did was prioritized around getting people signed up and into the product.”

To support the singular focus of getting people into the product, Gerhardt’s team stripped their onboarding flow down to the bare minimum, reducing a 10-step lead form down to a single field. “We actually launched without even having a create-password flow,” Gerhardt says, “because that was just an additional point of friction.”

The processes and KPIs on the back end of the marketing efforts were also adjusted to reflect what was happening on the front end. “We didn’t have MQLs and SQLs and automation and all these work flows and everything,” Gerhardt says.

“We just had a single goal: drive people to our homepage and get them into Drift. It’s more of a product-led growth model – where all of our leads are people who have already signed up for Drift.”

And while Gerhardt acknowledges that this approach might not be all that sexy since it doesn’t include any retention efforts, it did make things really easy for their sales team.

Second Quarter Focus: Activation

“We separated the funnel so we could focus on each piece one at a time,” Gerhardt says. “And after a quarter focused exclusively on proving we could get signups, we shifted focus to activation.” But Gerhardt is quick to clarify that they didn’t abandon their growth efforts entirely, they just supplemented them with activation efforts. “It was basically like we were juggling one ball – signups – but once we’d proved we could juggle the one, we threw another ball into the mix – activations – and now you’re juggling two balls.”

To execute, Drift hired a customer success manager whose main goal for her first 60 to 90 days was to serve as every customer’s concierge – to personally connect with each new signup, learn more about their goals, why they signed up, and where they might be getting stuck. “We took all the signups and bucketed them based on why they signed up, the industry they work in, and their role within the company,” Gerhardt adds. “And then we were able to focus on how to get them activated.”

Similarly to how Drift handled signups, the team set weekly sprint goals to try and move the needle, and then worked to make incremental changes to improve activation rates. Instead of using an automated onboarding email or in-product message, Gerhardt chose to have the customer success manager focus exclusively on 1:1 outreach.

“The tactic that worked best was when we connected Drift to Slack so that we could see each new signup in real-time and then reach out instantly. Our customer success manager would then go to a customer’s site right after they installed Drift and write in through Drift’s chat and say, ‘Hey, I’m Cara, the customer success manager at Drift. I saw you got everything set up. How can I help?’” And for people who hadn’t yet set up the product, Cara would pick up the phone and call, or send a personal email to try and onboard them and help get them setup.

Looking Ahead: Retention and Revenue

With substantial growth and activation success in the books, Drift is now looking ahead to tackling the next part of the funnel –  – and how to scale their approach. “Most people say this won’t scale – but I push back on that and say it’s a good problem to have when too many people are signing up that you can’t reach out 1:1 anymore.”

“Our team sees the ridiculous amount of time that our customer success manager spends reaching out to people,” he says, “and they are working hard to figure out how to build the internal dashboards that will make her job easier.” And, in the process, Drift’s entire customer base will benefit and grow.