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Staying Close to the Customer at Scale with Drift’s Maggie Crowley

Episode #

2

Show Notes

We talked to Drift’s Director of Product Management and host of the Build podcast Maggie Crowley about:

1) Why "Shipped is not done" and how that influences goals and measurement at Drift.

2) "Staying close to the customer" and the processes Maggie and the Drift team put in place to ensure that happens as you scale.

Resources

The Build podcast

Connect with Maggie on Twitter

Episode Transcript

Stuart
Hi, everyone. Today I'm really excited to be joined by the amazing, Maggie Crowley, the Director of Product Management at Drift, previously at TripAdvisor, previously Olympic Speed Skater. We're going to dive into lots of things about how Drift stays focused on customers and how they focus on outcomes, not outputs. But Maggie, welcome to the show.

Maggie
Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Stuart
So let's  dig into it. I know you have Build, your own podcast where talk about a lot of these things too. But I love to  start out sort of right to the point, I guess. So Drift, and I know everything that you do focuses around being really close to your customers, really focusing on adding value for them. What is being customer driven or being sort of customer centric, I know it's sort of a buzzword in end product. What does that mean to you and how does that sort of translate into how you do things at Drift?

Maggie
Yeah, it is kind of a buzzword and I think it's something that a lot of product teams talk about. But when I think about what being customer centric means, that means that the problems that our customers have or the opportunities that they have or the things that they care about in their day to day, that means more than anything that have to do with our product, anything to have to do with what we're working on, our roadmap, our goals, whatever. That stuff comes second and is in service of our customers. And I think it's really easy as a product team, especially at a startup or a really well established company to feel like you know better and to feel like the product that you're building is special and it's important and it's great.

Maggie
But like that only exists because it's in service of your customers. And to me being truly customer centric is, of course there's things like how often do you talk to them and how well you're able to empathize with them and all that kind of stuff, but it's also at the end of the day, are you putting their needs first and are you being really honest about what they need from you and from your business? I think especially in these times, like getting really clear about that is the thing that matters the most and to me what would really signal someone being customer centric.

Stuart
Got it, got it. Yeah, it's interesting like you say how it's easy to say but really hard to do. I think this is actually you have an episode on the Build podcast about sort of exactly this thing that everybody wants to be customer centric but it's much harder to do in practice then there's sort of in theory.

Stuart
What are some of the things that you put in place at Drift to help ensure that happens? Because I know obviously Drift has gone through incredible growth and I'm sure all the things you did at the beginning is sort of very different than now.

Maggie
Yeah, I think that's one of the hardest things is that in some senses I think when we were small, I joined Drift when we were about 80 people, I think it was really easy to be customer centric when you're small and or when you have a smaller number of customers because you can just talk to them. Like you can get a good sense of who they are and what they need. But I think as we've scaled it's been challenging to keep that level of sort of like one to one customer centricity. And that was our sort of original model, was that every PM, every member of the team, regardless of what function they were in, is pretty much talking to the customer every day. And so in the beginning, that was sort of what we did, that's how we stayed customer centric. So we just spoke to them.

But now as we've, as we've grown and scaled and we're, I think, over 360 people at this point, what's different is that we've had to come up with ways to still have that sort of one to one customer centricity, but to scale what we're learning across the different teams. Because I think what's been hard is every single PM and designer is still talking to customers every week. We actually report on how many hours we spend every week talking to customers, so we have that. But then you sort of lose touch with maybe your customer success team or the sales team and like maybe what they're hearing, they don't see that reflect in the product team as the PM's grow and they specialize. So a couple of the things that we've been doing more recently is we kind of like spread out wider, is now we have a layer of product leadership.

So for example, in charge of is not the right word, but I'm sort of the DRI or the directly responsible individual for our enterprise customers. So anyone on the customer success team or the sales team or whoever can come to me with their feedback and make sure that they can ask me like, "What are we working on? What am I hearing? What matters?" So we've kind of like centralized some points of contact to make it easy for everyone to understand. And then what I'm doing is just getting on the phone every week talking to enterprise customers and making sure that their holistic set of concerns is heard, if that make sense.

Stuart
Got it. Yeah, absolutely. That is, I think certainly, a common thing. That as companies grow, the trend is certainly away from the customer rather than towards them. So on those calls you mentioned, A, it's really interesting to me that you have a metric which is specifically hours spent talking to customers. That's sort of a forcing function is that something that you have goals around or do you have KPIs around that?

Maggie
So it was started by our head of design, just to get a sense of, I think he calls them, user exposure hours just to get a sense and make sure that it is happening. And when we started out, we had a goal, I can't remember exactly what it was, but there was some industry standard or some kind of like report somewhere that had said, "Oh, you should be spending X amount of time with your customers over a month," or something like that.

Maggie
And so we started surveying and we just realized that we were doing ten times more than we needed to. So I don't think we set a goal, but we definitely have a floor, which is, I know I definitely look to see ... I feel bad, if I ever put a zero, I like quadruple what I do the next week to make sure that I'm not in the bad bucket. But then I also look to see if the people on my team, if they are making sure they're not putting zeros because I want to make sure we're constantly talking. So it's a little bit more of like forcing you to make sure that you're doing it versus like needing to hit a target.

Stuart
So it's kind of a gut check for making sure that your close.

Maggie
Yeah.

Stuart
Got it. And then personally you're speaking every week to enterprise customers to make sure you're holistically understanding their needs. I think that's really interesting. And I know that this is actually something that you've talked a little bit about, is sort of seeing the importance of sales and product and other components or business functions coming into the mix. What's typically sort of the context of those calls? Because I know a lot of people will say, "Okay, we talk to customers all the time. We're doing support, we're doing sales." But in your role, what are those conversations typically look like?

Maggie
Yeah, it's a good question. I think it's really important to step out of the specific product that you're working on or the specific problem that you have. Maybe not every time we talk to customers, but to do that pretty frequently because your customers, at the end of the day, especially if you have a big product team, they don't care about the like tiny slice that you work on as a PM. Like they care about the thing that they're getting out of your product overall and the way that you organize your product team may not have anything to do with, and hopefully it does, but it might not have anything to do with the way that the customer experiences your product. So I think it's really important to spend some time saying, "Forget what product I work on. Help me understand how you're using Drift. For example. What are your big goals for this year?"

Like our customers or people in sales and marketing. So it's like, "What are the new campaigns you're running? What are your revenue goals? What's your funnel goal like? What kind of conversion rates are you trying to get?" Like I'm trying to understand from them, like what are, what do they care about in their jobs? What is important for their business? And then it's on me to translate that into product, but at least I can understand from them like how I understand like who they are and what they care about. Because I think that's the most important thing for me to know as a product lead.

Stuart
Got it. Yeah, that totally makes sense. And sort of a nice transition into the other thing that we were sort of going to talk about here. I can tell you've done this before.

Which is focusing around around outcomes rather than outputs. And this idea, which I know you talk about a lot, which Drift is not done, which is something that I think, well a lot of product teams either don't necessarily we do intentionally, but they set KPIs and they set measurement around like, "Did we ship the thing that we said we were going to ship?" Rather than, "Did we actually sort of measurably improve the customer's life? Do we deliver value?" So I'm, I'm curious sort of two things there. A, like what does that mean in the context of sort of understanding these customers' goals and sort of how does that translate into product? But then how do you measure that? How does that actually become a habit at Drift?

Maggie
Yeah. With this one, I get it, I understand how it feels more in your control and more appropriate to measure whether the product team you did the thing that you said you were going to do. And I think that's important. But to me there's a gap between like you could conceivably do the thing that you said you would do, but your customer might not use it, might not work for them. It might not create the outcome that you think it should have created. And so if you don't measure yourself on whether or not it worked, whatever the thing was, then you're sort of giving up your responsibility for that outcome. And you're saying, "Well, I did what I had to do. It's on someone else, some other teams, it's out of my control that, that the customer didn't get what they were looking for."

And I get why that's really attractive as a goal because it's safer. But at the end of the day, you're there to make your customer successful in whatever, B2B, B2C, whatever. So if you don't measure yourself on whether you actually achieve that, then you're sort of cheating or you're making excuses in a way. And you might never actually hit that thing. Whereas if instead you set a goal that's like, "I really want my customer to get this outcome." I'm going to use Drift for example. Like working with the marketing team like to get this amount of pipeline or whatever. If you set that as your goal, then your team is going to be smarter about what they're thinking about doing because they know that it has to actually move that number. And you'll get fewer, I think in my opinion, you'll get fewer things that are like, "Well this would be cool," than like, "Isn't this great how we architected this thing?" But it's like if it doesn't get that outcome, like who cares?

Stuart
Totally makes sense and it's interesting. I hope I'm not misquoting here, but I believe Dave Gerhardt said or has this concept of marketing to the whole person. That it's sort of going beyond just what their job title is or what that age is, whatever it is. And it sounds like it's sort of applying that to product as well. In that it's, it's not just, "Did I ship this thing that they said they wanted?" But, "Did I ship this thing that help them get to the place they were trying to get to?"

Maggie
Yeah. I always think about it as, "And did at work?" And sort of adding that question on everything that you do because it'll just make for better products, it'll make you make better prioritization decisions and it'll hold you accountable. And I think that there is a big theme on product teams wanting to be autonomous and wanting to sort of have decision making power and to be collaborative and all this kind of stuff. But you don't get to have that unless you're accountable to the outcomes.

So to me, if you want to be this empowered autonomous product team, you have to be accountable for making an impact. And so when we say shipped isn't done, that means you have to complete your work. And it's also a forcing function to be like the classic stereotype of like, "Well it works on my local." Like that's not good enough, like who cares if it works on your local? Like it has to work for the customer. So you can't just be like, "Well I did it," it forces you to see something all the way through the end.

Stuart
Right. And so I guess the next sort of question there is, well how do you know that it worked all the way through? I guess, like you say, it feels safer to measure something that you know, feels more in your control. And it's just easier to measure it. You can say, "Did this thing get shipped by X date?" Whereas once you include the customer and that is sort of another variable. How does that work? Like are you working on first day adoption, first 30 day adoption? Are those metrics that are in the scope of this or are you using other things to say, "Okay, this worked."

Maggie
So it's not that we don't measure whether or not we ship things. We do keep an eye on that and we do have dates and we make sure that we hit them. So we are measuring that but that's not the ultimate sort of end goal that we're looking for. It's like you're mentioning and you're right, it can be harder and sometimes it might not be possible. I definitely recognize there are situations in which you might not have access to the data that would tell you if it worked, in which case you might have to like come up with a set of input metrics that are like secondary to tell you if the thing worked. So there are definitely some complexities.

I think for us, in some cases you can just ask, like you can ask your customer if it works, you can ask them for their numbers, you can ask them if they got what they needed. So you can do things like that. But I think it's more of an exercise to say, "What is possible to measure? Do we need to add more tracking, different kind of tracking, do more integrations?" But is there a way for us to actually know if this worked? And I think I haven't run into a situation where it was literally impossible to get some sense. It's just it might be a little bit harder and take a little bit more time.

Stuart
One thing that I want to sort of tie this back to is, I really love the episode that you did. Sorry, referencing Build here a lot, which everybody should go listen to, it's a great, great podcast. But you did this episode at Hypergrowth with Rob Stevenson of Keep. And it talks a lot about what does it mean to build with your customers? And it sounds like that's sort of such a core component of how you stay customer centric and how you stay close to customers. Is this idea of sort of partnering with both?

Maggie
Yup.

Stuart
What should we build? Like how do we improve the outcomes that you get, but also how do we know that we reached that? Can you speak to sort of that aspect a little bit and what that means to have sort of that close of a partnership with customers?

Maggie
Yeah, that's something that I will definitely always sort of keep from my experience from working at Drift. Because I don't think it had occurred to me in my prior roles that you could do this. And again, it's one of those things where like maybe it's obvious in hindsight, but if no one ever told you this is something you could do, you might not seem possible. But what I like to do now is like whenever we're building something was kind of relatively big or new or something. And ideally it's something that, hundreds, thousands, millions, however many customers you have, would want. But then if you know who your sort of ideal customer is and you have some sort of persona, if you have one, two, three maximum five customers who really fit that persona to a T, being able to sort of pull them in really early and have them in a sort of trusted advisor role with it, you can sort of give them your really raw idea to show them concept designs like get their feedback kind of ad hoc.

I think that to me is like they become a member of the team. And in the same way that with a team you were saying, "Oh, what about this idea," or, "Look at this design," or, ","I did this analysis or whatever. If you have a customer that you can go to like that, you just get so much good feedback all along the process that I think is really invaluable. That, A, it makes your product better. But then B, when you go to launch, you have someone who's seen it from day one who really understands the product, who hopefully loves it, who's super bought in because their fingerprints are all over it and they can kind of feel like they got to make it what they wanted.

So I always try to make sure that I have like a partner on some customer team who's going to be able to go there with me. And maybe there are varying levels of willingness to like chat with me all the time. Like Rob is an example of someone who is super friendly and it was like super into talking about stuff. But being able to have those people who you can be vulnerable with, I think and be honest with is so important.

Stuart
Yeah. That's one thing that I really love about how, at least, and this is from the outside, or from following Drift pretty much since launch. As a product person and as somebody just sort of generally interested in this space, how synced up product and marketing and product marketing and sort of all the functional components of the company sort of synchronizing each launch.

And this may just be that it may be sort of confirmation bias or whatever you want to say, but like it seems like whenever Drift launch or something, it's a cohesive effort that comes along with case studies and landing pages and sort of everything that goes into that. Is that something that is, I'm sure that's something that's intentional, but is that something that influences sort of the prior process in terms of actually bringing something new to market?

Maggie
Yeah, so it is intentional. I think it's part of our DNA as a company that we work together. We have a bit of an advantage in that we are building for our sales and marketing. So it's easier for us to work with sales and marketing. So I will admit that. But we do it intentionally. We have playbooks that we run and we have checklists where we know we're going to have a case study, we know we're going to have a landing page, which means that we're thinking about that from the start. So because we know we're going to launch like that, we know working backwards what we're going to need to have, including those several customers. We have a rule, we don't launch something publicly without social proof, which means we, you have to, as a PM, you have to go out and get that customer, which is again an amazing forcing function.

So yeah, it's something that we think about and it does really impact how we build because it means that we have to make sure, A, that we have those reference customers, but then B, that we're building something that matters. Because if you can't convince your internal team that what you're building is going to move the needle for your customers. Like there's no way you're going to be able to convince people externally. So to me it's kind of like the first step in a process is can you like meet the bar of your internal stakeholders that what you're doing is cool and matters and is going to like a great launch? And if not, you better think about whether or not that thing is actually good or you've got the right story or you've got the right problem you're solving.

Stuart
Right, yeah. That absolutely makes sense. That like for those early customers to put their name on something, it has to be valuable. And especially in Drift's case, you're not just building a product for your customers, you're building a product for your customer's customers, which I think is true for a lot of products. And it's something that is easy to forget that there's sort of that extra level of trust which is needed for a customer to share something with the people who are paying them.

Maggie
Yeah, absolutely. But we also, I think we do try to make those customers into heroes. We love our customers and we love highlighting their stories and we think that's really fun. And so I think the like fun thing that we get to do is then we get to celebrate them. I think at one point we put Rob's face on a billboard in the town he lived in just to say thank you. So like we get to do cool stuff like that too. So hopefully it's fun for everybody involved.

Stuart
Yeah, absolutely. So to sort of bring this discussion, I guess, full circle, so you've talked about the things that you have, the processes that you sort of built internally to make sure that ... you've talked a lot about forcing functions, the things that are sort of gut checks and that are sort of, I guess, catchers to make sure that you can't get too far if you're not close to the customer and if you're not building something that's valuable. So for somebody who is working at a company who maybe doesn't have that process in place, that's not the culture, which is part of the DNA to be really focused on the customer, what's the first thing that you would advise that they try?

Maggie
I would say go talk to some customers and don't ask them to look at a mock up or to give you feedback on or if they liked something, ask them what they care about. Ask them how they are measured in their role. I think this is especially relevant for B2B product managers, but you should know how your customers are evaluated in their performance reviews. You should know what they care about, what they wake up thinking about. So I would say I would start there and then I would say that you can do most of this stuff in addition to the way that you're working.

Maggie
There's nothing to say that you can't start [inaudible 00:32:16] the stuff or talk to customers or doing some of this other work on top of the current structure that you're in. And I would say that the best thing you can do if you're trying to influence your company is when you're doing this, the quality of your insights and the quality of your product will go up and hopefully your workload for itself. So I would say like don't get stuck in the fact that this is not how your team works. I think it's really hard and I've switched. It's really easy to hear someone [inaudible 00:32:42] system and be like, "Well yeah, that's great because they're set up that way, how easy." But there's nothing stopping you from talking to five more customers this week or running an extra analysis on the side. Anything is definitely doable.

Stuart
Got it. That's great advice. I think it's, like you say, it doesn't have to be that difficult. The bar can be a lot lower than you might think. Research seems like it's a big project and it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.

Maggie
Yeah, I mean honestly like they're people, your customers are just people and you can just talk to them. I will do a quick plug. I have used and I think Drift has used sometimes a platform called Millie Giving. What you can do is basically send a gift card for them to send to a charity of their choice. I've used that to thank people for doing things, like there's all sorts of things you can do to get people to talk to you. So I would just be scrappy about it.

Stuart
Thank you so much for coming on. This has been really awesome. I've certainly learned a lot, and hopefully everybody else listening has also learned something as well. Thanks so much for doing this.

Maggie
Thank you so much for having me. Appreciate it. It's fun to be on the other side.


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
.

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