7 Lessons From Our VP of Growth That Will Make You Rethink Sales Email

Earlier this week we introduced the world to Drift Sequences, a sales email tool that actually helps customers buy.

One of the masterminds behind Sequences was our in-house mad scientist (and VP of Growth) Guillaume Cabane, a.k.a. “G.”

For years, G has been trying to understand how to craft the perfect experiences for potential customers, regardless of their budgets or where they are in the sales cycle.

So we thought it was only right to interview G on our podcast Seeking Wisdom and to get his thoughts on how he views traditional sales email (and other sales and marketing channels), as well as where he sees this technology headed in the future.

You can listen to our full interview with G right here:

In a hurry? I’ve pulled out seven nuggets of wisdom from G that you can read below.

1) “It’s not the channel that’s broken in most cases, it’s the tool that’s broken.”

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How many times have you heard someone say “email is dead,” or that this channel or that channel no longer works?

Right out of the gate, G was quick to point out that in most cases, the underlying problem isn’t the channel:

The thing that’s important is that it’s not the channel that’s broken in most cases, it’s the tool that’s broken. When we think of all those channels — chat, email, the web — often we marketers have broken the relationship with the customer. But the channel itself is still valid. If someone comes to me and says, “Email isn’t working for me, web isn’t working for me,” I say, “Get out of here. Email is working great, you’re just not using it right.”

Ultimately, the key to mastering any channel hinges on understanding a person’s intent and crafting a relevant message for them.

As G explained:

Those are my principles as a growth person. That’s what I try to look at when I create a good campaign: It’s 1) “Do I know about the intent of that person? 2) Is that person the right fit for my product? 3) Am I sending the right message? 4) Am I sending it on the right channel? And if I have those four things locked in, I’m good.

2) “The goal of marketing these past ten years hasn’t been to improve the experience, it’s been to decrease the cost.”

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For G, his life goal is clear: It’s to create “good experiences for prospective customers and for actual customers — for people, whatever their willingness to buy, whatever their budget is.”

Unfortunately, for the past several years, marketers and salespeople have really only been doing a good job of providing that type of experience for people at the very high-end (e.g. someone shopping for a Porsche).

To quote G:

People who have huge budgets get great experiences. And that’s because sellers know that when you walk into that kind of shop, they predict that your fit is very high, and that you have the means, and so they are investing the time of those awesome salespeople — relationship managers — on you, because they know that about you.

And the problem is that in our world, or the internet world, we don’t know anything, and so we’re not investing anything. So the answer to marketing these past ten years hasn’t been to improve the experience, it has been to decrease the cost — to massively decrease the cost so they can create yield.

This concept of yield is crucial to G’s philosophy as a growth marketer. But as G explains, decreasing costs to improve yield can have negative consequences.

My job isn’t to generate a ton of leads, it’s not to generate a ton of sales whatever the cost. Because I can offer a Porsche to every person who comes to Drift — this is not happening, I’m not offering a Porsche — but say that I did. Of course people would convert and I’d have sales. But the yield would be negative. My job is to generate the max yield, in dollars, that’s my job.

And the answer from people like me in these past years has been to decrease the cost to improve that yield. The problem is that decreasing the cost creates awful, sh*tty experiences. That’s the problem.

3) “I’ve seen a company that has a 44% response rate to their cold emails. And it’s not because they’ve actually spent more time, it’s because their message is more relevant.”

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Here’s a crazy stat for you: The average success rate of a phishing attack is 0.1%, which really isn’t that much better than the average response rate of a cold email, which is 1%.

As G explained:

It’s in the same range, and the crazy thing is that you can think of the person who does the scam as a marketer. They’re trying to convince the other person that the message is legit, and that the product is good, and either that you’ve won the Bill Gates lottery — and this does not exist — but they’re trying to convince you of that, or that their product is the best one.

The reason why I like to compare them is to prove that in both cases, those are awful experiences. If you have a 1% conversion rate on your email, it means that you’re annoying 99 people, real people, to be able to sell your product to one person. And that’s pretty close to spam. That’s awful.

That being said, not all marketers are doing an awful job with email. Those folks who understand the channel — and who craft relevant messages that add real value — are seeing much, much higher results.

Here, I’ll kick it back to G:

If you look at the other end, people who create really good experiences, people who know how to use that channel, they get 15 to 20% response rates — positive response rates. I’ve seen a company that has 44% response rates to their outbound emails, their cold emails. And it’s not because they’ve spent more time, it’s because their message is more relevant. It’s the relevance of the message. There’s value in reading that message. It’s valuable to the person who receives it. It tells you where that buried treasure is that’s buried in your garden.

4) “Use the channel that’s most relevant to where the customer is right now. If the customer’s on the website, do something on the website. If the customer has left the website, do something else.”

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A few years back, I had this lightbulb moment when I was able to predict the fit of people during the sign-up process once I knew their company and I knew their email. I knew their intent because they were trying to sign up, and I knew that they were likely to pay. And the usual motion for a marketer was to follow-up with an email from a sales rep to try to get a meeting.

I felt that just sounded stupid because they’re on my site right now, and they’re trying to sign up, and I know that they’re likely to get a bad experience in my app because they’re very high-end and we need to help them. And so we were all planning for them to have a bad experience and then we’d try to save them the next day. That just sounds weird: Put the sh*tty experience first and then try to save them.

That was G describing how his team used to approach reaching out to high-intent website visitors back in the day. As he explained, it was a bad experience, because it didn’t match where those visitors were in real-time.

Here was G’s solution:

I thought, OK, now if I can do the analysis, the fit score, the intent score fast enough, how can I change the experience to make it more relevant, to make it better? And the thing I did was just to offer them a one-on-one immediately. And that can be a chat, that can be a video call, whatever.

So the channel is not so important. Use the channel that’s most relevant to where the customer is right now. If the customer’s on the website, do something on the website. If the customer has left the website, do something else, something that has less friction.

5) “What I’ve been trying to do is discover the intent of my potential customers before they come to my website, and to try to identify who they are, what their pain is, and to contact them before they contact me. That’s good selling.”

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In addition to creating better experiences for all buyers, regardless of their budget, G has a second life goal:

To predict intent.

Because ultimately, as marketers we’ve been too passive, and we’ve been letting potential customers who’ve demonstrated intent slip away.

Here, I’ll let G explain:

So if you think about growth marketers, for the past 15 years, we’ve driven people to our websites, and then once they’re there we try to optimize the funnel, and we just wait for them. We’re super passive. We create different traps on the website, and we’re just trying to trap people into giving us their contact details.

And the problem is we do that because we’re only finding 1% of the total market that’s coming to our website. Maybe less — often less. And all the others are just never coming to us. We don’t know where they are. They’re on Google, they’re maybe on a competitor’s website, they’re somewhere else. And they’re expressing that intent, you just don’t know about it.

So once you’ve optimized the funnel, well there’s nothing left to do. And that’s a horrible thing to say, because there’s 99% of your potential market who are just never going to know about you unless you do spray and pray advertising, or spray and pray cold email. And that’s something that a lot of us have been doing. We’ve been doing spraying and praying a ton these past years, and it just doesn’t work. It’s still a bad experience.

So what I’ve been trying to do is to try and discover the intent of my potential customers before they come to my website, and to try to identify who they are, what their pain is, and to contact them before they contact me. That’s good selling. I try to solve their problem before the problem gets too big, and before they look at my website or even my competitor’s. I can pull the rug from under my competitors, and I can do that in a very, very positive way — by being helpful to them, and giving them value.

6) “What’s awful is that in B2B SaaS, most of the time when you’re buying, you can experience the stages of the funnel they’re trying to push on you.”

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One of G’s biggest pet peeves when it comes to the traditional sales and marketing funnel: You can actually feel the stages of that funnel being pushed on you.

What’s awful is that in B2B SaaS, most of the time when you’re buying, you can experience the stages of the funnel they’re trying to push on you. They’re trying to qualify you. You can feel it and that’s awful. They ask those qualifying questions: “When are you wanting to buy? What’s your budget?” And I’m like, “Can I know about the product before I answer those questions? Can I have the experience first? OK, you want to fill in your Salesforce, but I’m the customer. I don’t care about that. “

And as G explained, your potential customers aren’t the only ones who suffer as a result of following the traditional model.

You know what’s sad? Sure, it’s a bad experience for the customer, but it’s also a bad experience for the sales rep. These people, they don’t enjoy asking those questions and losing customers who don’t want to answer them. So we’ve created this system that is bad on both sides.

G’s solution: Focus on intent, not some arbitrary funnel.

The reason why I went to intent these past two years is because I discovered the fit was not enough when we start going above the funnel. So, say for example that Nike has a high fit for your company, whatever you sell. And sure, they’ve got the means to pay. And I’m sure there’s a dozen if not more people who have the right titles for your product within Nike. So what are you going to do? You’re just going to email them saying, “Hey, I think you should buy my product.” That’s awful.

In my past job I was selling some pretty complex, server-side B2B technology, and what we found is that you just can’t push that on the people if they don’t have a need right now, if they don’t have a pain, and say, “Hey, I can help you solve this pain.” Because you can’t change their roadmap and ask them to spend a few hundred thousand dollars and go into a six-month implementation cycle because you want to. It’s not going to happen.

7) “Within a few years, we will be able — with good AI — to craft better messages with more intent and more context with a machine than with a human.”

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As a final lesson from G, I leave you with his prediction about the future of email.

The bottom line: If you think humans are always going to be better at crafting relevant messages compared to artificial intelligence…think again.

Often we think that to create a great experience, we’ve got to put humans on the line, and that’s how we’re going to drive that personalized message, that relevance. As humans right now, we give a virtual, higher perceived value to a message that’s written by a human, or that we think is written by a human than written by a machine, or that’s automated. And that’s why marketers and even myself have to admit, we’ve impersonated humans because we know that perceived value is going to be higher.

However, the problem actually is it’s because of the value. It’s because the automated message usually does not have enough value. What I’m putting down here for the future is I believe that within a few years, we will be able — with good AI — to craft better messages with more intent and more context with a machine than with a human. A machine will be way more efficient at collecting all of the data than any sales rep would.

So as humans we’ve got to think now, “How do I evaluate whether I read and believe in that message or not? What’s the value?” And I think we should base it on, “Is this message valuable for me?” I don’t care if it was written by a human or by a machine. I don’t care if the car that drove me here is self-driving or not. Did I get there safely? That’s what’s important for me: Is the service delivered the right one? It’s the same thing for the message.

Learn how sales reps can start more conversations using Drift Sequences: AI-powered email for sales.

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