Podcast 216: Mark Kilens, VP of Content and Community at Drift | The Conversations You Have With Customers

Mark Kilens, VP of Content and Community at Drift

Bob Phibbs interviewed Mark Kilens, VP of Content and Community at Drift. Mark talked about his early days working at a college bookstore, how to connect future customers to you in realtime, and how to have more conversations through your website. 

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Tell me something good about retail

Mark Kilens, VP of Content and Community at Drift: The Conversations You Have With Customers


Bob: Bob: Thanks for joining me this week. I am speaking to Nitin Mangtani, with PredictSpring, and welcome.

Nitin: Thank you. Thanks for having me. It's really nice of you to have me here.

Bob: Welcome, Mark. How the hell are you?

Mark: I am doing well, Bob. It's such a pleasure to be speaking with you. You and I go way back.

Bob: I was trying to think, have we gone back like nine years? I think it could be that long because of... When did you start with HubSpot?

Mark: 2010.

Bob: Yes. Easily could be that same time. So, well, I appreciate you joining me on this call. I know you are the master of marketing, you're the master of an awful lot of engagement. I love the idea that it's less, it's excellent. You don't want to do it and you want to fail fast and all that kind of stuff. But for our listeners out there that don't have any idea who you are, who are you and what do you have to do with marketing and with Drift and etc.?

Mark: Sure. One-minute intro. I've been in this digital marketing, inbound marketing, internet marketing, whatever you want to call it, space for over a decade now. I was one of the first 1,000 businesses to use HubSpot. HubSpot is a marketing and sales platform now. And I then joined HubSpot and worked my way through eight and a half years at HubSpot, all the way up to becoming a vice president. Really owning a large part of the content and community strategy of HubSpot, built a brand called HubSpot Academy, educating and inspiring hundreds of thousands, millions of people. Now, I'm at Drift. Joined Drift almost four months ago. Can't believe it's only been four months, it feels like a lot longer. It's a fantastic business. It's a business also building a marketing and sales solution. It's really the best-in-class, though, solution for conversational marketing and sales. It's a new category. HubSpot built what many of you folks probably know as inbound marketing. Drift has built this category called conversational marketing and even conversational sales. We can talk all about that, Bob, but that is the one minute on me.

Bob: All right. Very good. Well, how did you start out? I think you worked at retail when you were in college, right?

Mark: Yes. I actually had a great retail job. It was awesome. It was at the University of New Hampshire computer store. And I was one of the first Apple campus reps. I was one of the first ones in that program, they spun up back in 2003.

Bob: Wow. So, what did you learn from a job in retail that might've come forward with you?

Mark: It's literally, Bob, as you probably know, all about how you treat the customers and the conversations you have with them. It's that simple. I would help people at the UNH computer store when they were joining the college as a freshman. I remember the parents coming in with them right throughout the summer, they would go to the computer store. This was still when internet shopping was big but wasn't as big as it is today. In fact, a funny story, Bob, is the UNH computer store just shut its doors officially forever a year ago. They just couldn't compete.

But I remember getting these people in and then I would see the same faces of these students over the course of two, three, four years. I worked there for basically four years, and I would keep them in mind as they walk in and say, "Oh, hey, so and so," some of them I remembered their names, some of this, but at the end of the day, it all started with how you greeted them, how you helped them understand why they should buy something, why they needed that thing, what was their situation and really make it about how this product that you're trying to sell them could help them in some way so that you build trust, you build credibility on your side, you build confidence with them because this was more of a considered type purchase. There was a $2,000 computer.

Sometimes they bought the printer, the software, it was $3,000, $4,000, and build that confidence with them. So, they left and they gave you those $2,000, $3,000. And they left excited and ready to get going with that new piece of computer or software they bought.

Bob: Yes. But it wasn't just about the product and that's why you intimately know my Retail Doc site. We've been working together for so long that my whole thing is unless we have a conversation and become a trusted advisor, it doesn't matter what the widget is. I'm product agnostic, I don't give a damn what your product is. If I don't feel something when I walk in the door, you don't value my time, I'm pretty much out. Which sounds like kind of the same thing you're doing with Drift. Is that kind of on the mark?

Mark: Exactly. Correct. Bob, has any sale other than you buying toothpaste, for example, has any decent size sale happened without a conversation?

Bob: No.

Mark: So, there you go. And how do we have conversations today? We've been trained by four or five companies, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook. There's one or two more. We've been trained by them in a number of different ways. One of the things we've been trained on is we have unlimited options, we have unlimited ways in some regards in terms of what to buy. Everything has been commoditized. So, the options in how you can buy things, what you can buy, where you can buy them, they're infinite almost. We have unlimited information now and these companies have trained us to communicate in a way that is online now, much more based in real-time instantaneous messaging.

Bob: So, how does Drift help with that? Since you're dying to tell me, I'm sure.

Mark: I am dying because you do a lot of those side on the retail side where it's in-person conversations in person. Now, these companies have trained us to have these conversations online. So, we basically, at the highest levels, help connect you, your future customers now with your sales team. It's that fast. So, instead of waiting to have a conversation, someone comes to your website, they want to have a conversation with you and there's no way for them to start that conversation or have that conversation, we help connect your future customers with your sales team right now. And really that's a paradigm shift because what I did at HubSpot and I still love HubSpot, Bob. Love HubSpot. Inbound marketing is still a great way to get people to your website, to your business.

However, that's only half the equation. You need to do both things today. You need to get them to your website and now you need to engage with them, understand them at a deeper level, understand how you can help them, understand why they might buy from you, why you might want them as a customer, and recommend the best things for them. And that could be product, but that also could just be an idea, a piece of content, whatever. So, you can truly have a good conversation with them and be in a place so that when they are ready to have a conversation with you because they have the attention on you. And attention is precious. Right, Bob? With retail, attention, people have no attention spans.

Bob: What'd you say?

Mark: People have no attention... It's hilarious. So, that's the whole point. It's how to have more conversations through your websites and connecting your buyers that are interested to buy right now with your sales team.

Bob: Well, I like your idea that it's conversations, not forms, but are you just talking about putting bots on there? Because I got to tell you, I got a bot on my site and I don't know if it's just I'm not ready for it or they're not ready for it or whatever it is. Is that what it is? We're just going to go to AI and things are going to just be talking to us or is it human-to-human conversation? What are you talking about here?

Mark: It's a good question. So, there's really two overarching things. There's bots that facilitate an introduction to a human, and then there's live chat. And live chat is a human is ready to go. Ready to have a conversation with this website visitor right now. The biggest flaw our people make when introducing, I'll start with bots, is they try to have a bot on their website that first off asks a very bad question. Meaning you go to the website and the bot asks, "How can I help you?" Bob, would you ever recommend a person, and you've trained millions of people, go into your retail store and ask, "How can I help you?"

Bob: No. I wouldn't.

Mark: That's what I see on the internet though, with these bots. It's terrible. So, don't ask that. Don't say that. Greet them with some context around what you do. It could be your value prop, your high-level value prop, it could be something that you helped them solve. Make that the first greeting question they see in that bot on the bottom right-hand side of the website typically, instead of, "How can I help you?" And then second, the biggest thing I see with bots that people make mistakes with is they try to have the bot understand, and this is where you think AI is working, but it's really not. They try to have the bot understand what the person is saying.

Bob: The context. Exactly.

Mark: Exactly. The context. Don't do that. Instead, use what we call bot responses and bot answers. So, what that means is when the bot shows a question, the bot will then immediately after showing that question, show two, three or four bots-in answers that a person interacting that bot can select. And once someone selects one of those things, say like, "Yes. I'm interested in learning more about your product." Maybe that's the bot-in response, it's really conversational tone. The bot is going to give a response back just like a human would expect another human to say. And then the bot might ask another question depending on the context of the conversation.

Bob: And then you get to the human being.

Mark: No. It depends on what the buyer wants, Bob. Then the bot might route in a human being or might schedule a meeting with a human being. But it really depends on what the buyer on that website right now wants to do.

Bob: So, what kinds of success stories can you give me? Give me an example of somebody that said, "Oh, my God. This is the best thing since slice bread, HubSpot, Retail Doc." What would be a good story of somebody who might have used this?

Mark: Yes. There's many examples. We actually just announced, if you went to drift.com and just go /case_studies, you'll find them all. But Marketo, Marketo actually is a customer. Marketo is a marketing automation platform. And we mostly have B2B customers, we do have some B2C, it's like 75-25. But again, any type of considered purchase, think about buying a car, going to college, buying a high-end piece of workout equipment, buying even some type of high-end subscription. That's B2C facing. Drift is great for this, conversation marketing is perfect for this because you need to help people understand why they should buy something. So, Marketo uses Drift. We just announced this amazing success story with Marketo. They had a ton of success with Drift. They had, I think it was 8,000 plus conversations since they implemented Drift. And at the end of the day, what those conversations all led to was a 10% increase in pipeline.

Bob: Wow, that's huge.

Mark: Yes. Because they have hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, Bob. So, 10%, that's like tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

Bob: Absolutely. And who would they get contact? Who do they get connected with? The real sales rep from Marketo or is it some offshore person who's spoofing us to believe that it's Jane when it's somebody else? Or how does that work? Is every business is different or?

Mark: It's a really good question. Actually, that goes to the second answer I wanted to give around live chat. So, you should never make it seem like a real person is behind a bot if it's truly a bot. So, we call the bot on drift.com Driftbot. You can give it any name, like funny names. You can give it whatever. The Wistia, W-I-S-T-I-A, it's a video hosting company, calls it the Lennybot. It's the dog around the office, Lennybot. It's hilarious. So, you could give the bot whatever name you want, just make sure it's not a human and make sure you use an animated character face. But when it is a human, when it's truly live chat, then you can flip it over to show the human face, you can show the person's name. And what the bot is going to do is either going to get someone to human right away as part of that conversation. And that's definitely what Marketo and other top customers do because they have a sales development rep team, they have some human team behind the scenes waiting to have these conversations. Or maybe you have an account executive team too, most likely you do, you could also just have the bots schedule a meeting either with the sales development rep or with the account executive riding [SP] that buffalo in case the buyer doesn't have time to have a live conversation or they don't need to have a live conversation. It's both.

Bob: Well, I think that's kind of this challenge, isn't it? Because on the one side you think, "All right, someone's at my site. I've got to answer them right this second." But let's be honest, a site like mine, I have people from Australia and India and all kinds of places that wanted me to chat right then. Yes. It's 2:00 in the morning in New York. I'm probably not going to set myself as available on a conversation. But having that ability for them to choose a conversation at a more convenient time, that's got to be...again, it's helpful but it's also human, right?

Mark: Yes.

Bob: That's the kind of thing that you would expect if you called and you got your secretary, she would say, "Well, he can't speak right now. How about if we put you in the calendar?" I like that. Well, let's go on a little bit more about you. So, what do you think the biggest challenge is that you've run into in the last, I don't know, two to three years and how you handled it?

Mark: I think this is a challenge that any business listening to this podcast is facing right now, Bob. And I'd love your perspective. It goes back to something I said at the beginning of the podcast. The amount of information is insane. What do you think?

Bob: And unfortunately, as a retail expert, I'm the one out there trying to get even more of my stuff out there because, frankly, we're all in this overdrive to produce content, we're all becoming the channel of one, we're all realizing that the only one that's going to make me is if I can break through. I look at you, you're on Medium, you're on LinkedIn, you're on all of these other places, in addition to Drift. Because our personal brands are what has to keep cutting through all the time. And while that's fine, we don't have the time to listen to other people, which is what I find myself as you say, "Oh, I don't have time to read that." But then we just kind of continue to just get further into our own cocoon, don't you think?

Mark: I agree. And this is why I joined Drift. One of the reasons. When you have someone who comes to your website, and they can come to your website because they clicked on an ad, they got an email, they remembered you somehow by looking at a billboard, they just thought of you when they were sleeping and woke up and came to your website for some reason. Now is the time, when they are on your website, if they need to talk to you, now is the time to be ready to have a conversation or schedule a time to have a conversation. And that is the whole point of conversational marketing and sales in Drift. And the old way you would have to fill out a form, wait, maybe never hear back, wait many days, whatever, get some emails, never get followed up. It's horrific.

Bob: You're chasing each other the whole time. Right. Exactly.

Mark: Yes. It like they're saying your store is closed for business. Your store is never closed for business anymore. Your website should be your story. It is your story. It should be the front of it, and you should always be ready to have a great conversation with someone.

Bob: Can't disagree with that. So, what do you think you would tell a friend who's going into retail? You sit down, a buddy of yours is there in Boston, your young buddy is out there, you've gone out drinking and he says, "Hey, I've got to talk to you, Mark. I'm thinking of opening my own retail store in, I don't know, Back Bay, somewhere" And you're like, "Okay. What's your best shot?" So, what would you tell somebody like that?

Mark: So, first off, everything is being commoditized. Just lay out the truth. It is, right?

Bob: But you say that. But hold on a second. I am going to take a little exception. So, if that's the case, then why are craft beer places all over the place? Why do we have so many versions of coffee shops and farm to market and everything else? Not everything is being commoditized. We're valuing stuff that isn't. Wouldn't you agree?

Mark: No, no. I would argue craft beer is commoditized because there's so many options. What is more important now is brand and experience.

Bob: Totally agree.

Mark: So, that's a secret, I think.

Bob: That is the secret. But, again, you and I both know it's one thing to say it, it's another thing to deliver it 100%.

Mark: I agree.

Bob: So, you can say, "We're going to value every guest that walks in the door." Well, so what? But how are you going to show that? What does that look like and how does that happen with every employee you hire? And then ultimately to your point, realize 80% of the merchandise you carry is carried by somebody else. If that scares you, then you're probably not cut out for it. But if you can say, "Yes. But I'm going to do it...here's my unique hook I'm going to do. So, I'm never going to use Drift on my website," maybe that's a piece of it. Maybe they're going to say, "I'm going to do inbound marketing. I'm going to figure out how to blog about five reasons you need to buy wool over cashmere." I don't know, or, "Why colored apricot pudding is better than chocolate," or whatever it's going to be. You're going to have that. And then you're also going to say, "But the key is still going to be a more human interaction in an increasingly technological world." And I think ultimately, that's what you're trying to solve and ultimately, what we're all trying to be. Because if products are all becoming commoditized, then one has to say, "If you go up one level, then aren't we all becoming commoditized." If we're really just a lead, if I'm really just a thing to get away from or get your money, then ultimately, that is going to make us, I think, again, more lonely and more anxious.

Mark: Yes. You need a point of view.

Bob: Some point of view.

Mark: You need a point of view and you need to relentlessly beat your brand point of view and your brand promise into people over time. And you need to fulfill that promise on the back end.

Bob: Yes. Because that's the key. To me, is... I might fulfill it on the back end all the time because anybody can say, "This is what we do." We see it in retail all the time. "This is the kind of service we provide," then you go into a store and you're like, "Dude, why did I even come into the store? It's nothing like it." But somebody made me believe it, somebody made me think that's been better. When you get overwhelmed or unfocused or you've lost your focus temporally, what do you do? I know you're a skier, I know you're a golfer, but what do you do to kind of recharge? Because you're a pretty high-energy guy, to begin with, and you're in a very fast-moving technological world. So, you have to unplug at some point and do something. What would your go-to thing be?

Mark: Other than those things you mentioned, it's really about taking time to do a lot of reading. I love reading. And actually, that helps me reflect. So, I would find things that interest you and it doesn't have to be business-related. I love personally books that are related to how business is. This is my thing and this is from businesses from 100 years ago to now, how businesses succeeded and failed. And some of these books are all-time classics. Some of them I'll read once and never read again. But one book that I think actually can help a lot of people in retail that I'd recommend you read, and I want to know if you read this, Bob, yet, is "Influence" by Robert Cialdini.

Bob: Oh, sure.

Mark: It's a key book, right?

Bob: Well, it's ultimately what kind of put the new stake in the ground which is where everything kind of spread up from like, "Oh, it's all about influencing people, it's not beating you over the head, it's making you want to come to us."

Mark: A hundred percent. And I'll give everyone else listening to the podcast another book that might be like, I don't know if I would read it, if you folks have read it in terms of if you're in retail, but I think you would learn so much if actually did read it. You probably would never pick it up because it's more of like an online book. Like, "Why would I read this?" It's called "Expert Secrets" by Russell Brunson. "Expert Secrets." I think that's a great book. He's also got a book called the "DotCom Secrets." Two amazing books too.

Bob: Wow. Those two, I'm not familiar with, but then I'm not an online guy like you. So, there's that. When are you going to write your book, man?

Mark: It's funny though. I'm writing a very, very short book about why long commutes are good.

Bob: And your target market here is?

Mark: I don't know. I just want to write this. I don't know if it's going to be a print or if it's just going to be digital. But I've had a long commute since 2010 and I know for a fact why I love long commutes. And obviously, some people are going to be completely in disagreement with me. But again, I have a strong point of view, I have examples and facts to back this up. And it's going to be a 50, 60-page book that's going to be jam-packed with examples and actionable advice. And that's the book.

Bob: Dude, it's got to be an audiobook. Are you kidding? They're going to be on a long commute.

Mark: A hundred percent. I want people to have a copy though, like either digital or physical. But no. Definitely, it will be an audiobook. You'll be able to get through that audiobook, though, in maybe, hopefully, one day.

Bob: One commute.

Mark: One commute in, one commute home.

Bob: I like that. Great. Well, listen, how can they find out more about the work that you do, my friend?

Mark: There's two places. There's this news thing called Drift Insider. Drift Insider Club. Have you heard about this yet?

Bob: I have not heard about Drift Insider.

Mark: Ooh, you've got to become a member. It is a free membership, but then there's also a $99 a year premium online exclusive learning community. So, that's Drift Insider Plus. Check either of those out. You're going to get so many of our secrets, especially on the Insider Plus side. But if you just want to learn about conversational marketing, we published a book. There's the "Conversational Marketing" book that came out a couple of months ago. It's one of the best sellers on Amazon, you can find it everywhere. You can basically find it in any airport bookstore if you're traveling a lot. And then just drift.com.

Bob: All right. I just went to Drift Insider and what was the first one I saw, how to do a podcast. Well, I hope I at least hit some of those, my friend. It's always a pleasure to talk to you. And continued success, my friend.

Mark: Likewise, Bob. Take care.

Bob: Thanks, buddy. Bye.

Follow Mark on Twitter as Mark Kilens

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