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The exact customer-driven methodology Drift used to grow from 0 to 70k customers in 4 years

David Cancel at work

In today’s article, we deep dive into what led to David’s discovery of this methodology as well as what each of these insights looks like in daily practice at Drift.

The light bulb moment that led to Drift’s customer-driven methodology

Back in 2009, David founded his 3rd company, Performable (acquired by HubSpot in 2012), to help marketers analyze their performance.

performable website

At the time, David would struggle to get his engineering and product teams to build the features that he felt would have the biggest impact. No matter how he positioned it, he’d always get the same reply:

“No, you don’t understand," they’d say. “It’s too difficult. It’ll take forever to do this.”

But then the company started growing faster than it could hire support people, so David had every single employee start taking customer support calls right away—including the engineers.

That’s when something magical happened…

Suddenly the features that were impossible to build were getting built in a matter of hours.


Almost immediately, the Performable engineers started getting gifts sent to their office by delighted customers.

David started hearing stories from their customers such as:

“You know, the engineers in my company won't even talk to me, and your engineers actually fixed something.”

hypergrowth customer feedback

The running joke among the customers was that Performable’s answer to everything was just “hit refresh.”

As in, the engineers would actually fix a customer’s issue or feature request while the customer was still on the call. In real time. To see the fix or feature, all they had to do was hit refresh.


What Drift’s customer-driven methodology looks like today

Once HubSpot acquired Performable in 2012, David came on board as HubSpot’s Chief Product Officer and immediately went to work testing and refining this new customer-driven methodology.

By the time he left HubSpot to found Drift, David had helped cut HubSpot’s churn in half and increase their annual revenue retention from 75% to 95% (Source: HYPERGROWTH).

Let’s dive into what each of these insights actually looks like in practice at Drift.

Customer-driven insight #1: everyone stays in touch with the customer. Always.

After his experience at Performable and HubSpot, David made sure that his new company, Drift, would be built 100% around the notion that every team member should stay as close to the customer as possible.

david cancel and team at drift

To achieve this, David and his team created a system of customer-based metrics (more on that later) and what he calls ‘guardrails’ to make sure that Drift’s teams stay in touch with the customer on a regular basis.


And while David’s epiphany came from having each team member take actual customer calls, that’s no longer a requirement at Drift.

The main focus now is for his product and engineering teams to have weekly user testing and user research calls with customers—either in person or via Zoom.

Some still rotate through shadowing support calls (especially if they are new), customer success call, or sales calls. But the emphasis is less on whether each team member is joining the calls and more on are they spending at around 6-8 hours interacting directly with customers.

That’s true for the leadership team as well at Drift, though with a slightly different focus…

Customer-driven insight #2: focus on the unscalable

David is a firm believer that the key to scaling a company successfully is to focus on the unscalable things.

Here’s what he means:


Customer-driven insight #3: make customer research a priority

According to David, the most powerful insights come from direct interactions with users (a belief we share at Hotjar).

And a key source to getting those insights has to do with understanding the daily practices of your customer.

That’s because while surveys are powerful, many times what people think they want is different than what they actually need.

That’s why at Drift, they’d gain these insights directly by visiting their customers in their ‘natural setting.’

drift co founders

As David mentions in his book, HYPERGROWTH:


David makes sure to earmark a certain percentage of his time to get out of his office to talk to customers and prospects. In person and at their office, if possible, but at least over a coffee, a walk, or lunch.

The key is for David to “get them in an environment where their guard is down, and we can start talking about things that matter.”

However, to successfully transform those insights into action, there’s another important step along the way...

Customer-driven insight #4: process customer feedback the right way

In David’s experience, there are three questions he gets asked over and over when it comes to customer feedback:

  • After I talk to a customer, what should I do with their feedback?
  • How do I make customer feedback actionable?
  • How do I cut through the “noise” and make sense of what all these customers are telling me?

But there’s a problem most people have when it comes to processing feedback:


According to David, the most important part of that feedback  wasn’t the Trello features. It was the part where the customer asked ‘How do I…?’

That’s why he and his team developed The Spotlight Framework:

To help people identify whether the feedback they’re getting is pointing to a User Experience issue, a Product Marketing issue, or a Positioning issue.

drift spotlight framework

The key is to use the framework to categorize what the underlying issue is behind the feedback, so your product team can make the right call on what to focus on next.

You can use Excel or a Google Doc. The important thing is to process your feedback on a regular basis and categorize it, then turn that into action, measure the results, and then get more feedback.

Customer-driven insight #5: get your features out in the field before you market them

While at HubSpot, David and his team got into the habit of releasing a feature about six months before they ever mentioned it in any marketing material (in fact, that’s exactly how we launched Hotjar).

That way customers have time to interact with the feature and—most importantly—give feedback. The product team would then use that feedback to iterate on and improve the feature.

drift product team at work

By the time it was time to officially launch that feature, the marketing team would have a wealth of useful feedback to use in their announcements.


Customer-driven insight #6: only reward performance based on customer-driven metrics

At Drift, all the teams are organized to focus on and be rewarded only for customer-driven metrics.

According to David, rewarding the kinds of things that most engineering teams focus on, such as hitting sprint points or releasing version 2.0 on a specific date, leads teams to become dogmatic and divorced from their customers


So what kind of metrics do they measure at Drift?

Here are a few examples:

  • Are the customers using the product more or less? (Churn)
  • Are the customers who are using the feature a particular team developed upgrading more often as a result? By how much? (Recurring Revenue Expansion)
  • Are the customer support issues for a given product going up or down? (Customer satisfaction)
  • Are the customers likely to recommend Drift to someone else? (Net Promoter Score®)

The metrics are compiled using an in-house analytics tool and surveys, then used as proxies to understand whether a specific product team is pulling those metrics in the right direction.


Do it like Drift…

Based on this methodology, here are three actions you can take right now to get closer to your customer:

  1. Book a call or meeting with at least three customers to get their feedback one-on-one
  2. Set up an NPS® survey or incoming feedback to get feedback from a larger group of customers
  3. Pick a customer-driven metric for your team that you can start measuring today

After all:


Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.

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