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Most businesses have their customer data stored across different platforms and databases. Confluent allows its users to see it all in one unified view, and make real-time decisions.
The company has seen massive growth with its enterprise-focused platform since its founding in 2014. But when they launched their self-serve, pay-as-you-go product, Confluent Cloud, they found that they needed to re-think their strategic approach. While their core SDR team was still critical to their enterprise success, they quickly learned the traditional SDR sales motion was not aligned to the product-led-growth motion that their new product required.
Plenty of users were signing up and onboarding, but too many were dropping off soon after. As Kelsey Bowman, Sr. Manager of Product Led Growth, explains:
“We wanted to understand and solve for why someone would come in, sign up, connect their data source, and then just stop and turn off the product.”
The team’s theory was that customers might need human assistance to help them get to a point of successful activation. They thought the business would see more value if they focused their SDRs on unblocking sign-ups on a customer's path to activation.
As Christian Glason, Confluent’s Director of Growth, put it: “Everybody generally tries to start doing product-led growth without human intervention. But the question is, ‘Can you do that? And is that the right thing to do? Our current hypothesis is that there is a certain amount of human intervention required.”
Their core SDR team wasn’t always technical enough to offer the kind of support that users needed, though, and their technical support team worked exclusively with customers who paid for support. It wasn’t cost-effective to offer the same level of support at the self-serve level.
“So the question was, can we create a new team that is cost-effective, but technically skilled to get users past that first day's worth of activity and into regular product usage?” Kelsey says.
Before starting to assemble this new team, the first step was to define goals.
What would the new team look like? How far would they take users in their onboarding journey? What will their metrics of success be? As CMO Stephanie Buscemi explains:
“The idea was, how do we create these in-product coaches that are not incentivized by the traditional telemetrics? They’re not driven by leads, they don’t care about call volume, they’re not counting how many meetings they’re booking. All they’re focused on is doing whatever they can to help that person get set up and running successfully.”
While Confluent called the new team “Cloud SDRs,” (inspired by the name of the self-serve product), they actually promised to play a much different role than their core SDR team, with their main goals being to:
Drive sign-ups, activation, and product-led revenue.
Put the customer first by gaining valuable qualitative feedback on the product.
The new Cloud SDRs would need to be comfortable doing live demos and providing technical solutions. They’d also need to be able to upsell when the opportunity arose. As a first step in recruiting for the team, they looked to see if they could find these traits in any of their existing employees.
“We identified one core SDR, Phil, who we've always known to be more technical and who has seen success helping pay-as-you-go users successfully scale and grow their usage. We pulled him over to be the foundation of the team.” says Kelsey.
Using Phil as their model, two more employees were hired.
Since this team was brand new, there were many unknowns. Kelsey knew experimentation would be key to success, and the team needed to build its infrastructure to guide them in what was working, and what wasn’t. In addition to setting up Cloud SDR lead routing infrastructure, Kelsey also set up dashboards that showed how their metrics of success were trending. Those metrics included:
Response Rate - the percentage of Cloud users who Cloud SDRs were engaging with
Average spending per lead - the average amount of revenue each lead was spending in the product
With support from Confluent’s CEO, the team used these metrics to stand up a formal A/B test by routing a percentage of leads to the company’s traditional SDR team (the control) and a percentage to the new Cloud SDRs (the variant).
While the Cloud SDRs had clear goals and metrics they were trying to optimize, their ultimate goal was to “unblock users.” Kelsey explains:
“If a person reaches out and says ‘Hey, I have a question about this specific connector, you send the documents. You offer to hop on a Zoom call and walk them through it. You send a recorded demo. Anything that you can do to unblock someone.”
To identify when users needed help, automated email notifications were set up to let Cloud SDRs know when a lead completed an important action in the product, such as reaching a certain threshold of spend or creating a new cluster. These notifications also included suggestions on next steps to take, such as doing more research on the user’s product usage and entering them into email sequences in Outreach.
In addition to identifying when Cloud SDRs should reach out to a user, they also wanted to give users tools to raise their hands and ask for help. As a solution, Drift chat bots were implemented at strategic parts of the user journey: pre-believer (for visitors on Confluent’s Cloud marketing pages), pre-buyer (for visitors that had not yet signed up, but were watching demos), and customer (in the product UI). Rules were set up to route leads based on the content they were engaging with:
After seeing success with the chat bots (the in-app tooltip alone led to a 70% lift in clicks), they experimented with offering private demos with Cloud SDRs on the marketing site. This led to a 93% lift in clicks to schedule a call, an unprecedented result for this component on the site:
All of this experimentation was aimed at improving the response rate for pay-as-you-go customers, which has steadily increased since growing the team from one to three Cloud SDRs.
Today, while the team is constantly optimizing for response rate, they’ve identified one big “gap” to vastly improving the metric: scaling out and globalizing the Cloud SDR team which would allow them to help more users across more time zones. Moving forward, the plan is to expand the Cloud SDR motion across regions, and results are expected to continue to grow as a result.
The team looked at their data and saw both quantitative and qualitative metrics trending positively. They were so strong that they decided to cut the A/B test short early, as it would have taken them over a year to reach full statistical significance and they did not want to wait that long to enable further growth.
The experiment’s leading metric, average product spend per lead, had a 100% lift compared to the control group (no Cloud SDR interaction):
Beyond early positive quantitative signals, the team was swimming in qualitative validation, with one customer mentioning “the people that work at Confluent are a differentiator” compared to competitors he was evaluating in his buying journey. The initiative has also substantially impacted business operations, providing valuable frameworks, tools and dashboards for monitoring key milestones along the pay-as-you-go journey.
“We've got a new definition for what it means to take a pay-as-you-go user into sales’ hands and how we define ‘sales ready,’” says Kelsey. “How much do they need to be spending with us and at what rate? Are they using our IP? If so, how much? All of those definitions and processes really originated from growing this team.”
Not only that, but there’s a new level of communication in play that promises to improve the product experience itself. “The Cloud SDR team is really on the frontline with customers getting active with Confluent Cloud,” says Christian. “And they are able to pass those insights directly to our product team, who then are able to complete that feedback loop and design better onboarding and customer experiences within the actual product UI.”
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