Drift’s Opportunity to Disrupt the Sales Bro Archetype

You’re too loud.

You’re too nice.

You’re not nice enough.

Speak up, lean in, but not too much.

The women of the tech industry are used to being told how to act and I’ve come to expect hearing men tell me what it takes to succeed. What I didn’t expect to hear was a man brag about his sex life during a keynote speech at a professional conference.

Last Tuesday, Drift held its 2nd ever, annual Hypergrowth conference. Sales and marketing attendees from around the US gathered into the Boston Seaport’s Blue Hills Pavilion for a day of inspirational keynotes and interviews with thought leaders ranging from Olympian Aly Raisman to business moguls like Ryan Deiss.

Towards the end of the morning, after Ryan Deiss told the audience about the character diamond and the importance of good branding and storytelling (hat tip), a new speaker introduced himself as Grant Cardone. I hadn’t noticed him on the list of speakers and as a marketer, that’s probably why. I enjoy working with business development teams — but I’d never spent the time reading Cardone’s salesbook/manifesto “ The 10x Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure.” Even as a data-driven marketer, the customers and users I write for represent humans, not a contribution to my bank account.

Distrust building into disgust

As he started his talk, a bad feeling brewed in my gut. He talked about messaging and suggested that successful salespeople repeat their message over and over to the prospective customer, even if their reaction wasn’t favorable.

What if the customer isn’t receptive and doesn’t think they need your service or product? Too bad, Cardone says. Cram the message down their throats until they’re forced to swallow. People will buy from you if they love you and even if they hate you. This method worked for Donald Trump. And now look where he is.

I shifted in my seat, thinking back to the beginning of the day and how Dave Cancel and Dave Gerhardt gave a disclaimer to the audience at the beginning of the day. We were warned that not all of the speakers would be immediately accepted; that perspectives would be challenged. Is this what they meant?

Cardone went on to compare his relationship with his wife to his perspective on sales. He pursued his wife like he would any sales opportunity, and he knew the day he met her that he’d marry her. I checked my phone: yep, still 2018. I looked around: no handmaids in red robes. I hoped that he’d turn his talk back to business, but he continued. She is good looking, he told us, and when Cardone’s wife refused to join him on stage, he asked the camera crew to find her in her seat. They complied and by the look on her face, she wasn’t expecting it. I felt embarrassed for her.

That would have, undeniably, been off-putting to many in the the audience. What came next was __repulsive__.

That’s probably going to get me sex tonight, he said.

I looked up from my notes. In fact it’ll probably get me sex right after this on the flight home.

WTF. A Director of Sales at a local company and I shared a look of dismay. Then,

“Do you know what it’s like to have sex five miles up in the air? Amazing.”

I looked around and saw several people staring straight ahead or diverting their eyes. I’ll admit — it wasn’t easy to watch. And there was an element in Cardone’s delivery that was so brash and caustic that I found myself having a visceral reaction. I recoiled. And then, I tweeted:

“Not afraid to admit that I don’t like @drift’s current speaker. I’m all for entertaining different opinions and he has made a couple valuable points, but he seems like an antifeminist, chauvinistic jerk. I don’t want to buy from @GrantCardone. #HYPERGROWTH18.”

After Cardone’s delivery, I couldn’t focus, which was unfortunate for the other speakers. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Another woman from a well known Boston company tweeted to say that her entire team had left the Hypergrowth conference after Cardone’s delivery.

Twitter kind of blew up.

Drift’s David Cancel tweeted to apologize for his talk:

The culture of toxic masculinity in tech

Drift claimed that they didn’t vet the speakers as well as they should have.

Call me crazy, but a conference this big, that is promoted for so long, with three huge company announcements and an Olympian athlete speaking, vetting speakers is table stakes.

Luckily, my friends know how to do their research. One of them dug in on Cardone. His booking fee for conferences like Hypergrowth starts at $100K. And that’s not including flight and accommodation. That line item, combined with the fact that his brand is oh-so-obvious once you spend any time on his social media accounts or website, has me hesitating. I’m not about to buy that Drift didn’t know who Grant Cardone was and what his brand represented. And luckily, I’m not the only one that called bullsh*t.

I had left by the time David Cancel got on stage and apologized for Grant Cardone’s behavior. The Twitterverse flit:

He’s a legend. Said one person.

To me, these actions don’t qualify as “legendary.”

Humility is something that is required of the best business people, but only if it’s followed by action. The Drift social media handle issued an apology, but that is not the grand action that the tech community actually needs.

There was something more disturbing at play, and it reminded all of us that we still cultivate some dangerous attitudes in the current startup/tech culture in Boston, and beyond.

What I didn’t mention about Cardone’s talk was that many people in the audience found what he was saying comical. It was “funny” that he was subjecting his wife to humiliation and jokes in front of (literally) thousands of people.

This is not reflective of Drift’s brand, people in the Twitterverse wrote.

Maybe not, but a good portion of Drift’s customer base are salespeople, and many of those in Drift’s audience laughed at the fact that Grant Cardone, the-millionaire-with-the-hot-wife, was cracking sexist jokes on stage at a conference.

What’s important is that this situation did not cultivate in a vacuum. This modern day chauvinism is the “flaw” on the character diamond of many high-growth tech companies, including the Drift brand.

Ryan Deiss included a slide from DigitalMarketer.com in his presentation the morning of Hypergrowth. DigitalMarketer.com & Ryan Deiss and not affiliated with Grant Cardone.

Luckily for us, social media channels like Twitter enable us to speak up more loudly than before. I’m not convinced that there would have been an on-stage apology if Twitter hadn’t been trending away from positive sentiments.

Grant Cardone’s performance at Drift set off a ripple effect and the rings are still reverberating across many channels of messaging within the community. The startup community is one that is close-knit and because of that, brand is a fickle thing. When you aren’t Apple, you can’t overlook one mistake and rely on brand loyalty — the truth is you may just not be there yet.

The flaws of the character diamond can be so deep that they overshadow the rest of the character. But Drift has an opportunity here, in my opinion. They have the opportunity to continue speaking out against actions like Cardone’s moments last Tuesday.

This type of behavior is not okay in 2018.

The backlash seen on Twitter proves that both women and men within the tech industry are done sitting quietly while men like Cardone spew sexist ideas.

Sales trainer John Barrows post an impassioned plea for sales teams to remember what sales is all about. He’s concerned about the Glengarry Glen Ross and ‘bro’ mentality creeping its way back into the current culture of Sales. Drift knows, and preaches, the importance of brand. For that reason, I’m sure that they know thinking like the “sales bro,” focusing only on the bottom line is a shortsighted strategy. The marketer by nature considers the holistic story and long-term impact.

Now that we’ve entered the aftermath of Hypergrowth East, we’ll see what happens at Hypergrowth West and how Drift takes what they’ve learned last Tuesday and put it into action both at next year’s event and also within their company culture.

Ultimately the brand backlash speaks louder than any chauvinist pig with a microphone, and those who used to speak up quietly within the tech world’s whisper network are shouting on social media. A big kudos to all of the women and men who spoke up about this incident and who keep holding companies (and their brands) to their values.

To the Drift team — we’re proud of Boston’s tech brands and we’re here to support you in building a community of innovation with respect. In the meantime, we’ll be watching.

***Curious about what came after this story? I wrote a followup piece and you can read it here.***