Lead(H)er: Kate Adams, Vice President of Marketing at Drift
Marketers usually look for a demand generation flywheel before building out their brands. Drift, the Boston-based conversational marketing leader, did things a little bit differently: the founders built their brand first, then set out to build their demand gen competency.
“It’s been the most fun experience of my career so far,” said Kate Adams, the company’s Vice President of Marketing.
Over the last 16 years of her career, Adams has worked in every facet of marketing, from communications and email marketing to strategy development for specific verticals and product marketing. She’s run entire marketing stacks for startups and honed in on one small piece at a time. Adams credits that wide breadth of experience for bringing her to her current role.
At the beginning of her career, after graduating from Regis College with a degree in Spanish language and literature, Adams took on a marketing operations role at HCPro. In her seven years there she developed e-commerce solutions, implementation plans, and overall marketing strategies before becoming the Director of Product Marketing at Edvisors, which was then a small startup. At Edvisors, Adams worked directly with third-party clients to develop and execute traffic-generating campaigns.
Adams continued her career in tech and education as the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Product at Flashnotes, before transitioning into tech marketing at WeSpire, which helps companies design, run, and measure sustainability programs for employees.
In her final stop before her recent move to Drift, SmartBear, she rose from Director of Demand Generation to Associate Vice President of Demand Generation and Marketing Operation.
Over the course of her wide-ranging marketing career, Adams began to notice something: the industry could use a simplified, more human touch.
“B2B marketing is too much about acronyms – SAL and MQL and SQL,” she said. “But if you start and nurture conversations that help customers make good purchasing decisions, that turns marketing into something different. I’ve changed our marketing funnel at Drift to be focused on people and conversations, we don’t measure acronyms here. We measure what matters.”
Adams, who was a Drift customer before joining the team and found that the company’s assessment of what’s wrong with marketing resonated with her, is doing her part by managing Drift’s entire demand generation team. She’s spent the last nine months building out this area of the company’s marketing in anticipation of continued growth.
With that growth comes plenty of new technology. According to Adams, marketers used to have about 300 digital marketing tools at their disposal. Now, they have more than 7,500.
“You have to know what problems you need to solve, but also what’s the most effective tech and how to integrate it with your marketing,” Adams said.
To help bring marketers back to the creative side of their field and cut down on time spent evaluating and implementing tech instead of campaign ideas, Adams and the Drift team let their customers know they understand this pain point. Drift tries to be one thing -- a conversational marketing and sales tool -- and integrates with others that can handle the rest.
In addition to working on getting marketers back into true marketing, Adams is focused on making Drift a place where all marketers ultimately want to work.
“I want them to know that they’ll never have as amazing an experience as they’ll have here, and that they’ll do the best work of their careers here,” she said.
Quick Q(uestions) and A(dvice)
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I have two kids -- one is 12 years old and the other is 15 months, so spending time with them and my wife is a top priority. They can both be exhausting for different reasons – the 12 year old can be mentally exhausting, and the little guy is physically exhausting. I think he covered two miles chasing seagulls on the beach recently. But we love watching them grow.
How do you handle stress?
This is something I’ve been working on the past few years. I think grounding and having perspective is important. We’re not saving lives. In the last few years, I’ve also started meditating in the morning and paying attention to how I start my day. I set my alarm before the little guy gets up so that I make sure to have that time. I visualize my day and think about how I’m going to motivate myself.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
It’s changed in the last nine months. I used to drink a lot more coffee, but now I start every morning with a five-shot iced americano. In the afternoon I have a peach green tea. Starbucks is probably pretty happy with me – they get a lot of my money!
What’s one of your favorite places in the Boston area?
We just started going to Castle Island with the kids. It’s beautiful there. I also really love the JFK Museum. I’m a big history buff and mostly read historical nonfiction. The museum experience is amazing, and the outside is gorgeous. It’s on the water and they have one of JFK’s sailboats out front.
What’s one of your proudest accomplishments?
The teams I’ve built and marketers whose careers I’ve helped accelerate by helping them create clear career paths. That’s definitely what I’m most proud of.
How does where you are now compare to where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
I’m honestly right where I thought I’d be. I’m a driven person and always had a vision of what I wanted and where I was going. Sometimes there was some angst about whether I was getting where I wanted to be fast enough. I couldn’t have envisioned Drift, though – it’s incredible how quickly it’s grown and changed over time. The culture and people here are amazing. I was for sure trying to get to the VP position somewhere, but I really couldn’t have imagined a place as great as Drift.
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
Find something you like, and don’t be afraid to understand that you may not like it in time. It might change. Nothing is permanent – permanence is a myth. If you like marketing, go for marketing, and if you like sales, go for sales. It’s okay to then not be sure if you like it and make a pivot. I learned the most about myself in those situations. Don’t be afraid to dig in and do the work, too. So many people think it’s not about the job they’re doing today, it’s about the next one – but no. It’s about today and the results you’re getting. Good things will come if you focus on the job today. Tell that story of your own results and be proud of what you do, and the rest will follow.