It’s hardly earth-shattering to say that better marketing leads to better sales. But in today’s online business, there’s no denying that the right marketing strategy can have a huge impact on everything from lead generation to buying experience.
In this episode of Labcast, HubSpot VP of Sales Mark Roberge calls in to discuss the link between sales and inbound marketing and what young businesses can do to make the two work better together.
For more from Mark and the rest of the HubSpot team, check out the HubSpot Inbound Marketing Blog.
Brendan Cournoyer: Hello again everyone, and welcome to this episode of Labcast. Today we are joined by Mark Roberge, VP of Sales at HubSpot. Mark, thanks very much for joining us today.
Mark Roberge: Thanks, Brendan.
Brendan: HubSpot, if you’re online right now and you’re interested in online marketing lead generation, it’s pretty hard to escape HubSpot. You guys are everywhere right now. But for those who aren’t familiar, why don’t you give us a quick breakdown of what HubSpot is all about and your background?
Mark: Sure, Brendan. About four or five years ago, we had done a thesis at MIT about the changing buying patterns of prospects and folks out there in the marketplace due to the advent of the Internet, and how it was misaligned with the way that sales and marketing teams were going to market. At the time, we coined the term inbound marketing. It all came from this thesis that we had done at the Institute.
The basis of it was the majority of folks were going to market by doing cold calls, or going to trade shows, or buying lists for direct mail or email marketing, and trying to pound down the walls of their potential prospects to get in the door. The effectiveness of those techniques was significantly decreasing. More and more, those buyers were empowered to go online, to go to Google, to go to social media, and conduct searches or pose questions to their peers about the different pains that they’re having and how people are solving them.
Companies are looking to align themselves and get found where those people are searching, and once they’re found, convert those visitors into leads and customers. That’s essentially what HubSpot does, is we provide all the basic software tools necessary to achieve that goal.
Brendan: When you talk about that, there’s a real connection there between sales and marketing. Do you find that that changes the way you guys look at the sales process, being that not just the services and products that you guys are putting out there, but just your overall methodology, I guess?
Mark: Absolutely. Obviously, we eat our own cooking internally. Last month, as an example, our marketing team generated 40,000 inbound leads for the team. I’ve got 100 people on the sales team. Probably about 75 of them are sellers, are in sales closing roles. Those leads are divvied up amongst them. We’ve certainly driven our entire sales process using the methodology of inbound marketing.
It presents a lot of great opportunities and some unique challenges that you don’t see in more traditional cold calling type of environments. We are tied to the hip with marketing. We really can’t be successful unless marketing is successful. There are a lot of proactive elements we’ve had to do around the communication process. We have meetings at the management level to make sure we’re in sync on different campaigns and what’s actually working.
We have service level agreements, SLAs, that are defined between the marketing and sales teams to be as quantitative and specific as possible on what each group needs to deliver to one another – how many leads, what quality of leads. Once marketing hits those, how deep, how frequently should sales call them? What’s the expectation into conversion to opportunity, conversion to pipeline, conversion to customer? We’ve tried to be as metrics-driven as possible in defining that relationship and creating a very scalable, predictable channel.
Brendan: As far as defining that relationship goes, you’re talking about really sticking to certain measurable metrics. That has always been a challenge in the past when it comes to marketing, particularly brand marketing and some of the online marketing initiatives people go through, finding measurable metrics to really measure the success. With you guys being so tied to the hip with marketing, do you think that’s one of the major challenges for other companies, especially young startups and expansion-stage ones, as far as getting those sales and marketing in line and lockstep the same way you guys have?
Mark: A little bit. I mean, I think, historically, marketing has been challenging to measure exactly what success is. When you throw up a billboard or if you throw out a print ad, you could use different techniques to try to get down actually how much influence it had, but there’s always someone driving by or someone skimming through, that it’s very difficult to measure. I think also driven by this change of the digital age, the actual success or failure of these campaigns is much easier to measure. I think a lot of folks are trying to progress in that area, and it’s certainly an area that startups can do a better job in.
I think the other element is there’s an ability to capture so much more data about the people that are visiting you, even if they don’t tell you anything about them. Oftentimes, you can figure out, using the IP, what company they’re from, what pages they looked at. Once they do identify themselves, you can aggregate all that information together. You can be a lot more scientific about the different demographics and engagement metrics that all your leads have, and which ones are correlating with success through your sales funnel.
I think generically speaking, Brendan, what you’re getting at is what are some of the trends I see with startups with regards to this? I think, generically speaking, they’re not adding enough science and data to their sales and marketing process. They’re being a little bit too gut-oriented. They’re trying to get right down to the close, as opposed to practicing what that formula looks like. Even when you’re small, really working on that formula and how it works is critical, because ultimately, you do want to scale. It’s going to be much more comforting to you and your investors if you have that formula worked out.
Brendan: I also wanted to ask a little bit about, as far as online marketing, a lot of that these days for new companies is really driven by content. HubSpot is very focused on creating lots of valuable, unique content for improving HubSpot’s branding, as well as helping other companies improve their overall branding and reach engagement with customers. I’ve read a lot recently about how content can be used as far as improving the sales process. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about some of your ideas and experiences, as far as how some of the content initiatives within HubSpot have helped sales.
Mark: Yeah, sure. It helps at every stage of the funnel. As you’ve suggested, at the very top of the funnel, I think a big mistake is too many people are out there purchasing lists and guessing at who’s a good fit for their company and basically spamming them with a whole bunch of emails or collateral. Not enough folks are out there trying to educate the market through the form of a blog, through the form of an e-book or a webinar that they can promote to people that are at the top of the sales process that are educating themselves about the options that are out there. They’re learning about the new trends, techniques, and brands. You want to be the person that’s defining those trends and best practices. Your brand needs to be seen as that authoritative voice where people go to for education.
Further down in the process, once people do convert and start to signal to you that they’re in a vendor analysis standpoint, they’re willing to talk about some of their requirements, their needs, and open up along those lines, there’s a deeper set of collateral that will work better to move that person into a buying process. I think in that stage of the sales process, it’s extremely important to appreciate the stage that they’re in and align the content with them.
We’ll do a bunch of webinars this week. One of them will probably be about latest best practices in Facebook marketing. The intention of that collateral is not to move someone into a closing sequence. The intention of that collateral is to capture someone that’s in that higher level educational phase, starting to think about inbound marketing and social media and that kind of stuff.
We’ll run another webinar that’s going to be a product demo on the Performable capability, one of the companies we most recently bought, on how companies are being more scientific around their market domination and kicking their market domination into the next wave. That particular webinar is intended to move someone much closer to the buying sequence.
I think being able to understand which stage your buyers are in within your funnel and aligning the collateral with that particular stage to move them to the next process is something that needs to be appreciated within the sales and marketing funnel.
Brendan: Certainly. From a lead generation standpoint as well, obviously, you guys work a lot as far as lead qualification and outbound prospecting. From a publisher’s standpoint, a traditional publisher’s standpoint when it comes to creating content online, they’re generally focused on finding advertising for the content they’re creating. A lot of the ways that they’ll . . . the value statement that they’re giving to those advertisers is their lead generation. You sponsor this webcast, you sponsor this e-book, people sign up to see it, and then that’s a lead. Every person that signs up for it is a lead, and that goes back to the advertiser.
Does that seem like this is an opportunity for companies to cut out that middle man and create that content themselves, in a way where they’re engaging directly with an audience without selling them anything, just to educate them, but also at the same time, creating an opportunity where they can actually generate leads and make new contacts directly?
Mark: Absolutely. Listen, we’ve experimented with some of those other paid channels. They’re fine. It’s really competitive, and you lose that control. We always say, “Don’t go advertise on TV. Build your own TV station. Don’t go advertise on radio. Build your own radio station. Don’t go advertise in print. Build your own publication.” That’s really what this new age of online, digital inbound marketing has presented as an opportunity for every single brand. By doing so, that’s an enormous competitive advantage. You build enormous trust and brand recognition out there in the marketplace. You’ll have much more success with the leads that come from that channel.
Brendan: Sure. Absolutely. Would you say that people are also just becoming more sophisticated as far as finding their own information online when they’re making these buying decisions, and that’s just another level of why it’s so important to really have quality educational content out there for people? By the time they get to the sales part where they actually have to talk to a rep and make those final decisions as far as a buy, a lot of the work has already been done.
Mark: Absolutely. That’s just like, we talk a lot here at HubSpot about the transition in marketing. We don’t talk as much about the transition in sales, but the same online trends have triggered a similar transition within the sales process. Brendan, you pointed out very well, 10 or 15 years ago, if you were evaluating security software vendors, you probably had to go to a show. You probably had to read CTO magazine and see who was out there. You had to talk to a salesperson just to figure out what the price was and what the features are and how it compared to the other vendors that are out there.
Today, it’s a very different story. Today, you can get all that information online; just go to the website. You can do a Google search for security software firms and financial services, and pick off the first five that are listed. Google is pretty good at figuring out who are the top players there. A lot of folks are using that as a first step in their vendor choices. Oftentimes, you go to their website and actually try their product for free. I mean, what value does the salesperson bring in that whole process? It has really caused sales folks to have to step up, to be much more consultative in their processes.
As an example, one of the first things that when you join HubSpot as a salesperson, you do no sales training for the first two weeks. Your entire first two weeks, you actually start your own blog. You start doing inbound marketing on the HubSpot platform. You get 100 people to subscribe to your blog. You start generating conversions and subscribers. You’re out there on Twitter getting followers. You live and breathe the feeling of an inbound marketer.
When our folks finally connect with their prospects, usually that person could have been following us for three or four months. They could have consumed over 100 pages on our website. They’re pretty educated. Now they’re looking for that deeper level of education. If our salesperson is able to get in there and answer their detailed questions about how to write a successful blog article and how to actually run a successful social media campaign, they’re going to be successful. If they can’t, if all they’ve done is memorize the price book, they add no value to the process. As salespeople, we really have to step up and understand our space at a much deeper level.
Brendan: Yeah. Wow. That’s incredibly integrated, more integrated than I was expecting you to say it was, as far as just ramping salespeople up from HubSpot’s perspective. Not just for HubSpot, but for companies in general, do you foresee, or have you seen any issues as far as buy-in and getting people to really commit to this new way of doing sales? If someone comes into a new company and they think they’re going to be a salesperson, all of a sudden, they’re thinking, “What am I doing? I’m writing a blog; I’m involved with marketing.” This is not what they were expecting. Have you had an experience with people not buying into what you’re selling? Pardon the pun.
Mark: Yeah. Don’t confuse the two. My prior point was that salespeople need to step up and understand their particular product and space at a deeper level. If you’re selling routers, you should go and set up a router, or go to the buddy in IT and really feel that pain. I’m not necessarily saying that every salesperson needs to blog to be successful with inbound marketing. For our particular customers, someone there needs to be out there blogging and participating in social media to be successful in this new age of sales and marketing. If you can engage your salespeople, that’s fantastic. It’s not required. They can remain out there hunting.
Usually, what I recommend, and believe me, that usually is the most difficult step that companies need to take is they’re literally transforming the way they think about marketing, moving away from having a sizable budget that they allocate to vendors, to actually putting out content, publishing content and interacting directly with your potential customers. It takes time, and it takes a different type of skill set.
Usually, what I encourage people to do is to find someone that has that writing ability, that journalistic ability. It could be one of the marcoms there. It could be, sometimes it’s actually the administrative assistant. A lot of times those people have English majors. They’re exceptional communicators, and they have a little bit of free time. I love it when they go out to – especially if you’re in Boston here – go to Harvard, MIT, Babson, BC, BU, find an intern. All these 20-somethings want to be doing social media.
Brendan: Oh, yeah.
Mark: You can often find a great intern from Harvard that’s studying journalism that can spend five hours a week over at your company. Basically, what you do is you have that person, and then you define your thought leadership committee. These are the people that have the domain expertise at your company. They often don’t have time, and often, some of them can write, some of them can’t. But they’re great thought leaders – the CEO, the VP of Sales, the VP of Marketing, some of the salespeople, some of the consultants. You can usually find 5 to 10, whatever, depending on the size of your company, people that are in that committee.
Once a week, sit down one of them with that journalistic person for a 15 minute cup of coffee. They’re just going to talk about this very specific subject, like we’re doing here. That journalist can go off on that simple 15 minute conversation and create two awesome blog articles. Repeat that process every week. Now your CEO is sitting down once every 2 months for 15 minutes, and you’ve created a process that puts out 2 very good blog articles a week without requiring the time from your important, valuable people.
Brendan: Yeah. That really hits home for me. My background is in journalism, myself, and I’ve transitioned over to content marketing. The people with that skill set, especially students and interns, like you said, those folks, they’re going to want to get involved in this kind of thing. Not a lot of people that are interested in journalism and creating content and reaching an audience and doing that sort of thing aren’t necessarily interested so much in going to print and being a print journalist like before. Now there’s all these different opportunities for them to come into an online branding, online marketing, inbound marketing situation and be able to use that skill set in a different way. It’s a whole new opportunity for those kind of people.
At the same time, not just with journalists and outside interns, but also with, like you said, the other people with writing abilities within the company, it seems like this whole operation really, by getting more people involved, it educates the entire company, the entire business on all of the different areas. That just seems like, the more people know from top to bottom in different departments, as far as how different things work and stuff like that, the better for the organization overall. Wouldn’t you say?
Mark: Absolutely. For those people you referenced, they’re choosing between joining a dying industry and one that’s exploding. It’s just a no-brainer. Even the journalists that are out there, one of our early hires was a former reporter at the New York Times.
Mark: These guys are like printed newspaper is not exactly going well right now.
Mark: You know? There’s this huge inefficiency in the market where there are extremely talented people that are slugging it out in this dying market. Then there are these marketers who are trying to figure out how to redefine themselves in this changing environment. Little do they know that two of them need to find each other. If the marketers find those amazing journalists, or those journalists need to realize that they hold the keys to unlocking amazing leads and sales generation for the brands that are out there, and put the two together. That’s really what you’ve started to see over the last couple of years.
Brendan: All right, Mark. Well, thanks again for taking the time to talk with us today. We really appreciate it. Some great insight. Hopefully, we get to do it again soon. I’d like to give you an opportunity to tell folks how they can maybe find more from you. I know you contribute to the HubSpot blog. That’s correct?
Mark: Yeah, sure. I’m always out there in social media, contributing to different sales and marketing conversations. Then, certainly check out Blog.HubSpot.com. It’s an extremely active hub and a starting point for a lot of the things that we have going on at HubSpot.
Brendan: Great. Well, thanks very much. Hopefully, we get to talk to you again soon.
Mark: Great. Thanks, Brendan.