How to Do Marketing Like HubSpot

Rebecca Churt by

What’s the secret behind HubSpot’s marketing success? In this Q&A, HubSpot CMO Mike Volpe reveals the keys to inbound marketing, discusses the company’s early challenges, and shares lessons other SaaS companies can take away from HubSpot’s rapid growth.

When it comes to inbound marketing, HubSpot is king. What started out as a vision from founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah to transform the marketing landscape has evolved into a full-blown movement with over 11,000 customers in 65 countries, 1 million followers on social media, and 1.5 million pageviews on its blog every month.

How did HubSpot grow so fast? We had a chance to ask HubSpot’s first marketer and CMO Mike Volpe some insightful questions into HubSpot’s marketing success. In this Q&A, Mike shares:

  • The key ingredient to inbound success.
  • The company’s early day victories and challenges.
  • The metrics and strategies behind HubSpot’s marketing.
  • How marketing helps SaaS companies scale.

“Inbound requires a fundamental realization that you need to earn attention instead of renting it, and that’s a hard philosophical shift when your organization is hardwired to keep running the same playbook for years.” – Mike Volpe, CMO at HubSpot

How to Market Like HubSpot: Q&A with Mike Volpe

What’s your background?

I was the first marketer at HubSpot and still love being our CMO. Prior to HubSpot, I ran demand generation and marketing communications at SolidWorks, worked at a couple startups, went to Bowdoin and MIT Sloan, and was even an investment banker for a couple years.

Why did you pick HubSpot?

I had felt the pain that HubSpot wanted to solve. In my last job my team had been doing traditional marketing, and we moved to inbound marketing by launching multiple blogs and podcasts, publishing videos and doing SEO. It worked quite well, but it was really, really hard to do, and we ended up with a variety of disconnected point tools that did not work well together.

When I looked around at different marketing platforms, none of them were complete, and none of them were built for inbound. So when I met Brian and Dharmesh I knew if we could build a product that worked well, lots of people would want to buy it. My gut just told me that it would be huge.

What do you think makes a good CMO?

Marketing is no longer arts and crafts. Executives and investors expect the marketing department to deliver measurable results and build a business, not just a brand. The traditional CMO path was from the creative or agency side of the world and I think that is on the decline. Today’s CMO needs to be a hybrid of analytical and creative. You have to be an expert at the numbers and demand generation, as well as branding and creative problem solving, and of course a good leader and manager like all executives.

What kind of blogs and sites do you read?

I read ReCode, TechCrunch, Mashable, WSJ’s CMO Today, and of course the HubSpot blogs. But a lot of what I read is through Twitter. I try to follow a limited number of people who have a good signal-to-noise ratio. I end up seeing a lot of interesting business and marketing articles, often from HubSpot partners.

If someone were to want to do marketing like HubSpot what would be the key ingredient?

The key ingredient is the shift in philosophy. Inbound requires a fundamental realization that you need to earn attention instead of renting it, and that’s a hard philosophical shift when your organization is hardwired to keep running the same playbook for years. The best inbound organizations change their mindset first, then set up about using technology and content to enable more efficient and effective inbound marketing efforts.

Is HubSpot really all inbound?

Pretty much. Over 75% of the leads we generate and over 90% of the new customers we sign up come from unpaid, organic, inbound sources. We do experiment with some paid advertising like search, social, display and some sponsorships, but the customer acquisition cost on that is always higher than our inbound efforts so we are constantly trying to hire more bloggers and content creators to invest more in inbound as fast as we can.

What are the top three ways marketing has contributed to the success of HubSpot?

I’m most proud of the fact that our marketing efforts have originated the vast majority of our over 11,000 customers in over 65 countries. After that I am proud that we have built an online presence and brand larger than SaaS companies 25x our size. Our blog gets over 1.5M views each month and we have over 1 million followers on social media, those are assets that are quite hard to replicate and provide an ongoing competitive advantage as we grow.

What were some early day victories? Early day challenges?

What’s funny about this question is that marketers now see us with a massive social and blog following and assume I can’t feel their pain in getting started from nothing. But when I joined HubSpot we got one lead a day and no one had heard of us. Before my first day on the job I had already written a blog post for HubSpot and after I started Brian, Dharmesh and I would create and promote new content every day. Every success felt monumental and every failure felt tragic.

What were some notable milestones?

I distinctly remember our 1,000th customer party and thinking we had really made it. We hosted a company party and invited a bunch of partners, customers and friends to join us. I felt like we had arrived then. Our first INBOUND conference (then called HUGS after our user groups) was also a huge milestone. The fact that people would travel to learn more about inbound marketing was a huge turning point. In fact, the biggest milestone every year for me is seeing how much the community has grown and meeting so many people at the INBOUND conference, which should be around 8,000 people this year.

Is there anything you would have changed in marketing along the way?

Honestly, there are tons of things we would have done differently or better given what we know now, but hindsight is always 20/20. If I had to reflect on where we made mistakes, I think they were almost always when we defaulted to conventional wisdom or thought too small or incrementally, and did not challenge ourselves to think about how to make something 10 times bigger, and not just 10% better.

What lessons would you share about how SaaS can best scale with the help of marketing?

Dharmesh recently put together some great startup marketing lessons on earth