What does a typical conversation between your sales team and your prospects sound like? Do calls quickly dive into strategies and problem solving or are they simply a boring show-and-tell of your product’s features? Or worse, is every sales rep’s approach different and no one call alike? If your answer is one of the latter, there’s a good chance your demos and other sales materials are at least partially to blame.
In this week’s Labcast, HubSpot’s Rick Burnes explains why his company ditched sales decks in favor of directing prospects to the Web. Not only does a single website help keep the product story consistent and accurate, Burns says, it also gives customers control of their information consumption. As a result, prospects actually tend to be better informed, more engaged, and more ready to move forward when it comes time for the next call.
Should you be ditching your sales decks? Listen to the full podcast to decide whether that approach is right for you, and for more tips on aligning your messaging and your teams.
This Week’s Guest
— Rick Burnes, Product Marketing Director at HubSpot
- Why your website trumps sales decks: As they get passed along, demo decks often result in a twisted story of the product. Centralizing materials on your website can help resonate a more consistent product story. [1:45]
- Improving sales conversations: The Web gives buyers control to consume your product information on their own accord. If you provide the right information online, sales calls can become less focused on the bells and whistles of a product and more focused on discussing that buyer’s actual needs. [3:30]
- HubSpot’s tactics for aligning sales, marketing, and development:
- Seating the sales enablement team in the middle of the sales floor. [7:00]
- Creating a board for reps to vote for their favorite marketing and product ideas. [7:10]
- Setting up a wiki to improve feedback. [7:20]
- Encouraging the web development team to show mock-ups to sales reps. [7:40]
- Keys to establishing and updating your buyer personas:
- Establish formal documentation of buyer personas and their buying journeys. [11:50]
- Make conducting win-loss interviews a regular part of your process. [12:30]
- Conduct user testing. [13:00]
- A great way to bring new marketers up to speed: Hubspot gets new marketers on board with the product by asking them to write case studies and talk directly with customers. [17:50]
- The best When you have a new product, get your top sales reps to test the features. [19:30]
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Jonathan: Hello, everyone, welcome to Labcast. This is your host, Jonathan Crowe. This week we are really excited to have Rick Burnes here. Rick is the Product Marketing Director at HubSpot, which is, of course, our neighbor across the river here in Boston.
I’m really excited to have Rick here. He’s been at HubSpot since way back in the early days, 2008. He’s been in a few different roles, seen a lot of things happen there, seen a lot of great growth that the company has had.
I’m personally looking forward to this call because, way back last September, I was at HubSpot’s Annual Inbound Conference, here in Boston, saw one of Rick’s presentations, and was really impressed with what I heard. He had a lot of good stuff to say about aligning your marketing and your sales teams.
So I have been looking forward to connecting with him, and now I’ve finally gotten a chance. Rick, really great to have you here.
Rick: It’s awesome to be here. I’m a big fan of yours and everything you guys do over there. I’m psyched to be here.
Jonathan: Thanks, very much, likewise, absolutely. Interestingly enough, we are just making the switch over to HubSpot, so we’re definitely fans and looking forward to getting started with it.
The first topic I wanted to cover is around sales enablement, really aligning your teams, in terms of product people, marketing, and the sales team. There is one big thing that you guys did that I think would be shocking for a lot of companies. You guys threw out demo decks. Can you talk a little bit about your reasoning behind that?
Rick: We felt that focusing on the Web and using the Web to tell the story of the product is just much, much more efficient. If you look at the way sales teams traditionally use demo decks, the marketing team will create a demo deck and then it will hand it off to the sales team.
You’ll end up with all of these different forks, and in each fork, each different version of the demo deck, the quality goes down. The story takes another twist and turn. And if you’re a company trying to tell a story that really resonates and that is really consistent, you want that story to be consistent the way you can do it on the Web.
The other thing I would say is that the website is a much better medium and media type for storytelling. You can do a lot of cool stuff on the Web, you can collect data, and it is just a much more robust platform.
Jonathan: That’s a really good point. There are things that you can point out that maybe are a little bit more easy to digest when the buyer has time. They can visit it as they will. A lot of times, during demo decks and during calls, sometimes you can sense people getting edgy or not quite paying attention. So it’s great to be able to corral that.
Rick: Yes, exactly.
Jonathan: What are some of the benefits that you’ve seen after doing that? And when did you put that into place? How long has it been?
Rick: I would say it has not been something that was on and off. It’s something that we’re trying to phase out. We began pushing in that direction a year and a half ago, and we’ve been doing it ever since.
I think one of the things that we’ve seen is that our prospects come much better prepared to those sales calls. As a result, the sales conversation is much more focused on strategy and solving problems, as opposed to just a show and tell of features. I think it makes a much more productive conversation that is more useful for the prospect.
Jonathan: Right. So a lot of the focus could be, not just “Here are some bells and whistles, and here’s some technical how-to things”, although they are important. You can also get into some of the bigger issues that can help people be more successful out of the gate, which is huge for SaaS.
Rick: Yes, exactly. And that aligns with the entire inbound marketing, inbound sales philosophy that is the core of what we do.
We feel like, at the root of all of this, the buyer is in control. As a marketer at the top of the funnel, a marketer at the middle of the funnel, or the bottom of the funnel (like I am in Product Marketing and sales enablement), you really have to give the prospect, and ultimately the customer, really useful information that they can use on their own time.
That’s what we’ve done by focusing on the Web instead of demo decks. The Web really gives the customer control to consume information on their own time, and the information they want, as opposed to the demo decks, which are really sales controlling the information.
Jonathan: You guys have been such good leaders when it comes to that initiative, leading by example, and doing really terrific stuff. This does raise a little bit of a tension point. There is always that tension point between marketing and sales, anyway. When you go to sales and you’re saying, “No more demo decks; here is what we’re doing now;” do you get pushback? How does that work?
Rick: I think the biggest challenge is not direct pushback, it is just that it’s hard to implement categorically. That is why I say that it is a phase thing. I think the most important thing is to have alignment across the sales team on the methodology that the team is going to be using, and the approach to selling.
Where you don’t have that alignment, you’re not going to be able to use the website, if that’s what you are trying to push through. It really depends on a sales management team and a marketing team being pretty aligned in the approach to selling.
Jonathan: That’s great, and a great segue-way into another key point. You’re saying to the sales team, “We’re really trying to shape the website to answer a lot of the questions that you’re going to get. So this is really helping you.”
Is the sales team involved with that process, then? Are they giving you recommendations when it comes to content? And how are you dealing with that? So that you’re not dealing with tons of recommendations, tons of requests, and really streamlining things?
Rick: That’s an awesome question. One of the things that we try to do, and really focus on, and that I talk to my team about a lot, is setting up these flows of information into the team. So that we can use that information, what the sales reps are hearing on the calls, to improve the content.
We do that in a lot of different ways. One basic level is seating, so all of the sales enablement team sit right in the middle of the sales floor. That’s obvious, but it is just one way we collect information. Another is an ideas board that we have set up so that all of the reps can vote on ideas for the sales team.
We use a wiki, and we put all of our collateral and links on to the wiki. That allows reps to comment on what they like, what they don’t like, what they’ve seen and we should add. In the sum of that, it really ends of being a pretty good information flow.
I think one of the things that has worked particularly well, also, with the webpages in particular, is just having our Web development team, and the people building the websites, walk around on the sales floor and show mock-ups to the sales reps. Asking them, “What do you think of this? Is this how you tell the story?”
It’s a very simple thing, but it has a huge impact and it facilitates that information flow, which then improves the story. It makes the story more consistent and resonant, I think.
Jonathan: Absolutely. One big question that I think is great for you and your company, and for other companies that are like HubSpot: You guys have experienced massive growth, so this is a completely different story for companies that are really well established, or that are just getting started. You guys have really experienced huge growth, and with that come a lot of opportunities, a lot of growing pains, as well. What are some of the steps that you have taken around these processes to ensure that they are really scalable? That they work as you guys are growing so quickly?
Rick: To be honest, that is why we focused on Web first, in the sales enablement world. I would much rather create a piece of content that will end up in anybody-in-the-world’s hands, on a website, rather than on a deck that lives behind lock and key in a Box.com somewhere. The scalability issue is probably the biggest reasons why we began with the Web.
The other thing, and it is a similar point, we really base all of our sales enablement on information on the wiki. We put an enormous focus on developing out the wiki, and, really critically, the comments around the wiki. Because that’s a way of collecting feedback on all of this, and the feedback is really important to make it useful.
I think one of the biggest risks that a marketing team, or a sales enablement team runs when they are working with sales, is to do a ton of work and have none of it be used by the sales team. You’re just irrelevant then, and you’re not having an impact on the business. You’ve got to make sure that what you do and what you spend all of your time on is useful. That’s hard.
Jonathan: And that goes the same for anything really, when it comes to work at a tech company. With the product itself, any kind of content you produce, making sure before you invest a ton of time into it, that you know there is going to be some kind of pay off, right?
Rick: Yes, you’re exactly right. I think your point about the product, too, is exactly right. It’s creating content that the sales team uses is exactly the same thing as building a product that nobody wants to use. It’s about listening to your customer. And in the case of sales enablement, your customer is sales.
Jonathan: You’ve spoken a little bit about some of the things you’ve done at HubSpot to make sure that everyone is on the same page, telling the same stories. Even when it comes to your seating assignments in the office, and creating opportunities for people to give feedback, and to share, and collaborate, and get aligned.
What are some other examples of generating this opportunity? One question I had specifically in mind was, how often do you go back and take a look at some of the institutional knowledge that you have around buyer personas and buyer journeys? How often do you say, “We need to revisit this”?
Rick: I would say that the buyer’s journey we are probably revisiting once a year. In terms of the buyer persona, it’s something we are constantly updating. We are always talking about sub-personas, or doing interviews. It is a constant process of iterating on your understanding of the customer.
To a certain extent, it is not updated on any type of period; it is just always be listening to the customer kind of thing.
Jonathan: Absolutely. So do you have any suggestions for teams that want to establish that type of feedback loop? What is a good way to do it?
Rick: A couple of things. First of all, I would make sure that you start off with a very formal documentation of what the buyer persona is, and the buyer journey. So invest some time in a formal documentation of the persona, which is the person to whom you are selling, every last characteristic of that typical person.
Then similarly, document in a very formal way, the process of that person coming to be a customer. I would do that, ideally, in a wiki, or some sort of public document, some sort of document that is shared within the company.
One thing that we do that I think works pretty well is we do a lot of interviews. On the product marketing team, I do a lot of win-loss interviews. I’ll talk to CMOs, VPs in Marketing, who have either bought HubSpot, or not bought HubSpot for some reason. I write up all of those notes and put them on a wiki page that I then append to the buyer’s journey and buyer persona core articles on the wiki. In that way, it becomes a constant process of updating.
Another thing that we do a lot of is user testing. That just adds another angle, watching people use our website, watching people use our software. It is another piece of data that we have about our core persona and their journey to becoming a HubSpot customer. That adds to the body of contents. We’re constantly building up, in a lot of different ways, this body of content about who buys HubSpot.
Jonathan: It is such an important thing to do, and it’s funny, it’s something I think a lot of companies know they should be doing. Then you turn and look and say, “Where is the documentation?” It’s just living in people’s heads. They think they know where their buyers are.
Taking the time to document, because it does take some time, but it absolutely becomes worth it. And I think it’s the only way you can really get to a point where you can scale with it.
Learn how to target the sticking points in your buyers’ journeys
Rick: Yes, nobody has enough time for anything. And I think this is one of those things that really simplifies and help you focus. If you’re not doing this, you’re taking a shotgun approach, you know, “We’re just going to throw a lot of stuff against the wall, and see what works.”
“If you focus on the persona, and really spell out that persona and their journey to becoming a customer, you can then just look back at that journey and say, ‘Okay, this is where things are breaking down. They are not finding us, so we need to do a lot of top-of-the-funnel work.'”
Maybe they are finding us, but they don’t trust us. So we need to do a lot of brand-building, make ourselves more of a safe choice. It really helps you assess where the problem is, and then zero in on that. Therefore, in the long run it is going to end up saving you time, I think.
Jonathan: Absolutely. That actually answers my next question, which was going to be, “How do you prioritize your content creation?” I think you just answered that to a good extent, right there. But to take it further, beyond, “We are looking at the specific points along our buyer’s journey. Things are breaking down. This is an excellent opportunity for us to publish some content that is going to help nudge them along, or help them covert.”
Do you also have any processes established to help you prioritize for the best types of customers? Or any other ways to help you focus on the best opportunities?
Rick: I think that then becomes more of a strategic decision that the business needs to make. This is actually a really interesting question as it is related to something for which there is an HBS case study done about HubSpot.
Because early in HubSpot’s life, I think after our B round, right after I joined HubSpot in 2008, we had a real question of, “Do we focus on what we called “Olie”, our small business persona? Or do we focus on Mary, which is our medium-size business, a mid-market persona?” We avoided that decision for a long time; you know, everybody always likes to keep their options open for as long as possible.
But I think it is a core question. And the prioritization by segment of business is really a decision you have to make at the top levels of the company. You have to be very, very deliberate about which personas you’re going to be focusing on, so that the whole company can be aligned.
I would also add that that doesn’t necessarily mean that the answer will be simple. There can be complicated answers. I’d say that right now at HubSpot, we’re very focused on a mid-market, what we call “Mary”, persona, but there are a lot of other personas that get a lot of value out of HubSpot, and for whom HubSpot is very useful. They can be very successful customers.
So, while our product and engineering team may be focused on one, single persona, we have a lot of people selling to different personas because they can benefit from what was actually built for that original persona.
Jonathan: Going back a little bit, one thing before we go and we’re running out of time here. I wanted to ask you two more things, going back to working with the sales team. There are two things that jumped out at me, back in your presentation in September.
The first one was a recommendation that, when bringing in new people, one way to get them on board was to get them to write case studies. I was hoping you could talk about that a little bit. I thought that was a really interesting point.
Rick: We do that because it is a fantastic way to have new marketers get to know the product, get to know customers, and get to know what the customers like about the product. You can use HubSpot; you can read case studies. But to really market the product, to really understand what is special about HubSpot, you’ve got to talk to customers.
It is really, really important for marketers to do that, because marketers aren’t necessarily in a customer-facing role. Most marketers aren’t. In a services role, a sales role, you are going to be getting that pretty regularly, but in a marketing role, you’re not. And it is really important to get that input.
It goes back to what I was saying earlier, about those information flows. I think a lot about, “How do you set up the information flows for the team, so that everybody can really get the perspective they need to do their job well?”
Jonathan: That is a great way – I’m sorry I said “sales” before, but you’re right – for bringing in marketers. I think it is a good point. They can sometimes operate in almost a silo, so that is a great way to bust them out and given them a good introduction.
One other thing that jumped out was you mentioned one good thing to try, with which you guys have had success. That is getting top sales reps to serve as testers for new features. Again, this is another cool way to establish different types of feedback loops to give you more insight, and to get you more aligned.
Rick: That’s exactly right. I think of it as a marketing activity, more than anything else. When you have a new product, you want to market it internally, really. If you think about something that is done frequently in product launches, in the consumer space, as well as B2B, you want to get it in the hands of people, whom others look up to.
It’s like Ashton Kutcher on Twitter. It’s like Squarespace, in getting all sorts of fancy companies using their software. It’s having influencers use your product. It’s the same thing in sales. The influencers on a sales team are the people who are doing really, really, really well. If they are selling that cool, new product, everybody will be like, Wow, I want to do what they’re doing.”
As a product marketing team, trying to roll out a new product, trying to get the sales team selling a new product, you want to start with the influencers.
Jonathan: That is such a cool way to think about it. I thought that was a really effective idea.
Rick, I think that’s about all the time we have, so I wanted to thank you, again, for taking time out of your day to do this. I really enjoyed it and hope we get to connect again, in the near future.
Rick: Yes, my pleasure. Thank you very much.