This is the second interview in the WayBack Marketing series that we kicked off a few weeks ago, in which we interview top marketers and dig in to what kinds of programs they used in their early days that most directly led to their success today. (Feel free to read the intro to this series for additional context or our first interview, with Joe Chernov, VP of Marketing at Kinvey.)
As I wrote in the intro to this series, HubSpot has a marketing platform that is the envy of most of us in B2B technology marketing. It’s not every day that you can tap into a database approaching a million names or claim a blog viewership of well over one million monthly visits and a LinkedIn Group approaching 100,000 names. But when Mike Volpe, HubSpot’s CMO, joined HubSpot as employee number 5, neither could he.
What are the top two or three things you did back in the beginning that enabled you to scale to the platform you have today?
MV: HubSpot is fortunate because our company was founded upon the idea that buyers have changed how they research and purchase things, making traditional advertising less effective and requiring companies to transform how they do marketing. That means we approached our own marketing with a clean slate and did not follow any of the existing playbooks. When it comes to things that helped us scale our marketing the most, there were three things we did that paid off long-term.
First, we built Website Grader. Website Grader is a free online tool where you type in your company URL then get a report about your marketing and what you should improve. It launched in early 2007. And that year, it attracted hundreds of thousands of users and tens of thousands of leads—becoming the biggest part of our marketing mix by far that year, with no paid promotion because it was viral and shared by so many people.
People often assume content marketing is the same as inbound marketing, and that is a mistake. Content marketing is one form of inbound marketing, but viral marketing (like Dropbox has done with its product), referral marketing, and free interactive tools are all ways of doing inbound marketing. [Website Grader] has since been expanded and renamed Marketing Grader. And it is still producing a large volume of our leads, though as a percentage, it is much smaller because all our other channels like blogging and social media have grown so much.
Second, we were early in blogging and social media. Before marketers and analysts started speculating about the implications of blogging and social media for marketing, we started using both in our marketing. Our blog started in 2006, and since then, it has grown to over 1.5 million monthly visitors, and our social following is approaching 1 million people among Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others. Over 70% of the leads from our blog come from posts we did not write this month. The power of inbound marketing is building up an asset that continues to generate leads even after you have paid the cost in time and effort to create it. Rather than starting each month with zero leads and needing a huge advertising budget to meet our goals, we start our month with a reliable flow of leads and then can decide if we want to invest more or not.
Lastly, we measured everything. There’s a reason so many HubSpotters are fans of sabermetrics and Moneyball: We believe everything can and should be measured, and that the best marketers can quantify their value to a business, not just in terms of activity (number of blog posts published), but in terms of results (visitors, conversion rates, leads, and revenue). We measure and improve most of what we do. One of the underrated elements of inbound marketing is the ability to constantly iterate on what’s working and what isn’t with relatively precise data, whereas traditional advertising typically requires a massive campaign and financial investment followed by some assumptions about effectiveness. We’ve leveraged that to our advantage, making marketing at HubSpot less an arts-and crafts-endeavor and more of a scientific integrated system to grow our brand and our revenue.
Thanks for the great insights, Mike. I know when I talk to my teams about the success of HubSpot as a marketing engine, there is this expectation that you are able to generate so much because of the size of your team or the size of your budget. However, what you have outlined here provides some excellent, pragmatic guidance for teams just starting out. Even if you don’t have access to deploy a Grader-type tool, having something that serves as a viral lead generation engine will really help scale leads. And a simple whitepaper probably isn’t going to get it done!
I know you were early in blogging as a channel, which helps, but from our prior conversations, I also know that you set a goal to achieve 20,000-30,000 views for key blog posts. For someone who is maybe just starting out, or who is stuck in the hundreds per post, what kinds of things did you do to achieve that readership scale?
MV: In the early days we built a blog audience by focusing on each article as its own campaign. We would promote each article using social media and 1-1 email with people who would be interested in the topic. We also tried to be controversial in the content and headlines because that generates more conversation and sharing; you need to be willing to put your brand at risk for fast audience growth. We were also quite active in the community in terms of reading and commenting on other blogs.
Blog-as-a-campaign, then? Maybe we can create a new acronym BaaC! As you learned things along the way, trying out new campaigns and new concepts over time, was there anything you started doing later that you wish you had started doing earlier?
MV: I wish we had more products to upsell earlier. Because our vision is so broad—to build a complete marketing platform that transforms marketing to be more inbound—it took us a long time to build out the key functionality. This meant that, for quite a while, we had only one product to sell that we kept building and building, and we had limited ways for the customers who loved us to spend more money with us.
You need a way for your happiest customers to do more and more business with you because that revenue is really easy to get since they are already fans and giving you money. We have some ways for our best customers to spend more money with us today, and we’re launching more, but it took us a really long time to get to that point, and I think we’d have more customers and certainly more revenue today if we had gotten there earlier.
That is a good point that should definitely be reinforced: That connection between the marketing strategy and the product strategy then carried through the entire customer experience is critical. I am sure you were well-connected, but there are clearly always opportunities to accelerate.
I would like to thank Mike for his time with this article! Stay tuned for next week’s installment in the WayBack Series as we explore more great marketers’ humble beginnings!