HubSpot CMO Mike Volpe talks about the Why and How of inbound marketing

  Written by Louis Gudema

Mike VolpeMike Volpe, is the Chief Marketing Officer of HubSpot, a leading marketing technololgy company. He joined the company as its fifth employee in 2006 and helped grow it in 8 years to over 10,000 customers. He and his team produce over 50,000 leads per month. A shorter version of this interview appears on the IDG Connect Marketer blog.

Louis: I believe HubSpot coined the term Inbound Marketing. What precipitated that, and what does it mean?

Mike: HubSpot co-founders, Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan, met at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the early 2000s and shared the realization that humans had fundamentally changed the way they live, shop, work, and buy. Brian was working in sales and marketing and saw that people were becoming immune to cold-calling and old-school sales tactics. Around the same time, Dharmesh had just launched a blog, OnStartups.com, that was getting thousands of visitors a day. People were tuning out traditional marketing and consuming digital content that was valuable, helpful, and non-intrusive. Brian and Dharmesh developed inbound marketing to help businesses transform their marketing efforts to mirror this shift in behavior. At its core, inbound marketing is about getting found online through engaging content and delighting customers with a personalized, and ultimately more human experience. HubSpot was founded in 2006 to provide marketers with all the tools they need to do just that.

Louis: How can companies do Inbound Marketing?

Mike: Renting attention is easy, earning it is hard; brands that invest time and energy into earning their customers’ attention with inbound marketing are the ones that will build lasting relationships. Inbound marketing is about creating a valuable experience for visitors, leads, prospects, and customers at every stage and through every interaction they have with your business. Companies should be using blogs, social media, SEO, email marketing, marketing automation, content management, and contact data to attract, engage, and delight customers. Most marketers already know that content creation is the bread and butter of inbound. But a lot of them overlook one other crucial aspect: context.

Unlike ten years ago, businesses have access to more contact data today than they know what to do with. The content we create should follow our audience’s lead, not try to dictate it. Do your prospects engage with LinkedIn more than Facebook? Then focus on content optimized for that channel. Are your customers asking questions in the comment section of your blog? Answer those questions in your next post. Did somebody sign up for three webinars about the same core topic? Send them an email offering even more tips and info on that topic. Ultimately, you should always be solving for the customer. Your marketing efforts should be personalized and relevant to build lasting relationships. If you usually spend your marketing budget on interruptive ads or annoying email spam, get out of that mindset and start putting yourself in your customers’ shoes.

Louis: Is Inbound Marketing primarily for B2B companies, or does it have a place in B2C marketing, too? Other ways in which you think of industries or markets that it’s better suited to than others?

Mike: Inbound works for any kind of business because it is about transforming your marketing to match the way people have changed, and whether they’re the end user or a decision maker, at the end of the day, you’re connecting with a person. Over 10,000 customers ranging from small B2B businesses to global B2C companies use HubSpot to do inbound marketing, and they’re seeing results across the board. Specifically, businesses in niche industries see substantial growth after adopting inbound because specialized content is harder to come by, making it easier for these businesses to rank in search queries and build relationships.

We have a range of B2B and B2C customers that have grown their businesses significantly after going inbound. ShoreTel, a B2B company, moved from traditional marketing automation to inbound marketing and saw a year-over-year increase in organic search traffic of 60%, and a year-over-year increase in qualified leads of 110%. On the B2C side, AmeriFirst switched from traditional to inbound marketing and after one year, their web traffic was 3.8 times higher and they grew their number of leads by 51.7 times.

Needless to say, Inbound marketing works for B2B and B2C companies because it delivers a more helpful and human experience that both buyers and end-users value.

Louis: Many people think that Inbound Marketing ends with the lead capture. Does it? Or are lead scoring and email marketing and remarketing and telesales follow-up and other nurturing programs inherently part of successful Inbound Marketing?

Mike: Inbound marketing is about creating a meaningful experience at every lifecycle stage; lead capture is just one piece of the puzzle. You may put out amazing, valuable content every month that generates thousands of qualified leads, but you have to nurture those relationships if you expect them to become lifelong customers. Inbound gives marketers all the tools they need to attract, engage, and delight leads, prospects, and customers from their first touch point to their last. To have a successful inbound marketing strategy, you should be segmenting your leads, putting them into workflows to offer more content and deals that are relevant and helpful, and listening to their feedback and questions. By the time they’re ready to talk to your sales team, you should use that context and data to keep the dialogue personalized and seamlessly continue the inbound experience.

Louis: Some disruptive marketing channels continue to produce results for companies. Certainly TV is still very popular with big brands, and they say they have the data to show its value. Google says that many buyers have a first engagement with a brand through display advertising. And I know B2B companies that do terrific content marketing — they are big proponents of Inbound Marketing — and they say the inbound leads are of much higher quality, but they don’t get enough of them. So they still do disruptive marketing and even cold calling, etc. How does Inbound Marketing fit into the entire media mix of a company’s marketing?

Mike: It is not about if something is working or not. It is about if it is the absolute best way to use your marketing dollars. Maybe your TV ads have a 5% ROI, but if inbound is giving you a 500% ROI, then you should be cutting your TV ads and increasing your investment in inbound. You don’t need to shift to 100% inbound overnight. But today most companies are doing maybe 10-20% inbound, yet that allocation should be more like 80% when you look at the results in an unbiased way. People also under-estimate the cost of doing more traditional methods. Advertising and cold calling interrupt people and block them from the content they are trying to consume – this has a negative impact on your brand because you are annoying your customers, but people never think about that negative impact. Rather than interrupting customers trying to engage with other people’s content, I would rather just be the content that my customers want to engage with.

Louis: Until recently HubSpot has been primarily focused on small and mid-sized companies. I saw you talk one time and you said that it takes 100-200 blog posts before the blog really starts delivering business results.

HubSpot chart - effect of 100+ blog posts on inbound leads

Source: HubSpot

Louis: HubSpot is a content factory, but many other small and even mid-sized companies don’t have the budget to create hundreds of content items a year like HubSpot does. Even at two blog posts a week, which would be ambitious for many companies, it would take over a year to get into that 100-200 posts range. How realistic is it for a small company to use Inbound Marketing if the content creation demands are so high?

Mike: HubSpot focuses on businesses with 10 to 2,000 employees. Very small businesses are typically not a great fit for inbound because of what you mention: they neither have a dedicated marketing team nor budget to hire an agency to do the work. An internal team can certainly execute on an inbound marketing strategy, but for companies who don’t have the bandwidth we also have 1,500 agency partners that can write blog articles, create offers and landing pages, do social media and basically run full inbound campaigns for you.

As far as results go, you do see results from day one, but the results build over time so the impact is much larger after 100 or more blog posts. The part about inbound that people sometimes forget is that the blog post you wrote 3 or 9 months ago is still working for you – ranking in search engines, being read by people and helping to attract and engage your customers. Any advertising you do stops being effective when you stop paying for the ad. With inbound, the marketing assets you build are enduring lead generation magnets.

Louis: For companies that can create enough content, how do you market for 1-2 years until you start getting significant numbers of inbound leads?
Mike: The better questions is how can you afford to keep doing advertising when it does not build any long term value for your company? You do need long term thinking to invest in inbound because you get some results initially, but the results grow over time. If you can think long term, then starting to build out your inbound marketing assets is a no brainer because those assets attract customers to your company for a long time after you publish them. From our own experience, over half the leads we generate each month are from inbound marketing assets we created in prior months. So each month we know that half of our lead goal will be almost automatic. If we focused on traditional advertising and cold calling, we’d start each month with none of our lead goal being automatic.

Louis: How is the practice of Inbound Marketing different today than five or six years ago? Where’s it going?

Mike: Every year we’re seeing businesses dedicate more and more of their marketing budget to inbound practices and, as a result, we’re seeing developments in the way we think about and practice inbound. A few years ago, inbound marketing was very focused on top of the funnel content and attracting new leads, whereas now we need to think about inbound as an experience that extends beyond marketing into sales and services. Personalized, relevant interactions shouldn’t stop once a prospect becomes a customer, instead we should delight customers continuously to build a stronger relationship. Also, our definition of content is shifting. Originally, content creation meant blogging, writing ebooks, and hosting webinars, but now companies like SurveyMonkey, Dropbox, and SolarWinds are offering freemium tools, pushing the envelope on what we mean when we say ‘free content’.

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