10 Things You Need To Understand Before You Buy HubSpot

Before you buy HubSpot, see if you've been duped into any of these 10 common misunderstandings about the platform and inbound marketing in general.

As a certified HubSpot consultant and inbound marketing specialist, I often encounter the same misunderstandings from clients that are new to the platform and inbound in general. The story usually goes something like...

The VP of marketing for X company, often new to the job, has worked with marketing automation in a prior role and wants to upgrade their current company's marketing systems. The VP is generally understaffed and under-resourced, so the attraction to HubSpot (and marketing automation in general) is the concept of "doing more with less".

Often the highest ranking marketing role in the company, this VP may be unfamiliar with the day-to-day grind of digital marketing, unaware of the substantial time investment required to produce content regularly, and unprepared for this reality when they approach HubSpot about buying into the platform.

HubSpot's sales teams are quite good at their job (which is selling) and less versed (generally speaking) in the intricacies of how their customers actually use their platform and how much work is still left on their teams.

This is typically where I come in...after HubSpot has done a great job of hyping them up and promising the moon, but neglected to mention the hundreds of hours (and thousands of dollars) that still need to be invested to effectively take advantage of their tools.

In this post I'm going to review 10 things that you need to understand before buying HubSpot to make sure your marketing practice is effective and successful.

HubSpot is a tool, not a solution in itself

Undoubtably, the most common -and most confusing- misunderstanding about HubSpot from new customers is that subscribing to HubSpot Marketing Pro isn't the same thing as inbound marketing. Marketing executives are sold on the idea that implementing HubSpot will solve all their lead generation problems and it's often not clearly explained that their marketing team (or agency) has to know how to use tools that HubSpot provides.

More than that, there are significant costs involved in producing the content that's required to effectively implement inbound marketing strategies -and those costs never go away (read about the differences between inbound and outbound marketing).

Then there's the long-term optimization cycle that comes with any digital marketing campaign, inbound or otherwise. Campaigns don't just work right away; every step in the increasingly long journey from awareness to decision needs to be optimized.

Despite the sticker shock you may experience at first glance with the $800+/m price tag for HubSpot Marketing Pro, the breadth of features included in the system makes that price a value, in all honesty. If you're serious about committing to inbound and marketing automation there is no better system out there -hands down.

Having said that though, if you're not prepared for all of the other investments that you need to make along with your HubSpot subscription, learning this after you've already signed up is never pleasant.

HubSpot is not "only for marketers" -your whole team will live in HubSpot

HubSpot is typically sold to marketing executives (or small business owners) who live and die by lead generation metrics. This is what most people know about HubSpot; that it's great for marketing, helps you generate leads, etc. However, one of the platform's most compelling selling points is its free CRM, which is a really useful tool in itself.

And wait, there's more...

HubSpot actually includes 3 major "hubs": Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, and Service Hub. Each contains a suite of tools relevant to its name; e.g. Marketing Hub contains email automation and landing pages while Service Hub contains a knowledge base and ticketing system (among other things). The platform also includes the free CRM I mentioned, an excellent content management system (like WordPress) called HubSpot CMS, and an entire marketplace of third-party integrations, referred to as HubSpot Connect.

Each hub has its own subscription tiers but even if your organization only implements one of the hubs, the free CRM, lead analytics, and reporting features will have your entire organization wanting access to HubSpot. It's quite likely, and probably ideal, that representatives from each department in your company will "live in HubSpot".

You will only see lead analytics on contacts

HubSpot's definition of a contact is fairly simple. A contact is created for each new email address you add to the CRM. Contacts cannot be created without email addresses, in fact. Most contacts are associated to companies and other records in the system but if an email address is all the data you have on a visitor, they can be identified and tracked by HubSpot.

Typically when we talk about "tracking visitors" on websites, we're referring to anonymous data -and that's only useful in bulk. When you don't know anything about the nameless, faceless website user that just visited your blog, there's not much you can do with that information.

However, if a few hundred faceless users a month are visiting your blog, then you'll have a lot of very useful analytics data on your hands. A statistically relevant number of anonymous users makes it possible to model future user behavior on past user behavior.

For analyzing anonymous website traffic in volume, Google Analytics is the unquestionable king of the jungle. However, GA can't help you learn about individual users -and this is what makes Hubspot so frickin cool. Once a user has filled out a form and identified themselves (with an email), HubSpot is able to piece together their entire timeline of website activity (the pages they viewed), what they download, and what emails they open / click / etc, among other details.

This data is referred to as "lead analytics" and is available on any visitor that has visited previously and has filled out a form (with an email address). Keep in mind though, even if you have their email address in the CRM already, they have to identify themselves by providing that same email address to enable lead analytics.

HubSpot is able to track contacts visiting your website across any device that has allowed it to place cross-browser cookie, after submitting a form.

Workflows are for automating marketing activities

The workflow is HubSpot Marketing Hub's most outstanding feature (starting at the Pro tier). In my experience, it is also the most misunderstood and misused feature. Workflows are the heart of marketing automation; when you need to send emails, update contact properties, alert the sales team, or take other actions automatically, Workflows is the tool to use.

What I've noticed is that companies implementing HubSpot with little experience tend to vastly overcomplicate their workflows and underestimate the impact of the automation. It's both extremely common and extremely undesirable to have hundreds (or thousands) of contacts receiving emails that they shouldn't due to poorly planned workflows.

Probably the most common and egregious misuse of workflows is as a sales tool. Workflows are not designed to be used for reaching out to prospects -and this is almost certainly a violation of the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act (in the US). There are other tools for such things.

Workflows are used for drip campaigns, segmentation, and lead nurturing; all the steps involved in turning contacts into leads into MQLs and SQLs. Never use a workflow to email unconsenting individuals; it's illegal, impersonal, and ineffective.

Sequences are for automating 1:1 sales activities

HubSpot Sales Hub (starting at the Pro tier) includes a tool for automating outbound sales, called Sequences, which is very similar to Workflows -with a key difference.

For context, let's review the types of emails you can send with HubSpot:

  1. Email marketing campaigns are one email sent to many recipients.
  2. Automated email campaigns (workflows: a series of templated emails to recipients based on their behavior or characteristics).
  3. Direct one-on-one emails either manually or automatically (sequences: a series of sales activities, including email).

In the first two cases the email reply-to address would be a generic email address (e.g. info@yourcompany.com). In the final option, direct one-on-one emails establish a dialogue between a prospect or lead and someone on your sales team.

A sequence is a series of sales activities (including email) scheduled between a salesperson on your team and a set of individuals. The salesperson's calls, emails, and other activities will all be direct interactions; and their emails will be delivered from that salesperson's email address (not a generic company email address).

Sequences are amazing. Build a few email templates, write the messages you'll copy/paste into LinkedIn connect requests and other forms of outreach, and attach them as actions triggered by a sequence.

This allows salespeople to spend a lot more time researching and reaching out to prospects. Since engagement and lead analytics are presented cohesively to the sales team, the combination of more time to research and easier follow-up inevitably increase sales output -and, when it works, often quite substantially.

Sales and marketing teams must be formally aligned

In my HubSpot consulting engagements, I always schedule a series of calls between sales and marketing leadership where we hammer out a formal (but flexible) understanding of each team's roles and expectations in the customer buying process.

The inbound methodology treats marketing and sales as a continuum which forms the tracks upon which the customer journey takes place. HubSpot's three hubs provide total coverage from the first point of contact (marketing), through the buying experience (sales), and into the warm embrace your brand community (service).

Even if you don't invest into the Service, or Sales hub components of the platform, everyone on your team will live in HubSpot (see above) and if you don't align around common goals and metrics you will not -repeat WILL NOT- successfully generate viable leads from HubSpot. I simply cannot stress this enough.

Even if your company decides to integrate Salesforce CRM with HubSpot and your sales team never logs in to HubSpot once.

Even if your digital front-end is an e-commerce site and your back-of-house is an old school inside sales team that couldn't be bothered to learn how to use a computer.

I cannot stress this enough. You must negotiate a mutually acceptable set of these agreements between marketing and sales executives, approved and supported by senior leadership. Just trust me...

  1. SMART goals
  2. Service level agreements (SLAs)
  3. MQL / SQL definitions.

Example SMART goals look like this:

10 new SQLs each month
50 new MQLs each month
300 new contacts each month
3,000 website visits each month

Or alternatively, in a growth period:

10% more SQLs (requiring at least a 10% increase in MQLs, leads, etc.)
25% more website visits
20% better ROAS (return on ad spend)

Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Timely.

An example SLA looks like this:

Marketing will deliver X website visits, Y new contacts, and Z new MQLs each (week, month, quarter) and Sales will qualify every new MQL within 1 hour and either accept them as an SQL or disqualify them with cause (either rejecting them outright or demote them back to a lead).

MQL / SQL definitions will vary, but look like this:

A lead's Customer Lifecycle Stage (a HubSpot contact property) is updated to MQL when they A) submit a "request for contact" form, B) are nurtured sufficiently by consuming your content (using a point system), or C) exhibit urgent buying behaviors like repeatedly viewing the pricing page over several days or weeks. Sales is then notified and either qualifies incoming MQLs as SQLs, rejects them, or demotes them back to leads, after reaching out to the lead with a set of standard qualifying questions.

Inbound marketing requires a ton of content

This really can't be overemphasized. No one is prepared for how much content inbound marketing actually requires. People are so hungry for content today -and so much of their buying process is now forced to take place digitally- that, if you create compelling, useful content, your audience will consume (and demand) a metric crap-ton of it.

It's a good thing too, because inbound marketing isn't a hot date with a quick finish. Most customer journeys involve a wooing period that, like actual dating today, is largely digital -and automated- and will progress at exactly the speed the customer wants and not a second faster.

Instead of flowers, bring content...

It is essential to invest the time and resources it takes to fully map your buyer personas, examine their collective paths to purchase (the customer / buyer journey), and translate that understanding into easily-consumed, engaging, educational content your potential customers can freely access.

Implementing HubSpot doesn't mean you can ignore SEO

As I've described throughout this post, HubSpot is an excellent all-in-one solution for digital marketing. It is not an out-of-the-box lead generation solution. Neither will it plug your site into the top ranks of Google searches, unlocking unlimited website traffic effortlessly. HubSpot is really, really cool but it's more your Excaliber than your Merlin -more powerful tool than magical solution.

Search visibility is a complicated subject. There are more myths and misconceptions than facts and actions you can take. So-called "optimization" is only the beginning and HubSpot doesn't write your content for you so it can't even do that for you.

If you're relying on HubSpot to find your website traffic, you will be sorely disappointed. If you think you're going to start blogging and then (magically) start climbing the ranks in search because HubSpot has some special voodoo that makes your content work better -STOP. Please, for the love of everything holy, stop.

Reevaluate your enthusiasm for HubSpot and turn your focus to producing content, which HubSpot is amazing at putting to use effectively.

Nearly all reporting needs can be addressed within HubSpot

The majority of executive-facing reporting you will ever need is already provided by default within HubSpot or is a few button clicks away -unless your website utilizes separate third party tools to add features like e-commerce or other non-typical capabilities.

The HubSpot tracking pixel can still collect analytics data inside a third-party system (like Shopify or a custom web app), provided there is a way to embed the tracking code in any web pages generated by the system. This data is limited to pageviews, however, so if you want to track button clicks, scrolling, or other interactions with the pages, you'll need to employ Google Analytics (and probably Google Data Studio) for that level of detail.

In more typical situations, the average company's executive team just wants to know the high-level facts: How many website visits, leads, MQLs, SQLs, and deals are generated by how much advertising, search visibility, and social media engagement -and all of this is baked directly into HubSpot's out-of-the-box reporting.

For the technical folks, actually trying to learn from the metrics and optimize your marketing funnel, HubSpot reporting is often easier and more robust than Google Analytics because of the overlay of lead analytics. It's extremely helpful to be able to tie the activities in your email marketing campaigns directly to the same individuals in your remarketing (advertising), social media, and content marketing campaigns.

Someone on your team must be dedicated to HubSpot

HubSpot is a fancy hammer and someone in your organization needs to be able to wield it to extract any of its value. A hammer without a handyman is an awkward paperweight. A tool in the hands of a skilled craftsman, trained in its use, can be used to build, refine, and produce value.

Agencies and HubSpot consultants (like me) are an important part of the inbound marketing ecosystem because they extend capabilities of HubSpot's many customers (like you, potentially) without those companies needing to hire multiple, specialized roles. Sometimes an agency (in the right niche) can help you produce better content more quickly, or run ad campaigns, improve SEO, or generate PR, better than your internal team. That's natural due to the specialized nature of those activities -but a wholesale handoff of the responsibility for marketing and lead generation is simply not possible.

You can't extract the value from HubSpot that you will invariably want, after paying the $800+/month price tag for the platform, without someone on your team becoming HubSpot certified -and spending lots of time learning inbound marketing best practices.

Getting your head around the investment into HubSpot

It's a lot to take in, I know. It all seems so simple the way HubSpot explains it, like it's plug and play once their platform is in place, and all your lead generation troubles are a thing of the past. Unfortunately, while HubSpot is -in my opinion- the very best marketing automation platform for the vast majority of businesses, it is not a self-managing system.

Your team will require, at least, proficiency in navigating HubSpot and extracting the information needed to do their jobs. Your customers will require wooing and enticement to hand over their personal information -and capitalizing on the data HubSpot generates about your visitors and contacts requires specialized experience.

The costs do not end with your HubSpot subscription; in a sense they begin there. This shouldn't dissuade you if you are serious about inbound marketing because all marketing costs money. It takes money to make money, as they say. But if you're buying into HubSpot to lower and streamline your costs -and you're not already an established brand- you're looking at the problem the wrong way.

You need to invest more money into marketing to grow your business. Content is the backbone of the digital selling process; it is how your customers will learn about your offerings and how you will earn their trust by demonstrating your expertise. It used to happen on sales calls. Now it mostly happens in blog posts, how-to guides, videos, and webinars -all consumed electronically.

Needing to tie all of these channels together and make sense of how they work together (or don't) to grow your business is why you should invest in HubSpot. The analysis, strategy, planning, and execution still need to be done by rolling up your sleeves or hiring people who will.

Empowering human ingenuity and automating the repetitive, mindless bits of labor to free up human resources is what HubSpot is all about. Approach the platform, and marketing automation in general, from this point of view and you'll quickly understand why people become such rabid HubSpot fans. The dream is real, but you have to put in the work to realize it.

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