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How HubSpot's "Junk Marketing Leads" Helped it Go Public

By Nick Salvatoriello

How HubSpot's "Junk Marketing Leads" Helped it Go Public

A lot of inbound marketers  find themselves in this situation:

They get notice of a new lead that makes them all excited. They can't wait to click the contact record and find out who it is. So, they go over to their HubSpot portal, pop open that record and then hang their head in disappointment seeing it’s someone not even remotely qualified.

These kind of “junk leads” are common in inbound marketing and are often the bane of our existence -- but they don’t have to be.

Fact: Everyone Gets Junk Leads

There are a variety of things these contacts typically want besides being your perfect customer.

They might want to do business with you but they’re outside the geographic market you serve. They might want products or services you don't currently offer or focus on or they may not want to buy something from you at all. The contact may want to sell you something or maybe, they may actually want to help you in some way (i.e. guest blog, share an infographic, co-market, etc.)

In a lot of cases, some of the first contacts to show up in your early content marketing efforts may also be from other companies you currently consider your competition. Perhaps they want to check out your content marketing and how your communication flows to learn a few things from you.

Whatever their reason for getting in touch with you, it can be disappointing to get these leads. It might even be discouraging. But, as any inbound marketing veteran will tell you, they are part of the process of opening up your website and company to traffic and engagement. If you're willing to keep an open mind and look at your leads differently (as HubSpot, Inc. did), you might actually uncover multi-million dollar, industry shaking opportunities...

HubSpot's Junk Lead Problem

HubSpot, the company that coined inbound marketing so many years ago, and my previous employer, has been no exception to this phenomenon of junk leads and how could the company not, given its massive investment in sales and marketing, content creation, lead capture forms and lead flows?  

The company achieved significant popularity and reach in the industry in a short amount of time. Millions of people visit and read their blog every day. Hundreds of thousands subscribe to its newsletters and tens of thousands fill out contact forms and lead capture and download forms every month.

With so many offers being made, there is bound to be a lot of folks who don't fit the initial target market and there certainly were. However, from my experience working alongside the marketing department every day, I found that a lot of the issue came down to challenging our assumption of who our buyer persona was and who it wasn’t.

The solution was (and is) being agile; being open to experimentation, looking at the data, and constantly challenging those assumptions to come up with new ones to test.

As Mike Volpe, HubSpot's CMO in those heady days of its pre-IPO growth, recently said, “Every person in your database has value. You need to determine what that value is.”

In this article, that is my goal; To give you a new perspective on “junk leads” and perhaps guide you in exploring their value to your organization.

It all starts with thinking like an entrepreneur.

Looking at Your Leads Like an Entrepreneur

Let's talk about creating a startup within a startup.

The HubSpot Partner Agency Program

When I started at HubSpot in 2011, I joined a small, but growing team called the HubSpot Agency Partner Program.

Me delivering the HubSpot Partner Broadcast, a monthly webinar series designed to engage HubSpot’s growing audience of Marketing Agency Partners

At that time, this team was just big enough to fill a table in a small conference room and was led by a gentleman named Pete Caputa.  

All those years ago, Pete simply took at look at HubSpot’s then "junk leads" and proposed to Brian Halligan, HubSpot's CEO, that he spend some of his time calling them and exploring how we could do business with some of them. From those conversations and relationships came the Agency Partner Program and today it is one of the largest, most successful divisions of HubSpot.

HubSpot Partner Inbound Certification Launch Party, June 2014 photo2.jpg

Picture of Pete (far right) myself (middle) and Chris LoDolce from HubSpot Academy toasting the successful launch of the HubSpot Agency Partner Certification program in 2014. Many agencies credit HubSpot’s Agency Partner program with saving their business model and providing them a platform to grow their company and hire more people (who knew your junk leads could end up doing that?!)

Pete Caputa eventually joined HubSpot’s executive team and most recently became the CEO of a company called Databox, but his career was launched by some fearless thinking and his investment in this program.

I mean, think about it. HubSpot initially thought these people were competitors, trying to steal customers from us, but then the stars aligned...

While at HubSpot, we started having thousands of agencies contacting us saying, “Our clients are asking about your platform. I want to know more about it than they do” or “Clients are no longer asking for the types of traditional services that we offer. We want to evolve. We want to change and offer people services on the platforms that you folks provide” we also we realized many of our direct customers needed more help to succeed with the tool.

Having all these marketing agencies knocking on our digital door, if you will, suddenly became a good partnership opportunity. Working with them, we could help our existing customers use HubSpot and do better inbound marketing, but also to sell to those contacts that maybe we could not sell very well to, ourselves through the agencies.

HubSpot's Agency Partner Program grew over time to help drive 40 to 50% of HubSpot's total revenue number. These previously thought to be junk leads ended up being one of the biggest sales engines in the company. In fact, they became the power users.

Side Note: Pete will be speaking all about his experience and Databox at our special two-day experience, IMPACT Live 2017 this August.

If you haven’t already, get your tickets now!

HubSpot International

As HubSpot was finding innovative ways to activitate the agency segment, the same thing happening with another slew of heretofor thought to be "junk leads" - HubSpot's international contacts.

Jeetu Mahtani, a sales rep at the time,  noticed that the company was getting thousands of inquiries from outside the United States, where HubSpot was initially focusing its sales and support efforts.

So, he decided (with the approval of his sales manager) to start calling Europe, coming in early or staying late to be able to contact these companies overseas during their own business hours.  These contacts were in fact very passionate fans who wanted to help bring inbound to their corner of the world (if we could only give them a chance)!  As an on-boarding consultant at HubSpot, I remember taking many of these customers and sometimes hosting consulting calls with them at strange hours of the morning or in the night, but it was exciting because we were breaking into new markets and finding yet another way to profitably engage a segment of our leads that we had, up to that point, written off.

And, of course, Jeetu, the guy who believed in trying to turn these junk leads into a new opportunity, saw this experiment succeed. He got his own sales team, his career rose and he now leads HubSpot’s entire international division (5 offices and still growing).  Good for HubSpot, good for Jeetu, good for the global inbound movement.

A Playbook for Success

Like the Agency Partner Channel, HubSpot's international business has been an extremely valuable growth channel for the company, and if it wasn’t for these leads and two men who dared to look at them as something other than junk, they may have never existed.

I saw this playbook run again and again and again with other low-priority segments of leads that just needed a little entreprenurial thinking to turn into profitable sources of new business for the company: eCommerce-centric companies, nonprofit institutions, and even startups.

In the end, having a lot of people contact us through massive adoption of inbound gave HubSpot the momentum and potential to experiment, and having a bright, entrepreneurial staff allowed people opportunities to propel their careers by forming side hustles to capture the value that these leads represented.

How Did HubSpot Do It?

Let’s get one thing straight before I continue -- while these stories have all been at HubSpot, it is not the only organization to have seen this kind of success. It is simply a prime example of how it can be done.

But how did they do it? How did HubSpot get into engaging their junk leads instead of ignoring them, and how can you learn to do the same?

Well, for one thing, the priority and core market for HubSpot never changed -- those marketing managers and small business owners who wanted to buy from HubSpot directly and use HubSpot directly were still the focus, but the experiments with otherwise under-engaged segments of the audience and databases were still given the time of day.  As positive results started to come in, these side experiments were occasionally given the resources for bigger sales and marketing campaigns to be executed (and then reviewed for further investment).  But it all starts with the database...

Marketing would evaluate their database logically.

They’d start to segment and ask: how many international contracts do we have? How many marketing agency contacts do we have? Instead of just putting them all in one bucket and saying “these are junk leads, these are no good, ignore them," and maybe even worse, "delete them,” they said "let's put these into buckets and measure just how much interest we're getting from this audience within our total addressable market."

How many of the contacts in our database are from eCommerce companies, nonprofits, start-ups?

If there is a large enough base of contacts here for an entrepreneurial rep to experiment with, they said, "let’s try it."

Those experiments I saw at HubSpot over the years paid off and each of those segments has been successful. At the time of my transition to joining the Agency Partner Network in 2016, all of those segments I described to you were staffed with their own sales, marketing and services team and all are still going very, very strong, if not getting stronger than in previous years.

The lesson here is:

Challenge your previous assumptions about "good fit" and never automatically discount a chance to create value with your audience.

What can you do to challenge your assumptions and value every contact in your database more, even the ones that don't immediately hit your highest lead score or match your initial buyer persona?

1. Examine Your Own Situation and Behaviors

If someone contacts you who is not in your target market and is not contacting you with an expressed interest to buy from you, what do you do with them and their precious attention and interest? Is there any follow-up or segmentation or analysis in place at all for these folks who came to do business with you in some shape or form? Or do they get shoved by the wayside and muted out?

Don’t immediately discount those individuals. Though they may not be your exact persona, some of them may be the most engaged, passionate contacts in your database.  Picking up the phone and having a conversation with them may open a door to a new opportunity you never expected.

We try to practice this mentality with our own community of subscribers that we keep in contact with here at IMPACT. Our Chief Strategy Officer, Tom, wrote a great article on the hidden value of “unqualified leads” a few years ago. Check it out here.

2. Take Action

It's not enough just to be inspired by this story. You need to take action if you want to make something happen. Start today by opening up your marketing database and asking yourself:

  • Have you been contacted more than half a dozen times by a particular type of person or organization?
  • Can you segment and look in your database for contacts who don't qualify as 'good fits' today and see why?
  • Of those who don't qualify as a good fit, what do they have in common in terms of interest and/or need?
  • What is something that you can offer them that would be valuable to both them and you?
  • Is there a rep who is willing to explore how you could offer your product or service or other opportunities that might come from working with those contacts?

If you can produce answers to these questions, you might just lay the groundwork to unlock a new segment that could help your company reach new heights - just like HubSpot's junk leads did. Those junk leads could turn into diamonds.

Want to Hear More From HubSpot Game Changers?

Former HubSpotters (and my old friends), Pete Caputa, Mike Volpe, former SVP of Worldwide Sales and Services, Mark Roberge, and former Inbound Academy Professor, Dee Dee De Kenessey will all be at IMPACT Live 2017!

IMPACT Live is a two-day, invite-only experience where marketing leaders grow and make valuable connections, while actually having a good time, and we want you to be there. So, consider this your invitation.

Get your ticket today and save 25%!

Free Assessment:

How does your inbound marketing measure up?
Take this free, 5-minute assessment and learn what you can start doing today to boost traffic, leads, and sales.


Published on May 24, 2017

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