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Revenue and Features Editor, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience
February 24th, 2021
HubSpot trainer Carina Duffy wants to get something off her chest that she thinks businesses everywhere to hear: HubSpot is not a marketing strategy.
Businesses that are successful with HubSpot know this, and their success is no accident. It’s the product of a lot of work.
It’s all too easy to see HubSpot in action and assume you’ll quickly be able to get it to solve your problems. But you need a plan.
Here’s what happens, Carina says: A company sees a product demo from HubSpot and is blown away by everything the platform can do. The thing is, what you’re seeing is the culmination of a great deal of coordinated effort. You’re seeing a HubSpot whiz with a bevy of marketing assets at their disposal (content, landing pages, workflows, reports, etc.).
When you bring HubSpot into your own organization, it can take months (or years!) to get to that point.
And it takes strategy — both a marketing strategy and a plan for truly learning the platform and its tools.
I sat with Carina to confront this misconception head-on.
Here’s our 18-minute talk, with transcript and related materials to follow.
HubSpot is not a marketing strategy
John: Carina, our broad topic today is this, HubSpot is not a marketing strategy. Talk about that as a misconception.
Carina: Where to start? Where to start? All right. The reason that this comes up so much is because we, at IMPACT, have a lot of people that come to us and say, "We're paying X thousands of dollars for HubSpot, and we're not seeing the results." Or, "We're not using it properly. We're not getting the most out of it. We're not seeing the return on our investment." Any number of that type of issue people are having.
What I often see when I actually go into their portal or start to dig in a little bit is like, "So, what's the problem? What's not happening? What aren't you seeing?" And really what it comes down to is that there's not an underlying strategy for their marketing or their sales.
They have this fancy software, but they have nothing going on in it. They're not using it for anything.
HubSpot is a tool: It can help you build a house, but you need a blueprint
Carina: The analogy that I like to use, and that gets used a lot is this: HubSpot is a tool. If you're going to build a house, you have to have tools — and the better tools you have, the easier it's going to be to build the house and probably the more successful you're going to be at building the house.
But just because I buy a bunch of fancy tools for building a house, doesn't mean I, one, know anything about building a house, and two, I haven't actually physically built anything at that point.
There's really two pieces to it. There's, I need to have a blueprint for what am I actually going to do, what this house is going to look like.
And also, I need to actually do the thing, I need to do the building of the house, or I need to have somebody do that. And so, I think what happens when they buy HubSpot is they buy the tool thinking that it's going to do the thing for them and be the strategy for them.
HubSpot will not solve your marketing challenges if you don’t have a strategy
Carina: Nobody is sitting there saying, "We're going to buy HubSpot and everything's going to be great." Nobody would say, "My marketing strategy is HubSpot."
Carina: I think the reason that this happens is something that I've talked about in various different mediums is sales utopia with software.
It happens not just with marketing and sales software, it happens with any kind of software, where we get into the sales process and we see a demo of a really awesome case study where a company is using this thing perfectly.
With HubSpot, we see this really awesome demo from a sales rep that's showing all these really cool things that they're doing. And these dashboard reports that are really awesome. And all of this success that the perfect use case is having.
And we look at that and we get orange eyes and orange colored glasses, and we say, "Oh, okay. Yeah, all I have to do is buy the thing and I will get that."
We don't realize all of the work, all of the building of the house to get to that place. And we don't realize that we need to learn how to build a house first and how to use the tools first.
And so, people buy the thing and they don't take the onboarding and the strategy seriously or intentionally. They get a year or two down the line and say, "Oh, I've sent emails from HubSpot, but I'm not really getting anything else out of it."
John: “Is that worth what I'm paying?” Yeah. Great point.
Carina: It's not!
Getting into HubSpot with the right mindset
John: Yeah, clearly. So, you're talking about someone who might be a year or two down the line, but these seem like conversations that should be happening well before you actually even buy HubSpot.
What are you actually using this tool for?
What are you planning on having it do for you?
Rather than buying it, getting a few months in, and then throwing your hands in the air and wondering what you got yourself into.
Carina: Yeah. And that's what the most successful people that I've seen with HubSpot are the people that go into it saying, "Here's the things that I want to do."
Let's take HubSpot out of the equation for a second and think through: what do we want our prospect experience to be?
What do we want the experience of people that are encountering our brand and engaging with our brand to be?
And then, let's think about the tools that we're going to need to execute that. HubSpot has a ton of those tools.
And so, when I'm thinking about, "Okay, now I have this vision of what the house is going to look like and what it really takes to build it. Now I can go and find the right platform, which is HubSpot, the right tools to actually go and do the thing."
But it's going to take a lot of work on my end to actually build the thing. Somebody's going to have to do the work. And I think that that's some of the piece that we miss when we get stuck in sales utopia, and thinking that somehow HubSpot is going to do the work for me.
Strategy starts with a mindset: Think like a customer
John: It's a really interesting point. I love that idea that there's a difference between tailoring your strategy to the tools and tailoring your tools to your strategy. And that we can get sometimes too boxed in by what a certain platform or a certain set of tools offers us. And that can ultimately be a limitation.
Do you recommend that's the best way to start building a strategy, to think about the prospect experience, to think about how potential customers are engaging with your company on whatever platform you're talking about?
How do you get a strategy? Is that the first step?
We're not just emailing people and publishing content because that's the thing that you should do.
It's taking a step back. And I really do think it is thinking through what do we want our prospect experience to be? That's a great way to pull back, but then also start to get really specific. We want their questions answered. We want to build out our website in a way that is speaking to them.
If we're going to do that, the logical next step is to also have any of our social media engagement to be that. The logical next step is, well, if we want to meet people where they are and give them the best experience, we need to have video and we need to have really great content, not just us-focused content, we need to have good messaging.
If you start with, what do we want the prospect experience to be? You can really take that step-by-step and build out a strategy.
But of course there's a ton of educational content on having that overarching "strategy." HubSpot has a lot of it, we [at IMPACT] have a ton of it. Like I said, this is part of what IMPACT is really focusing in on with our clients, is helping you to own your own strategy in-house, to have a working knowledge of what's going on in marketing and sales in general.
It's always helpful to know what the trends are for social media marketing or content marketing. But those things are always going to change.
The tactics, the specific tactics of how you do things are always going to change, which is why I think it's so important to get outside of the tools and the tactics and really think about, "Okay, how do we make sure that the people that are engaging with us are having an amazing experience? That we're building trust at every step of the way?"
Carina: If you're familiar with They Ask You Answer and what IMPACT is all about, we can't predict how our prospects are going to go through the [buying] process. But what we can do is make sure that everything that we do, every piece of marketing collateral that we put out builds trust and is honest and transparent and helpful.
And so, if we're doing that, then people are going to find us, because search engines reward that type of behavior and that type of content. And then when people do find us, they'll be more likely to buy from us.
If we can get into that perspective, then it's like, "Okay, now I know. If I want a prospect to have a great experience, if they download a piece of content from me, or they convert in a certain way, rather than spamming them with emails, I want to nurture them with something that's really helpful. [We want them to] be in the driver's seat, able to tell us what they're looking for."
That means I need to build out a workflow in HubSpot that enrolls people that convert and then asks them what they want to hear.
That's an example of how you could let that strategy specifically drive exactly what you need to do in the tool.
And then, the great thing about HubSpot is after you've executed that stuff, it has all of the analytics and the reporting to be able to see what is actually working. And how can I improve on that over time?
A proper marketing strategy values long-term growth over short term wins
John: It feels like a great reminder, Carina, that this is about long-term growth, this is about playing the long game, not about the quick win, the spamming to get a quick sale, where you're going to alienate most prospects to land a few.
This is about building trust, building relationships and giving people what they want, which is always going to move slower, but always going to bear more fruit in the long run.
Carina: Yeah, absolutely. And HubSpot is a great tool to be able to do that. You can publish content on it. You can host your blog and you can host your whole website on it. You can do emailing. You can get all of these analytics on what your prospects and your customers are doing and how they're engaging with your website, with your sales collateral.
There's so many tools that HubSpot has that can really help you. And the most successful companies that are using HubSpot, it's not because of HubSpot that they're successful.
They're able to see their success because of HubSpot and they're able to execute their strategies with HubSpot. And that's awesome. And HubSpot is a great user-friendly tool to do that.
But it's the people at the companies that are creating the strategies and executing them within HubSpot.
Those are the heroes.
HubSpot is not the hero. HubSpot is just the thing we can use to show that all of these people really know what they're doing and are creating and doing great stuff.
Avoiding HubSpot plateaus
John: Earlier you mentioned, and I know you were being facetious, but you talked about someone who has HubSpot and only sends emails. That’s all they do.
But I think there is a real concern with any technology that is continually being updated, continually growing and changing, that it's easy to get into a rut, it's easy to not expand your skillset at all.
How do you recommend someone stay up on HubSpot, learn new things, learn how the platform changes and avoid that plateau effect?
Carina: One of the really great, easy ways is HubSpot recently added a “product updates” option in their dropdown.
In the top right of your HubSpot portal, where your little face is, and where it says your account name, if you click on that dropdown, there's a product updates link that goes to a page that is literally any update that they push to the platform, and you can sort it by the different hubs and all of that stuff. That is a great way to see.
And sometimes you may see things in there and say, "Oh, I didn't even know that that tool existed or that feature existed." Or it may be a totally new feature that they're putting out.
Bookmark that page in your browser and go to it regularly because there's always product updates coming out.
I found, for myself, that's a great way to fuel continuous learning. I also think it's a team culture thing. If you are continuously working through planning and strategy, if you're doing yearly, quarterly, even monthly planning on how you're executing your strategy, it's going to naturally fuel you to just be in the tool and be in different parts of the tool, be checking out different things.
When learning HubSpot, start simple
Carina: It sounds ridiculous, but the way that I learned HubSpot and the easiest way to keep up on things or learn different things, Google it, and you'll get knowledge articles, and you'll also get HubSpot community forum posts of all different kinds of tools and how to do things and how different people are hacking different things to use HubSpot. That's honestly the best way that I could tell you to do it.
Staying up with your certifications is a great thing to do to really get the broad view.
Then, making sure that you're continually pushing your strategy and you're actually doing quarterly, yearly, regular planning on what you're going to be executing, what campaigns you're going to be executing, is what's going to get you into the tool and seeing, "Oh, there's a new update here, or this is different. Or, oh, I can now do this thing."
HubSpot does a great job of putting little new stickers on things or "here's a live beta for some new thing" in their tools as they're coming out. So, the more you're in the tools, you're just going to see that stuff. And you're going to be keeping up to date, because you're actually doing the things.
John: Carina, do you have parting words of wisdom to offer anyone who this article maybe hits close to home for them, or this is exactly up their alley. What's your advice?
Carina: My advice is don't be afraid to buckle down and do the work. It's work and sometimes it could feel like grunt work to be in HubSpot, building out emails and workflows and analytics views and customer reports and all of that stuff. But it's going to take the grind, the day in, day out grind to actually execute your strategies in the tool.
But in the end, that's going to give you all of that data and analytics and reporting that you want.
That's going to get you to the proverbial finish line of being able to see all of the things and report on and tell your boss, "Hey, this is what I did and this was the outcome. Or this is what I'm doing and here's how it's going."
So, that's really my words of inspiration: just buckle down and do the work and it's going to pay off
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