The Path To Personalized Marketing Automation: Interview with Mike Volpe


Interviewer: Today I am pleased to welcome Mike Volpe, the CMO of HubSpot. Now Mike joined HubSpot seven years ago and was the company’s fifth employee, and he heads up all of marketing for HubSpot today. Mike has an MBA from MIT, The MIT Sloan School of Management, and received a BA in Economics and Government, summa cum laude from Bowdoin. So Mike it’s really great to have you here today.

Volpe: Yeah, thanks for having me. This is going to be a lot of fun.

Interviewer: Alright, excellent. So you and I chatted a little bit earlier about some topics we think might be interesting to our audience, and certainly you know a lot about marketing automation, and what kind of investments marketing people will be making in technology and automation going forward. I’d really like to chat about that and get your perspective on what you’re seeing, particularly what’s working, what’s not working and perhaps some trends and things that marketing executives should be thinking about.

Volpe: Yeah this is just a fascinating topic. I think most people have seen – you know the gardener and other folks are piling on to this trend of the CMO spending more on technology than the CTO or the CIO by 2017 or something. I don’t know if those numbers will exactly come true, but I think there is definitely more of a focus within marketing of using and leveraging technology. I think what’s driving it is this change in buyer behavior right?

Interviewer: Right.

Volpe: And buyer’s, you know, I mean the things that buyer’s do and how much the buyer’s journey has changed I think is just the biggest thing that’s happening in marketing today.

Interviewer: Right. I mean you guys –

Volpe: They are no longer tuning into advertising. They’re searching out and they’re running the buyer process much more on their own. They’re completing so much of it before they even talk to someone right?

Interviewer: Yeah, so let me ask you about that. So, various studies have said that something like 70% of the buyer’s journey is complete before someone actually engages with the company they might buy from. Do you believe that?

Volpe: I do. I mean that’s the way it works for me right. I think it’s the way it works for most of us, and yeah, I think we see that all the time. People have done a ton of their own research; they ask their friends in social media; they’ve done a lot of Googling. And it’s just different today, with the web and the accessibility of information and all the different communication channels. To find a case study or a reference you used to have to call the sales rep and ask them who they would give you. And, of course, they just gave you their buddies that were customers. Today there are sites like – and we’re a software company, so G2 Crowd or TrustRadius, or you know even for a substantive thing like the Salesforce AppExchange or whatever, where there are just tons and tons of reviews that are public. You can ask your friends on LinkedIn. There are lots of ways to sort of get that information. And pricing information is much more public. All these things are just so much more public, and the sales reps have lost control because all the information they used to keep close to their chest and dole out as part of the sales process it’s all in Google right now. It’s all on Twitter and it’s all on Facebook, and it’s all on LinkedIn.

Interviewer: Right, so where does marketing automation fit into all that?

Volpe: So I think it depends on sort of like – you know marketing automation I think is interesting. I think it’s something where once you have some names in your database, and you have some people that have hopefully opted in and aren’t things that you just – or a purchase list or something like that – to be able to segment those people and be a little smarter about what email communication s you’re sending to them I think that makes sense. I think that – and that’s an interesting thing people should do. I also think that be a little [00:03:42 Inaudible] scoring and prioritize which folks may be a little bit more active or a little bit better fit and give those a little bit more priority as your sales team can be something that’s really valuable. But I think that’s only one component of marketing technology that I think people should be thinking about today right. When you think about the change of the buyer’s journey how do you for that 70% before they talk to a sales rep, before they give you their contact information on your website, what are you doing there? And what’s showing up in Google when they’re searching for you? And how findable and how powerful is your blog? What are you doing in social and you know all these other things? What are you doing at the earlier stage of the sales process? I think that stuff is super important too. And what technologies you embrace in order to address those things.

Interviewer: And we look at our clients who are dealing with, I call it information overload, too many systems, too much data coming in. Even as it relates to marketing automation there are multiple systems; CRM systems, data management platforms, third-party data about buyers information that they own because someone has registered with them. Where does HubSpot fit into that conglomeration of information?

Volpe: Yeah, so at least what we’re trying to do at HubSpot is be the central hub, or that one spot, I mean the name is not an accident, where we’re kind of this all in one marketing platform to bring all that stuff together. So I think the ways HubSpot is very different from a stereotypical marketing automation system is that we have a blogging platform, we have a social listening platform, we have an engagement and publishing platform, in social we have SEO tools. We have certainly landing pages and email and marketing automation has features within our platform as well, as well as analytics and things like that. So I think that again, most folks instead of using something like some sort of a CMS plus a marketing automation system, plus a social system, plus some sort of an analytic system, plus a CRM typically would use HubSpot plus a CRM right. So at least we try to provide a little bit more consolidation among those platforms and give you a lot of power to do some cool things because all the data is in one place and in the right formats, and it’s all sort of pre-integrated. So that’s at least sort of our – been kind of like approach on the world.

Interviewer: Right. Mike talk to me about this phrase that I believe you guys have championed called “inbound marketing,” and how that relates to not what you guys are doing per se, but your customers, and how that fits into marketing automation.

Volpe: Sure, inbound marketing is basically the technique that we believe you should be using to adapt to how today’s buyer’s behave right. So, if they are going to complete 70% of their journey before talking to somebody from your company, and they basically have all the power today, and they’re fast forwarding through advertisements and using spam filters and pop-up blockers and all these things to only zone in on the information that they’re focused on, they are looking for – what you need to do is figure out how do you attract them to you instead of interrupt them; instead of getting in front of their face. And stop cold calling them when they don’t even have a phone on their desk anymore. And figure out how when they’re Googling for things or searching things in social that you’re showing up. And so that is fundamentally what inbound is. It’s how do you better restage the funnel and continue to pull people through in an inbound fashion rather than sort of forcing them through? Do it so you’re basically attracting people, treating them like humans and you’re trying to be as, again, respectful of that new buyer process as possible. I think that marketing automation can be a component of that. You need to think about, obviously, at the top of the funnel, blogging, social SEO in order to pull people in. I think marketing automation once you have those names, to be able to certainly be smarter about how you email them. Be smarter about how you sort of do [00:07:41 Inaudible] management. Segment folks, personalize those interactions, it’s important, but I also think you need to personalize other things beyond email. And I think that a lot of marketing automation systems, even for that little funnel activity, which is kind of what they focus on, leave things a little bit short and they don’t think about how do you personalize the website experience. Most of them – actually most of the marketing automation platforms don’t have landing pages that are optimized for mobile devices, which is sort of interesting given the importance of mobile today.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah.

Volpe: So I think there’s a lot of things there where they’re like it’s one – they’re powerful tools, but they’re sort of like one tool. And I think if you want a website that’s going to offer a personalized experience; I think if you want to have a system that’s going to pull people in through some other methods at the top of the funnel, I think there are some other options out there obviously, in terms of either integrating with other products or using sort of a broader platform.

Interviewer: Alright, so I’m going to ask you about a topic that I think you guys are really good at called content and content strategy, content development, content delivery. And I’m going to ask it in the context of I would label HubSpot as an unusual company from the marketing perspective in that you’re really good at developing a lot of content. And when we work with our clients we find that that is one of the chief obstacles to leveraging whatever marketing automation system they have. They understand how they need to communicate and offer value through content, but the development of that content is a huge challenge for them. Can you share with us perhaps some success stories, or best practices in the development of content that would be layered on top of any marketing automation system?

Volpe: Yeah, I mean I from my standpoint I think that one of the fundamental sort of tenets of inbound marketing is how do you attract people and be helpful to them before you’re trying to interrupt them and sort of advertise to them. Or instead of trying to interrupt them or advertise to them, certainly issues that the content is very, very important. I think the transition or the revolution that most marketers sort of need to adapt to is that rather than spending all this money in advertising, spend the money on people, or maybe agencies, that help you create content. So hire sort of a journalist type of person, or hire an agency that can sort of fulfill that need for you. And think about content development as something you actually spend some money on it and throw some people to. I think a lot of times people sort of say, oh well it’s so hard, it’s so hard. Well, is it really that hard or are you just not devoting your budget, your time, and your effort in the right places. And so I think when I look at sort of our customers, the ones who are sort of most effective it’s the ones who have sort of really embraced this, and the ones that sort of have figured out how then internally, or externally with an agency, make content development part of their sort of daily, weekly, monthly marketing routine. And it doesn’t need to be rocket science. You can also do a lot of content recycling. So I think that if you have a few kinds of big ideas each month of interesting content pieces then that can become sort of an eBook or a longer form piece of content. You can then slice that up into a number of different blog articles and then slice those up into a few different social messages, and with just sort of a core of two or three ideas per month you can actually have a very full sort of pipeline of content that you’re publishing out. And I think all the data that we have from our customers, from other things that we’ve seen, and from our own experience the more the merrier. You know we have a lot of data that shows that the more blog articles you post, the more leads that you generate. And it’s awesome. In fact I’ll give you a couple – one more stat which that we now have about 5,000 blog posts. We’ve been blogging for about 6 years and out of the leads that a blog generates, which is on the order of around 15,000 leads per month, 70% of those leads are from blog articles we did not write this month. So you have this compounding effect of articles that you’ve written months and months or years ago are still ranking well in search, or being shared in social, or linked to from other places on the web, and they’re generating leads for you. So every month when we start toward our lead goal at HubSpot we have a huge portion of our leads that we know are going to come in no matter what we do because we have these blog articles, and landing page, some things that are ranking well on search, that are being shared in social that people like and have linked to, and have saved in their favorites and shared with their friends and things like that where we’re sort of starting way, way, way ahead of the game. Versus if you’re kind of in an advertising centric model it takes you a long time or you’re starting basically at square zero every single month. Where the ad words campaign that you launched last month, ran last month, that doesn’t help you this month because unless you’re paying the bill this month and paying for that traffic you get this month those links all come down. So you’re sort of what I love about email marketing this content is if you can do it right you’re building up this asset that just pays back over time.

Interviewer: That is a phenomenal statistic. I have not heard anything like that before. So essentially what you’re saying is that the good content is going to be found even if it’s not something you produced that day, because a lot of people are thinking about how do I create content that gets people’s attention right now. And you’re saying certainly there is value in that, but actually the bulk of the value comes from this library of content you’ve created over time. Did I say that right?

Volpe: Yeah I think that’s exactly right and I always tell marketers that the thing that they should be thinking of is what’s the legacy that they leave behind at the company that they are working at right. So, when you leave, the fact that you ran an ad words campaign really effectively for the last six months or six years, how does that really help the company the next month? In my opinion, maybe there is a little bit of expertise there, maybe you’re a little more efficient, but you still need to pay the bill again that next month. Versus if you’re going to build up a really well engaged social following that is very engaged through content and republishing it, and sharing it, and clicking on it, responding to it that’s valuable for the company the next month. If you have this blog that’s ranking well in SEO and has a lot of traffic and gets a lot of social sharing, that’s an asset that brings a lot of value to the company the next month. And rather than spending all your money on something that the value goes away as soon as you get the response from it that second, because the ads will get taken down when you stop paying for them, the links get taken down when you stop paying for them, if you are building up these assets I think that taking your money and devoting it toward asset building, again, you’re just building up something that has a lot more long-term value for the business.

Interviewer: That’s fantastic. Now let’s talk a little bit about the content explosion and how a company gets found. Let’s assume that they understand the target market. They understand their value proposition. They create content that’s a value to the target market, but they’re a small company. They’re competing against a big company and there’s a lot of content out there. So, they can do what you’re suggesting, and they can build good content, build a library of good content in their blog, but let’s talk about that trick about how do you get found?

Volpe: Yeah, this is sort of like everyone is sort of afraid to start doing this stuff because they think everyone else is doing it and there’s no room left for them.

Interviewer: Right.

Volpe: But the web, again, this is not a television from the era of Don Draper where there were three networks right? This is the web, and the web is founded on the principle – the whole principle behind it is that there are infinite channels. And so, some day someone will have a blog about you know monkey wrenches for left-handed plumbers in Iowa right? And every single left-handed plumber in Iowa is going to think that that blog is the best channel on the web so far right?

Interviewer: Right, right.

Volpe: And so I think that really a lot of it boils down to, as you said, let’s assume that they know their audience, but really focusing on that audience niche and understanding exactly who those folks are. And a lot of people say okay well you know I market to marketers though and HubSpot and some other companies are doing such a good job of getting in there. Well there’s a million things that we are not doing well at HubSpot, like every company. And there are segments of that audience that we don’t necessarily serve well. And I think there are lots of ways to sort of get into that game. A big part of it is figuring out what is that niche and sort of – that’s the first step. And the second step is how do you differentiate? How do you have something different? So maybe, again, we do actually probably a poor job of podcasting at HubSpot right? So maybe there’s folks you know exactly like what you’re doing right here. It’s like maybe that’s another way into that audience. Maybe it’s the format of the content. Maybe it’s the type content. Maybe it’s longer form content, which maybe you say we’re not as good at, or something like that. So, you have a competitor that’s trying to sort of, though it’s using this strategy, I think it’s a lot of ways to sort of have an angle and sort of be differentiating. And certainly once you start it will – actually the final thing, there’s not an if you post it they will come. That will happen to a small extent, but definitely in the early days, or the early posts, you definitely want to promote them a lot in social. You want to promote them through email to your existing house lists. You can even do a little paid promotion on social and things like that to start to build up a little bit of authority in the early days, but you definitely need to do a bunch of promotion around your content to sort of build it up and build up the subscriber base over time.

Interviewer: Yeah I’m glad you mentioned that. Promotion is one of the keys tenets that we advise our clients on. It’s not enough, we say, to develop the content. You need to promote the content. And there’s one other thing I want to mention and then we’ll have to wrap up, but it has to do with what we call repurposing content. So, when we work with our clients, like we talk about that challenge you and I were just discussing earlier about how do we develop the content, it’s really hard to develop content, and once they get that process in place it’s hard to develop an engine, if you will. Our advice to them is don’t stop once you have the raw content developed, whether it’s a podcast, or a blog post, or even an eBook, but repurposing that content because it was so hard to gather it in the first place. Then you can take that content and you can do something else with it. You can take an eBook and turn it into a podcast. You can take a podcast and turn it into a slide share or some communication of a group online. Tell us a little bit about how HubSpot might help us with that.

Volpe: Yeah, so the answer to that is yes, I’m a huge proponent of recycling and reusing content. And the ways, at least within our software that people have sort of been able to do that is maybe you start with some sort of an eBook and then you just cut it up into a bunch a blog posts. And obviously, you can usually take all those blog posts and cue them up and get them ready to go within HubSpot. You can also then push out a bunch of social messages and schedule them on different platforms, optimize reach platform, and things like that. But you can also tag. I think the coolest thing, which is something that we’re currently in sort of volume data with, it’s coming up very, very soon which is a new feature is to be able to tag all the different content on a particular topic and make that part of like a campaign, and then be able to see how that campaign overall forms. So I think a lot of times campaigns are much more, you know the way that other people track them, are sort of run much more on advertising. And this is more around content where it’s like, okay if these six blog posts, these two landing pages, and these three emails, and any of the different sort of objects within HubSpot, I want one place to like report on all of this and how much traffic did this generate and how many leads did this generate. Things like that.

Interviewer: Interesting.

Volpe: One of the ways that sort of like unifies all that stuff. It’s something that – and I’m sort of tipping our hand a little bit about something that’s coming relatively soon here, but it’s something that I’m very excited about. So certainly we have some tools to help you publish all those differently pieces and things like that, but I think the next big step is to kind of like tie all that stuff together and give it to you all on one screen where you can see how all the different things performed. And I think that’s something that’s really, really cool.

Interviewer: Excellent, excellent Mike. Well, we are out of time, so I just want to thank you so much for you time here, and I’m quite confident our audience can get a lot out of this conversation.

Volpe: Thanks a ton for having me. It was an absolute blast.

Interviewer: Alright.