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Why I Went Inbound and Why You Should, Too: An Interview with Brian Signorelli of HubSpot

I was given the opportunity to interview Brian and talk to him in depth about his role with HubSpot, the inbound marketing methodology, SEO agencies thinking about adopting inbound, what businesses need to do to create a steady flow of content, and whether Dharmesh Shah or Brian Halligan would create a better inbound marketing strategy.

Reading Time:23 mins April 25, 2014

I’ve shared my love for inbound marketing software giant, HubSpot, quite a bit since I began utilizing their software, and I’ll likely continue to rave about their marketing prowess for the remainder of my marketing career. They’re widely recognized in the marketing space, but if you’re as lucky as me and my inbound marketing team at Mainstreethost, you’re able to effectively utilize their tools and resources.

However, when I think HubSpot, it’s not their tools and resources that come to mind first; it’s how much they care. The level of support I’ve experienced from them is second to none. There’s a reason VentureBeat named HubSpot #1 in Customer Satisfaction back in February – if you work with them, you’ve experienced it firsthand.

Approximately two years ago, Brian Signorelli first contacted me. Though, at the time, I had no interest in what HubSpot actually had to offer me. Nevertheless, Brian spent a lot of time getting to know me personally, as well as understanding my marketing pains and helping to design effective solutions for them. Today, I couldn’t imagine inbound marketing without HubSpot.

I was given the opportunity to interview Brian and talk to him in depth about his role with HubSpot, the inbound marketing methodology, SEO agencies thinking about adopting inbound, what businesses need to do to create a steady flow of content, and whether Dharmesh Shah or Brian Halligan would create a better inbound marketing strategy.

Click on any of the questions below to jump to Brian’s answer. If you’re already convinced that he knows his stuff and want to learn about inbound marketing and HubSpot’s software, he’s offering a free consultation to businesses and marketing agencies.
Craig: Brian, let’s start out by learning a little bit about your role with HubSpot. What do you enjoy most about this role?

Brian: Two things. First, I get to literally “watch” the landscape of the marketing world change. I’m obviously biased working as HubSpot, but inbound marketing works and it’s replacing traditional outbound marketing tactics constantly. It’s not that hard to understand “why” either. Today’s buyer (B2B) or consumer (B2C) just doesn’t want to be interrupted with sledgehammer marketing via direct mail, radio, cold calls, commercials, etc.

They want to do research on their own time, in their control. That’s what most people love about the web. Their experience is entirely in their control and an insane amount of reliable data, information, product reviews, customer reviews, are all just a few keystrokes away. The businesses I work with understand that and are shifting the way they market to engage prospects on the prospect’s terms, not theirs. Second, I work with about 40 HubSpot Agency Partners. The same way that I see their clients’ businesses changing, I see their businesses changing because they’re not only deploying these marketing tactics themselves, they’re helping other businesses to do it the right way the first time. Both are equally rewarding.

“Inbound marketing works and it’s replacing traditional outbound marketing tactics.” #GoInbound [Tweet This Quote!]

Click to go back to the questions.

Craig: In my experience, “inbound” is often perceived as an SEO replacement or alternative, when in fact, it’s much more than that. How do you explain the difference between inbound marketing and search engine optimization? To expand on that, what does inbound encompass?

Brian: You’re right—there are definitely people who think of inbound marketing as a top of the funnel tool or as synonymous with content marketing, but the reality is that inbound is about fundamentally changing the end to end experience of your customer, so it is truly comprehensive, touching upon every step from keyword optimization to blogging to social media publishing and monitoring to marketing automation and analytics. Inbound as a philosophy is about making a commitment to transform your business, and more than 10,000 businesses worldwide have grown their business leveraging inbound and HubSpot.

The Inbound Marketing Methodology itself is designed to help businesses attract more strangers to their website, convert more visitors into contacts (or leads), nurture those leads into being customers, and then turning those customers into promoters of a business. Inbound doesn’t stop there either, which is why it’s all hierarchical as I mentioned earlier. Inbound also applies to other aspects of a business, such as sales and customer service: it’s about creating an inbound experience to attract, engage and delight your customers at every stage.

“Inbound is about fundamentally changing the end to end experience of your customer.” #GoInbound [Tweet This Quote!]

“More than 10,000 businesses have grown their business leveraging inbound and @HubSpot.” #GoInbound [Tweet This Stat!]

Click to go back to the questions.

Craig: When should a business start thinking about implementing inbound marketing, and is there a right or wrong time to commit to it?

Brian: Virtually all businesses should be practicing inbound marketing. When you strip away the definitions and the methodology, Inbound Marketing is basically just a marketing method through which a business continually builds and distributes content designed to attract the right types of prospects to their website and nurture them through their sales funnel with more and more relevant, helpful content, delivered in the right context and at the right time. Simply put? Just ask yourself whether or not you think you’re running marketing campaigns that are built with your prospects and customers in mind and whether or not you’re producing HELPFUL content that answers the types of questions they’re asking, or offers potential solutions to the types of problems that THEY’RE trying to solve. It’s that simple.

To get started, you need a great software system to enable an inbound experience (not surprisingly, I recommend HubSpot), but you also need to invest in creating remarkable content, planning for and creating content that is truly and deeply relevant to your customer base and stands out from the crowd. Inbound requires an investment of time, money, and energy, but the results are transformative—your blog, website, and social channels will continue to generate leads over time, so it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

I always advise people to ensure they have the time and energy to commit to content creation—that tends to be the hardest thing for people to wrap their heads around, but it’s a lot like going to the gym. The first few times you go, it takes a huge effort, but then it becomes part of your routine, you see results, and you make it a priority. HubSpot provides a huge array of resources to help you on our blog, with our Academy team, and with tools like the blog post idea generator.

Click to go back to the questions.

Craig: In your experience at HubSpot, what are the top three reasons businesses aren’t going inbound?

Brian: Great question. The first is that they don’t “get it” or think that it doesn’t apply to their business (don’t believe in digital marketing, or don’t see the value). This is a problem because these businesses risk becoming irrelevant. It’s just a matter of time before they either come around and start deploying Inbound Marketing as a component of their overall marketing plan, or don’t and shut their doors – they will literally become tuned out by prospects. I would equate this to being like Blockbuster and not acknowledging the rise of businesses like Netflix or services like Google Play. The second is that they think it’s “too hard” or don’t have the budget. This is a fair concern. But I would challenge them to ask themselves what the alternative plan to market their business is, what that’s going to cost, and the effectiveness of the alternative.

The beauty with Inbound Marketing is, while it is difficult to consistently produce a stream of valuable content, the cost to acquire leads is 61% lower via Inbound than Outbound. And I can speak to that cost effectiveness having tried both methods before coming to HubSpot when I was running a small startup outside of Boston. The second thing for them to keep in mind is that there exists a myriad of resources to help with content creation and Inbound Marketing — content marketplaces like Zerys, Writer’s Access, Content.ly, etc. and all of the marketing agencies that have a dedicated services team to helping a business do Inbound Marketing in the first place. The third reason that they think they shouldn’t go Inbound is because the timing isn’t right. And that may be a legitimate concern. If you don’t have the budget, or literally don’t have the staff to manage content creation and follow up with the contacts they’re attracting, then they shouldn’t be practicing Inbound Marketing. But in that case, they probably aren’t doing much if any marketing at all. One last bit I’ll add is that some businesses think the timing isn’t right because they’re going through a website redesign. This is an argument I disagree with. My colleague Al Biedrzycki wrote a great article about why you should consider inbound before your next site redesign and you should give it a read if you’re finding yourself in this position now.

“The cost to acquire Inbound leads is 61% lower than Outbound.” #GoInbound [Tweet This Stat!]

Click to go back to the questions.

Craig: One of the biggest pieces of the inbound marketing pie is content. If a lead or customer were to ask you something like “How do I create a steady flow of content for inbound marketing?” how would you respond?

Brian: The first decision a business needs to make is whether or not they can realistically produce content in house or if they need to outsource the development of that content. I always advise, even if you’re going to outsource, that you should still be involved in content creation to some extent because it comes across more genuine and helpful when written in house. But, it usually makes sense to do a little bit of both. On the in house side – sit down with your sales team – your direct reps, and ask them to tell you what types of questions their prospects are asking. Then go to your service and support teams and ask them what types of questions customers are asking. Then go to the exec suite and interview your leadership on what types of questions they think your best prospects and customers are asking. This same process applies for B2C companies.

Once you’ve inventoried 30 to 40 questions, all you need to do is turn those questions into statements and write the blog post. For example, a question one of our prospects might ask is something like, “How should I use Twitter to generate more leads?” … the blog post might be something like, “5 Tips for Using Twitter to Generate More Marketing Qualified Leads”. It’s that simple. Get the Question, Convert to Statement, Provide Answer. Repeat. On the outsourced side, the development process should literally be identical; the key difference is the heavy lifting is done by an agency partner, or another outside resource. There are many other ways to come up with a consistent flow of content, but this is one of the easiest and most overlooked so I would start here if you’re asking, “How do I create a steady flow of content for inbound marketing?”

Click to go back to the questions.

Craig: What advice would you give to a traditional digital marketing / SEO agency that is considering taking the plunge into inbound?

Brian: It may or may not be right for your business. If you’re business is doing well and you don’t see room to improve, or don’t have the bandwidth to make a change, you probably shouldn’t. However, most of the agencies that work with HubSpot initiate a partnership for one of a few reasons:

  • They don’t do a good job of marketing themselves, thus their lead pipeline is weak, and they want a more predictable way to grow their business,
  • They do mostly project based work and want to shift to retainer-based services to smooth cash flow,
  • They already engage through retainers, but they feel that their retainers are too small or too short and want to grow them,
  • They have large retainers and a good lead pipeline, but they’re not efficiently delivering services to clients which just eats into their profit margins and want to change that, or
  • They have an unpredictable sales process, or dislike sales in general, so winning a deal is about as predictable as flipping a coin at best and they need help refining their approach to selling.

If you’ve found yourself faced with any of those 5 challenges, making a shift to Inbound Marketing is going to help you. These are the exact things HubSpot’s Partner Program is designed to help agencies with if any agency out there would like to explore further.

Click to go back to the questions.

Craig: Explain one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome that ultimately resulted in acquiring a new customer.

Brian: This is an interesting one. In November 2012, I started talking with a Director of Sales at an agency who was almost immediately bought into working with HubSpot. Albeit self-serving, he saw the opportunity to apply inbound marketing at his agency so that he could constantly feed himself with a steady flow of leads and predictably hit his sales quota each quarter. While he was actually pretty senior and resulted in being a strong influencer, he wasn’t the one who wrote the checks. Instead, as it often is in a small business, that responsibility was left to the company’s CEO. The CEO was almost immediately bought into the idea of applying inbound marketing to his agency to help the sales team predictably hit their sales goals … but he also saw the broader opportunity to expand the services his agency was offering, broaden the scope of retainer engagements he had with his clients, and ultimately a path to grow his agency faster and in a more predictable way. BUT there was one major problem.

They didn’t have a plan to implement inbound marketing for their agency. To make things worse, my main contact left the business (the Director of Sales) to start another business. So over the next 5 months I had to take an inbound approach to sales. Specifically, I spent hours upon hours of my time coaching another influencer at the company about what inbound marketing is, how it works, and what a good plan for their agency would look like. We ended up building out a 10+ page plan together, rife with example blogs, landing pages, a content calendar, pre-built marketing personas they would be targeting, etc. And when it was all said and done… they purchased the software. In addition, 6 months after that, they went on to be the most productive agency partner I’ve had from a reseller perspective in the two years that I’ve been working here. So the moral of the story is two things: (1) Trust your gut instinct and don’t give up even when the odds seemed stacked completely against you, and (2) Look for more opportunities to apply the inbound methodology to sales. Inbound marketing is (in part) simply a shorter way of saying, “produce marketing content that’s useful and helps your ideal prospects and customers.” The same exact concept can be applied to sales. When it is, you’ll almost always win more deals.

Click to go back to the questions.

Craig: What is one of the most rewarding outcomes you’ve experienced (yourself or on behalf of a client) that was directly due to inbound marketing?

Brian: This is an easy one for me. Explaining a little context on what I do at HubSpot might help. Basically, over the past two years it has been my job to find agencies that want to work with us to grow their business. I’ve literally talked to thousands of agencies across the US and Canada and they all share similar challenges. One of the most common challenges they have is either generating leads more consistently for their business or making the shift in their business where they’re going mostly from project-based work to retainer-based work. When they make that shift, commit to changing the way they do marketing for themselves, use themselves as their own best case study, modify their pricing and services packing to get into retainer-based engagements, and sell their first deal successfully, that’s what motivates me to get up in the morning. And you need to remember that while I work with agencies of all different shapes and sizes, the majority are on the smaller side – less than 30 employees. So when these changes happen – and they’re successful – it’s a huge win for the business owners and their employees. It’s a literal step-change in the trajectory their agencies were on previously – they go from being a lifestyle business to being set up to being a highly profitable, high growth trajectory business. And that makes a big impact on the personal lives of the owners and their employees. I’m literally helping them help themselves find financial security and stability, as well as provide better for the employees that work for them.

Click to go back to the questions.

Craig: Where do you see inbound marketing five years from now?

Brian: It won’t be called “Inbound Marketing” … it’ll probably just be called “Marketing”. Kidding aside, I think that Inbound has gone through a really interesting evolution that has become more and more consumer-focused over the past 10 years, and will continue to become even more consumer/ buyer focused over the next 10 years. For example, one of the “coolest” technological advances in content marketing was the ability to customize emails based on who the recipient was. Then, that evolved into things like re-targeting, drip marketing (automation), A/B testing, and landing page personalization. The next big wave is going to be in complete website customization based upon who the website visitor is.

That’s why, for example, HubSpot made a big bet on its Content Optimization System (COS) over the past year plus. The tool is designed to give every business the technology is needs to create a completely custom and personal experience based on whether or not someone is a first time website visitor, a lead, a sales opportunity, a customer, etc … and will allow the experience to be tailored right down to the individual user similar to the way that Amazon knows who we are. Google has done the same thing over and over again by rewarding websites that offer the most relevant content to the end user. I think it would behoove most businesses to take Gretzky’s advice here – “A good hockey player skates to where the puck is. A great hockey player skates to where the puck’s going.” In addition, I think you’re going to see the concept of Inbound apply to more functions inside of business, especially in customer service and sales. For example, in the future, support and service reps won’t be called, they’ll be calling you because they’ll already know what you need help with before you pick up the phone.

The same concept will apply to sales (it’s already happening in sales) – the sales rep won’t cold call you; they’ll already have an idea of what you probably need help with before you talk. The point is that everything will just continue to get more and more personalized and buyer-focused instead of company-focused. And that’s going to mean that we live in a world where marketing and working with businesses makes sense to us, rather than interrupts and annoys us. You’ll see the most rapid adoption continue in the SMB space (as it has in the past 10 years), but it will accelerate quickly in the Enterprise space over the next 5-10 years as well. It’s just a matter of time.

“The next big wave is going to be complete website customization based upon who the website visitor is.” #GoInbound [Tweet This Quote!]

Click to go back to the questions.

Craig: Who would create a better inbound marketing strategy, Dharmesh Shah or Brian Halligan?

Brian: Ahhhh. This is a tough one. In the interest of not making what I would call a “career limiting move,” I’m going to say that Brian and Dharmesh are like yin and yang in building an inbound marketing strategy. From my interactions with both of them, I’ve found that both are incredibly inspirational and visionary thinkers. They both absolutely obsess about making marketing not suck … which might sound ridiculous but I can’t think of a better way to put it. Specifically though, as it relates to a strategy, I think I would give the process, mechanics, and execution edge to Dharmesh and the vision-painting, motivational, and inspirational edge to Brian. Both are requisite parts of the equation. I really think that’s what makes them work so well together as co-founders of the company.

“@bhalligan and @dharmesh are like yin and yang in building an #inbound #marketing strategy.” [Tweet This Quote!]

Click to go back to the questions.

Are you interested in learning more about inbound marketing? Schedule your free consultation with Brian Signorelli of HubSpot, and I promise you’ll thank me later!

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Thanks for the article. And, nice threading of the needle there on the last question. 🙂

Glad to have you in the inbound movement. It’s a noble one.


Reply to dshah
Craig Kilgore

dshah Thanks for the comment, Dharmesh. I’ve been a big “fan” of yours since seeing your speak at SearchLove in Boston a few years ago. Brian did a great job with that question, although I was hoping for a clear cut choice!

Reply to Craig

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