HubSpot: An Inbound Marketing Case Study
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) isn’t much unlike physical-fitness- robust builds, from physiques to web-apps, require steadfast discipline and maintenance in order to become attractive; incidentally, both fitness and marketing are in a state of flex: 38% of gym patrons attending group-fitness classes remain loyal for 1 to 5 years versus 29% for total-gym patrons- clearly, the “BigBox-gym” model yields to emergent fitness-class studios (Nielsen).
Concordantly, business-to-business (B2B) vendors are decreasing “BigBox-agency” outbound-marketing budgets to 30% while increasing marketing-allocations for SEM, search-engine optimization (SEO) and social-media to 37%- because on average, a lead generated by inbound-marketing costs five to seven times less than a lead generated by outbound marketing due to the former’s lower costs and increased efficiencies leveraged by search-engines and scaled with social-media (Steenburgh, Thomas, Jill Avery, and Naseem Dahod).
Inbound-marketing is a collection of marketing strategies and techniques focused on “pulling” relevant prospects and customers towards a business and its product, whereas yesterday’s outbound-marketing tactics “interrupt” customers via television, newspaper and radio advertisements. Results, both physical and marketable, require a cultural-mindset- like a lifestyle or strategy instead of provisional diets or tactical-solutions.
HubSpot has redefined the modern-model of marketing by becoming the “BigBox-boutique” of inbound-marketing but not without experiencing some paradoxical growing-pains before becoming a “good to great,” company (Steenburgh, Thomas, Jill Avery, and Naseem Dahod).
Ironically, HubSpot, a customer relationship management system (CRM), struggled to accelerate growth while maintaining profitability as an inbound-marketing vendor- so if HubSpot couldn’t scale its business via inbound-marketing, how could they sell their core-competency to prospective clients? At the end of the day, tremendous results demand cross-training with multiple disciplines.
Market Assessment & Surveillance
Now, more than ten years after incorporation by MIT alumni Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot is the world’s leading inbound-marketing and sales platform boasting over 19,000 customers in more than 90 countries using customer-relationship management software, services, and support to transform the way businesses attract, engage, and delight customers as a turn-key, inbound-marketing platform to supplement or replace outbound-marketing “help[ing] businesses attract prospects, qualify their potential, and convert them into paying customers…to generate more qualified leads more efficiently, and to convert them into sales,” (Steenburgh, Thomas, Jill Avery, and Naseem Dahod | Jantsch, John; Singleton, Phil).
According to the Harvard Business Review, inbound-marketing requires three distinct skills:
- Writing compelling content that attracts customers to the business- which according to HubSpot had to be useful first, and secondly, discoverable via search (e.g. a blog-post about the benefits of personal-training workout groups based on high-intensity interval training that blends cardiovascular and strength training by a “BigBox of boutique-fitness studio,” like Orangetheory Fitness, Barry’s Bootcamp or Dogpound).
- The ability to scale quality-content so that it’s easily found by prospective customers (e.g. a Orangetheory Fitness, Barry’s Bootcamp or Dogpound blog-post about a specific type of workout or training-day cited in a social-media post, which is later discoverable by a user-search for “interval-training studios.”)
HubSpot clientele is as diverse as the World-Wide-Web, from business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C)- in house affectionately referred to as “Owner Ollie” for small-business owners and “Marketer Mary,” for (B2C) clients (Steenburgh, Thomas, Jill Avery, and Naseem Dahod).
“Owner Ollie,” is monikered after the quintessential small-business-owner: the jack-of-all-trades too busy to be a master of none juxtaposed to the B2B “Marketer Mary,” a professional generally staffed with 26-100 employees and typically supported by a small marketing-team.
The CEB recently conducted a survey of over 2,200 B2B buyers discovering that 57% of purchase decisions are complete before a customer even calls a supplier (Jantsch, John; Singleton, Phil). It is therefore incumbent upon SEM to influence the 57% of the sale that occurs mostly on the web negotiating three obstacles – incomplete digital integration, ineffective content, and a poorly-optimized channel mix – obstructing HubSpot’s customer-funnel distilling inbound-visitors into prospects yielding leads for growth. ( Steenburgh, Thomas, Jill Avery, and Naseem Dahod | “B2B’s Digital Evolution”).
Upon reaching a critical-mass, co-founders Halligan and Shah identified three specific hurdles for a hamstrung HubSpot (Steenburgh, Thomas, Jill Avery, and Naseem Dahod):
- Identifying which customers to target: the cursory “Owner Ollie,” with a low-cost average of on-boarding i/a/o $1,000.00 albeit with a higher-rate of attrition at first blush of an increasing productivity-pipeline (4.3% for Owner-Ollie vs. 3.2% Marketer-Mary) compared to Mary-Marketer’s proposition of a steady cash-flow at the expense of a high-maintenance, high-cost acquisition i/a/o $5,000.00 for increased attention and customer-support time.
- HubSpot would need to make some decisions about their current pricing model to entice new customers to the company while maximizing the profitability of existing customers.
- They would need to assess whether they could achieve sufficient scale through inbound-programs without traditional, interruptive outbound-marketing campaigns.
At the end of the day, tremendous results demand cross-training of disciplines- since 2011, HubSpot essentially outsourced their “outbound-dilemma” by partnering with over 3,100 digital and marketing affiliates that resell its offerings or provide associated services in 69 countries (Fletcher, Chris, Jason Daigler, and Ilona Hansen).
SEO for Growth: The Ultimate Guide for Marketers, Web Designers & Entrepreneurs maintains that the proliferation of Web 2.0 open-source frameworks and social-media position boutique web-development agencies for asymmetric-returns like never before:
Traditional creative agencies and advertising agencies still focus on selling big-dollar demand-creation services, while clever SEM’s use pennies to snatch away these purchases online; it drives big agencies crazy that nameless, brandless companies can leverage such a small budget to generate so much new business (Jantsch, John; Singleton, Phil).
Consequently, HubSpot should align their outbound strategies with a pivoted-focus from the dearth of small-caps to the bigly B2B customers, or “Mary Marketers-” resisting the threat of entrants is futile because boutiques can deliver world-class web-presence at a fraction of CRM-costs.
Moreover, it may behoove HubSpot to level-up system-architecture requirements as a scalable mid-cap solution- specifically their predictive lead-scoring functionality reportedly less satisfactory than officially claimed (Fletcher, Chris, Jason Daigler, and Ilona Hansen).
Lastly, interoperability via application program interface (API) is an emerging trend in application-development courting possibilities for integration with prospects formerly filtered-out by the HubSpot-funnel due to legacy-system contracts and service-agreements (Fletcher, Chris, Jason Daigler, and Ilona Hansen).
According to Forrester Research, 47% of organizations that embody analytics best practices reported that their marketing analytics work together efficiently, compared with only 9% of peers- clearly, a massive opportunity awaits (“Discover How Marketing Analytics Increases Business Performance: Invest in an Integrated Platform to Address Challenges of Device Proliferation and Data Complexity.”).
Alexander J. Singleton is CTO and Founder of Bucephalus Web Development, a boutique web-development agency headquartered in Prairie Village, KS. Alex is also a part-time graduate student in pursuit of his master of science in information systems technology (MSIST) at The George Washington University; he submitted the above case-study on HubSpot for Search-Engine Marketing and Search-Engine Optimization research assigned by his Web & Social Analytics professor, Dr. Wendy Duan.
Case | HBS Case Collection | May 2009 (Revised January 2011)
HubSpot: Inbound Marketing and Web 2.0
by Thomas J. Steenburgh, Jill Avery and Naseem Ashraf Dahod
This case introduces the concept of inbound marketing, pulling customer prospects toward a business through the use of Web 2.0 tools and applications like blogging, search engine optimization, and social media. Students follow the growth of HubSpot, an entrepreneurial venture which, in its quest for growth, faces significant challenges including the following: developing market segmentation and targeting strategies to decide which customers to serve and which to turn away, configuring pricing strategies to align with the value delivery stream customers experience, and determining whether inbound marketing programs can generate enough scale or whether traditional outbound marketing methods need to be employed to accelerate growth.
Keywords: Customer Relationship Management; Entrepreneurship; Price; Growth and Development Strategy; Marketing Communications; Social and Collaborative Networks; Segmentation; Web;