Hubspot is a renowned provider of inbound marketing software and support. But what's it like using it on a day-to-day basis?
In this guide, we'll offer an in-depth review of how we've got to grips with Hubspot over the last 18 months and provide some insight on what kinds of businesses can benefit from it.
Founded in 2006, Hubspot is a US based company founded by Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan that aimed to create and support a solid platform for inbound marketing.
In the company's own words:
"With our powerful, easy to use, integrated set of applications, businesses can attract, engage, and delight customers by delivering inbound experiences that are relevant, helpful, and personalised."
At this stage it's important to disclose that we're not only a subscriber to Hubspot, but also a reseller. Although I certainly don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone and I'll try and be impartial about our experiences using it.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of Hubspot, it's well worth talking about how many companies view online marketing.
For those of us who class ourselves as digital natives, it's easy to forget that not everyone grew up with the ubiquitous level of technology we enjoy today.
In this regard, even an age gap of a few years between people can make a huge difference in how technology usage and interaction is perceived.
So, while almost every company is keen to exploit the web as a marketing channel, many are fearful, wary or simply hold misconceptions about how online marketing works and may seek to use it as you would a traditional channel, like advertising.
This is one of the places where Hubspot excels - breaking down the why of inbound marketing with concrete data on how it boosts a business’ bottom line, as well as explaining how to go about it in a straightforward and really accessible way.
Hubspot doesn't just lump you with the tools you'll need for an inbound marketing campaign and say 'get on with it'. While you're likely to have brushed upon the methodology of its unique brand of inbound marketing in the pre-purchase stage - one of the first steps they'll take you through is education.
The Hubspot Academy offers a wealth of resources covering every conceivable aspect of inbound marketing and using the Hubspot tool set. It's geared towards all skill levels, so veteran online marketers and beginners alike are well catered for.
Live webinars are hosted daily - offering you the opportunity to ask questions of Hubspot's educators. And there's a never-ending bank of recorded videos that you can peruse at leisure.
One thing that really comes across is Hubspot practices what it preaches. It wants you to succeed at inbound marketing and give you the best possible experience, which is a great way to not only keep you using the platform, but also turn you into an evangelist who recommends the tools and methodology to friends, colleagues and pretty much anyone else who’ll listen to you.
The tools themselves are great for beginners and practiced online marketers alike. Let's break down why:
Beginners: Unless you fancy plunging hundreds of hours into a web design course, then getting to grips with the theory behind SEO off your own back - online marketing without a tool set is going to be particularly difficult for you.
It’s entirely feasible to outsource your website build and conduct an inbound marketing campaign with a simple content management system like Wordpress and a range of third-party tools, but the onus for both learning and implementation will rest entirely on your shoulders.
Hubspot's tools - combined with the Academy’s educational resources - are invaluable at quickly getting even the most technophobic up to speed. Its blog publishing platform, landing pages and social media applications are simple to use and you’ll be supported at every stage - both within the software and by being assigned an actual human account manager to help you plan out and execute your campaign.
Advanced: For veteran online marketers, I’d say the biggest benefit of Hubspot is consolidation. While you can (and probably do) use several tools to pull in analytics data, landing page conversions, email statistics and more - Hubspot lets you do this all in one place.
It’s easy to get a complete overview of the progress of your campaign, delve into what leads you have and how they’ve interacted with you. Not to mention the simple publishing tools that enable anyone to design, compose and send an email - freeing up your time to concentrate on more technical or strategic aspects.
While you can undoubtedly cobble together a bunch of tools that’ll offer roughly the same functionality for less cost - Hubspot offers pretty much all the capabilities an inbound marketer could want in one easy-to-use (and regularly updated/improved) package. This frees you up from legwork and lets you concentrate on the big ideas and strategies driving your campaign.
All software has bugs and foibles, but it’s how these are dealt with that counts. As mentioned, you’ll get an account manager to help you through the composition and execution of your campaign - but on a day-to-day basis, you’ll need to take up any problems with Hubspot’s customer support.
Luckily, they’ve been absolutely fantastic every time I’ve had to deal with them - whether due to a genuine problem or because of something I’ve misunderstood or overlooked.
You can reach them by email or phone and because they’re based in both the UK and Ireland, you get a pretty good spread in terms of coverage.
They are keen on their data though, so expect to receive a request for a survey after each and every contact.
Hubspot isn’t all roses, but for most companies keen to get on board with online marketing - I’d say the positives massively outweigh the negatives.
That said, let’s delve into some of the potential pitfalls of Hubspot.
Hubspot will save you a lot of time - particularly when it comes to the drudgery of reporting, designing and uploading stuff, but the methodology of inbound marketing requires a steady stream of genuinely good content that speaks to your key audiences.
Juggling this, alongside the day-to-day running of your business and/or client work is likely to be a challenge. This production can’t rest solely in the hands of marketers either - and Hubspot heartily recommends you tap into the knowledge and experience of frontline staff when creating content.
This is likely to be outside the comfort zone of most, so expect some umming and ahhing - as well as delays for contributions.
Hubspot’s training - particularly if you opt to become ‘certified’ - is likely to be something of a time sink as well. If you put it to good use, it’s not time wasted - but with webinars lasting upwards of an hour, it certainly is a great deal of time.
On a slightly more positive note, I’ve also found the sheer amount of ways you can play around with and segment your data in the Hubspot dashboard to be particularly absorbing, if not outright fuel for procrastination. Indeed, as one user described it at a recent local Hubspot event - it’s akin to ‘digital crack’.
When it comes to inbound marketing – you get out what you put in. And if you're haphazard with the effort you allot to the campaign, expect similarly lukewarm results.
Delays happen with the best of intentions, but if you don't get on top of these and put a genuine, concerted effort into your campaign your ROI simply won't be as good.
Return on Investment
While Hubspot is all about the data - determining a return on investment is hard and you’ll need to set the expectation that nothing’s going to happen quickly at the outset.
The way Google crawls the web and how you go about building engagement with your target audiences necessitates a certain delay (we prescribe around three months) before you start to see real results. However, as Hubspot will show you, the methodology has been a proven success for many companies and if you stick with it - it really should deliver.
However, depending on your product and/or service(s) - you might not be able to completely convert a lead through online channels, which necessitates passing it over to your sales team.
While Hubspot can give sound advice on the integration of sales and marketing, it’s up to you to put this into practice. You can also see how it could also be very jarring for a potential customer who you’ve attracted via the softly-softly inbound approach to then be thrown into the traditional hard-sell once they reach the final hurdle.
While I think it’s been worth the money for us - there’s no getting around the fact Hubspot is pricey - which can be especially intimidating for newcomers. Indeed, the high price point has certainly been something of a stumbling block for us as a reseller.
You’re also limited (unless something has changed recently) to a single website. So if you have other business lines spread across other domains or even subdomains - you’ll have to pay again.
Hubspot’s pricing is broken down into three levels, however, so for the most part you won’t be paying for anything you won’t use.
You can also opt to undertake a free trial - but with the delays that go hand-in-hand with transferring to any new CMS (not to mention content production and social activity), I can see why this might not be long enough for the average business to get a real feel for the platform.
A very British complaint and one that makes me feel like a bit of a grinch for bringing up, but Hubspot is a very, very American company when it comes to customer service.
We Brits love to cultivate our cynicism and you really won’t find a trace of this in the positive and enthusiastic way that US Hubspotters (the Irish are a bit more reserved) approach any aspect of the process.
So is it worth it?
Hubspot’s worked really well for us and other British agencies and businesses we’ve talked to, but as I said at the outset - it’s by no means a one-size-fits all solution. So to break it down:
The platform is well worth investigating if:
- You’re looking to commit to online marketing in earnest
- You conduct business solely or mostly through the web
- You have enough resource to enable staff to regularly blog and engage in other non-billable activities
- You’re already using several online marketing tools for an inbound campaign and you want to streamline the process
- Your business is heavily reliant on lead generation
And probably not if:
- You’re an avowed technophobe, with no time or inclination to commit to learning a new discipline
- Your product or service has an extremely long sales cycle, no element of which is conducted through the web
- Your company is short on time and human resources and doesn’t have a dedicated marketing resource, nor the budget to outsource
- You don’t have any existing web assets
- You’re stringently bound by regulatory concerns when it comes to what you can publish online
If you’ve got any questions about what it’s like to be a day-to-day Hubspot user, or want to know more about any aspect of inbound marketing - give us a shout on Twitter, or leave a comment below.
In the meantime, if you want more information - we’ve also put together this handy introductory resource for online marketing, which you can download for free below:
Images used courtesy of: Philip Taylor PT on flickr, Erik Stranberg on Wikipedeia and edukacja.warszawa.pl