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The Future of Marketing, An Interview with Hubspot’s Mark Roberge

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A spotlight interview with Mark Roberge, Chief Revenue Officer at Hubspot.

Meet Mark Roberge. Mark’s career began at Accenture where he used his developer background to write code. He then went on to a startup as an engagement manager for their client base. But things culminated at MIT business school, where he met Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of Hubspot. At the time, Mark had his own successful business, but he left it for the potential he saw in Hubspot.

Mark Roberge

Mark has been at Hubspot for nine years, and literally had thousands of conversations with salespeople and sales VPs, about best practices for getting advice, selling, and hiring.

We caught up with Mark at Hubspot’s annual conference in October. He graciously shared his time to talk about the future of marketing.

As the Chief Revenue Officer at Hubspot, what is your focus when it comes to helping marketers?

It’s to help them recognize this change that’s happening; this transformation towards inbound marketing. It’s difficult when you’re working at a company and it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on outside. I think that’s our job - to educate them on what they’re doing and whether or not that’s appropriate for their business and what issues that may cause in the next year or two that they might not see. To awaken them to a new way of thinking.

Inbound marketing is to stop over investing in advertising and buying lists that you then spam with email, direct mail or going to lots of tradeshows where it is mostly other vendors and not customers and switching that investment towards content generation for your prospective buyer whether that be in the form of a blog or e-book or social media participation in order to attract them to your brand.

What are some key trends for the future of marketing you’re watching for 2016?

The business one I’m passionate about is freemium and growth marketing. I think they’re very related. This whole freemium movement is going to dictate the best in class business model for all software companies 5 years from now. And I think that represents how today’s buyer, with the luxuries of Uber and Airbnb and all these really low friction ways to get a service - that experience is starting to be in demand with almost everything they purchase and that’s where freemium is correlated.

 People don’t want to have to talk to a salesperson or spend 100,000 dollars. They just want to try something on a small basis and see if it really works, and then expand their usage from there. Part of the inspiration for our Sidekick business and our CRM being free is that we now have the chance to experiment with this model. That goes hand-in-hand with this growth marketing movement. Which means a marketer who is off the charts in experimentation, analytics, and their technical ability to get a little closer to the product and the website – in terms of coding – than a traditional marketer would. Those kind of go hand in hand. I believe that a big trend we’ll see in the next 5 years is this desire for “low friction” buying.

When we saw you speak in Milwaukee this summer, you mentioned that “removal of friction for someone to do business” as a coming trend.” Can you expand on that?

This low friction idea is also described as B2B2C, or the consumerization of software. It’s really all the same thing.

For example, if you look at what Dropbox has done to collaboration, and Evernote has done to notetaking. There’s a clear desire being driven by the buyer of this low friction process and it changes a lot of things. Let me give you a couple of examples:

Let’s look at how you integrate sales with something like this. Sales people have traditionally been compensated more for the first revenue they bring in for a customer. Which makes a lot of sense, right? It’s hard to meet a new brand and suggest that they start doing business with you, so if you as a salesperson convince them to do that, you should be rewarded. And you get a little less money for upgrade revenue. That traditional model contradicts with Freemium.

“I believe that a big trend we’ll see in the next 5 years is this desire for “low friction” buying.”

Freemium is all about having low friction. So when a customer decides they’d like to do business with you because what you offer sounds interesting, they have the option to try one seat on your basic version. But the traditional sales model says, “No, you need to buy 50 seats on the enterprise version and here’s why.” Right? Because they’re compensated for getting that first big deal. So that’s one example.

Another example is calling high. That’s always been a best practice in sales. But this also contradicts Freemium because it’s not the CEO who’s downloading the stuff, or the person with the budget. With Freemium, it’s the end user who’s trying your product or service. As a salesperson, you have to adjust and dial in to the end user and incubate that usage and put pressure on the C-Suite through that usage to purchase. So the whole call high practice could be jeopardized by this. It’s very interesting when you look at it and think it through and realize how many traditional ways of doing business will need to be re-thought.

For the average sales person, it means a change in tactic around Freemium. They need to be more technical because they need to be actually helping to implement the product, not just sell it. We always talk about we’re selling our sales software in this way. The demo is no longer just a presentation of how the software works.

 The Freemium demo is actually three things:

  1.  The presentation
  2.  A training call
  3.  A set up call

When you’re dealing with Freemium software, it should be designed so that within a minute you can set it up and in another minute you can use it and start getting value. It should be that simple. When you’re doing demos with that type of software, why would you waste 30 minutes on the phone with someone without them walking away and using it?

That’s what we do with Sidekick and Sidegroup for business. Unlike our marketing software – which has to be sold in a different way and I give you a pitch about it, and I show you how the blog works and social media work, and I show it on our demo portal – Sidekick for business is done on YOUR portal. And I’m setting up YOUR templates, and calling cue, and you walk away from the demo like, “That was a cool demo. Now I have to go start prospecting. So I may as well use this because it’s all set up!”

Can you talk about the importance of data to storytelling in the future of marketing?

I tend to always use data in stories. A lot of authors and thought leaders share qualitative views of where the world is going, which is great and sounds really cool, but it’s very easy for someone to be skeptical. Versus when you can pack that story up with what you did, the results, and your interpretation of the results, it’s hard to argue with that. When you look at the book I wrote, I don’t think everybody agrees with my approach to interviewing, hiring, training and managing, but I based it all on what I did and the results I got, so you can argue the context but it worked for us.

Especially in the world of sales – where leaders tend to be least open to new ideas, and they just feel they know how to sell because it’s always “been done this way” or they “have a certain approach” –  you’re not going to get anywhere unless you back your advice and new ideas with data.

What is your POV on quantifying marketing and sales success? What are the top marketing metrics that matter?

I think we’re seeing a bigger shift from older school things like reach and brand equity (things that are harder to measure) and more and more marketers are signing up to be lead generators. When you take that mindset, quantifying success is a lot easier. It starts with a discussion between sales and marketing, to determine what is a qualified sales lead – is it by employee size? B industry? By geography? Once you establish that, then you need to set a reasonable goal for quantity and quality that those leads produce.

A good starting point is quantity. For example, say you need mid-market, enterprise, telecomm companies. If that’s what a good lead is, then here’s a list of 50,000 accounts that are in there, and any lead that you get from that company counts. That’s solid. I’d say that’s probably in the top 5% for quantifying success in this day and age.

Where you really want to go to become an expert, is to factor in the engagement level of a lead as well. If you get a lead to come to your website and subscribe to your blog, that’s a lot looser than if they request a demo from your team. Or start a trial of some kind.

You can start taking into account different attributes to that lead, like whether they’re the CEO or an intern (decision maker or not). Then, historically over time, you’ll be able to see that anytime someone at a certain level within a certain type of organization gets to a free trial, you tend to convert them 7% of the time, and they buy $500,000 worth of software. You multiply 7% x 500,000 and that becomes a lead value for your organization. Now you’ve got a framework to put marketing on a quota. And that’s the top 1%. Just like sales has to produce $10 million each quarter, marketing has to produce each quarter, too. You can get there through 100 amazing leads from CEOs who started free trials, or from 1,000 interns who are downloading e-books, but either way, according to the numbers, sales should achieve their goals.

That’s the idea - get marketing on a revenue quota.

What are the most important marketing technologies an organization should have in their mix?

A blog - a way to publish the voice of the organization and some way to track social media (who’s talking about their brands, their executives, and the keywords that would infer intent or interest). Like a hootsuite. Also a technology that gives them control of their website. Which sounds obvious, but there are a lot of marketers who will pay $50,000 for a newly designed website with an agency, who then hands it over, but the company can’t update it themselves. You need to have the control and ability to edit your website.

And you need some way to measure – visitors in a month, percent who are converting to leads, to capture all the data around each lead (pages viewed, content downloaded, etc) and pass that information to your sales team. That’s a huge opportunity today and it represents the whole inbound movement.

We as buyers are not putting up with sales people anymore because we don’t have to. All the information is out there for us. There’s nothing worse than a sales and marketing organization where you’re nurtured with great information and resources and you want to check out the products after you’ve already taken five steps to educate yourself. And then the salesperson gets on the phone with you and is completely unaware of what you’ve already done to prepare and just starts pouring on the pitch. You need to be able to provide that marketing context to your sales people.

Email marketing is important in that mix, too.

Do you consider full-blown marketing software different than email marketing or is email marketing part of that?

Email marketing is necessary to nurture leads, too.  It’s more efficient for marketers today, you just have to do it in an efficient way for people who want to hear the message.  I think that’s the big mistake people make – using market automation to buy “lists” and then spam lists of people faster. You hear all the time, “But it works. I bought 10,000 names, and I got 50 appointments from it.”

Well what happened to the other 9,950 people?  How do they feel about your company right now when you just sent them five completely un-personalized, obvious, spam emails?

CEOs take that seriously, but the marketing and sales people probably don’t think about that enough.

I think you’re right. To do it in a way that they want to hear the message, so then it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.

Yes, with email you’ve got an opportunity to raise the perception of your brand, but I think most emails today don’t do that (they have the opposite effect).

How should an organization determine if it’s better to buy an all-in-one marketing suite or build their own mix of technologies to accomplish it’s marketing goals?

I’m biased, obviously, because we’re an all-in-one solution, but I sincerely feel this way, if I were an outside consultant, not having worked at Hubspot, I would think that marketing software has reached a maturity where you want an all-in-one solution. There are so many advantages to having something all-in-one, in terms of a single view of your customer and prospect. It’s also a real pain to individually integrate tools to create that view...and sometimes impossible.

Seven years ago, maybe you should have a best-in-class email tool, a best-in-class social tool and a best-in-class website tool, but because the space is more mature now, you’re creating more work and putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage if you’re using siloed tools.

That’s the same reason we recently switched to Hubspot. Because we’re a bigger organization now and we want to streamline all the tools we’ve been using. We now get a complete snapshot of our data.

It’s two pieces of data: A 360 view of every prospect and customer and a snapshot on your aggregate marketing performance.  When you have your web data here, and social data here, and customer/sales data here, you really can’t pull those together.

What competencies does a good marketing technologist possess?

If you look at a marketer of 10 years ago, they were very creative and really good at tag lines, and branding and appealing to people’s emotions. Fast forward to today and there’s a lot more emphasis on quantitative skills because there’s so much opportunity to run experiments and tests. That’s a huge change.

“The other stuff still matters, of course. But five years from now, technical ability is going to be on the rise.”

You see it a little bit today in terms of being able to use your content management system, the landing page. Configuring an email automation campaign can get a little technical.  I think that’s going to be off the charts five years from now. A marketer that can actually code and knows Sequel and Python – that’s really where you get into a true growth marketer because that’s where there’s value. The whole movement around freemium, and B2C and consumerization of software, to run a marketer campaign means mucking with the product itself because the product is the ebook.  In order to do that, you have to learn how to code.

What is the best advice you have for marketing leaders today about the future of marketing? What about college graduates in marketing?

For marketing leaders, I would say not to get over-obsessed with what you’ve learned in your career.  I think they’re too attached to it.  They’re want to resist change because when you get along in your career, sometimes you lose the curiosity and energy and you just want to cash in on what you’re experienced.

Marketing has gone through such a transformation that you’re at an enormous risk if you have that mentality.  You have to keep that curiosity and that energy, and you have to be honest about what skills you have that are sunken costs and no longer relevant.

I like that, very honest.  For people who are graduating in marketing and thinking about going into the profession, what kind of advice do you have for them?

Learn the new stuff.  I’d say get a big Twitter following.  Start a nonprofit in your school, start a club that forces you to be really active with a blog and Twitter and do it in some capacity because that skill is needed in almost any company, especially their marketing department.  You’re at an equal playing field [that way] with the marketer that’s been around for 20 years, so take advantage of that.  Then I would also say learn to code.

Who do you admire most in the business world today and why?

Right now, I’m reading Elon Musk’s book, Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. I just finished The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. I’m trying to think who symbolizes this. I really like people who achieve something and went after something that maximized their professional abilities, but didn’t sacrifice their family, so I’m trying to think who does that.

Mike Amison is a great example. I interviewed him from LinkedIn. I heard the CEO from AOL speak. He gets out of his car service in Greenwich at 4 o’clock every Friday, and he’s all kids on the weekend.

That’s what I strive for. To find career paths and opportunities that can maximize my abilities professionally.  I choose my family, I’ve made sacrifices professionally for my family. I’m very around and involved as a dad, as a husband, all that kind of stuff.  Having that balance is critical.

Those are the two people I occasionally hear others talk about and, for me, that balance is really important.

Follow Mark on Twitter: @markroberge. And learn more about the ways Digital Asset Management is impacting the future of marketing at

Topics: Marketing, Announcements

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