At Inbound 2019, HubSpot product announcements represented incremental improvements of existing services rather than revolutionary change. I sat down with CMO Kipp Bodnar to discuss their significance. We started with new announcements of buy buttons, electronic signatures, and automated deduplication of data records.
“I think they’re great enhancements for the customers. I’d add the market attribution reporting and the adaptive page testing, two things our marketing customers have really been looking for from us.” HubSpot has offerings (“hubs”) for marketing, sales, and service. “This year has been about how we take out customers’ feedback and let that drive the core product development work.”
It’s all about experience, of course. “We’re trying to give customers the tools they need to be experience disruptors, in the way Brian talked about. If you can’t take payments on your website, or you can’t attribute what your prospecting customers get the most value from, you can’t do that. You’re just introducing more friction.”
Another recent announcement is a move to make at least a basic version of the email marketing solution free. HubSpot has always offered a free CRM. “One of the benefits for us of having free products, is you have a wider pool of people using them, and it really forces us to make usability in the product great. So in offering free email, one thing we had to do was create an all new email editor, far easier to use; drag and drop with really good customization.”
Free CRM, free email, and free ad management too. Why buy anything? “Some people will use the free products forever, but there are a lot of people who don’t want [HubSpot] branding on their emails, so they upgrade to the starter product, or something like that. The free products are the same as the professional products, just with some limits.” For example, a ceiling of 2,000 emails per month with the free version.
This also reflects key points in CEO Halligan’s keynote. He used the major software vendor Atlassian as an example of a brand which lets customers engage with its products and with fellow users rather than using sales reps to push the products at customers. HubSpot is taking its own medicine. Although Bodnar confesses that, unlike Atlassian, HubSpot still has a sales team, he says: “We’re not going to have a sales rep do heavy-handed selling.”
The disruption theme
Given the prominence of disruption as a theme in the main stage keynotes, I asked if HubSpot was seeking to help its customers be disruptors, or if it was a disruptor itself.
“I think both of those are true,” said Bodnar. “I think we’re helping companies disrupt in a few different ways. We’re giving them the education and methodology for thinking about marketing, sales, and customer service differently, and execute on those strategies differently from the incumbents in their market. We’re giving them a tool that’s easy to use, so everybody on the team can get.”
What challenges are front of mind for this year’s attendees? “People are still figuring out their technology stacks,” said Bodnar. “The two core themes are, I’ve got stuff, but that stuff isn’t integrated and working together, or I’ve got too much stuff, and I’m trying to consolidate. People are also looking for what’s next.”
All about the apps
Another product announcement relevant to that concern is the re-designed app marketplace, aimed at making it easier to discover and integrate the hundreds of apps in HubSpot’s partner eco-system, as well as improving the app developer experience.
“We started as a marketing app, then we built a suite of marketing, sales, and customer service tools, and we really want to open up those tools and allow you to customize your HubSpot experience. The average HubSpot user has seven integrations, and we want to make those integrations easier to discover. We want to do some of the initial legwork for customers, then let them evaluate the options.”
The openness of the app eco-system also seems to reflect a differentiation between HubSpot and other big players in the space. It has largely grown organically rather than through high profile acquisitions. Has that been deliberate? “The value proposition of our product is that it’s all integrated, it all works really well together. We’re one of the few platforms out there which has marketing, sales, and service software we all built ourselves. They all run off the exact same database. If you do a bunch of acquisitions it’s hard to deliver on that value proposition.”
This doesn’t mean, Bodnar emphasized, that HubSpot won’t do acquisitions in the future. “Maybe it’s somebody in our eco-system who has a great integration, and it allows us to deliver on that value proposition. That, for us, is the core thing, because we don’t want to dilute the experience our customer have.”