Wow, only 8 episodes into the podcast and we have managed to get the man himself on the show - Brian Halligan (Co-Founder & CEO of HubSpot). Brian wrote the book on inbound marketing, literally, so if you want to know where inbound marketing is going - this is the episode for you!

Being a HubSpot agency we are huge fans of Brian and what he has achieved so it was an honor to us when he invited us to the HubSpot office in Boston to have him on the show.

So below is the interview with Brian Halligan on the future of inbound marketing...

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In this episode we will discuss:

  • How and why HubSpot was started
  • What is the future is for inbound marketing and HubSpot
  • What part technology, video and social are playing in the current changes in inbound marketing
  • Should marketers be more involved in sales and the full 'customer journey'
  • How AI, Chatbots and Messenger play a part in today's marketing
  • How vital social media and video marketing really are
  • What smart marketers should be focusing on for their companies and careers

Watch...

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Full transcript:

Mark

- Hi, guys, today we have a super special guest. We have Brian Halligan from HubSpot. He's the CEO, co-founder of HubSpot. So, how's things, Brian?

Brian

- Things are great, thanks for having me.

Mark

- Oh good, yeah, we're really excited. We just flew over yesterday to meet you. And your team have been really accommodating since we've been here, so thanks for that. What have you been up to? What's been happening in your world?

Brian

- Just trying to grow HubSpot and the inbound movement. I've been busy. Actually, my next meeting is vacation. This is my, I'm taking... Well, over here in the US, we have Fourth of July, celebrating our divorce from you all, and, yeah, so I'm taking a week off, which is gonna be great.

Rikki

- Good, do you manage to power down on your week off? Do you switch the emails off?

Brian

- I try to switch email off as much as I can, and play a little golf, little tennis, and practise guitar. It's gonna be great. Might do a little reading.

Mark

- Okay, well we obviously know who you are, and hopefully most of our listeners do, but just for the people who don't, can we have your story, Brian? How did you end up in this amazing building?

Brian

- That's a good question. We started HubSpot 11 years ago last week. Two things happened at the same time. One thing was I was an investor at venture capital. I was investing in startups, trying to get them going. And all these startups kind of did the same thing.

They would buy a list and send lots of emails, they would cold call people, they would advertise to people, they would do the big trade show. The more I watched the plays, the more I kinda came to the conclusion that humans were sick and tired of being marketed to and quite clever at blocking it out, whether that's caller ID or spam protection or AdBlocker, you just couldn't get through to humans anymore.

And then Dharmesh, at the same time, we went to school together, and he had blogged his way through school, and I was studying his blog, and I was watching. He had 100 times more interest in his crap little blog than any of my wealthy venture bank startups. He was very clever at pulling people in from Google and from social media in the early days. So we came up with this idea that marketers needed to change.

Instead of interrupting people with outbound interruption-based marketing, how do you change the way you market to kinda match the way they actually shopped and bought and pull them in in a whole new way? And that was the idea, and then we built a software platform to enable folks to do that.

That's how it got going.

Mark

- So going from you two guys to how many now? How many employees?

Brian

- 1700.

Mark

- 1700? So impressive.

Rikki

- So people agree with you. That is the way to do marketing then, isn't it?

Brian

- Yeah, done really well.

Mark

- It works, we know it works. That's what we do full time.

Rikki

- Where do you see the future? It's been a lot of content, e-books, a lot of blogs as you say, where's the future of inbound going?

Brian

- I think it's changing in a couple of important ways. I think of inbound really started with, a lot of people call it content marketing. It's just the very top of the funnel. Having great content, you just pull people in. That content seems to be changing.

Whereas humans used to read a lot, they don't read as much as they used to. And they found everything through Google. And they certainly read still, and they find stuff through Google, but behaviour seems to be changing in humans. More and more want to watch videos. Wi-Fi's improved, cellular networks have improved, mobile phones have improved. Then video, as a medium for consuming things, is much better, and humans prefer it.

And then, humans seem to like to share and talk about that stuff on social media. So if it was all, 11 years ago, about written text and video at the top of the funnel, today's feels much more about video text and social. So there's a shift going on in human behaviour, and I think inbound marketers are catching up.

Rikki

- Is it changing because us marketers are taking something and spoiling it and putting too much noise out there. Like a lot of the mediums you mentioned that didn't work in the past and stopped working now, is because marketers have spoiled them. Magazines were full of adverts and et cetera, et cetera. -

Brian

- I think it's a bit of that. And I think consumer behaviour is just shifting. I think technology's shifting and human behavior's shifting. I think it's not just shifting at the top of the funnel, either.

HubSpot, what we've evangelised for a long time still works, is you put a piece of content out there behind a form on a landing page. And it still works, but increasingly I notice our leads and our customers are coming through two different types of calls to action in addition to that one.

One is instead of having a form there, we assign a sales rep on the fly and we put the, just book a meeting with the rep, and pop the rep's calendar up, and they can put the meeting right there. And that just saves a bunch of time and energy. We get a lot of leads in customers that way now. And the third one is chat. When people are on your website, they may want to fill out a form, but a lot of people just want to talk to you now. They don't want to fill out the form and wait.

And so the middle of the funnel is changing, too. The whole thing is changing, and part of HubSpot's job is to keep up with the changes, educate people on it, and build technology to help them take advantage of it.

Rikki

- Is that people like me who, I'll speak to a salesman when I have to speak to a salesman? So I'll speak to a chatbot instead if I can get a bit further down the funnel without speaking to them.

Again, people's buying habits are changing. They're a bit sceptical about speaking to salesmen, for want of a better phrase. Do us, as marketers, need to adapt and put more marketing, like chatbots that'd probably cast us some marketing out, even, like Messenger, in place so we can carry them on with marketing even further down the funnel?

Brian

- Yeah, and one of the things I had noticed when I first started my career, if you think of the funnel metaphor, it used to be dominated by the sales rep. The sales rep would start, they'd cold call someone, they'd mail them stuff. And they'd get through to them on the phone. They didn't have caller ID. And then the sales rep would sort of manage that customer through the funnel. They would have all the information that the prospect needed. It was an asymmetric relationship.

They had the pricing information, the packaging information, the references, everything. They had it in the prospect. Well, they'd have to ask the sales rep for everything, and every time that sales rep was asked for something, they'd give it to them, but only after getting something in return. And, boy, is it different today.

It almost never starts with a cold call like that, and the rep tends to get involved later and later and later in the process. More and more purchases are happening without a sales rep involved. They're a lighter touch very late. There's massive, massive shifts going on in buyer behaviour. I think it's an exciting time to be an inbound marketer.

Rikki

- I completely agree. How is HubSpot adapting to that? Obviously, HubSpot was built on a philosophy, and it's worked well, and it still works now like you say. But the subtle differences, does it just mean more R&D for you guys, keep pushing the product forward?

Brian

- Yep, we're keeping pushing the product forward, keep pushing our methodology forward. So we see the change happening like you guys here with this video thing, and so if you look at HubSpot's content, it used to be all text. And now more and more of it is video, whether that's on our blog or on social or explaining our product. I'll give you one good example.

We A/B test everything, and on one of our product pages, we had written text, well-written text about what the product did, and then a video. And it varies, but it's like four X to one, the engagement on a video, and the click through rates when you get a video there. So we're leaning hard into video, and then we're integrating really nicely with video platforms, like Wistia and others, so that our customers can take care of video.

That's what we do, we try to stay on top of the trends and test what works, and if we can find out it works, we build it right into the product, teach people about it. That's sort of our MO.

Mark

- We had a podcast with Dan Tyre about four weeks ago. So then he tips, he says, "Mark, after this call, "go and put the meetings, the meeting book in, "on your landing page, just do it." We did it, and what's happened?

Brian

- Good, good, good. Dan Tyre's in an interesting interview.

Mark

- Yeah, yeah, he's a great guy.

Brian

- He's got some good stories.

Mark

- Okay, what excites you at the minute? What motivates you, what keeps you going?

Brian

- It's sort of shifted to... We've achieved a lot of our goals from when we first set out for HubSpot. It's shifting to, how much impact can we have? We want to impact as many of our employees as we can, hire as many people as we can, train them, make them as valuable as they can.

Would love to impact our partners as much as we can, so we're thrilled when we see folks like you started a business, an inbound practise, and you're growing. We obviously want to impact our customers, we want to impact our investors, so we're trying to have as much and as wide impact as we can.

Would like to impact the world in the way it thinks about selling and marketing, and shift the mindset, so it's a more human-friendly, gentle way of selling and marketing, not this obnoxious old-school way. It's sort of changed over time to impact, and HubSpot is just a great platform for having impact. We hire lots of people, we have tonnes of partners, we have tonnes of customers, tonnes of investors, so the harder we work, the more and better impact we have. That's sort of what motivates me. I won't speak for my co-founder, but I think for him as well.

Rikki

- The direction HubSpot's going, obviously it started as the marketing platform, and it's ventured into sales and going into other areas. Is that because that's the way forward of the product, or is that because that's the way forward you should see marketers and looking at them? Should marketers be getting more involved in sales and that buyer journey through to end? Is that because, is the product led by what marketers should be getting involved in, or is it a bit of both?

Brian

- It's a bit of both, it's just sort of you think of marketers and what they did 20 years ago, and it was a lot of PR, it was a lot of trade shows, some advertising. It was arts-and-crafts-y. The role of the marketer has dramatically changed over time. It's far more technology and far more influence on the process. I sort of think of the buying process, 20 years ago let's say, 98% of the work in a B to B sale was done by the salesperson.

And today, it's not 98% depending on what the product is, but so much of the convincing is done by your website, by social, by your content, by your videos, by all this stuff. So the marketer's role has become more important, in my mind, it changed. Salesperson's still very important, but their role has changed. The marketer now needs to figure out several layers of the funnel.

They need to figure out, how do I turn total strangers into visitors into my site? How do I do that, not just by worrying about what's on my site, but how do I worry about what's going on in Google, in Facebook, in Instagram? How do I build communities in those things and pull people in through there? So it's not even about their site, it's about off their site. And once you get them to your site, how do you get them down your funnel, converting and engaging with your content and eventually talking to your sales rep? And then how do you engage with customers so that they're buying more products from you?

So the marketer today is far more important, I think, to any company than they were even five years ago in understanding that whole buying process. So much of it is done asynchronously, so much of it is done with the marketer. We're following the marketer. When I think of HubSpot's journey, we started as search engine optimization blogging software. How do you help people create content, get found in Google? And over time, then we moved into the middle of the funnel. How do you turn that visitor to your blog into a lead? And then moved into sales, how do you turn that lead into a customer? So we're kind of following this end-to-end process. It's been a lot of fun, and we've got a long way to go.

Rikki

- You touched on it a little bit there, but I can remember reading about HubSpot for the first time, when we invested in HubSpot as an agency, and the argument that the sales process was much more liner. You'd interrupt someone, you'd get them onto sales, it's very linear.

And the new way was a bit more fluid, people find their own answers. I think it's getting even more fluid and fragmented as the years go on. YouTube, Snapchat, there's a lot of channels now.

How do you think marketers should deal with that? Should they look to get involved in everything, or should they specialise? From a marketer's own personal viewpoint, if you were, say, talking to someone getting into it now, what you advise?

Brian

- It's a terrible time to be a know-it-all marketer. It's a great time to be a learn-it-all marketer. When we try to hire marketers, we try to hire the learn-it-alls, because whether we like it or not, our end target, our consumer, our B to B buyers, boy, they're changing fast. And so once you think you've got the playbook mastered, the playbook's gonna change. Three or four years ago, did we think Snapchat and Instagram would be important? No, maybe Facebook and Twitter.

The landscape has really shifted, and you need to be a learner, a lifelong learner, and really picking up the new skills and moving the ball forward as a marketer, or you're really gonna get left behind. In a lot of ways, if you're a learner, it is a fabulous time to be a marketer. If you're not a learner, if you're the kind of person that learned a set of things and you're just like, "I'm gonna milk it," it's a tricky time, actually. I, personally, am a learner. I like these times when things are changing, and change creates opportunity.

Rikki

- Another HubSpot employee, and he said something that, was it that things you learn over five years ago now is kind of, is that the learning cycle? It's redundant, whereas before it was kind of, 10, 15 years, that knowledge set you haven't got stirred, you learned at uni, and it kind of last you most of your career, whereas now it's every five years that knowledge is redundant.

Brian

- I think that's right, particularly for marketers and sellers. I'm an engineer by trade, and I learned a lot about mathematics and about how to write software and stuff like that early in college. All of the coding languages and stuff I learned are completely out of date, but the math is fundamentally still there. The fundamentals are still there. If you're a good writer, if you're a good communicator, if you're a good talker, if you know math, some of that basic stuff you need to learn and get good at. But everything sort of above that seems to change.

Rikki

- Tactics, isn't it?

Brian

- It really changed a lot. Like you guys, you're smart. You're hopping on the video thing here. You've got a video blog. Or, is this video blog or podcast?

Rikki

- Well, it's a video podcast. I think someone calls it a vidcast, I don't know.

Brian

- I think, I would imagine lots of your prospects, lots of some of our customers would want to create the same type of thing in their own industry. You've created this one about inbound marketing, but, gosh, let's just say I'm in the headphone industry. You should be creating your own one of these things.

Rikki

- And that's what we say, it's exciting. We're in quite a saturated market. The marketing for marketing agents has got to be good, 'cause you've got to be cutting edge. But you go into manufacturing and do this stuff, you're the only one talking. So the opportunity's huge in there. And even in inbound marketing, we talk to our clients, there's still a lot of interest in blogging yet. And that creates some difficult bits for marketers, doesn't it, because we have a lot of conversations.

Our industry hasn't started doing inbound yet. Do we do that first, or do we jump two steps ahead? Still doing it inbound, but do we do it through video and heavily focused on social, or do we stick to the right in e-books? If you hadn't got started yet?

Brian

- I'd jump.

Rikki

- Yeah, it makes sense, doesn't it?

Brian

- I think this medium is a very good one, that we're speaking to all of your viewers now because they get to see you and engage you and whatnot. The thing that's not as good with video as a blog, one of the things I like about a blog article is you just skim read through it. And it's hard to know in a video what's coming. But I think the technology will get better, where you'll be able to do that, two, three years from now. You'll be able to figure out what's on there and skim it in a way that you can't do today.

Mark

- Kind of leads us on to, everything we read at the minute's talking AI, artificial intelligence. Where do you see that going in marketing? You guys must have had an R&D locked in to AI at the minute. Where do you see that fitting in in the future of inbound?

Brian

- Yeah, I think it's part and parcel of how we build our app. It's a new way to build software, and we have artificial intelligence throughout our app, like all our search engine optimization tools, our lead scoring tools. You can't see it as a user, but it's powering a lot of the cool stuff underneath the covers. Selling and marketing, it turns out, is a really good application for AI.

HubSpot is a really good place to apply it because the way you make artificial intelligence work is you've got this box, and the box has to learn and think, and the way you teach it to learn and think is you have to pump oogles of data through it. And we have oogles of data at HubSpot about everything. And we've got 11 years worth of data, so we use those data to train algorithms. I'll give you one example.

I don't know if you guys use the new lead scoring stuff we have, but typically the way people do lead scoring is, let's say, you get 500 leads into your business a month. A marketer will go in and say, "Alright, these are the types of leads, "this is the way I want to do a score. "If they're from the UK "and they visited a certain number of times "and they filled out such and such on this form, "I'm gonna score them this. "If they're not from the UK..." They try to figure out the algorithm themselves. The way artificial intelligence would do a lead scoring, the way our new lead scoring works, is you're not guessing which country or which size business.

The software will look at how many leads have you ever got, which of those leads turned into customers, we have all this information inside of HubSpot, and you don't have to worry about thinking about the algorithm. We will tell you exactly which leads are the good ones, and that's a perfect software problem. And that's happening all over the product.

Rikki

- How much do you think that scares people? That they just, okay, someone's better at figuring out lead scoring, but do I actually know how it's calculating lead score? It's accurate and it works, but.

Brian

- It scares people, and we see people pushing back, but we just gotta take deep breaths and believe it works.

Mark

- Yeah, and we've seen it, and it does work.

Brian

- People are dubious, of course, at that type of thing, but I think two, three years from now, people will be like yeah, of course, that makes sense. But it's really everything you're doing now is so personalised. You go to Netflix, and they know exactly what you want to watch. They know exactly the right stuff to serve out. That's artificial intelligence. I think people are starting to get trained that software's good at these things. Software's good at some things, bad at other things. This type of thing, it's very good at.

Rikki

- I know AI and chatbots, on training them, Dharmesh has gone to deal with GrowthBot, and he's rolling that out now, and I get a letter probably every few days now that there's new features added to that. How much do you say that side of things, for a front-end AI being part of what HubSpot do, or a product that HubSpot is trying to do.

Brian

- I think the chatbots will be a big piece of the puzzle. I think of the way we interacted with technology is generation one was just the Netscape browser. You put information in, you get information out, worked great. And of course you can still use HubSpot through that method. Then there's mobile app, and have the public build the mobile apps, a new way to get at that data, maybe more convenient, maybe not. And this is just a third way to get at that data is through a chatbot. And chatbot technology's pretty new, it's getting better faster.

And artificial intelligence enables it, because you're able to just ask it a question, and because so many people are asking it questions, the software, the AI underneath, is like, "Oh, I understand this question." You don't have to go to a menu and tell it exactly. It's sort of a rough question, and they can figure it out and give you the answer. If it can't, but it sees a lot of people asking the same questions, eventually will figure that out. So it's getting smarter. I just think it'll be a main way that humans are interacting with technology and getting answers. I have, at my house, an Alexa from Amazon, I have "Okay, Google" as well, and it's remarkable how useful they are. I see my son, for example, he's very facile with it, he just thinks, "Oh, I'm gonna ask it a question." He asks it any question he can think of. I don't, maybe I'm just old, but I don't think of asking it the question right away. But he's using it about 100 times more than I do and loves it.

I just think as the younger generation grows up, and as we get used to it in my generation, I just think that'll be the way you. It's very unnatural, when you think about it. You've got this pad on your computer, and you're going around menus or whatever. It's just very unnatural. It's much more natural to just ask the darn question. I think 10 years from now it'll be a very natural motion.

Rikki

I probably use that the wrong way. I go and look online at what I can ask it.

Brian

- That's exactly the opposite--

Rikki

- I don't realise I'm doing it. Yeah, I'm like, I'm doing it wrong.

Brian

- You're upside down now.

Mark

- That's your generation.

Rikki

- So, again, we've got marketing professionals. They're our viewers, they're our listeners. What should they be doing now? I know we touched on a lot of stuff, and there's that many things to implement. If you were in their position, what would you be doing now?

Brian

- Okay, a couple things I would do. I would be geeking out hard about a video as opposed to text, and figure out how to use that everywhere in your business. You don't have to have a high quality, like we don't have a very expensive setup here. It's not like it used to be. It's very inexpensive, you don't have to be, you don't have to go to school for it. And then I would be very into social. I don't know how many people just, people live inside of Instagram.

They live in there. You've got to get good at marketing inside of Instagram. The younger crowd lives inside of Snapchat. Everybody lives inside of Facebook. You've got to get, I'll say it again. Those three platforms are video platforms. They are not text platforms.

Those two things you gotta get good at. In terms of the middle of the funnel, well, you've got the form motion down, probably, and you've got the white paper. How do you get that call to action of just book time with my sales rep? How do you get that going, how do you get the chat motion going, how do you shorten the time between engagement and conversation? I think that's very important.

Third is how do you really geek out about the data? How do you have a true closed loop funnel? How do you manage and evaluate your campaigns and all the touches in the campaigns and figure out what works and what doesn't work? And that's getting easier and easier to do. So those would be the three plays I would get good at if I were a marketer watching.

Rikki

- That's what got me into digital marketing to start with was I kinda started doing some press releases. One day I asked a guy, "Can we do a radio ad? "How would you measure that?" And he said, "Well, after so many songs and listeners, "somebody gets a book, and you write down "what they remembered they listened to." I was like, yeah that doesn't work. That's not accurate at all. I think it was PPC, after I first had a go, I was like, oh, I know someone clicked that and they bought some, and I can go to my boughts and say that was $100 spent and there's $500 back. The money can do that in all of your marketing, that's an exciting place to be.

Brian

- It is, yeah, it's a closed loop reporting, which is one of our USPs through HubSpot. Three, four, five years ago, you couldn't really do it. You can do it now. It's much more powerful, and then you know how to spend your money and your effort and where you should put your content, and see what really works. It's powerful.

Rikki

- It's empowering for a marketer as well because I'm doing a great job, my boss doesn't give me the credit I deserve, but now you just, it's black and white.

Brian

- I agree with that, yes. I agree with that.

Mark

- Okay, the last question was have you got any tips? You just gave us three, so that kind of overrides that.

Brian

- Those would be my tips, yeah, those would be my tips. I would start something like this if I were a company. I would start a blog, I would be leaning into video. Get over yourself, dig in to Facebook, big, huge following on Facebook. People live their whole lives in Facebook. You've got to be marketing in Facebook. You're crazy if you're not all over Facebook and have your own big community in Facebook. And Facebook's little brother, Instagram. You gotta live inside of Instagram. And you gotta get good at it. You get 500 followers on Instagram, it's nothing. You need thousands, thousands! And don't get good at it, get great at it. One thing I've learned about life and about work, the most successful people are the people who are focused 'cause they just do less stuff, and they say, "No," and they get really good at the hard stuff. People who are really good at hard things are very successful. And that's what I would recommend.

Mark

- Thank you so much.

Rikki

- Thank you.

Rikki

- I really appreciate your time.

Brian

- Thanks for coming, thanks for being a partner.

Rikki

- Have a great holiday, and thank you.

Brian

- Yeah, you guys are lovely. Thank you for coming.

Mark

- Well done, take care, guys, thank you.

Brian

- Thanks, everybody. You guys are the best, thank you.

 

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