Doug Wendt is a co-founder and senior partner with Wendt Partners.
HubSpot is quite literally the gold standard for integrated growth software and solutions. The analysts, experts, advisors, customers and market researchers all agree: HubSpot is by all accounts the best solution in the marketplace when you consider the balance between price, performance, integration and overall capabilities across the platform.
There's HubSpot the software.
Then, there's HubSpot, the company.
HubSpot the company made $675 million in 2019, and the company's market capitalization as of July 2020 is $9.6 billion (yes, with a 'b').
As a HubSpot partner with a focus on serving small and midsized businesses, we are extraordinarily proud of the company and its growth and success – especially since we've been with HubSpot for nearly a decade, going back to well before the company went public on the NYSE in 2014.
However, HubSpot's rocket-fueled success creates some serious challenges in customer perception, sometimes forcing us partners to stop and explain something very simple and yet often very hard (understandably) to grasp, and it boils down to this:
The way HubSpot does things with HubSpot is not the way you will do them with HubSpot.
Recognizing that HubSpot sells software that HubSpot itself uses, this seems counterintuitive. Why wouldn't a customer use HubSpot the way the company that built the software uses it? Isn't this sort of an obvious way to take advantage of best practices?
This is exacerbated, quite honestly, by the company's own tendency to imply that indeed this is a reasonable reach. There are some pretty famous articles on the HubSpot blog that directly feed into this perception, one of them being a (now dated) walkthrough of how HubSpot achieves its inbound marketing dominance with only a small team of a few focused people.
Unfortunately, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves if a company with 73,000 customers and 3,400 employees across the world does business in exactly the same way that a small business using HubSpot software would. And to be clear, the answer is:
Here are the five reasons why your small or midsized business can't, and shouldn't, try to use HubSpot the way HubSpot itself uses HubSpot:
Reason #1: You've Missed the Pivots
HubSpot was not always this big, but people tend to assume that HubSpot has always "HubSpotted" the same way it does today. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a company that is famous for making pretty dramatic pivots as it grows, but that means the smart student needs to look back to the early days of HubSpot for some really smart insights relevant to smaller companies.
Just one small example: When HubSpot first began offering educational content to non-customers, the company branded it as Inbound Marketing University (IMU) -- intentionally offering a non-branded or separately-branded, vendor-agnostic solution (in fact, the company used to actively bring in competitors as guest content providers to further emphasize the neutral nature of the certification program).
That's a far cry from today's HubSpot Academy, which is in most respects a completely different animal. So before a company starts trying to build their own HubSpot Academy, we first have to ask -- should they do that, or should they build their own Inbound Marketing University... or anything else that represents a major pivot point we should learn from?
Reason #2: Overwhelming Organic Dominance
HubSpot is literally the number one ranked search result for many of the firm's widest keywords and keyword phrases. They have an entire team of hundreds of developers and content managers who produce one of the largest and most comprehensive blogs ever created.
Google ranks HubSpot as a leading source of content worldwide. This matters. It means that HubSpot's results in using HubSpot software are not going to be the same as yours – necessarily. HubSpot today doesn't need to worry about ranking for some more obscure long-tail keywords because they already rank at or near the top for the short-tail ones. Your organic (and paid) strategy will have to be completely different.
Reason #3: Sender Reputation (in fact, everything reputation)
Very few small (and even midsized) business owners understand how digital reputation management really works, especially when it comes to forms, emails and other digital tokens and communications. It's an extremely complex industry in its own right, but what is perhaps most critical to understand is that every single web, email and form server that your data passes through evaluates the reputation of the entity (typically the domain) sending the communication.
And I mean, every single one. This means that every email you send impacts that reputation, every form you collect data from, every cookie you place on a user's computer, every workflow you execute that personalizes or captures data -- it all impacts your reputation and therefore your ability to communicate in the digital world. HubSpot often presents a frictionless user experience using its own tools in ways that other businesses simply cannot, without risking serious problems with reputation and future resulting crises.
Want to know how serious this reputation business is today? We had a client with less than 200 contacts, all direct relationships gathered by the CEO over time, and the first email he sent to that group of just a few hundred people results in a temporary spam block and serious sender restrictions. Why? Because a literal handful of the contact records generated hard-bounced emails.
Reputation is everything, and HubSpot like all large global enterprises, employs technicians and teams who just manage this aspect of the IT infrastructure. The rest of us, however, have to work more conservatively and often 'play it safe' to build reputations that will protect our future efforts
Reason #4: Endless Ecosystem
HubSpot the company likes to sell HubSpot the software as the single solution that customers will need. And to be honest, in many respects -- it is! But let's be clear, HubSpot is intended to be the hub (get it?) and not the entire bicycle wheel. You still need the spokes, and probably even the tire and an air pump.
The HubSpot integrations ecosystem is adding roughly a hundred apps per year and currently counts about 500 solutions in its index. According to one major industry report, the average midsized private company with 200-500 employees uses more than 100 apps, and that number isn’t likely to decrease anytime soon.
And if you don't think HubSpot itself uses these apps... It's become a parlor game in our office to count the number of third-party apps that HubSpot uses to complete just one process. For example, a client recently asked me why HubSpot's use of the forms engine to capture an event registration had features, functions and differences that seemed so far advanced from what we were doing for them ourselves.
The answer? The nine (yes, nine!) additional apps in the workflow of that one stack seem to have had something to do with it.
Do you need those nine additional apps? Not when you're a $3 million per year small business, you don't -- but you have to keep that in mind when you're comparing HubSpot's HubSpot to your HubSpot. They're not the same thing.
Reason #5: HubSpot Hacks HubSpot
Finally, you need to understand that a company with hundreds of programmers knows how to get the most out of its own system at a level that's the equivalent of comparing the execution of a NASA rocket launch to playing a first-generation Atari video game.
HubSpot uses only the enterprise edition of its own platform, and the company executes literally hundreds if not more than a thousand workflows and automations.
In addition, the system is supported by a comprehensive custom scripting language called HUBl and a database environment known as HUBdb. The percentage of what HubSpot deploys to the user experience within its own platform that involves custom scripting, coding and configuration is essentially 100%.
And lest you wonder, yes – we partners can help you take advantage of these tools...if you're ready to invest in the hundreds of hours it will take versus getting to 85% of the same result by configuring and creatively using the existing capabilities of the platform.
What This Means for Small & Midsized HubSpot Customers and Their HubSpot Partners
So, with all of this (somewhat sobering) reality in mind, what exactly does this mean for the small and midsized businesses that are both HubSpot's bread-and-butter clients, and our own?
First, it means not confusing FOMO (fear of missing out) with progress. You don't need or even want most of what I've described here, so you need to stop worrying about missing out on it.
Second, take some good ideas from how HubSpot uses HubSpot but don't try to reinvent their wheel (or expect your HubSpot partner to either). That's not practical or even helpful.
Third, HubSpot's software will take you from Point 'A' to Point 'Q' and chances are you've been barely holding onto Point 'A' previously, so the difference between Q and Z is irrelevant – the key is to get on with the journey that is right for your business, not the one that mimics HubSpot's journey.
Fourth, prepare to invest. Information technology is more and more critical and the HubSpot ecosystem exists for a reason – because you will need to use it. We try with all of our might to keep clients from needing any extra tools (we believe in a very strict tech stack) but we ourselves use about twenty different applications, half of which tie into HubSpot in some way.
Fifth, understand that HubSpot has already mastered the art of using HubSpot, and you haven't. Before you seek to integrate HubSpot with anything outside of HubSpot, master the business of using HubSpot in the first place. We actively push against this impulse with clients all the time. Just because you can connect HubSpot to something, doesn't mean you should -- especially if doing so will take your users out of being in HubSpot itself.
Finally, trust your HubSpot partner. They know what they're talking about and when they encourage you in a certain direction, you of course should ask questions and probe to make sure each recommendation is right for your business.
But then, it's time to trust that they've worked with HubSpot for long enough to know how to save you and your team lots of headaches, confusion, dead ends and failed expectations by doing things the way your partner recommends. We do this every day, with lots of different companies, and we're here because HubSpot itself knows that no one can serve SMB clients better than SMB experts (i.e. us!)
HubSpot is without a doubt a world-class platform, and as with almost any enterprise-class solution, if you can just master the basics of the system, this alone will move your company light years into the future.
Your HubSpot partners are here to help you achieve those goals and many more, and we also understand how to do it within the constraints of time, talent and money. Unless you have an endless store of each, it's a pretty smart idea to let a HubSpot partner guide you so that you can achieve the true goal, which is:
Using HubSpot in the way that generates the best value and impact over time for YOUR business.
Image credit: Eduardo Dutra @Pexels (Creative Commons).