How Inbound Marketing Has Changed in the Last 13 years...and 13 Weeks

Gabriel Lim Avatar

Gabriel Lim | 11 August 2020

What should B2B marketers prioritize in their inbound marketing strategy today, and how can you still drive leads for your brand?


In this Saleswhale Masterclass session, we cover the following topics with Mike Volpe:

  • Why should we invest in inbound marketing? How did Hubspot conceive and shape their strategy?
  • What has changed with inbound marketing since Hubspot first coined the term in 2007?
  • How has the pandemic impacted inbound marketing?

Bio

Mike Volpe is currently CEO at lola.com, a Series C corporate travel management platform startup. Before this, he was part of the 5 member founding team of Hubspot and rose through the ranks to become CMO. He helped grow Hubspot's revenue from $0 to $170m and through a successful IPO leading to a $2 billion dollar valuation. Mike is very well-known and active in the Boston SaaS and startup community, and is/has been an angel investor and board member of more than 30 startups.

Speakers

Mike Volpe, CEO @ lola.com & former CMO @ Hubspot

Brandon Gargan, Director of Sales @ Saleswhale

 

Full transcript below

Brandon Gargan:

Today, this is the Masterclass Series from Saleswhale. My name is Brandon Gargan. I'm the director of sales here at Saleswhale. Joining me today is Mike Volpe, the CEO of Lola.com, and former founder and CMO of HubSpot. He was at the forefront of the inbound marketing movement, building the HubSpot marketing function from the ground up. During his time at HubSpot, he increased revenue from zero to $175 million while taking them through a successful IPO with a $2 billion valuation. When it comes to inbound marketing, Mike is the person to talk to. So thanks for joining us today, Mike.

Mike Volpe:

I'm happy to be here. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Brandon Gargan:

Today, this is the Masterclass Series from Saleswhale. My name is Brandon Gargan. I'm the director of sales here at Saleswhale. Joining me today is Mike Volpe, the CEO of Lola.com, and former founder and CMO of HubSpot. He was at the forefront of the inbound marketing movement, building the HubSpot marketing function from the ground up. During his time at HubSpot, he increased revenue from zero to $175 million while taking them through a successful IPO with a $2 billion valuation. When it comes to inbound marketing, Mike is the person to talk to. So thanks for joining us today, Mike.

Mike Volpe:

I'm happy to be here. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Brandon Gargan:

Yeah, I'm excited. So before we jump in here, there are a lot of different words that are thrown around for inbound marketing. But in your words, how would you describe inbound marketing?

Mike Volpe:

Well, it's been a while since I've uttered these words, but inbound marketing is the concept of bringing people to naturally come to your company by them encountering you in their normal life and business world, and not interrupting in them anyway. So not using an advertisement to interrupt them, not using outbound email or cold email to interrupt them, not using cold calling. Things like that. So anything that's like content, or I even think of freemium products or free tools is another form of inbound marketing. Any of those types of things are great inbound marketing tactics.

Brandon Gargan:

Awesome. Why would you recommend that a company invest in an inbound strategy as opposed to say like a heavy outbound?

Mike Volpe:

I mean, they both can work. The advantages that inbound usually has is usually, it's lower cost, and a big reason for that is the things that you do to build inbound, it's not like you do a bunch of effort and get return back, and then the return ends. It's like the return pays you back over time. So it's really much more like you're building an asset. So if you have a great free tool that people love, even if you don't do any work in that free tool, people are... Once they start to use it, they're still going to use it and come back to you, and other people are going to find it and come to you.

Mike Volpe:

If you publish a piece of content that's useful and it gets a little bit of SEO traffic, it's typically not the day after you publish it, not going to get any more traffic. It's going to get more over time. Versus if you're doing any sort of cold emailing or cold calling, the second you stop picking up the phone or typing out those emails, you're going to get zero additional response for the most part. So what I love about inbound marketing is that you can... It's something you'd do on a regular basis. You're building up this asset that continues to pay more and more dividends to your business in terms of lead generation.

Mike Volpe:

I used to joke at HubSpot after four or five years that the entire marketing team could go on vacation for a month and our lead flow would have only dropped by about 25%. It has 75% of leads. We're generating more from things that we had published in prior time periods. That's obviously after years, and years, and years of investment and a lot of hard work, but I think that idea is really appealing to people. So it gives you that compound interest. It's like saving for retirement really early. If you can invest, it pays a lot of dividends over time.

Brandon Gargan:

I love that. It's like the gift that keeps on giving.

Mike Volpe:

It really is. It's much easier to be running sales, marketing, or running a whole company if you have a strong inbound marketing program because you know you're just getting this flow of traffic in every month and all you're trying to do is raise the bar of how much traffic is going to come in the next month versus, again, a lot of the other things that are more advertising-driven or more directly paid. As soon as you stop paying Google money or stop paying Facebook money, they turn your ads off. So you don't get any additional benefit from them, but your rankings don't get turned off immediately for blog articles, or videos, or things like that. So it can be really effective if you do it right over time. It just takes a lot of investment.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So you told me this was fair game, so I'm going to go here. You recently tweeted, "We sold inbound marketing so hard, no one knew what HubSpot actually did, but it worked." I know we laughed about that here at Saleswhale, but it was a good tweet. So let's dig into it a little bit more. Walk me through your thought process while you were at HubSpot. At the very beginning, why did you decide to go with an inbound strategy?

Mike Volpe:

So this tweet, I think it was in response to maybe something from April Dunford who wrote the book Obviously Awesome about positioning. I think it was in a thread about the importance of positioning and the opportunity you have if you're creating a whole new market. So back in 2007, no one talked about inbound marketing. It was almost no search traffic in Google. It was not a thing. Early on, we felt like we had a different way of approaching marketing, and we wanted to build a company around that. So it was much less about like, "Oh, people do email marketing with whatever tool, Constant Contact or something, and we think we can build a better email marketing tool."

Mike Volpe:

This was a new philosophical approach to marketing, and we thought there's opportunity to create a new market around that term. So after a lot of debate and discussion about what was the right term to describe the thing we were talking about, we settled on inbound marketing, and we started talking to people about it. So publishing content about it, having webinars about it, and even in our... When we were demonstrating our product, we said, "Have you heard of inbound marketing? Let me tell you what inbound marketing was." It was almost a two-step sales process where we were selling people on the concept of inbound marketing, and then selling them on how our software can help them do inbound marketing more effectively.

Mike Volpe:

So what was interesting was we sold the concept of inbound marketing so much harder than we were selling really the features of our software that, I don't know, four years in to building the company, we started to realize that a lot of people knew what inbound marketing was, knew that HubSpot was the inbound marketing people, but didn't know actually how we made money or what kind of business we had. A lot of people would say like, "Wow, that was a giant mistake." I think no, it was the exact right thing to do. Right? Because we had created this whole new market, anybody who thought about inbound marketing, the next word out of their mouth was HubSpot. So we owned this new category that we created.

Mike Volpe:

It was certainly much harder to create a category than it would be to enter an existing market, but what we loved about it was we were number one in this brand new category that we created. That's really what you're really ultimately trying to achieve with positioning is be the number one choice for some segment of the world. Maybe you need to take this big market, and slice things off and say, "Oh, well, we are the best pen for left-handed people," and then you can be the best or whatever it is. But I think that when you're starting a company, I think it's important to find some part of the universe where you really can be the best in demonstratable ways.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. You used the phrase, "We sold a movement, not a product," which I really liked. I think that it helps you just evangelize it, if you will, this whole new space.

Mike Volpe:

It allowed people to be part of what we were building without having to give us money because some marketers didn't have a job at the time, or they were running a one-person marketing agency, or they were too junior to have any power to actually buy our product. What happened was, is because they were able to be part of the movement, they followed along. Two, three, four years later, we were finding that people that when they were in college in a marketing class had come across us, or read some stuff, or maybe it was part of their class, or whatever it was. Four years later, they just got promoted to like director of marketing. Now, they have more budget authority, more influence, and they're buying HubSpot to use at their company and not really comparing us against much else. They were just like, "Oh, of course, I would buy HubSpot."

Mike Volpe:

But it wasn't like that happened overnight. It was like it took time again to build up. I think we're partly smart, but also, partly lucky that it all just worked, and we had really good... We got lucky with the timing. There were a lot of things we get lucky with, but that idea of building this movement that predisposes people to doing business with you even if they don't fully understand what your product is I think can be something that's really, really powerful for the right company, and the right time, and the right place.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So for companies that maybe can't build their own market, right, like you guys did, what was something you did that was really successful that maybe other companies weren't doing?

Mike Volpe:

At the time, a couple of things we did were we launched a free tool called Website Grader. The co-founder, Dharmesh, built it, and it was... Now, it morphed in a totally different thing. But at the time, if you typed in your company's URL or any company's URL, and it turned away for 30 seconds or a minute, and then spit back out a bunch of SEO, social media, traffic, like other factors about the website, and gave you a grade, and gave you a few tips and things you could change and improve about the website.

Mike Volpe:

Those types of things are pretty common now, but in 2000, early 2007, they were not that common. It very quickly started to get us thousands of new email registrations, email signups per month, and a lot of the folks who were using the tool ended up being good leads for our sales team as well because we had this tool. It was telling you the things you could do better in terms of online marketing. Guess what? We actually have both some ideas and education about that, and a product that helps you with those things. So that was something that I think has become much more common.

Mike Volpe:

The second thing is in 2007, it wasn't that common for companies to have a blog and certainly not like an information-rich blog. That's obviously different now. Lots and almost every company has a blog. They try to do inbound marketing, or have content marketing, or whatever be part of their strategy. I think people do it with mixed levels of dedication and success. But at the time, the Website Grader tool and the blog were the two biggest sources of our growth. At the time, there were things that most other companies weren't doing.

Brandon Gargan:

That's awesome. So what would you say was one of your first failures that you learned from, and what exactly did you learn from it?

Mike Volpe:

Oh, boy. Tons of failures along the way. Oh, there was one thing we did. We tried to be cutting-edge. We thought we had to be trying lots of new things because we were marketing to marketers and we had to be the world's best case study in terms of inbound marketing and online engagement. So at the time, and this is a few years in, we... There were a lot of online games, scavenger hunt things that were becoming popular or like ARGs, A-R-Gs, like alternate reality games. We thought, "Well, maybe it'd be interesting to put a game out there with a prize and stuff, and have this community that we built work together to find clues and figure out what had happened."

Mike Volpe:

So we created this scenario where an old-school advertising agency had sued us and forced us to take down in this thing called Inbound Marketing University, which has all of our training and education stuff. So not something that people paid for, but something that people found valuable. Then, we had all these clues. We had audio files that were backwards. So you had to figure out how to listen to them backwards to find certain clues, things that were embedded in images. This whole thing. This really, really cool thing. It was going to be a four or five-day game. We were psyched about it. It was going to be so cool.

Mike Volpe:

Two hours into posting the notice that we had been sued, so we had to take down all these education materials and, "Here's how you can help us solve the puzzle," or whatever, I started getting tweets and emails like, "What have you done with my webinars? How do I learn about inbound marketing? I told my boss I was going to finish the inbound marketing certification this week. Now, I can't. What are you doing? What's going on? Ah." Pitchforks and torches coming out. It was like, "Oh, boy. What did we do?" Right?

Mike Volpe:

So we quickly apologized. Within a few more hours, we had reversed everything we had done. There were a couple dozen people who had started on the path of getting the game, and had already gotten three or four clues, and were super excited about it. So we were right about that part. But the part we weren't right about was that the 80% of the community that wasn't going to engage with the game that was in the middle, maybe not our best fans, but a key part of the base, was kind like... They're like, "Ah, that game you have is really cute, but it's really interfering with my ability to do my job. What are you doing?"

Mike Volpe:

Even though it wasn't a paid product, it was this free thing we had done. So it showed us how important that stuff was and how much people loved it, but we totally missed the boat on that one, man. It was like I was super excited. I thought we're going to win all kinds of marketing awards for this really cool, innovative thing. Man, it just completely backfired. But the key with mistakes is just pick yourself up, and make some changes, and adjust from it quickly. So we did that and ended up not really affecting anything more than that week or so.

Brandon Gargan:

Fail fast. So, obviously, a lot has changed in the last 13 years, not even including COVID. Many companies saw the success you guys had at HubSpot and tried to replicate it, tried to take on this inbound marketing. Ultimately, what that meant was more companies buying for eyeballs, more... inbound marketing strategies, and how did you adapt to those?

Mike Volpe:

So it's interesting for us because we had started early and we made such a big investment as we want to be the world's best case study in inbound marketing, I don't know that it affected us at HubSpot that much because by the time everyone else in the world is rushing in and creating all this content, we had thousands of articles, millions of visitors coming to the site, and we just had such a big authority position in terms of SEO, and social media, and all these things, and the community we had that it was... We had built up the advantage over years that it was like we were in a good position.

Mike Volpe:

Well, I think the thing that changed is because we convinced so many people to be part of this movement and believe in it that, like you said, everyone is doing a lot of these things now. It's become a lot harder. So if you launch a new company today in whatever industry, there probably are a bunch of folks blogging, writing, making videos, talking about, discussing, maybe having forums, whatever, maybe some free tools for that market. So the bar that you need to surpass in order to have the best content that's going to rank well on Google and be shared in social media is much higher today than it used to be.

Mike Volpe:

So I think one of the biggest changes is really that you need to create probably longer form, higher quality content, probably do more multimedia content, video, podcasting, different types of images. Maybe it's presentations. Whatever it is, that bar for content is just much, much higher today than it was a dozen years ago because the state of the art way back then was... Very few companies blogged, weren't doing video. So much of this stuff was so much harder and just not well understood back then that you very... I mean, in the first couple of years of HubSpot, our customer would be like the only company in X, Y, Z industry that was blogging about that topic.

Mike Volpe:

I mean, I remember a company called Indium. They made solder paste. So if you were attaching microchips to circuit boards, they made that glue basically. They had a whole blog about solder paste, these different things, and temperatures, and microchips, and all this stuff. Not super interesting to me or something that I even really understood, but they were the only one in that industry. They were just crushing it because anybody in their industry that's searching for any of those terms is finding their stuff all day long because no one else in the industry ever thought to blog about those things. Right? Today, I'm sure in that industry and every industry, it's just way different. The bar for quality and the value of the content you're creating is just much, much higher.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So how do you think consumers have changed in the past 13 years, and how does that influence your marketing decisions?

Mike Volpe:

Yeah. I mean, consumers have certainly I think continued... Part of the inbound marketing thesis was that consumers had a lot more power, buyers had a lot more power. That has certainly continued. There's more and more transparency of information, more and more ways to get pricing about different products. Let's say you're buying a car. 13 years ago, it was hard to figure out what a good price was. Now, you can get a quote from five dealers in a couple of clicks, and there are services like TrueCar that tell you of those prices, where they fall on a good/bad price spectrum. Right? CarGurus has done the same thing for used cars. They have a good/bad price meter too in all their results.

Mike Volpe:

So the transparency of information and the availability of that information to a consumer in seconds through a Google search or whatever has changed a lot. The amount of reviews that you can check up on and the ability to actually get feedback from actual customers of a company or of a product is much better. So there's just so much more information at your fingertips. That was definitely a trend that we saw that was part of why we were doing what we were doing, but that has absolutely come true, and it's been a lot stronger.

Mike Volpe:

So I think as a company now, it's much harder or maybe even a possible to hide for more than a short period of time behind a bad product. I think you used to be able to sell bad products 20 years ago, and it would take a long, long time for word to get out. Now, the word gets out much faster, and it's much harder to have a bad product. So having a really good customer experience, really responsive service, living up to the promises that you're making, your customers has become a lot more important than it used to be.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. I think part of a strong content strategy is owning those channels as well, right? Like how many people go to G2 immediately and look up all the different products that they're considering?

Mike Volpe:

Yeah, that's right. I think that those conversations about the competition has become a lot more honest. I mean, even at Lola, we have pages, and we do this at HubSpot 10 years ago of Lola versus X company, and what the differences are, and our viewpoint on why, for many companies, we're a better solution than some of our competition. You would never have seen, 25 years ago, people giving out a brochure about their product in a sales meeting and saying, "Oh, if you want to see how we compare to the competition, go to this page," like laying that out there. That never would have happened. But now, you know people are going to figure out in a couple minutes, why don't you just embrace it, and tell your side of the story, and maybe even have some customer quotes or reviews to back up that information or other third-party validation? But it's like you almost need to embrace those things and not run away from it, not hide from it.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So about four to five months ago, COVID took the world by storm. A lot has changed. A lot of people have gone remote. I think companies are trying to learn and adapt to this new world that we're in. What impact has that had on inbound marketing?

Mike Volpe:

It's interesting, I think. So we talked about how the bar has gotten a lot of higher, but I think what's happened in the last four months is inbound marketing has become even more important. I mean, try calling someone in their office right now. I mean, it was hard enough before because a lot of people didn't answer their phones. Now, they're not even next to the phone. They couldn't even answer their phone if they wanted to. Right? So that's really hard. If you're doing any sort of direct mail programs, I've had success in the past of physical mail in conjunction with an SDR team, doing a lot of calling, and things like that. Where are you going to send the piece of physical mail? There's a couple ways to get some home address and things like that, but that's really hard.

Mike Volpe:

Any businesses that relied on in-person events, trade shows, demo meetings. I've done marketing for companies where you would do a roadshow, and do 20, 30-person lunches with a demonstration and a sales roadshow meeting. You're not doing those anymore. So you're left with an environment where all of your customers are at home. They're online all day long. It's even harder for you to get in touch with them, but they're searching for stuff. They're solving problems. They're using their computer. They're on the internet all day. They're watching videos. They're reading articles and things like that. So I think inbound marketing has become a lot more important. In many ways, companies just, I think, need to be investing more into it.

Mike Volpe:

I think people's consumption habits have probably changed a little bit. I wonder if video now is a better place to be than podcasting. I know podcasting was a super popular format for while you're commuting. People are still certainly listening to podcasts, but I'll tell you my personal behaviors. I'm listening less podcasts now because I don't have 40 minutes on the train twice a day anymore. I'm probably watching a little bit more video. I'm definitely reading more articles. So I'd say the biggest changes is how the importance of inbound has even increased because it's so much harder to do the typical outbound stuff. Then, maybe think a little bit about, for your particular audience, are there different mediums, or has their content consumption changed given the environment that we're in?

Brandon Gargan:

For sure, and I think a lot of companies too are trying to figure out like, are things going to go back to the way that they were, or are things going to change forever? What trends have you seen during COVID that you think will be the new norm or will stick around after this all washes over, hopefully washes over?

Mike Volpe:

I mean, I think it's a little hard to tell, but I think the embracing of remote. It won't be absolute, but I think we will certainly embrace remote more than we used to. For marketing, I think what that means is that those content consumption habits have probably changed not permanently, but sort of permanently. I do think it's a little easier if you can connect with someone to actually get on their calendar like it's... Because my day is now broken up into 30-minute video chats, it's actually easier to get on my calendar that way because I don't need to think about like, "Oh, where are we going to meet, and what time? Okay. If they're coming to the office, I got to give an hour because it's in person. Et cetera, et cetera. What's all that look like? Or if we're going to meet in person at a coffee shop, when are they going to be in Cambridge, versus the South Station area of Boston, versus wherever?" Now, it's just like I send you a link to my calendar, and you just book 30 minutes with me, and it's no problem. I think once you connect with people, it's easier to get in. So I do think that that type of working has changed. A lot of those things have changed, and those are the things marketers need to think about embracing.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So if you're a new company today, right, and you're looking to implement an inbound marketing strategy, where do you start? Where should that company begin?

Mike Volpe:

It always starts with the customers, and so you need to understand your customers. What are their pain points not just to do with your particular product or solution, but in general? If you were to be them for a day, what are the things that would be your biggest challenges? What are the things you'd be looking to improve? What are the questions you'd be asking your peers, or what are the things you'd be searching for solutions for in Google? All those things, and so it really starts with the customer.

Mike Volpe:

Then, from there, you just need to think about, "Okay. If I wanted to be the best possible informational resource," and that could be written content. It could be video content. It could be discussion forums. It could be some sort of peer group. It could even be live events. It could be free tools, or interactive tools, or a freemium model. It could be any of those things. If you wanted to help that person do their job better or accomplish the things that they want to accomplish, what would you do?

Mike Volpe:

If you start from that standpoint, you'll usually end up somewhere in the right place. I think one of the places that people fall down is starting with their product and saying, "Okay. I have this product. How do I write things about this product?" I've always found it to be easier and more effective if you start with a customer, get them interested because you're really trying to be helpful to them, and then figure out how to get from there, not once you have their attention from there to your product and to your solution. So just start with the customer. Start with the audience. Don't start with the product.

Brandon Gargan:

Yeah, and that's so true even to a consumer. Just when I'm looking up issues, I don't go online and typically look up a software. I go online and look up a solution to a problem, and then stumble into that software, and then do my research from there. So I love that.

Mike Volpe:

[inaudible 00:25:49].

Brandon Gargan:

So last question for you before we hop into a few Q and A questions. Your background is in marketing, and you've had tremendous success, obviously, as a CMO. How does your marketing background help you in your current role as CEO of Lola? Do you think it's important for CEOs in general to have a deeper understanding of marketing?

Mike Volpe:

I think it always helps to have an understanding of marketing. I think it depends what kind of company though. So for a consumer company, I think if you have a CEO who has background in brand, and brand development, and consumer behavior, and things like that, that's super helpful. That's often a product role or a marketing role in that world. I think if you're selling to mid-sized businesses, and you have either a very lightweight sales touch, like an inside sales team, or any sort of very lightweight sales process, or even no sales process, and people are buying without sales reps, and it's like an eCommerce subscription, or a SaaS product that's bought with a credit card. Anything in that world, it really helps to have a marketing background because I think marketing is very important to the growth engine of companies like that.

Mike Volpe:

As you move into much, much, much larger deals and much longer sales processes, marketing is still important. But I think it's frankly less important that the CEO has a marketing background. I think they need to be as you like to get in front of customers, and sell, and close individual deals because if a deal is a million dollars or $5 million, it actually makes economic sense for the CEO to try to help with that particular deal. It doesn't make sense if a deal is $3,000 for a CEO to spend a lot of their time trying to close those individual deals.

Mike Volpe:

I still get on and help with deals because I enjoy it. I like to show the sales team that I believe in them and value their work, and I like to hear from customers like what's going well. It's my canary in a coal mine. But from an economic perspective, that's only because there's all those other benefits, especially the want of me learning more and more about the market and the customers. But aside from those benefits, there's no reason why I should be spending time like closing individual deals, but I could be spending a lot of time on what does our sales process look like? What do the things look like? Where are leads coming from? What's our marketing process look like? Things like that. So I think it depends on the company, but for... I've lived most of my life selling to mid-sized businesses like SMBs. In those types of companies, I do think it can be really advantageous for the CEO to have a marketing background.

Brandon Gargan:

Cool. Well, I have a few questions here from the Q and A if that's all right with you.

Mike Volpe:

Yeah, let's do it.

Brandon Gargan:

Awesome. So the first one. "My sales team doesn't understand and appreciate what my marketing team does. How do I deal with this?"

Mike Volpe:

Oh, that's so hard. It's so hard. Working with sales is difficult, but exceedingly important. I'd say a couple of things about it. One is you have to build enough of a relationship with sales, and show them that you care, and show them that you don't think the company has had a win unless they are being successful and they're bringing more revenue in the door. Sometimes that means you need to actually get in the trenches, and hop on demos with them, and try to help them close deals.

Mike Volpe:

Sometimes it means you need to take a hundred leads, and call and email them all, and show sales that you're you're in there poking around, trying to make things happen. Really, on that one, I think it's good to be able to speak from firsthand experience about what the lead quality is actually like. If sales is complaining about lead quality, then you can tell them like, "Well, I called a hundred of the leads myself last week, and I set up seven appointments. Do you think that's good or bad?" Like have there... Whatever. So just having some of that firsthand experience and showing them you're in the fight with them is one way.

Mike Volpe:

But I also think that there's other things you can do. I always used to talk about... You have to remember to market your marketing. So especially once the company gets beyond a certain size, 20, 30, 40 people, it gets big enough that everyone in sales doesn't know what marketing does. They get disconnected. Same thing on the other side of the coin, and you need to remember that every time you do something cool, so launch a new free tool or do a big webinar, or whatever, you need to talk to the sales team about that and tell them why you did it, why you think it was cool, a couple of things that weren't perfect, and maybe you could do better for next time, and just share that information with them.

Mike Volpe:

Once they've already... don't know what you're doing and distrusted you, then trying to come back and then sell them on why you're valuable, you're better off doing it a little bit at a time. So we used to spend a lot of time once the sales team got beyond 10 or 15 people at HubSpot just talking to the entire sales team, joining a lot of their all-hands meetings, email, wiki posts, whatever the case may be about why we're doing certain things, why certain things were working, why we're excited about the results from X, Y, Z program, or why on something else we weren't excited about the results and why we weren't going to do it anymore just so they had this constant flow of us marketing, how we were doing marketing to them. I think if you do it on a more consistent basis, you have better luck than if all of a sudden, a year later, they're like, "Oh, well, marketing is terrible." It's really hard to dig yourself out of that hole. So I think we'd like to do a little bit of digging every day rather than a lot of digging once a year.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So another question for you, and this one actually we've had some internal debate on. Obviously, we're doing a webinar here today, but do webinars still work?

Mike Volpe:

I think they do. I think the purpose has changed a little bit. I think more people sign up for them and then don't attend live than used to be the case. There was always a decent drop-off, but it used... Way back, it used to be 60%, 65% would attend live out of the ones that signed up. Now, I think the ratio is reversed, and it's far less that half actually show up live. But I think more people are listening to the recording, especially with tools where you can listen to things double speed and things like that. So I do think webinars still work.

Mike Volpe:

I also think that even if you don't have a giant attendance on a webinar, it can be one of the things where you can do a webinar with someone, and then you've got 30 minutes, 45, 60 minutes of content that you can break up and use in lots of different ways. Probably if you wanted to, this webinar could probably become five blog articles maybe, and/or an eBook, and maybe 75 Twitter posts, depending on how much interesting controversial stuff we've said here. So it gives you certainly an opportunity to use it as a base to create other content. So even if there was only one person here or something like that, you can still use this, use the recording, use all conversation as like, "Oh, great. Now, we're going to go have some folks create all this other content based on it." So yeah, I think just how you use webinars has maybe changed a little bit, but I still think they're valuable.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. I know that we plan to do a lot of the things that you just mentioned, but I think for us, the debate was do we have it live, or do we just take it offline, and then divvy out those clips and post this after the fact?

Mike Volpe:

The nice thing about live events and webinars, it's something that people expect to give their contact information for because you need to send the link and all the recording afterwards on those things versus you can never have a blog post be behind a gate. I think it's even increasingly hard to have eBooks behind a gate. So it's good because you have an opportunity to get some signups and things like that, follow up with people, and why not make it live? It's no harder today to open up a Zoom, and have schedule it, and doing a little bit of promotion for it, and then just hit the record button, and then you got the tool going forward of all that content you can break up a different ways. So yeah. I don't know. I'm still a fan of live webinars.

Brandon Gargan:

Awesome. So last question for you. I get that the quality bar of content has raised. What that means is generating content is more expensive. What suggestions do you have for inbound on a shoestring budget?

Mike Volpe:

The great news about inbound is the way you're successful with it is much more about brain power than budget power. So just having a million dollar budget does not make you successful at inbound marketing. Being an expert on the industry and having an opinion about the industry actually can make you really good at inbound marketing, even with $0 worth of budget. So you may not have the most beautifully designed blog in the world, but with inbound marketing, it's not always about the design. It's a lot more and about more about the steak than the sizzle.

Mike Volpe:

So I think it depends on the person and their industry, but I would start doing some either podcast or video, but publishing content, podcast, video, written blog, whatever the case may be. Instagram channel, TikTok channel. Again, start with your customers and work your way out. Where are they? What tools are they using? Where are they consuming content today? Then, just create some content, and if your passionate about... If you're the founder of business, typically, you're passionate about what you're doing. You're passionate about the market. You should have something to say about that market and just get started. If you do those things, you'll probably develop a small group of folks that are paying attention to your content, and that can really grow over time.

Mike Volpe:

So I don't know that budget... inbound marketing really requires any budget at all. Some very minimal costs maybe. But to get started, you can also spend a lot of money on it, and hire all sorts of writers and all designers. All these things, but you don't have to. I mean, for a B2B business, it might be the best thing to just start posting articles on LinkedIn, and that can be a great way to get started and accumulate an audience.

Brandon Gargan:

Awesome. Well, Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I know we've gotten a lot of really cool information from you, and I've enjoyed our conversation.

Mike Volpe:

No, it's my pleasure. Thanks a ton for having me. I love talking about this.

Brandon Gargan:

That concludes our masterclass. For everyone else, please keep an eye out for future masterclasses, and thanks for joining today.

Yeah, I'm excited. So before we jump in here, there are a lot of different words that are thrown around for inbound marketing. But in your words, how would you describe inbound marketing?

Mike Volpe:

Well, it's been a while since I've uttered these words, but inbound marketing is the concept of bringing people to naturally come to your company by them encountering you in their normal life and business world, and not interrupting in them anyway. So not using an advertisement to interrupt them, not using outbound email or cold email to interrupt them, not using cold calling. Things like that. So anything that's like content, or I even think of freemium products or free tools is another form of inbound marketing. Any of those types of things are great inbound marketing tactics.

Brandon Gargan:

Awesome. Why would you recommend that a company invest in an inbound strategy as opposed to say like a heavy outbound?

Mike Volpe:

I mean, they both can work. The advantages that inbound usually has is usually, it's lower cost, and a big reason for that is the things that you do to build inbound, it's not like you do a bunch of effort and get return back, and then the return ends. It's like the return pays you back over time. So it's really much more like you're building an asset. So if you have a great free tool that people love, even if you don't do any work in that free tool, people are... Once they start to use it, they're still going to use it and come back to you, and other people are going to find it and come to you.

Mike Volpe:

If you publish a piece of content that's useful and it gets a little bit of SEO traffic, it's typically not the day after you publish it, not going to get any more traffic. It's going to get more over time. Versus if you're doing any sort of cold emailing or cold calling, the second you stop picking up the phone or typing out those emails, you're going to get zero additional response for the most part. So what I love about inbound marketing is that you can... It's something you'd do on a regular basis. You're building up this asset that continues to pay more and more dividends to your business in terms of lead generation.

Mike Volpe:

I used to joke at HubSpot after four or five years that the entire marketing team could go on vacation for a month and our lead flow would have only dropped by about 25%. It has 75% of leads. We're generating more from things that we had published in prior time periods. That's obviously after years, and years, and years of investment and a lot of hard work, but I think that idea is really appealing to people. So it gives you that compound interest. It's like saving for retirement really early. If you can invest, it pays a lot of dividends over time.

Brandon Gargan:

I love that. It's like the gift that keeps on giving.

Mike Volpe:

It really is. It's much easier to be running sales, marketing, or running a whole company if you have a strong inbound marketing program because you know you're just getting this flow of traffic in every month and all you're trying to do is raise the bar of how much traffic is going to come in the next month versus, again, a lot of the other things that are more advertising-driven or more directly paid. As soon as you stop paying Google money or stop paying Facebook money, they turn your ads off. So you don't get any additional benefit from them, but your rankings don't get turned off immediately for blog articles, or videos, or things like that. So it can be really effective if you do it right over time. It just takes a lot of investment.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So you told me this was fair game, so I'm going to go here. You recently tweeted, "We sold inbound marketing so hard, no one knew what HubSpot actually did, but it worked." I know we laughed about that here at Saleswhale, but it was a good tweet. So let's dig into it a little bit more. Walk me through your thought process while you were at HubSpot. At the very beginning, why did you decide to go with an inbound strategy?

Mike Volpe:

So this tweet, I think it was in response to maybe something from April Dunford who wrote the book Obviously Awesome about positioning. I think it was in a thread about the importance of positioning and the opportunity you have if you're creating a whole new market. So back in 2007, no one talked about inbound marketing. It was almost no search traffic in Google. It was not a thing. Early on, we felt like we had a different way of approaching marketing, and we wanted to build a company around that. So it was much less about like, "Oh, people do email marketing with whatever tool, Constant Contact or something, and we think we can build a better email marketing tool."

Mike Volpe:

This was a new philosophical approach to marketing, and we thought there's opportunity to create a new market around that term. So after a lot of debate and discussion about what was the right term to describe the thing we were talking about, we settled on inbound marketing, and we started talking to people about it. So publishing content about it, having webinars about it, and even in our... When we were demonstrating our product, we said, "Have you heard of inbound marketing? Let me tell you what inbound marketing was." It was almost a two-step sales process where we were selling people on the concept of inbound marketing, and then selling them on how our software can help them do inbound marketing more effectively.

Mike Volpe:

So what was interesting was we sold the concept of inbound marketing so much harder than we were selling really the features of our software that, I don't know, four years in to building the company, we started to realize that a lot of people knew what inbound marketing was, knew that HubSpot was the inbound marketing people, but didn't know actually how we made money or what kind of business we had. A lot of people would say like, "Wow, that was a giant mistake." I think no, it was the exact right thing to do. Right? Because we had created this whole new market, anybody who thought about inbound marketing, the next word out of their mouth was HubSpot. So we owned this new category that we created.

Mike Volpe:

It was certainly much harder to create a category than it would be to enter an existing market, but what we loved about it was we were number one in this brand new category that we created. That's really what you're really ultimately trying to achieve with positioning is be the number one choice for some segment of the world. Maybe you need to take this big market, and slice things off and say, "Oh, well, we are the best pen for left-handed people," and then you can be the best or whatever it is. But I think that when you're starting a company, I think it's important to find some part of the universe where you really can be the best in demonstratable ways.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. You used the phrase, "We sold a movement, not a product," which I really liked. I think that it helps you just evangelize it, if you will, this whole new space.

Mike Volpe:

It allowed people to be part of what we were building without having to give us money because some marketers didn't have a job at the time, or they were running a one-person marketing agency, or they were too junior to have any power to actually buy our product. What happened was, is because they were able to be part of the movement, they followed along. Two, three, four years later, we were finding that people that when they were in college in a marketing class had come across us, or read some stuff, or maybe it was part of their class, or whatever it was. Four years later, they just got promoted to like director of marketing. Now, they have more budget authority, more influence, and they're buying HubSpot to use at their company and not really comparing us against much else. They were just like, "Oh, of course, I would buy HubSpot."

Mike Volpe:

But it wasn't like that happened overnight. It was like it took time again to build up. I think we're partly smart, but also, partly lucky that it all just worked, and we had really good... We got lucky with the timing. There were a lot of things we get lucky with, but that idea of building this movement that predisposes people to doing business with you even if they don't fully understand what your product is I think can be something that's really, really powerful for the right company, and the right time, and the right place.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So for companies that maybe can't build their own market, right, like you guys did, what was something you did that was really successful that maybe other companies weren't doing?

Mike Volpe:

At the time, a couple of things we did were we launched a free tool called Website Grader. The co-founder, Dharmesh, built it, and it was... Now, it morphed in a totally different thing. But at the time, if you typed in your company's URL or any company's URL, and it turned away for 30 seconds or a minute, and then spit back out a bunch of SEO, social media, traffic, like other factors about the website, and gave you a grade, and gave you a few tips and things you could change and improve about the website.

Mike Volpe:

Those types of things are pretty common now, but in 2000, early 2007, they were not that common. It very quickly started to get us thousands of new email registrations, email signups per month, and a lot of the folks who were using the tool ended up being good leads for our sales team as well because we had this tool. It was telling you the things you could do better in terms of online marketing. Guess what? We actually have both some ideas and education about that, and a product that helps you with those things. So that was something that I think has become much more common.

Mike Volpe:

The second thing is in 2007, it wasn't that common for companies to have a blog and certainly not like an information-rich blog. That's obviously different now. Lots and almost every company has a blog. They try to do inbound marketing, or have content marketing, or whatever be part of their strategy. I think people do it with mixed levels of dedication and success. But at the time, the Website Grader tool and the blog were the two biggest sources of our growth. At the time, there were things that most other companies weren't doing.

Brandon Gargan:

That's awesome. So what would you say was one of your first failures that you learned from, and what exactly did you learn from it?

Mike Volpe:

Oh, boy. Tons of failures along the way. Oh, there was one thing we did. We tried to be cutting-edge. We thought we had to be trying lots of new things because we were marketing to marketers and we had to be the world's best case study in terms of inbound marketing and online engagement. So at the time, and this is a few years in, we... There were a lot of online games, scavenger hunt things that were becoming popular or like ARGs, A-R-Gs, like alternate reality games. We thought, "Well, maybe it'd be interesting to put a game out there with a prize and stuff, and have this community that we built work together to find clues and figure out what had happened."

Mike Volpe:

So we created this scenario where an old-school advertising agency had sued us and forced us to take down in this thing called Inbound Marketing University, which has all of our training and education stuff. So not something that people paid for, but something that people found valuable. Then, we had all these clues. We had audio files that were backwards. So you had to figure out how to listen to them backwards to find certain clues, things that were embedded in images. This whole thing. This really, really cool thing. It was going to be a four or five-day game. We were psyched about it. It was going to be so cool.

Mike Volpe:

Two hours into posting the notice that we had been sued, so we had to take down all these education materials and, "Here's how you can help us solve the puzzle," or whatever, I started getting tweets and emails like, "What have you done with my webinars? How do I learn about inbound marketing? I told my boss I was going to finish the inbound marketing certification this week. Now, I can't. What are you doing? What's going on? Ah." Pitchforks and torches coming out. It was like, "Oh, boy. What did we do?" Right?

Mike Volpe:

So we quickly apologized. Within a few more hours, we had reversed everything we had done. There were a couple dozen people who had started on the path of getting the game, and had already gotten three or four clues, and were super excited about it. So we were right about that part. But the part we weren't right about was that the 80% of the community that wasn't going to engage with the game that was in the middle, maybe not our best fans, but a key part of the base, was kind like... They're like, "Ah, that game you have is really cute, but it's really interfering with my ability to do my job. What are you doing?"

Mike Volpe:

Even though it wasn't a paid product, it was this free thing we had done. So it showed us how important that stuff was and how much people loved it, but we totally missed the boat on that one, man. It was like I was super excited. I thought we're going to win all kinds of marketing awards for this really cool, innovative thing. Man, it just completely backfired. But the key with mistakes is just pick yourself up, and make some changes, and adjust from it quickly. So we did that and ended up not really affecting anything more than that week or so.

Brandon Gargan:

Fail fast. So, obviously, a lot has changed in the last 13 years, not even including COVID. Many companies saw the success you guys had at HubSpot and tried to replicate it, tried to take on this inbound marketing. Ultimately, what that meant was more companies buying for eyeballs, more... inbound marketing strategies, and how did you adapt to those?

Mike Volpe:

So it's interesting for us because we had started early and we made such a big investment as we want to be the world's best case study in inbound marketing, I don't know that it affected us at HubSpot that much because by the time everyone else in the world is rushing in and creating all this content, we had thousands of articles, millions of visitors coming to the site, and we just had such a big authority position in terms of SEO, and social media, and all these things, and the community we had that it was... We had built up the advantage over years that it was like we were in a good position.

Mike Volpe:

Well, I think the thing that changed is because we convinced so many people to be part of this movement and believe in it that, like you said, everyone is doing a lot of these things now. It's become a lot harder. So if you launch a new company today in whatever industry, there probably are a bunch of folks blogging, writing, making videos, talking about, discussing, maybe having forums, whatever, maybe some free tools for that market. So the bar that you need to surpass in order to have the best content that's going to rank well on Google and be shared in social media is much higher today than it used to be.

Mike Volpe:

So I think one of the biggest changes is really that you need to create probably longer form, higher quality content, probably do more multimedia content, video, podcasting, different types of images. Maybe it's presentations. Whatever it is, that bar for content is just much, much higher today than it was a dozen years ago because the state of the art way back then was... Very few companies blogged, weren't doing video. So much of this stuff was so much harder and just not well understood back then that you very... I mean, in the first couple of years of HubSpot, our customer would be like the only company in X, Y, Z industry that was blogging about that topic.

Mike Volpe:

I mean, I remember a company called Indium. They made solder paste. So if you were attaching microchips to circuit boards, they made that glue basically. They had a whole blog about solder paste, these different things, and temperatures, and microchips, and all this stuff. Not super interesting to me or something that I even really understood, but they were the only one in that industry. They were just crushing it because anybody in their industry that's searching for any of those terms is finding their stuff all day long because no one else in the industry ever thought to blog about those things. Right? Today, I'm sure in that industry and every industry, it's just way different. The bar for quality and the value of the content you're creating is just much, much higher.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So how do you think consumers have changed in the past 13 years, and how does that influence your marketing decisions?

Mike Volpe:

Yeah. I mean, consumers have certainly I think continued... Part of the inbound marketing thesis was that consumers had a lot more power, buyers had a lot more power. That has certainly continued. There's more and more transparency of information, more and more ways to get pricing about different products. Let's say you're buying a car. 13 years ago, it was hard to figure out what a good price was. Now, you can get a quote from five dealers in a couple of clicks, and there are services like TrueCar that tell you of those prices, where they fall on a good/bad price spectrum. Right? CarGurus has done the same thing for used cars. They have a good/bad price meter too in all their results.

Mike Volpe:

So the transparency of information and the availability of that information to a consumer in seconds through a Google search or whatever has changed a lot. The amount of reviews that you can check up on and the ability to actually get feedback from actual customers of a company or of a product is much better. So there's just so much more information at your fingertips. That was definitely a trend that we saw that was part of why we were doing what we were doing, but that has absolutely come true, and it's been a lot stronger.

Mike Volpe:

So I think as a company now, it's much harder or maybe even a possible to hide for more than a short period of time behind a bad product. I think you used to be able to sell bad products 20 years ago, and it would take a long, long time for word to get out. Now, the word gets out much faster, and it's much harder to have a bad product. So having a really good customer experience, really responsive service, living up to the promises that you're making, your customers has become a lot more important than it used to be.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. I think part of a strong content strategy is owning those channels as well, right? Like how many people go to G2 immediately and look up all the different products that they're considering?

Mike Volpe:

Yeah, that's right. I think that those conversations about the competition has become a lot more honest. I mean, even at Lola, we have pages, and we do this at HubSpot 10 years ago of Lola versus X company, and what the differences are, and our viewpoint on why, for many companies, we're a better solution than some of our competition. You would never have seen, 25 years ago, people giving out a brochure about their product in a sales meeting and saying, "Oh, if you want to see how we compare to the competition, go to this page," like laying that out there. That never would have happened. But now, you know people are going to figure out in a couple minutes, why don't you just embrace it, and tell your side of the story, and maybe even have some customer quotes or reviews to back up that information or other third-party validation? But it's like you almost need to embrace those things and not run away from it, not hide from it.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So about four to five months ago, COVID took the world by storm. A lot has changed. A lot of people have gone remote. I think companies are trying to learn and adapt to this new world that we're in. What impact has that had on inbound marketing?

Mike Volpe:

It's interesting, I think. So we talked about how the bar has gotten a lot of higher, but I think what's happened in the last four months is inbound marketing has become even more important. I mean, try calling someone in their office right now. I mean, it was hard enough before because a lot of people didn't answer their phones. Now, they're not even next to the phone. They couldn't even answer their phone if they wanted to. Right? So that's really hard. If you're doing any sort of direct mail programs, I've had success in the past of physical mail in conjunction with an SDR team, doing a lot of calling, and things like that. Where are you going to send the piece of physical mail? There's a couple ways to get some home address and things like that, but that's really hard.

Mike Volpe:

Any businesses that relied on in-person events, trade shows, demo meetings. I've done marketing for companies where you would do a roadshow, and do 20, 30-person lunches with a demonstration and a sales roadshow meeting. You're not doing those anymore. So you're left with an environment where all of your customers are at home. They're online all day long. It's even harder for you to get in touch with them, but they're searching for stuff. They're solving problems. They're using their computer. They're on the internet all day. They're watching videos. They're reading articles and things like that. So I think inbound marketing has become a lot more important. In many ways, companies just, I think, need to be investing more into it.

Mike Volpe:

I think people's consumption habits have probably changed a little bit. I wonder if video now is a better place to be than podcasting. I know podcasting was a super popular format for while you're commuting. People are still certainly listening to podcasts, but I'll tell you my personal behaviors. I'm listening less podcasts now because I don't have 40 minutes on the train twice a day anymore. I'm probably watching a little bit more video. I'm definitely reading more articles. So I'd say the biggest changes is how the importance of inbound has even increased because it's so much harder to do the typical outbound stuff. Then, maybe think a little bit about, for your particular audience, are there different mediums, or has their content consumption changed given the environment that we're in?

Brandon Gargan:

For sure, and I think a lot of companies too are trying to figure out like, are things going to go back to the way that they were, or are things going to change forever? What trends have you seen during COVID that you think will be the new norm or will stick around after this all washes over, hopefully washes over?

Mike Volpe:

I mean, I think it's a little hard to tell, but I think the embracing of remote. It won't be absolute, but I think we will certainly embrace remote more than we used to. For marketing, I think what that means is that those content consumption habits have probably changed not permanently, but sort of permanently. I do think it's a little easier if you can connect with someone to actually get on their calendar like it's... Because my day is now broken up into 30-minute video chats, it's actually easier to get on my calendar that way because I don't need to think about like, "Oh, where are we going to meet, and what time? Okay. If they're coming to the office, I got to give an hour because it's in person. Et cetera, et cetera. What's all that look like? Or if we're going to meet in person at a coffee shop, when are they going to be in Cambridge, versus the South Station area of Boston, versus wherever?" Now, it's just like I send you a link to my calendar, and you just book 30 minutes with me, and it's no problem. I think once you connect with people, it's easier to get in. So I do think that that type of working has changed. A lot of those things have changed, and those are the things marketers need to think about embracing.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So if you're a new company today, right, and you're looking to implement an inbound marketing strategy, where do you start? Where should that company begin?

Mike Volpe:

It always starts with the customers, and so you need to understand your customers. What are their pain points not just to do with your particular product or solution, but in general? If you were to be them for a day, what are the things that would be your biggest challenges? What are the things you'd be looking to improve? What are the questions you'd be asking your peers, or what are the things you'd be searching for solutions for in Google? All those things, and so it really starts with the customer.

Mike Volpe:

Then, from there, you just need to think about, "Okay. If I wanted to be the best possible informational resource," and that could be written content. It could be video content. It could be discussion forums. It could be some sort of peer group. It could even be live events. It could be free tools, or interactive tools, or a freemium model. It could be any of those things. If you wanted to help that person do their job better or accomplish the things that they want to accomplish, what would you do?

Mike Volpe:

If you start from that standpoint, you'll usually end up somewhere in the right place. I think one of the places that people fall down is starting with their product and saying, "Okay. I have this product. How do I write things about this product?" I've always found it to be easier and more effective if you start with a customer, get them interested because you're really trying to be helpful to them, and then figure out how to get from there, not once you have their attention from there to your product and to your solution. So just start with the customer. Start with the audience. Don't start with the product.

Brandon Gargan:

Yeah, and that's so true even to a consumer. Just when I'm looking up issues, I don't go online and typically look up a software. I go online and look up a solution to a problem, and then stumble into that software, and then do my research from there. So I love that.

Mike Volpe:

[inaudible 00:25:49].

Brandon Gargan:

So last question for you before we hop into a few Q and A questions. Your background is in marketing, and you've had tremendous success, obviously, as a CMO. How does your marketing background help you in your current role as CEO of Lola? Do you think it's important for CEOs in general to have a deeper understanding of marketing?

Mike Volpe:

I think it always helps to have an understanding of marketing. I think it depends what kind of company though. So for a consumer company, I think if you have a CEO who has background in brand, and brand development, and consumer behavior, and things like that, that's super helpful. That's often a product role or a marketing role in that world. I think if you're selling to mid-sized businesses, and you have either a very lightweight sales touch, like an inside sales team, or any sort of very lightweight sales process, or even no sales process, and people are buying without sales reps, and it's like an eCommerce subscription, or a SaaS product that's bought with a credit card. Anything in that world, it really helps to have a marketing background because I think marketing is very important to the growth engine of companies like that.

Mike Volpe:

As you move into much, much, much larger deals and much longer sales processes, marketing is still important. But I think it's frankly less important that the CEO has a marketing background. I think they need to be as you like to get in front of customers, and sell, and close individual deals because if a deal is a million dollars or $5 million, it actually makes economic sense for the CEO to try to help with that particular deal. It doesn't make sense if a deal is $3,000 for a CEO to spend a lot of their time trying to close those individual deals.

Mike Volpe:

I still get on and help with deals because I enjoy it. I like to show the sales team that I believe in them and value their work, and I like to hear from customers like what's going well. It's my canary in a coal mine. But from an economic perspective, that's only because there's all those other benefits, especially the want of me learning more and more about the market and the customers. But aside from those benefits, there's no reason why I should be spending time like closing individual deals, but I could be spending a lot of time on what does our sales process look like? What do the things look like? Where are leads coming from? What's our marketing process look like? Things like that. So I think it depends on the company, but for... I've lived most of my life selling to mid-sized businesses like SMBs. In those types of companies, I do think it can be really advantageous for the CEO to have a marketing background.

Brandon Gargan:

Cool. Well, I have a few questions here from the Q and A if that's all right with you.

Mike Volpe:

Yeah, let's do it.

Brandon Gargan:

Awesome. So the first one. "My sales team doesn't understand and appreciate what my marketing team does. How do I deal with this?"

Mike Volpe:

Oh, that's so hard. It's so hard. Working with sales is difficult, but exceedingly important. I'd say a couple of things about it. One is you have to build enough of a relationship with sales, and show them that you care, and show them that you don't think the company has had a win unless they are being successful and they're bringing more revenue in the door. Sometimes that means you need to actually get in the trenches, and hop on demos with them, and try to help them close deals.

Mike Volpe:

Sometimes it means you need to take a hundred leads, and call and email them all, and show sales that you're you're in there poking around, trying to make things happen. Really, on that one, I think it's good to be able to speak from firsthand experience about what the lead quality is actually like. If sales is complaining about lead quality, then you can tell them like, "Well, I called a hundred of the leads myself last week, and I set up seven appointments. Do you think that's good or bad?" Like have there... Whatever. So just having some of that firsthand experience and showing them you're in the fight with them is one way.

Mike Volpe:

But I also think that there's other things you can do. I always used to talk about... You have to remember to market your marketing. So especially once the company gets beyond a certain size, 20, 30, 40 people, it gets big enough that everyone in sales doesn't know what marketing does. They get disconnected. Same thing on the other side of the coin, and you need to remember that every time you do something cool, so launch a new free tool or do a big webinar, or whatever, you need to talk to the sales team about that and tell them why you did it, why you think it was cool, a couple of things that weren't perfect, and maybe you could do better for next time, and just share that information with them.

Mike Volpe:

Once they've already... don't know what you're doing and distrusted you, then trying to come back and then sell them on why you're valuable, you're better off doing it a little bit at a time. So we used to spend a lot of time once the sales team got beyond 10 or 15 people at HubSpot just talking to the entire sales team, joining a lot of their all-hands meetings, email, wiki posts, whatever the case may be about why we're doing certain things, why certain things were working, why we're excited about the results from X, Y, Z program, or why on something else we weren't excited about the results and why we weren't going to do it anymore just so they had this constant flow of us marketing, how we were doing marketing to them. I think if you do it on a more consistent basis, you have better luck than if all of a sudden, a year later, they're like, "Oh, well, marketing is terrible." It's really hard to dig yourself out of that hole. So I think we'd like to do a little bit of digging every day rather than a lot of digging once a year.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. So another question for you, and this one actually we've had some internal debate on. Obviously, we're doing a webinar here today, but do webinars still work?

Mike Volpe:

I think they do. I think the purpose has changed a little bit. I think more people sign up for them and then don't attend live than used to be the case. There was always a decent drop-off, but it used... Way back, it used to be 60%, 65% would attend live out of the ones that signed up. Now, I think the ratio is reversed, and it's far less that half actually show up live. But I think more people are listening to the recording, especially with tools where you can listen to things double speed and things like that. So I do think webinars still work.

Mike Volpe:

I also think that even if you don't have a giant attendance on a webinar, it can be one of the things where you can do a webinar with someone, and then you've got 30 minutes, 45, 60 minutes of content that you can break up and use in lots of different ways. Probably if you wanted to, this webinar could probably become five blog articles maybe, and/or an eBook, and maybe 75 Twitter posts, depending on how much interesting controversial stuff we've said here. So it gives you certainly an opportunity to use it as a base to create other content. So even if there was only one person here or something like that, you can still use this, use the recording, use all conversation as like, "Oh, great. Now, we're going to go have some folks create all this other content based on it." So yeah, I think just how you use webinars has maybe changed a little bit, but I still think they're valuable.

Brandon Gargan:

For sure. I know that we plan to do a lot of the things that you just mentioned, but I think for us, the debate was do we have it live, or do we just take it offline, and then divvy out those clips and post this after the fact?

Mike Volpe:

The nice thing about live events and webinars, it's something that people expect to give their contact information for because you need to send the link and all the recording afterwards on those things versus you can never have a blog post be behind a gate. I think it's even increasingly hard to have eBooks behind a gate. So it's good because you have an opportunity to get some signups and things like that, follow up with people, and why not make it live? It's no harder today to open up a Zoom, and have schedule it, and doing a little bit of promotion for it, and then just hit the record button, and then you got the tool going forward of all that content you can break up a different ways. So yeah. I don't know. I'm still a fan of live webinars.

Brandon Gargan:

Awesome. So last question for you. I get that the quality bar of content has raised. What that means is generating content is more expensive. What suggestions do you have for inbound on a shoestring budget?

Mike Volpe:

The great news about inbound is the way you're successful with it is much more about brain power than budget power. So just having a million dollar budget does not make you successful at inbound marketing. Being an expert on the industry and having an opinion about the industry actually can make you really good at inbound marketing, even with $0 worth of budget. So you may not have the most beautifully designed blog in the world, but with inbound marketing, it's not always about the design. It's a lot more and about more about the steak than the sizzle.

Mike Volpe:

So I think it depends on the person and their industry, but I would start doing some either podcast or video, but publishing content, podcast, video, written blog, whatever the case may be. Instagram channel, TikTok channel. Again, start with your customers and work your way out. Where are they? What tools are they using? Where are they consuming content today? Then, just create some content, and if your passionate about... If you're the founder of business, typically, you're passionate about what you're doing. You're passionate about the market. You should have something to say about that market and just get started. If you do those things, you'll probably develop a small group of folks that are paying attention to your content, and that can really grow over time.

Mike Volpe:

So I don't know that budget... inbound marketing really requires any budget at all. Some very minimal costs maybe. But to get started, you can also spend a lot of money on it, and hire all sorts of writers and all designers. All these things, but you don't have to. I mean, for a B2B business, it might be the best thing to just start posting articles on LinkedIn, and that can be a great way to get started and accumulate an audience.

Brandon Gargan:

Awesome. Well, Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I know we've gotten a lot of really cool information from you, and I've enjoyed our conversation.

Mike Volpe:

No, it's my pleasure. Thanks a ton for having me. I love talking about this.

Brandon Gargan:

That concludes our masterclass. For everyone else, please keep an eye out for future masterclasses, and thanks for joining today.

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Gabriel Lim Avatar

Gabriel Lim

Co-founder & CEO at Saleswhale


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