HubSpot at Inbound 2016
HubSpot headquarters at INBOUND 2016 inside the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

BOSTON — HubSpot Co-Founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah thinks chatbots are the "biggest wave" of technology innovation in the past two decades. 

At the company's annual INBOUND conference yesterday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center here, he championed the marketing and sales automation provider's GrowthBot.

Machine-Learning, Sales, Marketing

Chatbots and machine learning technologies are "humans to the bot power" that allow us to "amplify what we can do," Shah told the record crowd of 19,000 at Cambridge, Mass.-based HubSpot. About 14,000 attended the conference last year.

"The possibilities are infinite," said Shah, whose company has 1,556 employees. "We can wish what we want, and sometimes, magically, our wishes are granted."

For HubSpot's sake, those wishes are revenue from the new chatbots. HubSpot reported last week third-quarter earnings of $70.6 million, up 48 percent from the same quarter last year and an operating loss of $10 million, down from $13.3 million year-over-year.

Shah said the chatbots will connect marketers and sales teams to HubSpot's GrowthBot, which will marry artificial intelligence and machine learning with existing HubSpot's systems like customer relationship management (CRM).

  • "Create a blog post for me." 
  • "How did that sales call with Frank go?" 
  • "How did this blog post do with traffic?" 

Marketing and sales teams can ask GrowthBot such questions and get back data and suggested actions.

HubSpot's GrowthBot
HubSpot's GrowthBot will help marketers leverage data and take action.PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

Marriage with Messaging Apps

HubSpot calls GrowthBot's integration with CRM the first of its kind. Shah repeated the "simple yet powerful" theme behind the GrowthBot technology. It's a powerful way, he said, to connect machine learning with messaging apps, a primary tool in the sales and marketing arsenal.

HubSpot's chatbot can integrate with Facebook Messenger, Slack and SMS. It will be able to do anything from starting a blog to finding influencers to answering questions about a company’s website traffic.

Shah called chatbots a "natural" inclusion into the enterprise technology ecosystem. "It's not an epic battle of humans vs. bot," he told the crowd. 

"You can send a message as if you had a digital assistant at your beck and call because you do," Shah said. 

Marketers will often ask questions like, "I wonder if our traffic is seasonal?" And GrowthBot will be there for the answer.

"You can express what you want in natural language and it comes back," Shah said. "For sales, ask what you want then it gets added to CRM."

Staunch Bot Support

Shah said 10,000 people have tried the bot in beta. 

HubSpot isn't the first to introduce chatbots into the workplace. And it's not concern-free, as CMSWire author Oliver Guy pointed to connectivity, privacy, security and economic impact concerns for chatbots.

Shah is still super bullish on the tech. It was a big part of his keynote here today.

dharmesh shah
HubSpot Co-Founder and CTO Dharmesh ShahPHOTO: Dom Nicastro

"Why the surge in bots?" he asked. "It's because of artificial intelligence, or when computers have the ability to do things we thought required human intelligence. AI seem less and less artificial, and more and more the most relevant piece of AI for us is machine learning."

Shah said he also sees predictive learning and content recommendations getting "a lot better" through machine learning. He also predicted improvements in marketing automation.

"But you have to get data in one normalized central place," he said. "The reality is without data — that's what gives machine learning the learning part — there is no learning." 

New Marketing Platform

HubSpot also announced the HubSpot Marketing Free platform, which builds tools upon the inbound marketing methodology that helps marketers turn website traffic into leads with pop-up forms, contact insights analytics and a dashboard.

HubSpot Marketing Free adds to the company's tech stack alongside HubSpot Sales and HubSpot CRM — what they call the Growth Stack. They begin with free plans.

HubSpot also introduced new features and functionality across its Marketing, Sales and CRM products:

  • Visual workflows: new visual editing interface that allows marketers to learn, create and enable nurturing (received strong, unprovoked applause from crowd)
  • Enhanced reporting: new dashboard for analytics that gives marketers deeper insights such as bounce rate and visitors by source
  • Unified HubSpot Mobile App: will include Marketing, Sales and CRM functionalities, and replaces the three separate apps that previously existed
  • Content Strategy: works with two other new content tools, Collect and Composer, allowing users to curate information, determine relevant and rankable topics, and create content and gather feedback
  • Facebook Ads: coming soon to the HubSpot Ads Add-On, enabling customers to create, measure and optimize their Facebook ads in the HubSpot platform (received strong, unprovoked applause from crowd)
  • Projects: productivity tool that enables users to organize their work and collaborate with their team within HubSpot
  • Deeper functionality in HubSpot CRM: expanded permissions, company merging, parent-child relationships and more
  • LinkedIn integration: Coming in 2017, a new integration with LinkedIn Sales Navigator
  • Meetings: Connecting with customers and prospects by enabling users to share a rep’s calendar through a link in an email or embedded right on the company’s website

Integration Success, Challenges

Cindy Zhou, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, told CMSWire the Facebook ad integration fills an important gap. She also liked the LinkedIn Sales Navigator integration because the lines between sales and marketing are blurring. She called it a "needed step to make (HubSpot) more competitive."

"Offering a free Marketing light solution," Zhou added, "helps them continue to gain market share with their core SMB customer base."

HubSpot is a strong solution for the 1- to 500-employee company market. "It's smart to offer CRM for free, as companies scale," Zhou added. "It's a natural extension to then bring on HubSpot for Marketing. Their educational content for marketers is a shining spot."

HubSpot lags their competitors in the areas of analytics/reporting, ad tech integration ("Facebook is a good start") and sophistication in workflow and lead scoring, Zhou added.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, vice president and managing director VOCalis for Digital Clarity Group, said HubSpot's strength is an integrated cloud suite.

"So part of that model," he said, "is the ability to simple switch on and enable new functionality. It's a key differentiator as others have to sell separate product and integrate it. HubSpot has choice and can keep a distance between itself and opposition. As for gaps it's the other side of the same coin: quality integration with third party apps and data, much of it in on premises. Not an issue for small businesses but as size of client grows so does the challenge."