HubSpot INBOUND 2018 conference scene at the Boston Exhibition & Convention Center
PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

BOSTON — A record 24,000 attendees descended on Boston this week for HubSpot's annual INBOUND marketing conference. Beyond the hype of the big names on stage at the Boston Exhibition and Convention Center, this is a conference for marketers with real-world challenges grappling with the flooded marketing technology landscape while creating great customer experiences. It’s also a time to check out the latest product innovations and insights from the Cambridge, Mass.-based marketing and sales tech provider.

CMSWire caught up with marketers and analysts attending the conference to discuss all things marketing and HubSpot. Here are some of our key takeaways from the show.

From the Marketing Funnel to Flywheel

The major theme for HubSpot and CEO Brian Halligan’s keynote on Wednesday was the idea of “retiring the funnel.” Instead, he urged marketers to create a marketing flywheel. Wait, what? HubSpot’s VP of marketing Jon Dick defined the flywheel in a blog as “a wheel or disc on an axis, that’s incredibly energy-efficient. The amount of energy it stores depends on how fast you spin it, how much friction there is, and the composition of the wheel itself — how big it is and how much it weighs. Flywheels are used in cars, trains and power plants.”

Funnels won’t help you ultimately grow, Dick said, but flywheels “represent a circular process where customers feed growth.”

Halligan said in his keynote marketers are moving from an era where the best product almost always won to the current state of affairs, where the best customer experience almost always wins. “We filled that darn funnel with friction,” Halligan said of the old ways of marketing. Now, he said, to build great experiences, “You need to build a flywheel that’s free of friction” and embraces marketing concepts of “attract, engage and delight.”

SMBs Will Always Struggle with Execution

The concepts are great, but for marketers in companies with limited resources and a tiny marketing team, it will always come down to execution challenges. HubSpot officials in their latest quarterly report filings said their strategy is to sell subscriptions to their inbound platform to mid-sized businesses. So we're not talking the giants you see in the crowd at Adobe Summit, where enterprise-level companies rule.

“I think the biggest challenge for small and medium businesses is execution,” said Laurie McCabe, a partner with research and consulting firm SMB Group who attended INBOUND and analyzes HubSpot. “They are strapped for time, resource and expertise. So to that point, if HubSpot drinks its own Kool-Aid and makes it easier for people to learn about, try, use and extend use of HubSpot, that strategy will pay off.”

McCabe noted the “funnel to the flywheel” shift, which she interpreted as recognizing that customers' actual positive experience is increasingly important in marketing and sales. “HubSpot,” McCabe added, “has been a bit behind the curve on this, focused more on lead gen through inbound. This should help HubSpot's customers capitalize on their own customers' great experiences. Customer experience is the best marketing a brand can get.”

McCabe likes HubSpot’s focus on reducing friction, adding, “We all want to get things faster, easier — whether that's information, guidance or products. They want to help their customers take friction out of the sales, marketing process.”

Related Article: Digital Marketing Success Means Balancing Strategy and Execution

HubSpot Reports 'Major Outage'

The news wasn't all rosy for HubSpot during INBOUND. HubSpot reported a "major outage" in its product ecosystem Thursday morning that affected customers. Officials said the company was "seeing issues with marketing enterprise features, add-ons such as ads and website tools, and some live pages are not loading." As of 6:45 a.m. ET Friday morning, HubSpot reported it had "resolved the major outage and restored the cascading effects of the outage."

This ended an all-day effort Thursday (and well into the night and early Friday) to resolve the matter as INBOUND surged on and, predictably, affected customers took to Twitter to vent.

The outage impacted websites, email, workflows, reporting and app integrations. "The cause was a bug in the product configuration code that had ripple effects across the product," HubSpot COO JD Sherman wrote on Thursday. "The most straightforward way to say it is that the bug caused affected HubSpot portals to temporarily forget they were enterprise and lose access to those features .... This was a mistake and it was ours alone. We know what it feels like to be waiting for a resolution to a problem, and we’re sorry we put you in that situation."

Ironically, HubSpot CTO and co-founder Dharmesh Shah told INBOUND attendees in his Wednesday keynote to be forthcoming with customers when they make mistakes, a fact Sherman cited in his blog, writing, "Part of owning your mistakes is making it better. As Dharmesh said at INBOUND this week, own your mistakes, say sorry, be sorry, and make it better. We’re sorry." 

HubSpot had just selected AWS as its preferred public cloud provider Tuesday, but said the outage had nothing to do with AWS

HubSpot Product News: Growth Suite Bundle, New Capabilities

HubSpot announced this week new Sales Hub and Service Hub Enterprise offerings and updates to its Marketing Hub Enterprise product. The products included in the bundle are called the Enterprise Growth Suite. Officials said it was the most significant expansions the company has made in its enterprise-level offerings to date. The Enterprise Growth Suite software bundle includes an improved Marketing Hub Enterprise and new Sales Hub Enterprise and Service Hub Enterprise products, all built on top of the HubSpot CRM. 

The new or updated features found in the three Enterprise Hubs include:

  • Quotas, SLAs and other sales and customer service metrics reporting.
  • Resources and best practices for sales and services teams.
  • Native Slack integration.

The products included in the Enterprise Growth Suite bundle also feature a layer of machine learning for predictive lead scoring. HubSpot’s recently-released Conversations tool is also integrated into all three products.

Related Article: HubSpot Unveils Conversations, Its 'Biggest Project' Yet, at INBOUND 2017

HubSpot CMS Now a Standalone

Not known for its content management system — at least in the world of CMSes like Adobe Experience Manager, Sitecore and Acquia — HubSpot is now offering its CMS as a standalone product. It’s also touting HubSpot CMS as the “only CMS that combines the power of CRM and CMS.” 

HubSpot did not make a big deal about the CMS offering at INBOUND, but one analyst noted its significance. “The CMS system was always a part of inbound marketing and the original capabilities that HubSpot has had,” said Predrag Jakovljevic, principal analyst, enterprise applications, for Technology Evaluation Centers. “My understanding is that the CMS capability will now be spun off and can be sold as a standalone … and can be used with all other modules, or it can still be bought in a package like previously.” 

The differentiation for HubSpot? CMS integrated with CRM under the same vendor. This means, Jakovljevic said, the CMS will be “contextually aware of the contacts and your customers. All of that seems to be a good value proposition because usually when you add on CMS on your CRM, it involves some serious data integration.”

HubSpot CMS is now available to purchase as a standalone product, or combined with any hub for $300 per month.

Video Is the Victory Route for Marketers

HubSpot debuted new video creation, management and analytics features in the HubSpot growth platform this week. HubSpot Video features include video hosting, in-video calls-to-action and forms and a simple video creation tool. HubSpot Video is powered in part by Vidyard, a HubSpot Connect partner since 2016. 

Joshua Feinberg, president of consultancy firm SP Home Run, said content marketers, small business owners or salespeople should all make video a “big part” of their outreach programs. “It’s so much more effective in building a strong emotional bond with visitors, leads and customers to accelerate them through the buyer’s journey and getting information on their own terms in a way that is so much more authentic,” Feinberg said. “When you combine print and video, things really start to pop especially when you understand your buyer personas, and especially when you understand their buyer’s journey and then customize that to who they are and where they are in the process.”

Related Article: HubSpot Co-Founder on Growth, Inbound Marketing

Surveying the MarTech Landscape

Clary Kinloch, marketing manager at heating and cooling solution provider Allied Air Enterprises, told CMSWire his marketing team’s focus is reevaluating its strategy before it reinvests any more funds into tools and different resources to help generate more business for the company. “A lot of what I'm trying to gather here this week,” Kinloch said, “is really just understanding what is hot now. What should we be expected to experience in the future and then how does that fit within our strategy and the goals that we have for our company.”

Marketing to Humans

Fellow marketer Claire Alexander, general manager at Gartner owned software review site Capterra, told CMSWire her big takeaway was to remember that we’re not marketing to numbers, we’re marketing to humans. “And it’s really, really important to remember that the person on the other end of that email is a real person just like you,” she said. “It inspired me to really up our game and make sure that whatever we’re doing is ridiculously helpful to people.”

Integration a Priority

Some marketers are feeling the integration pinch when contending with the sea of marketing technology tools that make up their stacks. Donna Murphy, inbound marketing and sales lead manager for aerospace, defense and security firm Leonardo, said her team is looking to take all the tools that it has in place right now, optimize them, make sure everything’s integrated and then see what’s on the horizon. “We want to always make sure we’re looking forward, looking back a little bit to assess our data but also looking forward to see what else we can do to optimize our marketing,” Murphy said.

All About Customer Experience

Melissa Tejada Tobon, marketer at Columbian real estate developer Contex Constructora, wants to ensure her team improves the customer experience for all its sales channels. “We’re looking to improve our funnel and find the moments of truth,” she said. “We are looking forward to creating great experiences since we sell apartments. It’s a huge, once-in-lifetime decision so we have to make it great.”