I think I’ve recovered from my latest visit to Boston for HubSpot’s annual get together for their top partners. As usual, it was two days filled with insights, conversations about the future and some adult beverages.
This was the third edition for this event from HubSpot, and having been to all three the biggest changes I noticed are:
- There are a lot more people and companies pushing inbound marketing forward.
- The seriousness of the conversation and tactics continues to get deeper and deeper.
No surprise really. When HubSpot held their first Partner Day, inbound marketing was still something that you often had to explain to people. Today, it’s a dominant form of marketing.
The two great things about HubSpot’s Partner Day are the opportunity to connect with a broad group of leaders in the inbound marketing world, and to get insights into where things are going. This year’s event lived up to its promise on both accounts.
While there was a broad set of topics discussed, I left Boston with five important takeaways that are certainly going to impact Imagine and what we do; and will also impact most of those reading this blog. Here they are:
1. We’re in the early innings...and it’s dangerous
While inbound is now mainstream, it’s still very, very early in the game. That is both exciting and dangerous. The first phase of inbound (2008-2014) can best be characterized by a small number of companies that did amazing things with the strategy and a majority of organizations trying a lot of different things to see what could work.
In 2012, simply having an active blog and premium content gave you an advantage. Today it’s table stakes, and customers, in many cases, are getting exhausted by all the thought leadership, calls to action and content. Practitioners are getting frustrated as they’re learning that inbound is not necessarily the panacea they hoped in would be.
As we’re entering the early portion of Phase 2, more companies have figured out their game plan. They’re raising the stakes with great content and insights. This means that great content is no longer enough to win. Today you must build the entire demand generation process so that the attraction you create doesn’t get lost in the chasm between marketing and sales.
2. The changing role of the phone (and email)
One of the highlights of my visit to Boston was an intense conversation that I had with HubSpot’s CEO Brian Halligan about the role of the phone in modern day selling. Brian has observed that fewer and fewer people with authority use the phone in their buying journey.
While I think Brian has a point, I don’t think the phone is disappearing anytime soon. What I do know, and frankly what keeps me up at night, is that the role of the phone, and email for that matter, is rapidly changing.
This trend is being driven by two factors. The increased ability to of executives and buyers in general to build impenetrable bunkers (it’s virtually impossible for you to get a hold of me if I don’t want you to), and the growing technology stack that is allowing salespeople to make crappy calls and send crappy emails in larger and larger numbers. The noise of the latter feeds the desire of the former.
So regardless of whether Brian is right or not, the effort it takes to connect outwardly with prospects is getting tougher and the trend is steepening. This means that you must double down on your efforts to create truly valuable content that teaches and attracts. The battlecry of the modern marketer (and salesperson) should be, What did we teach someone today?
3. The growing importance of private networks
If you use Slack, HipChat or a myriad of other tools to communicate internally and externally with people and contacts, then you know what a private network is. Private networks are in their infancy, but they’re growing fast - really fast. The problem with private networks is that you can’t participate if you’re not invited.
Your prospects and customers are continually looking for ways to make their communications more efficient. If you’re not working to ensure that you earn and maintain direct communication opportunities with your market, your sales efforts are going to suffer.
4. Beware A.I.
My favorite line in Halligan’s keynote was, “Siri sucks! But it isn’t going to suck for much longer.” He talked about the impact that artificial intelligence devices like Siri or Amazon’s Echo are having on customer behavior and search. Today the SEO game is all about being on the first page of Google (the top 10 search results). As more people use A.I. devices, the number of responses they get will diminish...ultimately to one.
What does this mean? That you must get great at answering your prospect’s questions. You need to be the place people go to when they’re looking for answers.
A.I. doesn’t stop with search. It’s going to change how companies sell and buy. Simple sales processes and those that create little to no value will become automated. And when they become automated, the danger of commoditization and margin pressure multiplies.
If you want to protect your margins today and in the future, you better get really good at delivering value through all aspects - and I mean every single component - of your customer acquisition and retention process.
5. The importance of the customer for inbound & demand generation
A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a fellow marketer and friend of mind. I was sharing how I noticed that word-of-mouth (WOM) no longer seemed to be the hot topic it was for years. I couldn’t remember the last time I heard WOM talked about seriously.
Well, welcome back WOM. But this is not going to be your grandfather’s word-of-mouth. Today you must focus on purposefully developing word-of-mouth and aligning it with your demand generation process. Increasingly prospects are looking to what others are saying about your products or services before they even think about engaging with you (you can thank Yelp for that). If word-of-mouth isn’t prevalent in your marketing and sales strategy, you’d better update it.
The good news is that what used to be a lonely pioneer’s journey is now one filled with others to learn from and be inspired by. The challenge is that the learning curve to ROI is getting longer and steeper; so if you’re not on it now, stop waiting. The cost is simply too high.