Change is scary. Prospective customers no longer want vendors interrupting with out-of-context marketing and sales pitches. The internet has empowered prospects to find and synthesize information without ever talking to low-value marketing and sales teams. In response, new frameworks have emerged to improve marketing lead identification (inbound marketing) and value-added selling (sales 2.0). Many marketing and sales professionals are struggling to understand how to embrace and apply these new techniques, or risk becoming dinosaurs.
Enter HubSpot and their Inbound Marketing University program. It is a free program that I recently completed (see Certificate at bottom of post) and highly recommend for all but the most accomplished online marketers. It addresses the inbound marketing front end processes. HubSpot offers a SaaS marketing platform to help SMBs improve the top end of the marketing funnel and reduce leakage through the conversion process.
If you are a business line executive (such as Sales, Services, Operations or Management), this program is too detailed. However, you need to understand this seismic shift occurring in your colleagues world. Learn from it and think about parallels within your organization. Some introductory materials would be:
- HubSpot State of Inbound Marketing 2010 webcast
- HubSpot CEO Guide to Internet Marketing webcast
- Seth Godin blog (innovator of Permission Marketing)
- David Meerman Scott ebooks (create a World Wide Rave, Lose Control of Your Marketing and Viral Marketing)
HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing University program is especially beneficial if you are a marketer and:
- Terms such as blogs, social media, SEO, Page Rank, landing pages, lead nurturing, conversion rates, Twitter, and Facebook are confusing or
- You are not immediately sure how to apply inbound marketing (content creation, SEO, and social media) to sourcing, nurturing, and converting prospects into leads.
The University program is 16 hours of webinars followed by a 50 question timed exam. Certification requires a minimum passing grade. There is little value of taking the exam just to get the certificate. If online classes are not your method of learning, CEO Brian Halligan and CTO Dharmesh Shah recently released a book entitled ‘Inbound Marketing’. The book is better organized for first time exposure to many of these topics than the webinars but does not go into as much detail.
If time is limited, I would recommend watching these three sessions at a minimum:
- David Meerman Scott on ‘Viral Marketing’ (session 5) – excellent presenter and full of great example stories. Use of personas and how to create a world wide rave.
- Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz on ‘Advanced SEO’ (session 6) – great analytical and qualitative explanations of SEO ranking with separation of opinion versus analysis.
- Avinash Kaushik of Google on ‘Advanced Analytics (session 14) – turns normal business intelligence into valuable metrics that focus on tracking change versus the baseline numbers (also has great technical blog).
Some example key takeaways from the sessions included (there were many more):
- Inbound links are 5x more important than the page keyword content for SEO
- Lead conversion expressed as an equation — 4*Motivation + 3*Value + 2*(Incentive – Friction) – 2*Anxiety
- Testing is critical – use A/B splits, but knowing what to test is hardest aspect
- Content is 50x more likely to be viewed by removing forms to collect personal information
- Lead nurturing focus on only a subset of qualified prospective customers (those that want nurturing)
- Use correct analytics such as Bounce Rate = # people who come but leave right away; track referrers that are staying and engaging; fix top pages with high bounce rates
- Analyze what is changing over time – follow top 10 rising and falling, not the top 10 overall
- Twitter usage for Business beyond responding to customer support issues is still undefined and needs additional evolution.
There were also some good quotes:
- “Don’t forget that leads are people” – Brian Carroll, inTouch
- “Don’t suck” (stated about 50 times) – Avinash Kaushik, Google
- “Clarity trumps persuasion” – Jeanne Hopkins, MarketingExperiments
Aspects of the Certification program (kudos to Rebecca Corliss) that impressed me are:
- A topical expert taught each of the subjects instead of a HubSpot employee. This provided attendees exposure to a broader network of experts for follow-up with specific issues.
- The courses were free flowing and thus more interesting. However, listening to the Q&A it became clear that many attendees needed more basic overviews, definitions, and examples to understand the rest of the sessions.
- The number of hours of content is non-trivial and requires participants to make a real investment in gaining skills. 16 hours rivals many other introductory industry training programs.
- The exam questions were not pure fluff designed to give a false sense of accomplishment for attendees.
Items that I would like to have seen covered better include:
- The situations where inbound marketing becomes less valuable. For example, if there are only a few dozen potential customers, marketing and sales activities need advanced tailoring to the target accounts.
- An integrated visual framework to organize all the content (Mike Volpe’s version is extremely high level)
- Discussion of ancillary marketing tool categories (beyond the email marketing) for Web CMS, lead nurturing, web analytics, and CRM integration
- Hand-off process from marketing to sales and how to help sales teams (Sales 2.0)
- Broader perspective on closed-loop tracking and analytics
- Expand nurturing to include existing customers for cross and up-selling
Having created certification programs for other companies, HubSpot’s program should also be commended as a marketing tool and for the core design:
- Using industry experts reduced their cost to product meaningful content significantly but also ensured that information would be more generally accepted by potential attendees.
- The industry experts will further advocate the usage of HubSpot solutions within the marketing community and validate HubSpot’s thought leadership.
- HubSpot’s success requires that customers create more ‘remarkable’ content than normal to receive the benefits of inbound marketing. The HubSpot certification helps marketers overcome any basic fears and concerns and establishes a foundational set of validated skills within HubSpot’s customer base.
While not an independent industry standard, HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Certification program should still be viewed positively by the marketing community. If it achieves the goal of evangelizing the concepts of inbound marketing, both marketers and customers fed up with mass marketing techniques will be happier. I’m excited to be part of this change.
Are you considering taking the University courses and exams? I’m happy to answer any questions. Good luck.