Wednesday, May 08, 2013

HubSpot Releases Social Inbox and Reveals So Much More

I spent yesterday afternoon at HubSpot’s “Open House” in Cambridge, MA, during which they briefed the community on their business progress, introduced their new Social Inbox, described their  approach to marketing and sales alignment, explained their “culture code”, and answered questions.

The most concrete news, Social Inbox, extends existing HubSpot features by more fully integrating social media monitoring and response with the HubSpot interface. The Social Inbox presents a list of Twiter posts by user-specified individuals or containing specified key words. Users can drill into each post to see a complete profile of the poster. The big deal in HubSpot’s eyes is the profiles include all information the HubSpot database about each person, and are even color-coded with the sales lead stage. The data includes Web and email behavior captured directly in HubSpot, data imported from, and whatever else the system has available. Users can respond directly, forward a post to someone else, or add the poster to a HubSpot campaign. The system can automatically alert users to new Tweets as they happen or on a regular schedule.

HubSpot said they couldn’t find any other product that combines this type of social monitoring with access to such deep profiles. I can’t immediately think of one either, although it might exist. Either way, uniqueness is less important than the value provided, which is considerable.

What’s ultimately more interesting, however, is that Social Inbox is aimed at managing one-on-one interactions between users and individual contacts.  This sort of contact management is quite different from HubSpot’s traditional focus on attracting inbound traffic or even from conventional marketing automation.

The new features came up again later in the day, when the audience asked several pointed questions about whether HubSpot would eventually add a full CRM capability. This caused by far the most discomfort of any topic addressed by a management team which provides itself on transparency. Answers ranged from a coy “we think about a lot of things” to a fairly definitive stream of conscious listing of the arguments against adding CRM.  The currently dominant line of thought seems to be that HubSpot already provides adequate features for clients who want light contact management, while adding full CRM features would only lead to a losing battle with Unstated but hovering in the background was the fact that is an investor in HubSpot and might some day consider buying them to expand its own marketing scope. CRM would make HubSpot less attractive to Salesforce, since it would create a set of redundant features that need to be supported or removed.

But the most fundamental reason that HubSpot management seems genuinely disinclined to add CRM is that they see HubSpot’s mission as transforming marketing. There’s a distinctly messianic gleam in CEO Brian Halligan’s eyes when he says this and the vision is no doubt shared widely across the company. In fact, it’s arguably more surprising that HubSpot has overcome its marketing focus to introduce the contact management features already in place. My take is that customer needs – another HubSpot mantra – have driven the system in this direction despite management reluctance. The system has a will of its own.

Admittedly, I’ve been arguing this for a long time: the need for integrated customer treatments will eventually lead marketing automation, CRM, and Web content management to become a single system, or at least to share a common customer database. HubSpot’s current vision of highly personalized data-driven marketing is consistent with this. The current vision is also quite different from the original HubSpot vision of attracting traffic through huge volumes of great (but not personalized) content. But the new vision is a logical extension of the original: once you’ve attracted people and start to learn their preferences, the more you’re able to make targeted content recommendations. And, the more content you have available, the more you need those recommendation to point people at the right materials.

This brings HubSpot right back to contact management, because the same data used to recommend marketing content can, and should, be used to recommend treatments during personal interactions. It’s possible to simply push recommendations to an external CRM platform, but setting a connection for each point of contact quickly becomes a lot of work. The temptation to eliminate that work by building an integrated CRM system is hard to resist.  As I say, the system has a will of its own.

Incidentally, there is another way to look at this. The traditional view sees marketing as making automated contacts, while sales and service use human agents, supported by CRM, for individual interactions. This is why CRM seems foreign to a marketing system. But the automated-vs-human division is no longer so clear cut. Social media marketing is mostly done by humans through one-on-one messages, while many sales and service interactions are automated. In this view, HubSpot needs contact management features even if it rigorously restricts itself to serving marketers alone.

The problem with this approach is that it denies sales and service the benefit of HubSpot’s data and customer understanding – a terrible waste of corporate resources. So this view also pushes HubSpot towards a unified marketing and CRM system, or at least a database and recommendation engine that’s accessible by both HubSpot and a separate CRM. I swear I didn’t mean to end up here, but this does lead to the Customer Data Platform I’ve been discussing over the past few weeks. I don’t think HubSpot management wants to move in that direction, or even that they necessarily should.  But these things have a will of their own.


Tom said...

Excellent post (as usual).

> Admittedly, I’ve been arguing this for a long time: the need for integrated customer treatments will eventually lead marketing automation, CRM, and Web content management to become a single system, or at least to share a common customer database.

I'm with you, and I continue to wonder why it's taken so long for it to happen. While some companies like HubSpot are trying to build all of these pieces into a single platform, I think there is a bigger need for a common customer database. I'm disappointed that more companies don't see the need to use CRM and marketing automation data to drive personalized interactions on the website.

The technology is available today - either via "all-in-one" platforms like HubSpot or via integrations between CMS's like Drupal and Marketo, HubSpot, Salesforce, etc. But the bigger problem continues to be helping more people understand the value of a common customer database in the first place.

Jeff Judge said...

This is a great post David, the need for this type of system is so clear. I've always wondered how far Hubspot will move into CRM with their investment.

We've built a similar profile deep dive within Signal and aiming at the problem set, but are moving a lot slower as a 7-person bootstrapped startup in Chicago.

Here's a few screen shots of how we're tackling this for small businesses: (dashboard of marketing activities) (view of a post in our dashboard) (view of contact engagement timeline in the profile)

We've been focused on instrumentation of individual events but are excited to extend this into activities you can take at the account level (show me who my 5 most activity Facebook fans are and send a message to those folks, etc).

To date we've focused on the messaging tools you need for customer communication (email, SMS, Twitter, Facebook) and instrumenting events whenever there is engagement between a person and your brand. The problem set of understanding who you customers are, their interaction with your business and leveraging this engagement for smarter communications is so universal that I really don't see any other way to move forward but building an integrated system.

We fall down on the B2B sales automation tools (we don't have much of those) and will be addressing that over time.

I'm pretty excited to see the direction your posts have been heading!