In this episode of the Spike Podcast features Angus McDonald of Hubspot. The success and focus of Hubspot’s content production strategies have fuelled the company’s impressive growth over the last 10 years.
Angus is the head of small business sales, ANZ – and works on the back of this content machine to create new business. Co-hosts Tim Johnson and Andy Scott discussed with Angus his approach to sales within the Hubspot framework and the nuances of producing such an enormous breadth of content. Further, Angus gave us a sneak peek into what’s on the horizon for Hubspot in the near future and what he’s excited about for 2018.
Listen below, and subscribe on iTunes.
Tim Johnson: Hi, and welcome to The Spike Podcast. My name’s Tim Johnson, your co-host, and I’m here today with friend of the show Andy Scott. We recently did an interview with Angus McDonald Head of Small Business Sales for ANZ for HubSpot. HubSpot’s blog is one of the top blogs around the world read by millions and millions of people every day. We had a very interesting chat with Angus as to the transition of content from the traditional blog and into a lead gen facility for HubSpot over the last three to five years.
There’s two sides to HubSpot. Essentially HubSpot as a content vehicle is just enormous. There’s awards, there’s events, there’s products, there’s speakers, partnerships, social stuff, integrations. There’s just millions and millions of things that these guys do. It’s just huge. Particularly from Angus’s point of view product is massive.
Andy Scott: Do you deliver stuff for clients and stuff as well?
Angus McDonald: No. We are essentially the software platform for our clients to execute a content strategy but we do have a … Well, one of the biggest revenue drivers for us is actually our network of agency partners who do roll out all of that.
Andy Scott: Do you have a quite, I suppose, good insight into what makes a good strategic content plan, how to attribute value to it, how to assess ROI? I deal with a lot of people who everyone get excited by content, and I see it done really badly, and I see it done by people … When I say badly, it’s not part of an overflow of any sort of strategy at all. It’s just they’re doing it because content sounds cool right now, or they’re doing it and they’ve done it, and it’s quite a good execution in terms of measurements of how many people have seen it, how long they’ve been engaging with it, return visits to the site. That all looks great, but then they’ll say, “Yeah. We didn’t get any sales out of it.”
Angus McDonald: Or at least they don’t know.
Tim Johnson: Or we didn’t scale distribution.
Andy Scott: Or we didn’t get any sales. Okay, well there wasn’t a call to action on your page. How were you measuring sales? Don’t know. Do you know what I mean?
Angus McDonald: Yeah.
Andy Scott: Do you have a lot of insight on that, because I think that’d be really interesting?
Angus McDonald: We actually just launched something new as of last week, which we’re just about to talk about which is called campaign analytics, which everybody in our basic professional or enterprise licence get. Essentially it’s tying a campaign inside HubSpot which is the way that we think about a campaign is every single piece of content that is targeting a persona. That could be three blog posts, it could be particular keywords that are within that blog post, it could be eBooks and landing pages, it could be social media messages, emails, automated workflows, everything that’s tied into that one person that they’re targeting, and then attributing the person that ended up in the closed one deal to the content that they engage with within that campaign.
Tim Johnson: You guys have been testing that in-house before you’ve rolled it out.
Angus McDonald: Yep. I imagine.
Andy Scott: Permanent beta. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows that.
Tim Johnson: What I wanted to touch on Angus was around the product side of things. HubSpot is pretty powerful in the various ways that it interacts with all of its clients, all of its sales potential, potential sales prospects, but particularly across a huge medium of different content strategies, but particularly around products. HubSpot’s really started to redefine adding on particular features and products and essentially using them as a sales feature and as a real content piece to speak to your audience. How does that relate back to first of all what the customer wants and secondly how you speak to your customers in terms of as a content piece?
Angus McDonald: I suppose that HubSpot wasn’t originally a product-focused business. We have over the past probably about 18 months moved into a model which is providing free, cheap, and kind of like a scale product model essentially to get land grab, get as many users inside our free tools as possible to help them scale and grow. In terms of the add-ons then, I suppose probably I think what you might be referring to would be, say, all of our integrations with all the third-party platforms.
The way that a lot of businesses are now looking at HubSpot is almost like a data house where you’re actually using HubSpot and connecting to, say, your video tool, so say like a Wistia, connecting to your ad platforms, connecting to your event management platforms, whatever it may be, and sending all of the engagement data per contact back into HubSpot for you then to be able to personalise your marketing with a targeted email, automate your process, or even, say, report on what content and what platform is helping you grow your customer base.
Tim Johnson: You also mentioned a recent new tool that you’re looking at which is an instant messaging platform that builds into HubSpot. Can you touch on that and how that feeds into the product offering?
Angus McDonald: It’s not yet feeding into the HubSpot product offering but it will. We just see a huge opportunity to nail the chat bot industry. It’s something that’s taking off. Facebook is doing it. The company that we did purchase, we test ran their automated chat bot functionality with some of our Australian events to help, say, with a salesperson engage with their clients or at least the potential customers that are in their name that they may not be working yet actually book meetings with them. The chat bot would, say, welcome them the moment they registered at the front gate, would then at certain times throughout the event send them a little notification saying, “Here’s the slide deck for the piece you’re about to watch,” and even right towards the end of that session, prompt people to book a time with a rep that’s in their name. With some of those events we ended up getting 80 or 90 meetings booked on the one day, which was insane.
Tim Johnson: It’s powerful stuff. I’ve actually just halfway through building my first chat bot just to see what it’s all about, through Facebook Messenger, and it sends you; Angus, you’ll love this, it sends you a swell report every morning depending on your beach, hooked into WillyWeather. It is amazing how easy it is. Chat bots are the absolute future. It’s impressive to see that you can do that on the scale of a particular event, on a particular day, and the engagement, it just resonates. People need that sort of flexibility, need that easiness to interact and get exactly what they need out of things. It’s cool to see.
Angus McDonald: I think part of that is we’re always trying to monitor and watch trends and change our product and change the way we advise our customers based and the trends that are beginning to happen. The first one would be content marketing, like inbound marketing. Our founders kicked off the company noticing and realising that we were making the vast majority of our purchasing decisions online. We weren’t speaking with salespeople as much. We were coming to salespeople more educated than we ever were because we had all this content online to educate ourselves, and us, there’s HubSpot and there’s inbound marketing. Now we’re seeing chat and we’re seeing millennials grow up and living and breathing inside their phones and chat platforms. We’re evolving with them.
Andy Scott: That’s what I wanted to ask, what’s driven that evolution from your guys’ perspective?
Angus McDonald: As in into chat?
Andy Scott: Yeah. Moving from point A where you started into new fields, shall we say.
Angus McDonald: Our founder would definitely be well-equipped to answer that one. It definitely started with the change in the way we are making purchasing decisions. It was a huge piece. We built that. We realised that we needed to, first, help the small business. We didn’t really ever want to play in the big enterprise space, because virtually all companies or at least the vast majority of companies find it pretty easy … Well, I wouldn’t say easy, but just it is an easier approach to nail the enterprise space. There’s bigger budgets. There’s more people who use their software. It’s a high return …
Tim Johnson: Scalability.
Angus McDonald: … in terms of the cost to acquire a customer versus the return you get. It’s a safer marketplace, and thus our founders recognised that there wasn’t really a platform company that had nailed that small to medium business, and that’s what started it. We started out with, say, SEO tools and blog content tools, which were feeding the content strategy that we recognised was happening, and then we’ve started at the top of the content funnel with tools, and now we’re working our way down into CRM and our success platform, which we’ve just announced.
Andy Scott: You said that in your buying process you go to, I suppose, organisations and firms much better educated nowadays. You know more about their products before you actually approach them as a salesperson. I’m guessing that’s the same with people that come to your product as well. What I’m wondering is what are the common problems that you hear? You’ll hear a lot of small businesses and there’ll be common themes that are coming up. These are people who want to give it a go. They’ve had an investigation. They’ve tried it. It may not be working. That’s why they’ve come to you. What are the common things that you and your guys hear and you think, “Yeah. Okay. We’ve heard this 1,000 times before. We know what that problem is. Don’t worry, we can fix it, but it’s a common problem.”
Angus McDonald: One would be that a lot of businesses know they need to be blogging, know they need to be producing content. They’re doing it. They’re just not getting a result. They’re also potentially have had poor experiences with SEO companies in the past, the good and the bad. Of course, there’s companies out there that do a really, really great job, and as a result try to educate them and give them some power to make some decisions around SEO and content strategy themselves. Other problems would just be reporting is a big one, just reporting on content and having your landing page tool and your blog platform, and then your social media platforms, and your email marketing tool all disconnected. It’s impossible really to try and report on the impact of those campaigns that you’re running.
Tim Johnson: Trying to report off an antiquated analytics tagging, and bringing it all into one house. It makes a lot of sense. It’s a huge time saver.
Andy Scott: What are key metrics people should be reporting, do you think?
Angus McDonald: It depends on the business. There’s different types of, of course, you’ve got first touch, last touch, and multi-touch attribution, all that kind of stuff. It’s more about understanding the content that people are engaging with and at what stage they might be, inferred based on how they are engaging with your content, and, say, pulling our list of contacts for your sales reps, as an example, that maybe those contacts have downloaded an eBook, maybe six months ago, but are recently back on the website and opened a recent email that was sent to them. That to me as a salesperson would be that’s a hot lead. I haven’t spoken to them in the past six months, but they’re back on the site. It’s kind of like segmentation and some reporting.
Tim Johnson: It’s really interesting the segmentation side of things. As we discussed before, you’re not specifically in the enterprise space, which really lends itself to segmentation purely just because of the sheer numbers and the size of the data that you’re working with. When you’re talking about small to medium-sized businesses who didn’t have a massive amount of resource to be producing content on a daily basis or otherwise, an extremely regular basis, and also don’t really have the customer base or otherwise the lead network that an enterprise might have. How do you segment someone who only needs to acquire a small amount of customers to grow their business significantly?
Angus McDonald: As in how do we at HubSpot segment?
Tim Johnson: Just in terms of attribution side of things, it’s really easy to break apart when you’ve got a huge dataset, but if someone has a relatively small content base or just a couple of different things that they’re doing and are scaling well, but they’re really only getting four or five leads a month and that’s enough for them to grow, is attribution really a massive thing there? How do you frame that for a small to medium business?
Angus McDonald: No. It’s a good point. Probably not for the small business. The biggest problem that we solve for the small business is really just ease. It’s just difficult to manage 10 different tools. Their strategy is going to be the same. It’s just the vehicle is different. If the vehicle, HubSpot, means that they can actually produce an extra blog post a week or they can actually send an email to that list of people that is going to get a result, then it makes sense.
Tim Johnson: Yeah. All under one roof.
Angus McDonald: Yeah.
Andy Scott: It’s interesting, a point you raise about the difficulty of managing all those different things. I guess it leads to a question about whether it’s better to have quality or quantity of these touch points. Have you got an opinion on that?
Angus McDonald: Yeah. We used to advise that quantity was the right approach. We don’t necessarily believe that that’s true anymore.
Tim Johnson: When did you make that switch?
Angus McDonald: I think that was within the space of the last 12 months. I think one of our marketing team did an analysis of all of our content. There’s a blog post on it somewhere that I could probably share. I think the idea is that as well this idea of pillar content and topic clusters as a strategy for structuring your website lends itself to quality over quantity. Essentially what that means, and this is a part of a big product launch that we had recently as well is that Google is getting to the point that it can understand the semantic relationship of phrases, where somebody may search guide but they may find a page that’s optimised for best practise. Layering out a quality strategy in regards to the content you produce and how it’s connected on your site is probably a better approach.
Andy Scott: You said pillar … What was it, pillar content and?
Angus McDonald: Topic clusters. The idea is that you have a pillar page, like one page as, say, the definitive guide for a particular topic, and on that page you have links off to blog posts that relate to that core topic.
Tim Johnson: Into subsections.
Angus McDonald: Yeah. Essentially a cluster of topics that relate semantically to that core page, and that little web there actually enables Google to then go, “Well, this page is focused on this, but it’s also connected to all these other pages, and maybe that other page here also needs to be lifted and ranked.”
Andy Scott: It’s almost about for firms to if I’m a business owner I probably really need to nail down three or four things that we are really good at, really good at, and that’s what we’ll focus on, rather than, right, I got 37,000 Instagram posts to do today and I’ve got 15 blogs to get out, and I’ve got to do 20 things on LinkedIn, and you end up just you’ve got to get content, content, content, content, and invariably you don’t get a common voice. Obviously, your tools and Google and stuff and the analytics that you see through it, is that approach being reflected now, that focus as opposed to just get it out there; get as much as you can out there.
Angus McDonald: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. We’ve seen some of our customers that were part of our beta programme have, yeah, seen some great results from launching that strategy. They’ve repurposed their existing content and structured it that way, and then, boom, up they get a lift.
Tim Johnson: Break it down. Three top pillars and then centre everything around that, and that encompasses your value proposition.
Angus McDonald: Yeah.
Tim Johnson: Makes a lot of sense.
Angus McDonald: You can also then thinking about using that pillar content and that pillar page as a lead generating tool as well. You’ve got all those links off to those other blog posts, but then have a call to action for that eBook that’s relevant to that pillar content.
Andy Scott: How much clustering can you do? This is what I’m wondering, because is it at some point you go to your pillar. We’ve been doing it for a year now and it’s fantastic, and I go to my pillar content and it’s just hypertext links the whole thing, because I’ve linked every single phrase I could to do a bit of cluster content. I’m guessing that’s too much, right? Is that a challenge? Can you rewrite the content? What’s a way around that?
Tim Johnson: Talk to the SEO gurus.
Andy Scott: Witchcraft.
Angus McDonald: You can repurpose it. From what I understand, the advice we’ve got from our internal SEO team is that you want, say, eight links, around each cluster.
Tim Johnson: Internal.
Angus McDonald: ..cluster topics around that pillar page, and up to 20, but really no more than, say, 12 to 15.
Tim Johnson: Back links to …
Angus McDonald: Other content on your website.
Tim Johnson: Right. I see. You’re getting into some deep SEO here. Internal back link structures within your website. I’m going to go a bit off topic. 2017, we’re coming towards the end. 2018, what’s next, what’s new, what’s fun for Angus McDonald and HubSpot?
Angus McDonald: That’s two different questions entirely. HubSpot, we’re growing in Sydney big time. We have huge growth goals with the business as a whole. We’ve just launched our success platform, which is essentially the … If you think about HubSpot as a hub, you’ve got your marketing functionality, you have your CRM and sales. Marketing generates leads, leads go into sales, and once you close a customer, you need to support them, and that’s what our success platform is. Next year’s going to be exciting with that whole new product range. I don’t believe that we’re going to be selling it ourselves as a team, because it will be free to begin with and we will iterate and evolve. That’s going to be really, really fun to monitor and watch.
Tim Johnson: That’s pretty cool. You guys constantly have a new product that’s just a freebie. Try this out and check it out.
Andy Scott: Is that how you guys-
Angus McDonald: Then you’re in and you can’t leave.
Andy Scott: Is that how you guys see the world, still those traditional pillars of – there’s marketing, there’s PR for want of a better phrase, and sales, and that’s still the sales and marketing business triangle, as it were?
Angus McDonald: Yeah. Just within each one of them things are changing. The bot topic that we had a chat about earlier, that’s an example. We need products and platforms to support the shift into that marketing channel. Similar with the sales, the old-school sales platforms are built for management and really deep reporting, which for a small business doesn’t actually help them sell more. They actually need a tool to enable sales. With everybody sitting online and tech and digital, there’s some really, really cool stuff that you can do.
Andy Scott: Obviously, Angus, you deal with a lot of people who they’re not necessarily the owners but they’re doing this as a job for an owner of a business. These people have to recognise and report the value that their content strategy is getting. What are the biggest tips that you could give for those people on how to report that value up and how to show, yes, this article didn’t necessarily get a widget bought but it’s been able to give you this sort of value?
Angus McDonald: In this scenario the marketer can’t connect the dot between content and customer.
Andy Scott: Maybe, maybe not. Let’s assume it’s a marketer who’s done it because it’s cool, and now they’re being asked to justify why they spent all this money on something and how does it look.
Tim Johnson: There could be three pillars there. There’s the marketing actual activity, then there’s the statistics that you pull away from it, whatever they might be, whether they’re relevant or not, and then there’s the translation there up the chain to management. What are these statistics that we’ve reported on? Are we getting value from this? What’s our return? Can we quantify our return here?
Angus McDonald: Well, I suppose the reality is that when we have conversations like that, we basically say you shouldn’t be in that position because there’s software that will enable you to solve that problem. It’s 2017 soon to be ’18, and there’s tools that are going to enable you to be able to report on all that. Could be tough, but for a marketer to just push back and say, “Give me some budget, and I’ll be able to report on everything I do.” That’d solve everything. At the moment if they don’t have those platforms in place, then they’re only going to be able to get the high-level clicks, traffic, potentially number of new leads, whether or not it’s attributed directly to the content, but they will be able to get some idea of the uplift.
Tim Johnson: It comes down to infrastructure.
Angus McDonald: Yeah. Infrastructure.
Tim Johnson: Absolutely. I love it.
Angus McDonald: There’s systems there that can do it, so just use them.
Andy Scott: If you’re serious as an organisation or as a marketer to do that, you need this tool as well. Just being able to write a snappy article and giving it to your IT guy to load it up on your website or whoever manages your website, in and of itself is that a recipe for failure you see from people who, “Yeah, we’ve done that. Didn’t work out.” Needs to make the investment. They need to invest early.
Angus McDonald: Yeah. It’s definitely a recipe for failure if the people up the chain require reporting that is going to pinpoint what worked and what didn’t. You’d be in a pretty good place if they didn’t. You can just write and publish whatever you want.
Andy Scott: It’s in there somewhere. Never mind. It’ll come back. Was that the question you thought you were going to get asked when I said what I was going to ask?
Angus McDonald: No.
Andy Scott: What did you think I was going to ask?
Tim Johnson: Tricky question.
Angus McDonald: I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I didn’t want to answer with just buy HubSpot, because that is..
Andy Scott: Even so, I was wondering if you’d go, well, these are key features about it. If you’re not recording, you need to be able to recognise time on page, because we’ve seen that 80% of people who go to your website five times, then they’re going to bloody 90% are likely to purchase. I don’t know if you had access to any of that sort of knowledge, so these are the things that you need to measure so you can go, “We didn’t get any sales Andy.” I could go, “Yeah, but, Angus mate, look, I’ve got 100 people here and because of … ” Here’s the across their site. Statistically 90% of these people are going to buy something in the next two months. I suppose just some access to some stats that you guys will have seen at a just really massive macro level that as an individual at the micro level I may not necessarily know that, and it’s almost like, jeez, if you record that, that’s what it shows.
Angus McDonald: This comes down to attribution reporting, which for a small business isn’t so useful, because you may only have one eBook or just a couple of pieces of content. For the bigger business that has 10 to 30,000 visits to their site a month or more and a big database and lots of customers, then it does make a lot of sense. Being able to, say, attribute a particular page as the last touch before a lead became an opportunity, then being able to say, right, we’re now going to try and identify who in our database is a lead not yet an opportunity. We’re going to try and get them in front of this piece of content and influence them.
Tim Johnson: Not only qualifying customers from a traditional funnel approach and taking that 10% off the bottom who’s potentially ready to purchase, but then also from a content perspective or lead magnet, you’re looking at it in terms of what is the best, ranking that in terms of a funnel, what’s introductory, what’s more successful. When you start to break it down, every single landing page has a pretty strong call to action, but being able to attribute strength to particular different landing pages for different reasons, that’s pretty powerful. Matching that up is also pretty powerful.
Angus McDonald: Yeah. I don’t have any core stats because every business is different. You’ve B2C, to B2B, and all the different industry types and everything. A lot of the strategy that our marketing team takes is less about time on site on a particular page and those kind of individual engagement with a page, and just more so the content that they engage with and at what stage within the funnel they might be and whether or not serving up this piece of content in the next automated email would be useful or not.
Andy Scott: Really beginner, intermediate, expert almost for want of a better phrase. You can introduce more … The further down you see them on that funnel, you can in effect introduce more complex messaging in your content marketing that you hope will just keep driving them down to the bottom where they’ll purchase.
Angus McDonald: Yeah. The way that we structure and advise our clients is that you break it up into an awareness stage, a consideration stage content, and then decision. If you think about how we make decisions about solving problems, we don’t immediately go, “Ah, there’s the product I’m going to buy.” We actually first go, “What’s that itch? I have an itch, what is it?” We go and Google diagnosis.
Andy Scott: Discovery.
Angus McDonald: That is us becoming aware of the problem. We then diagnose that and we look for a solution, and then once we know the solution, we go to the provider, so the decision. Basically if you can structure your whole funnel and the way that your consumers and customers make a decision and build content out at every stage, you covered every base and you nurture everyone through.
Tim Johnson: As long as you got that pillar content.
Andy Scott: And the cluster.
Tim Johnson: Angus McDonald, APAC Sales Manager from HubSpot. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you in here to hear your thoughts on everything content marketing and how HubSpot really does it, because you are literally one of the big players pushing around in this space for the last year or two. All the best, and we’ll speak to you soon.
Angus McDonald: Cheers.
Andy Scott: Thanks Angus.
Angus McDonald: Thanks Tim. Thanks Andy.
Tim Johnson: Thanks for listening to The Spike Podcast. If you’ve got any questions for myself or Andy or otherwise for Angus our guest, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on social through our website. Otherwise, we’ll see you next time.