How to grow your business according to Brian Halligan CEO and Co-Founder of Hubspot, senior lecturer at M.I.T School of Management, and award-winning CEO.
Ask anyone starting a business for their primary goal and they’ll tell you: growth.
No entrepreneur gets out of bed in the morning and says to herself “I just hope I don’t get too successful today.” No one dreams of being small; they don’t dream of being manageable. They dream of being big. Titans. Behemoths. Winners.
So how do they get there?
We invited one such winner to Elevate Live to answer just that.
Brian Halligan is the CEO and Co-Founder of Hubspot. He is also a senior lecturer at M.I.T School of Management, is an award winning CEO, and has been recognized as a New York Entrepreneur of the Year.
Brian holds a wealth of knowledge on the topic of demand generation, marketing and sales, and he knows we can drive growth by focusing on a few key areas – check them out below.
Pillar #1: Shift to Inbound Marketing
When you think of marketing, what do you think of? For a lot of people the answer is pamphlets, pop-ups, unknown callers and John Hamm. And there’s a reason for that — for decades that’s (pretty much) what it looked like. But then people got tired and, more importantly, frustrated, with being interrupted.
That frustration made us really good at avoiding marketers. For TV commercials we had DVR; for email we had spam filters. Later (and maybe still) we installed ad blockers on our browsers. As consumers, we’d heard enough.
Put Down the Spear. Pick up the Bait.
“Stop doing outbound, interruption-based marketing and start matching the way you market with the way humans actually shop,” says Brian.
What Brian is describing is the colossal shift that Hubspot created in marketing practices: the shift from outbound marketing, where the company initiates the conversation (read: spear-fishing) to inbound marketing, where the consumer makes the first move (read: angling).
In Brian’s opinion, outbound marketing is outdated, ineffective and expensive. Consumers today are accustomed to being in the drivers’ seat – so don’t limit yourself to old school methods of getting in front of them. Consumers have changed, and that means marketing needs to as well.
“Don’t fight last year’s fight. Fight this year’s fight, and fight it really well.”
Create, Create, Create
That means you’re going to need to get your hands on some bait. But there’s good news – these days, it’s cheap.
According to Brian, the easiest way to stop interrupting your customers, and start inviting them, is content. It could be:
- A blog
- A podcast
- A video series (speaking of, have you registered for Elevate Live yet?)
- Downloadable PDFs
- Anything else you can imagine
“As a founder, you should be leaning heavily into those assets. Your success in those mediums is all about the width of your brain, not the width of your wallet. Lean hard into inbound and lean away from outbound.”
By offering potential customers something interesting, unique or entertaining, you’re tapping into a medium where you’re drawing valuable prospects directly into what we used to call a funnel (more on that later). Most importantly, you’re connecting with consumers in a way that makes sense to them today.
Pillar #2: Customer Experience
Your product won’t be unique for long.
As your company gets bigger, decision-making power is going to get dispersed among leadership. With that loss of control comes an increased need to make sure of two things:
- Your team is aware of a clear, consistent and resonant mission
- They’re engaged enough in their role to enforce and empower it
The only way you’re going to scale your company is with a great culture. A great culture is how people make decisions when you’re not in the room. You’ve got to pay attention to it.
If you want to make sure that your customer experience is uniformly positive, you need a team of uniformly empowered and valued team members to execute that experience – and that comes from culture.
Retention is Key
Recruiting and training staff, particularly in a chaotic startup environment, can be extremely time consuming and expensive. Here are just a few stats from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to show you just how costly turnover can me:
- It takes an average of 42 days to fill the average position
- Replacing an entry-level employee costs 50 percent of their annual salary
- Replacing highly skilled employees and leaders costs 250% of their annual salary (!!!)
Add that to the loss of knowledge which, again, is amplified when you’re a new company and only a handful of people really understand how your evolving policies and procedures work, and keeping a team on board is extremely vital for growth.
And when we say culture is the key to keeping them, we aren’t talking about unlimited cold brew or ping pong tables. It’s about (1) purpose and (2) alignment.
In other words: a mission.
Customers and Employees Want a Cause
We’ve established you need a mission for your team to rally behind, so what should that mission be? Brian is confident it will mean more if it’s community-minded and empathetic.
“It used to be that the best founders were red blooded capitalists. But now the best founders are compassionate capitalists, and they’re not just concerned with growing their company or making it profitable. They want to serve their stakeholders, but also their employees, their partners, their customers and, more recently, their community. So I think companies that really think holistically and are mission driven do better and better these days.”
For more on the importance of empathy, check out our summary of Episode 6 Featuring Mark Cuban!
Pillar #3: Re-envision Your Sales Model
Anyone who’s taken a course in marketing (or let’s face it, read a marketing blog) is familiar with the sales funnel. In case this is your first time (welcome to the ‘read a blog’ category), here’s what it looks like:
Get it? Great – now that you’ve learned it, forget it. It’s dead to you.
“The Funnel is Dead. Long Live the Flywheel”
We can’t take credit for that snappy subheading – it’s all Brian. He takes serious issue with the classic funnel model, and for good reason.
Brian’s issue is that the funnel doesn’t accurately reflect what’s happening in the customer’s decision-making process. If he asks a HubSpot customer “why do you buy what you buy” they might say:
- The marketing was good
- We enjoyed your content
- We use your premium product
- The sales rep was helpful.
But the real reason they bought was:
- They used it at their last company
- A friend of theirs used it and really liked it.
Instead, Brian prefers the flywheel model:
He was in his element explaining this, with a chalkboard and everything. So we’ll let him do the honours.
The key takeaways from this model are:
- Consumers play an active role, rather than being moved through it by sales and marketing teams
- Instead of moving linearly down a path that ends in a single conversion, the flywheel gains momentum the more consumers that pass through it
- The key to making the wheel spin faster is removing friction
Word of mouth and positive experiences are two of the most valuable ways to grow your business – and that’s why the flywheel model works. Unlike the funnel, the flywheel spins faster the more customers are delighted with their experience. That allows the wheel to accelerate and, ultimately, get a lot bigger.
If you’re looking for a more detailed overview of how this model works, check out this brilliant tutorial by Brian’s team: https://www.hubspot.com/flywheel
Invest in a Revenue Ops Person
So, you’re sold on the flywheel and wondering — where do I start?
Brian’s number one tip here is to hire a specific and newly burgeoning role: Revenue Operations.
Once again, we’ll let Brian take this one away:
Focus on Friction
As you’ll see above, reducing friction, is one of the key tenets of the flywheel model.
“The more friction you can get out of there, the faster the wheel spins, and the faster you grow”
The definition of what, exactly, we consider to be ‘friction’ will change with every generation. At one time, Brian points out, being able to pay online with a credit card would have been considered frictionless. Today we get impatient when we can’t order things on our phone using face recognition (really, you need me to double click the side button too?).
But at this moment, we can safely think of a frictionless experience as one that removes contact.
“Less human. More automation. We’ve seen companies today that we think of as ‘the great digital transformation accelerator’. Those are companies that have reduced the need for human touch,” says Brian.
Move Down the Food Chain
Becoming frictionless can be an overwhelming proposition, but Brian explains that it’s not something that will happen overnight, and not all companies will wind up in the same snack bracket. But, he says, a good way to think of it is moving gradually toward more automation. He uses a (brilliant) analogy of adopting vegetarianism to express this:
“I’m trying to evolve my diet to more plant-based, right? Going from a heavy animal-based diet— that’s not great for me, and not great for the planet—and I’m trying to move down the food chain to a plant-based diet. I’m not all the way but I’m trying to get there.”
To Brian, it’s the same process for go-to-market models.
Some companies have an all human-based model. They have the website, but that’s about it (carnivores).
On the other end of the spectrum, people have all humanless experiences done by computers and artificial intelligence (vegans).
In between you’ve got companies who have software based models with a little bit of human touch. You’ve got companies who have largely human based models with a little bit of software (pescatarians and flexitarians).
“I think what companies need to do is move down that food chain. If you’ve got a heavy human process, try to get some automation in there to help those humans so they can augment your efforts. If you’re heavy on humans with a little computer, lean more on automation and computers, and have those humans try to move your way down.”
At the end of the day, the recipe for growth is pretty simple; at least, it is the way Brian explains it.
- Create content so customers come to you (inbound marketing)
- Keep your team engaged, happy and purposeful – it will trickle down to your customers
- Adopt the flywheel model and structure your team in accordance
- Get rid of friction wherever possible
Whether you’re a startup, scale up, or established business, by grounding your growth in these four pillars you’ll be zeroing in on that behemoth status in no time.