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Building a Sales Team the HubSpot Way: Through Content Marketing


Eat your own dog food

Planning an inside sales team may seem straightforward – but it’s about more than just figuring out how many people to hire. While hiring decisions are obviously important, there’s one key component of HubSpot’s sales strategy that may surprise you: they incorporate content marketing.

I recently spoke with Mark Roberge, SVP of Sales and Services at HubSpot, to find out how he built an effective sales team for his company. Roberge is also the instructor in HubSpot Academy’s sales training course and certification, which more than 15,000 salespeople have enrolled in. His mission when starting out, he said, was to create scalable, predictable revenue growth. To accomplish that, he focused on some key tactics:

Predictably Hire Great Reps 

Mark Roberge, senior vice president of sales and services at Hubspot

When it comes to building an inside sales team, hiring the right people is of the utmost importance. But how do you identify those people during an interview? Roberge follows a process similar to what our COO, Austin Merritt, does here at Software Advice: come up with a list of criteria, or raw talents, that employees must possess in order to be successful; rank each candidate, on a scale of one to 10, based on how well they meet each criterion; and compare candidates based on their rankings to objectively pick the best people for the job.

Every buying and selling context is a little different, and what works for one business may not work for another. As HubSpot grew, Roberge took note of who did and did not work out as an employee, learned which criteria was correlated most strongly with success and failure at his company and refined his list accordingly.

Here are Roberge’s top criteria for sales employees:

  • Coachability
  • Intelligence
  • Prior success
  • Curiosity
  • Work ethic

Train Them How to Be Marketers

The growth of the Internet has changed everything, from “the way you train [salespeople] to the way you generate demand to the way you even sell,” Roberge says.

Twenty years ago, the salesperson had all the power. If a customer wanted to buy a product, they would have to go to a store or a trade show and talk to a sales representative. Sales reps simply had to learn the price book, the key value propositions of the products and how to handle customers’ objections. But today, if a customer wants to buy a product, all they have to do is a Google search: they can find the product’s top vendors, learn all about how the product works, read reviews from other users, try a demo of a product for free and, in most cases, buy the product right from the website. So why do they even need a salesperson?

According to Roberge, this is where having a content marketing strategy comes in. Training for today’s salesperson isn’t about simply memorizing a price book or practicing the right product pitches: it’s about becoming a subject matter expert with an authoritative online presence.

In the first 30 days of training at HubSpot, salespeople learn very little sales: Instead, they start a blog, create a website, open a Twitter account and begin email marketing campaigns. By the time training is over, they will rank in Google for a few dozen keywords in their market, have a few dozen followers on Twitter and have written a few dozen blog articles. HubSpot’s content marketing strategy allows the rep to establish online credibility before even getting on the phone with his or her first prospect.

An example of a HubSpot salesperson’s blog.

Provide Them With a Consistent Flow of Inbound Leads

In the past, Roberge says, sales managers would simply provide their staff with lists of phone numbers and have them start cold-calling. Today, this approach doesn’t work as well; people are less responsive to cold-calls. Instead, HubSpot has seen success by practicing what they preach: investing in inbound marketing. Not only do they offer inbound marketing software and sales tools (e.g. Signals) to other companies – it’s how they generate their own leads, as well.

To the average sales manager, “inbound marketing” may just sound like a buzzword. But what it really means is making an investment in SEO, social media and content marketing in order to produce a consistent flow of inbound leads to give to sales reps. In other words: instead of seeking out potential customers, position the brand where customers are already looking.

HubSpot takes an approach to inbound marketing that’s becoming increasingly common in the world of content marketing: they hire journalists to produce quality content that helps build the brand’s online reputation and establishes them as an industry thought leader. This content also helps HubSpot rank well for common industry-related questions that people are asking on Google, and gives their marketing team fodder for conversations on social media channels.

And the end result? Prospects are seeking out HubSpot, establishing a predictable inbound lead process to feed the sales team.

Stay on Top of the Game

The landscape of sales today is wide-open territory – which can be both scary and exciting. One key way HubSpot’s found to stay on top of the game in this ever-changing environment? Be engaged through social media.

In the past, sales revolved largely around networking events. Now, these events are mostly just a bunch of sales reps talking to each other – there aren’t as many customers as there once were. However, Roberge says, “social media is like a networking event that never stops, and companies haven’t appreciated how easy it is to listen in there effectively… it’s not hard to do, but it’s rare to see companies do it well.”

HubSpot’s marketing team keeps a watchful eye on the top social media networks. If their company name is mentioned, they know about it. If a prospect from their leads database mentions an important keyword for your industry, someone on their team is notified. Their marketing staff monitors social media activity, sets up automatic notifications and makes sure their brand is part of the social media conversation on a regular basis.

Hold Them Accountable to a Predictable, Successful Sales Process

In his early days at HubSpot, Roberge says, he had to define a process for turning leads into customers. He needed to teach his sales team a consistent method for researching a lead, prospecting a lead, connecting with a lead, qualifying a lead, presenting to a lead and closing the sale.

In order to hold his sales team accountable, he also came up with a system of metrics he could use to measure how reps were pushing leads through the sales funnel. Here are some of the metrics HubSpot currently uses:

  • How many leads did the salesperson receive?
  • How many leads did they end up working?
  • How many leads did they convert to opportunities?
  • How many opportunities moved to the demo stage?
  • How many of these demos resulted in closed sales?

Every month, Roberge says, he looks at each rep’s total numbers and the percent conversions between each step of the metric system. Then, he looks at how his reps stack up against each other and what they are struggling with, and coaches them on areas that need improvement.

How HubSpot measures the sales team’s progress.

Building a sales team the HubSpot way is about more than just hiring and training people. As Roberge has proven, making an investment in inbound marketing can really pay off for companies with a sales team. By creating a strong online presence, establishing itself as an industry thought leader and being a vocal participant in the social media conversation, HubSpot has positioned itself right where Roberge wants it to be: in customers’ line of sight.

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Holly Regan

About the Author

Holly Regan is the Content Editor for Software Advice. Her work has appeared on many notable sites, including The New York Times, PRNews and oDesk. She has also contributed to works on top-tier publications such as Entrepreneur, the Wall Street Journal and Business Insider.

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