Howdy fellow marketers! Today I am talking to Sam Mallikarjunan, Head of Growth at HubSpot Labs. In this interview he talks about his successful campaign to get picked up by HubSpot and much more about eCommerce.
Q: I have read a lot about your HireMeHubSpot campaign. What inspired you to do that? And how did you pull off the execution?
The short story is that I was hooked on HubSpot’s marketing.
The CFO at the insurance brokerage I was working at sent me their “You Oughta Know Inbound Marketing” YouTube video. I used HubSpot content to move our lead generation from $35 live-transfer phone calls to an online lead generation strategy. I’ve been a fan ever since.
After the insurance brokerage, I worked at an eCommerce company, and from there I left to start an independent consultancy. I remained a rabid consumer of HubSpot content, and eventually decided to give applying there a shot.
But there were two significant problems:
First: I had no formal college education. HubSpot was a company founded by guys from MIT, located in a town where you could recruit from schools like Harvard.
Second: I had no idea what HubSpot actually did.
Back then, HubSpot was so good at creating valuable content without talking about themselves that I didn’t know that they were a SaaS company. To be honest, I didn’t even know what “SaaS” meant (other than something that might lighten the mood on a date).
After joining HubSpot, I discovered that this wasn’t limited to me; before we formalized our product marketing processes and started actually measuring survey data on what people thought we did, tons of people assumed we were just a blog or an agency.
None of this deterred me, of course. In fact, it was quite liberating. Since I knew that my resume would be immediately thrown out upon receipt and that I had almost zero chance of actually getting hired, I was free to get really weird.
So I bought the domain HireMeHubSpot.com and created a form for people to register for “The Free Webinar on Why You Should Hire Me.” I knew that this was a decent lead generation offer, however I had no idea how to actually host a webinar (I hadn’t yet learned about GoToWebinar and such).
I shot some videos on my cell phone with friends, colleagues, former bosses, and former direct reports for the landing page. I wrote “some” copy (way too much, now that I know what good landing pages look like). I used the free PPC credits you get for creating a new account with AdWords, Facebook Ads, and LinkedIn Ads to target people working at HubSpot.
I planned a month long campaign which included a Twitter strategy, repeated emails, and phone calls to the leads I had generated. HubSpot conveniently had their employees on a Twitter list, which I divided amongst my friends and family who would tweet them repeatedly until they visited my site.
While I might not get hired, they definitely wouldn’t be able to ignore me.
I spent way too much time planning the campaign. I waited too long, instead of shipping it live, and someone else rolled out a video holding a chicken talking about why they should get hired. This irritated me like you can’t believe!
Everyone was talking about how cool and innovative his approach had been, and here I was with an end-to-end integrated sales and marketing campaign! But, he launched first. I ranted about it so much that my girlfriend (now my wife) told me to either push it live or she never wanted to hear about it again.
I turned my ads live. After 3 hours and 26 minutes I got a call from their recruiter. A month later, I was in Boston, kicking off my new career as a HubSpotter — quickly learning that everyone here was smarter than me. They knew about things I didn’t even know I was supposed to be good at (a story for another day).
Q: Tell us more about your responsibilities and day to day activities.
I currently am in charge of growth for a few HubSpot Labs projects. HubSpot Labs is our “super-secret” team that works on building and growing new technologies, not related to our core sales and marketing tools.
I say it’s super-secret mostly because we’re all so busy working that no one has put much thought into how we position it externally.
My primary area of focus is inbound.org. It’s a community site for marketers. Over 115,000 (and growing) of the smartest marketers in the world help each other to learn and grow.
Frankly, if you’re not on inbound.org you’re going to be disadvantaged facing marketers who are. The people on that site are terrifyingly intelligent and successful, and they all help each other get better every day. One user described it as having a hip hop community site where Dr. Dre and Jay-Z stop by every day to give you feedback and advice.
My day-to-day activities focus on managing the team that builds and grows inbound.org and our other projects (such as the upcoming launch of freestockphotos.org). All of our projects have very aggressive growth goals. We’re not looking for marginal growth on these, we’re swinging for the fences and trying to build things that add massive value for marketers.
Q: You write a lot about e-commerce. What makes you so interested in this industry? How do you see it changing?
It’s a fascinating market. Trillions of dollars are being spent via eCommerce, and it’s one of the few industries that actually saw growth during the Great Recession. It’s also an industry in which relatively small improvements can have a massive impact because of the scale at which these businesses operate.
Q: What are the ecommerce KPI’s that marketers are missing? How effectively can we measure and get insights?
I don’t know if I can effectively cover all of them here. But in general, eCommerce marketers lag far behind B2B marketers in modeling their sales and marketing funnels.
They spend so much time focused on driving more traffic to their site to grow sales. They ignore potentially easier big wins such as conversion rate optimization, abandoned cart nurturing, personalization, and up-sell/cross-sell/re-sell marketing automation.
They also usually don’t think in terms of customer centric unit economics. They do whatever it takes to drive a transaction, but they’re not solving for acquiring and nurturing a customer as their unit of value. This is part of what leads them to under-invest in the marketing automation and personalization tactics that help grow sales.
Q: Flipkart is the number one ecommerce website in India with turnover of $1 billion. They’re planning to move to an app-only strategy by completely shutting down the website. What do you think about this move?
This is an interesting move. I’m not in their executives’ heads, so I’m not sure what the rational calculus was for abandoning the website entirely.
While maintaining a good website is labor and resource intensive, I can’t imagine that it was such a major drain and distraction that shutting it down will be ultimately profitable.
I will say that developing economies such as India have a fascinating habit of skipping the “intermediate” steps in technology that US and European retailers have to adapt to. For example, India skipped wired telecommunications infrastructure almost entirely, in favor of building mobile towers from the outset.
This makes sense. There’s no reason to invest in a previous generation of technology when a new generation is available now. But US and European businesses have to deal with the inertia of existing consumer behaviors and technological infrastructures. So mobile adoption has been faster and more complete in economies like India, compared to the US and Europe.
Q: What type of content strategy will you recommend for an eCommerce website? If possible give us some examples?
Focus on building an audience of people to whom your product or service would be relevant. Expand way back into the awareness and research phases of the buying cycle.
If you’re a jewelry store, create content that both features fashion trends (awareness, relevance) and content that helps potentially clueless shoppers, like me, learn about different gemstones, settings, and how to make decisions about what to buy (research phases).
Also focus on “premium” content offers that give potential customers opportunities to convert as contacts in your funnel earlier than just the purchase phase.
Offer a free tool or a guide/ebook/catalog that people can download, while giving you answers to some qualifying questions, like:
- Who are you buying this jewelry for?
- What sorts of jewelry do they normally wear?
- How much help do you need making a decision?
Make it clear that you’ll use that information to improve their buying experience.
Jeff Bezos, CEO at Amazon, had a great quote: “We don’t make money when we sell things, we make money when we help customers make purchase decisions.” Focus on that. Make it clear to your customers that the information you’re asking for is to help them make better decisions.
You’ll be amazed at how much people will help you sell to them when they know that you’re trying to help them make the best decision.
Q: What challenges will eCommerce websites face with marketing in the future? What can they do to overcome them?
If your strategy is to be the lowest cost provider, you’re not going to survive very long. Focus on acquiring and retaining customers, not shoving transactions to your system. This may even include ignoring potential sources of ultimately unprofitable revenue.
Also, don’t assume that just because things have been going well for the last few years that they’ll continue to do so. eCommerce is a rapidly evolving business environment with constant disruption and innovation. If you’re not growing and trying to beat yourself, you’re setting yourself up for a massive failure.
Q: How can HubSpot help in marketing, acquiring and measuring leads for an eCommerce website?
In true inbound marketing fashion, I’m ironically uncomfortable giving you a sales pitch on HubSpot. But eCommerce marketers need to drive traffic, convert contacts, convert sales, and manage the long-term relationship with all of their customers in real-time, while constantly measuring and innovating.
If you’re interested in learning more about how HubSpot can help with that, I’d encourage you to request one of our eCommerce marketing assessments.
Q: How does personalization and retargeting increase customer retention and grow the business? Can you give us a strategy to execute this?
One of my favorite customer relationship models is Netflix. Arguably, they have many improvements they could make to their overall business strategy and monetization models. But the really amazing thing that they’ve done is to create a relationship where the longer and more a consumer uses them, the better their service becomes. They use every interaction to improve the next interaction.
eCommerce marketers need to think more like Netflix. Use every transaction to learn and improve your business model, and use the information from that transaction to help you get better at Solving For The Customer (SFTC). That is what will accelerate revenue and ultimately lead to long term growth.
Are you an advocate of work/life balance? How do you balance both?
I’m definitely an advocate of a holistic approach to life, but I don’t draw a hard line between work and life.
I spend a lot of my waking hours at work, and it seems weird that I wouldn’t share that with the important people in my life. Some of my best business insights have come from my wife or friends, who are unburdened by the experience of my colleagues and knowing the “right way” to do things.
On the flip side, I try not to let my work impede my life. I’m not perfect, but I try to take the time throughout the day to talk to my family and friends. Go for a walk. Watch a movie at your desk. Take some time off and go on a trip. Take a nap!
The idea that you need to look focused and stressed at work in order to be seen as adding value is one that needs to die immediately.
Especially for eCommerce companies. Almost all of the growth should come from crushing your goals, not from making sure you do zero living during the work day.
The lines have gotten too blurred for us to draw perfect boundaries between work and life, but by trying to do both in balance you can actually end up doing both better.