HubSpot CEO Halligan Says SMB’s Need Scalable, Efficient Marketing Strategy; Display Shouldn’t Be The Focus

HubspotBrian Halligan is CEO of HubSpot, a social marketing optimization company. What are the special concerns that the SMB has when it comes to online marketing that HubSpot solves?

BH: SMBs have myriad specific concerns that can be summarized in two general concerns: First, expertise. They know they need to get involved in inbound marketing, but they don’t know how — where to start, who to trust, how to balance different campaigns, and on and on. Second, time. Even if an SMB figures out how to get involved in social media, blogs and social media, they find they don’t have the time to really dig down beneath the surface and become an expert. HubSpot helps SMBs solve both of these problems.

As you pull together all the online tactics (blogging, seo, social media) into a single hub or marketing machine at Hubspot, do you think there is room for display advertising? Does display advertising work for the SMB?

Display advertising shouldn’t be the focus of an SMB’s marketing strategy. Sure, there will be situations where it makes sense to use display advertising, but those situations can’t become your entire marketing strategy. Display and PPC advertising is like a drug: once you’re hooked on it, it’s hard to get off, and you have to pay more and more to support your habit. In contrast, if you’re creating content, engaging in social media and optimizing your website for search engines, your marketing efforts will scale over time.

As you note on HubSpot’s website, one of the Internet’s key functions has been to create efficient marketplaces.  Is efficiency always getting better and will “real-time” be a part of it?

Yes, things are getting more efficient, and we’re all better off for it. Advertising is a highly inefficient means of matching a buyer with a seller. In advertising, a seller interrupts a potential buyer when they’re not in the process of buying. Inbound marketing removes this inefficiency. In means that sellers are producing signals (content and relationships) that buyers find when they’re interested in buying. That’s a lot better for everybody, and real-time tools like Twitter just make the system function more efficiently.

Lead generation has received a bad name via several high profile news stories in the recent past.  How do you overcome any misperceptions about your lead gen product?  Or have you even needed to?

I don’t think “lead generation” has received as bad a name as “cold calling” or “direct mail.” The reason is related to the answer to the previous question: Customers and business owners understand that the marketplace is becoming more efficient. As a result, they’re less willing to tolerate inefficient, annoying practices like cold calling and direct mail.

Considering the moving target of search engine optimization, it would appear that you would need to “tune” the algorithm of HubSpot constantly, if you will. What’s the trick to HubSpot staying relevant/effective?

This is true across our company and product, not just for our search engine optimization tools. The key is great people and an agile organization. Our team at HubSpot is a team of entrepreneurs. We’re all constantly experimenting and constantly testing new ideas, new products, and new ways of marketing. All that is in the DNA of our company, and it shows up in the product, and helps the product stay on the cutting edge.

What trends are you seeing with your HubSpot clients in 2009?

The biggest trend we’re seeing right now is increased adoption of social media. When we started our company back in 2006, search engine optimization was the only thing most small businesses worried about. Today we’re seeing many small businesses focused on and getting returns from social media. Louis Page, a Massachusetts fencing supplier and HubSpot customer, that’s blogging and using Twitter is a great example. They’re using these tools to attract people to their website and drive

Am I dreaming or does it seem like MIT is starting to breed more and more marketing or advertising technology companies?  Why?  What happened to rocket science as an MIT graduate pursuit?

There’s still plenty of rocket science at MIT — but you’re right, there are a lot of marketing companies springing up around MIT and Boston. Scott Kirsner, a blogger and journalist, recently wrote about this.  Why is this happening? I think it’s because MIT is a data-driven culture, and marketing is becoming more of a data-driven business.

How did your background in venture capital influence decisions you’re making with HubSpot today?

My stint in venture capital is actually one of the reasons we started HubSpot. When I was in the venture capital industry, I was working with many startups who were doing old-fashioned outbound marketing — cold calling, print advertising and events. It wasn’t working for them, and it was eating up a lot of cash. At the same time, my partner Dharmesh was reaching a vast audience with his blog, OnStartups. We saw an opportunity for small businesses to use these new tools for marketing, and we jumped at it.

I am happy to note that according to HubSpot’s website grader, received a website grade of 99.1/100 and ranks 10,095 of the 1,148,192 websites.  Should I still enroll in HubSpot?  Is this a marketing ploy to make me feel better? If so, it worked.

Congratulations! That’s a great score. Your site is well-optimized. As far as purchasing HubSpot, the product is actually built for small and medium-sized business trying to do marketing online — that means collecting leads, blogging, optimizing for search engines, using social media and more. As a media site your needs are different. You’re not collecting leads, you’re selling advertising. Because of that distinction, you probably wouldn’t get the full value out of HubSpot, and you’re probably better off sticking with the free tools on

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