Inbound Now #12 - Business to business marketing lessons with Mike Volpe

Mike Volpe joins us to talk about his experiences running the marketing at several B2B companies and some best practices he has learned along the way.


David: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Episode Number 12 of Inbound Now. Today we are graced with the presence of our very own Mr. Mike Volpe. Mike is the VP of Marketing here at HubSpot. He’s the host of my rival show, HubSpot TV, and he’s also a professional speaker. He travels all around talking about B2B marketing. Welcome to the show, Mike.

Mike: Thanks, super happy to be here. I’ve been watching what you’ve been doing. We’re scared over at HubSpot TV of the competition.

David: Yeah, it’s heating up, man, it’s heating up. Yeah, I wanted to get you on the show today to talk about some B2B marketing best practices because I know you’re an expert at it and you’ve been doing it for some time now. You’ve seen some tremendous results.

Mike: Yeah, let’s dive into it. I love talking about this stuff.

David: Cool, cool. Yeah, you’re definitely a passionate guy about B2B marketing. What in your mind is the biggest difference between B2B marketing and B2C marketing?

Mike: To me, I think the biggest difference is just sort of the potentially the number of people involved in the process, the complexity of the process, and sort of the length of the process. All those things are sort of linked. Because typically for B2B, the sales cycle is longer. It’s a more complicated sales process because it might involve multiple purchasers, beyond even husband and wife or something like that. It could be four, five, six, ten people sometimes. Then, it’s typically a longer sales process and evaluation process. There are some things in the B2C realm, like maybe buying a house or things like that, that get closer to being similar to that B2B process. Some things on the B2B side that are closer to a consumer process, like a really cheap web product that might be 30 or 40 bucks or buying some office supplies or things like that. There’s definitely some overlap between the two, but I think B2B tends to be a more complex, longer sales process.

David: Right. Would you approach it in a different way then? With a longer sales process, there would be, I guess, more nurturing of a customer, would you say?

Mike: Nurturing, yeah, of customers, leads, that whole process. I think that in B2B, you typically talk about sort of the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, working with the sales teams and what are the different things you’re doing at all those different stages. Whereas for a B2C process, for most of the time, it’s just, you know, it’s get people to the site and you’re sort of like here are the products. Would you like to buy them? For B2B typically, there’s information, education, sort of process that’s happening there.

David: Okay, cool. With social media, what department should own social media? Should marketing at a B2B company own social media, or can it be kind of spread out between departments? What’s your view on that?

Mike: That’s a great question, and I’m super glad you asked that because I’m sort of on this new tirade in the past few months about this, which I’m sure you’ve seen which is probably why you’re asking the question. Here’s the thing. Social media is not a strategy. It’s a technology. Just like when phones were introduced, you didn’t have a phone department or one department was responsible for the phone. Same thing with e-mail. It wasn’t like, oh, well, we need to add an e-mail department.

I don’t understand why people are adding like a social media person or whatever. I feel like what you need to do is take this technology and apply it across the entire company. Marketing should use social media. Customer support should use it. Sales should use it. Finance should, everyone within the company, there are uses for social media technologies in how they do their jobs. So, I actually think it should be spread out throughout the company.

Now, maybe initially when you’re starting to adopt some of these tools and technologies, marketing could be a great place to start to maybe show some leadership across the company and start to implement them across. To me, social media is much more a technology, and things like inbound marketing are a strategy, where you’re saying, “Okay, I want to change the way I do marketing to attract people into my company. What are the tools and technologies I want to use?” Social media is one. Blogging is another. SEO is another. So, to me, things like inbound marketing are a change in strategy. Social media is a technology and a tool. It’s important, but it’s not like the only thing.

David: Would say, like I’m thinking about it, like maybe social media is its own kind of like department in a lot of companies because it’s a newer technology and there’s kind of like maybe an age barrier, like kind of stigma around it?

Mike: I think people are scared of it too. Anytime there’s something new, people will try to figure out how to use it, and at least those companies that have the social media department are, at least they’re trying, whereas a lot of other companies are not trying. So I give them credit for trying. I just think they could be doing something else that would be more effective.

David: Right, okay. On the subject of social media, do you have any tips on how companies can get measurable results and kind of get the ROI out of their social media efforts?

Mike: Yeah. Again, social media can be used for so many things. It can be used to help your content spread. It can be used to communicate with prospects, used to communicate with customers. It’s just sort of a new communication channel.

We get a ton of ROI out of our social media efforts. We’ve got, especially for B2B companies, one of the largest followings on Facebook and Twitter. It’s bigger than, which is a multi-billion dollar company. Because we put these efforts in, we can see and measure the number of visitors coming to our site, the number of leads we’re getting from social media, and the influence that has on the amount of sales, the number of customers we’re getting. I think there’s definitely a bunch of things you can do to measure it. I think that if you do it right and use it not as sort of one individual tool but to kind of spread it throughout your marketing and sales process, it can be really, really effective.

David: Right, and it’s kind of like tying that loop back. Okay, so this person came originally to HubSpot from Twitter.

Mike: Yeah.

David: And we can close that loop.

Mike: That’s exactly right. So it’s two points. You used the exact words. It’s that closed-loop marketing that we really want to look for. I think so many marketers have all these individual tools, a tool that measures things at the top of the funnel, something else that may be gathering your leads, and something else that maybe their sales team uses. Unless you either have one tool that works across that whole process or have some intricate ways of linking all those tools and building some code to make them all talk to each other, you’re not going to get that kind of reporting, I think that’s not having that kind of close in the reporting is a big struggle for a lot of marketers.

David: Right, and then that’s kind of how they struggle reporting that ROI. There’s a huge debate out there about social media ROI. Should it be exact traffic to here and kind of closing that loop? It’s kind of murky in a lot of companies. What about the spillover effects of social media?

Mike: Yes, there are definitely spillover effects of social media. We see that. We see when things go hot and there’s a lot of conversation around a topic, other metrics of ours improve. But there are spillover effects of almost every type of marketing. When we send a big e-mail blast, we actually see people tweeting and sharing that e-mail, right? So there are spillover effects from e-mail into social media. There are spillover effects when you do any sort of display advertising. Typically you’ll see an increase in the number of people searching for your brand and typing in, direct traffic to your website. When we do a really good e-mail blast, we’ll actually see an increase in direct traffic to our website, as well. People may see it on one device. The next day they just go to the website without actually clicking a link in the e-mail. There are spillover effects for every type of marketing. I think that that’s what you need to understand is when you’re measuring the individual channels, understand what those metrics are and is that channel worth it. But also understand that there are also these cross-pollination effects and spillover effects that happen as well.

David: Right.

Mike: You want to get both of those.

David: Exactly. Cool. Speaking of channels, what do you think is more important, the channel that a company is using or the content strategy which they’re using on said channel?

Mike: To me, the sort of, everything that ties it together, which is what is that inbound marketing strategy, is what’s most important. To me, it’s much more about what you have to say than where or how you’re saying it. We found that, that our most successful offers that do well and maybe our house e-mail list also do well in social media. They also do well on our blog versus things that maybe don’t do well on social media probably also don’t seem like they don’t do as well on some of the other channels too.

To me, it’s much more of a take your inbound marketing strategy, figure out who those personas are you’re trying to reach, what is the content you’re going to use to reach and attract them, and then share that content through a whole bunch of different means. That content promotion that you’re using as part of your marketing strategy should be social media, should be e-mail, should be your blog, it should be your website, it should be everything. If you’re still going to trade shows and things like that, there’s no reason not to use that content at those events as well.

David: Right, totally. Speaking of growing your social media outreach and what have you, growing your fan base. There’s a lot of talk in the industry, what’s the relative value of a fan or of a follower? Do you think that it’s worth investing in different mediums like Facebook or Twitter to grow those fan bases?

Mike: Yeah. So, yes, there’s absolutely a value in those things. I think most people, most marketers, most B2B marketers have some sense of the value of an additional name in their database in terms of like an e-mail address or mailing address or phone number.

I would say that if you take the evolution of the marketing database and maybe it started way back when there was the Sears & Roebuck catalog or the Montgomery Ward catalog were some of the first mail-order catalogs. You had a mail database. You would send people catalogs and they would send their orders back to you. Then the phone came out and you added phone numbers to your database. Oh, there’s another column, let’s add a phone number. Then guess what, then e-mail came out and you’re like, oh, well, we’re just going to add another column, we’ve got e-mail too.

Now I can contact David, I can send him a piece of mail, I can call him, I can e-mail him, great. Now, you’ve got Twitter, Facebook, you’ve got blogging, you’ve got all of these different social media tools. To me, those are just further evolution of the marketing database. There’s no reason to necessarily think of them that differently now.

Again, there are different ways of communicating with you, and so something I would send you in the mail, I might not call you about or I might not e-mail you about or vice versa. That’s also true of social media. I’m not going to necessarily DM you a link to a catalogue or something like that. You need to understand what these different channels are. But it’s just another way of communicating with people, and I think that most marketers are really, really scared of this, but it’s happened before. The phone came out and it was, “Oh, what are we going to do with the phone?” Well, it’s just another column in your database. Same thing with e-mail, and I really think social media is just another way of keeping in touch with people.

It’s more permission centric. There are things that are a little bit different about it. To me, I think about the evolution of the database when I start to think about that kind of stuff.

David: Right. And you see a lot of companies out there integrating social CRM to pull in these pieces of data to kind of …

Mike: Yeah, very exciting. I don’t know that anyone’s really came up with the right product in that space. Really, really exciting area. I think there are some people that are trying and trying to figure out. Well, do we incorporate things in. You’ve got doing some stuff. You’ve got a bunch of startups. You’ve got, you know, Batchbook, and you’ve got Nimble and there’s like Constant Contact just bought a company too. There’s a lot of activity in that space.

I haven’t found in any of those products that somebody’s really, really nailed all the right use cases yet, because I still think that what we as marketers want to do with that stuff is sort of evolving. We’re not totally sure yet. That’s definitely the direction things are headed. I think today, the basic advice for marketers today is build up your fan bases and build up your following because it’s going to help you across every aspect of your marketing.

David: Right. There’s, I guess, we’re still waiting to see the SEO implications of social, but I mean there’s a lot of talk about it. Right?

Mike: There’s a lot of talk about it, and I think some of the recent interviews, I think it was Danny Sullivan with Search Engine Land did some of these interviews. He basically confirmed from Google and Bing that especially links that are shared through social media are starting to accrue SEO authority. Even some of them are looking at the okay, who tweeted this link, and if they have more followers, it might be a more authoritative link that’s been tweeted.

Some of that stuff is already starting to make it in. That came out about, I think it was about six weeks ago. There was kind of an interview that, surprisingly, hasn’t been publicized a ton yet. Even if it’s only in there a little bit today, I think everyone believes and knows that it’s going to be more and more important in the future. Yeah, it’s like, if you’re not building up your Facebook or your Twitter following today, you’re basically dooming yourself to bad results in SEO in the future.

David: Right. I think right now they’re trying to figure out that algorithm. Because right now, anyone can make a social media account. You can make a thousand Twitters spam accounts, and it’s kind of easier to gain right now. But I think they’re getting better at policing that. I think once that kind of happens and the algorithm falls into place, I think social search will have a huge impact on results.

Mike: Absolutely.

David: Totally. You mentioned someone tweeting that may be more authoritative, has more followers, may have more weight in the ranking factors. We’ll see if that happens. But speaking about influential people, how do you feel about Klout Score and kind of the stuff being talked about that, where people with more followers and kind of a more reach are getting a higher score and they’re getting perks and all this other stuff? Where do you see that going, and do you see companies kind of leveraging those people with a higher Klout Score rather than their fan with three Twitter followers?

Mike: I think that that concept has always existed. I just think what’s different now is with the data that’s available, you can actually assign a more refined score to it. From an outreach perspective, you’ve always thought about, well, you know, this reporter publishes for this publication. Here’s the number of people that subscribe to it. This one publishes for this other publication and they have half as many subscribers.

This person seems like they’re really influential in our customer community because they are a leader of one of our largest user groups, things like that. Those are all things that I used to think about prior to this age that we live in now, when I was doing B2B marketing beforehand, right?

That whole notion is like now we’re just starting to roll that up into scores. We sort of started, I think actually started a lot of this phase in terms of measuring people’s Tweeter authority with Tweeter grader. Unfortunately, as a company, it’s like we haven’t invested as much in that as, because it’s one of our 20 different things that we’re working on.

It’s like that was one of the original ones. I think Klout is a really good one. There’s Twinfluence was one that was doing that type of stuff for a while. There’s a whole bunch of different tools that are trying to do that. I think it’s going to be more interesting if people can start to pull in things across multiple channels over time. That will be interesting.

It’s like okay, here’s the following on Facebook, Twitter, their blog, all these different things. It’s definitely a tool that you should think about as a marketer. You probably would want to do extra special things for your customers that have this big following, why wouldn’t you do that?

David: Right. I think the data right now is imperfect, but it’s still kind of an indicator kind of to vet out stuff really quickly. Okay, so let’s cut out these people and kind of focus on …

Mike: If you’re kind of a mid-size brand and you’re getting a couple of hundred people tweeting at you per day and you could only respond to a small number of them or something like that, then yeah, that’s one way you might want to think about it. Especially maybe not the people replying to you but people that just happen to mention your brand, maybe you want to focus on the top ten percent that seem to have larger followings. Yeah, I think it’s useful and it’s interesting data.

David: Okay. Cool. All right. So I wanted to shift gears a little bit and talk about marketing personas, basically companies making a personality around their typical customer. Do you think it’s a necessity for B2B companies to start thinking about their customers in this way?

Mike: I think it’s absolutely a necessity. I think this is something where sometimes B2C in certain areas leads B2B. This is something that I think B2C companies have been doing for a long time. I know that there’s a local drug store chain, CVS and they actually redesigned all of their stores. They had, I think it was 11 different personas based on the type of people that shop in their stores. When they went through this whole store redesign and moving things around inside all their different stores, they actually thought about every single one of those people.

It’s like they had the elderly woman who comes in every week to pick up prescriptions. How does the store work for her and maybe aisles need to be wider because a lot of them have walkers or things like that. Then there’s sort of the young urban person that uses the store as kind of a convenience store. Things like that. They thought about everyone of those personas and how they use their stores and how that redesign would affect all those personas.

That same type of thing should absolutely be applied to B2B. We’ve got two personas that we think about at HubSpot. We think about the content that we publish. Is that going to be interesting to them? We think about our products and the features we’re building, is that interesting to them? We think about the sales process. We have two personas, each of them actually have slightly different needs during the sales process. We need to interact with them differently.

One of them you can actually can get a little bit more aggressive with and push. The other one, that’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. You need to be a little bit more passive and sort of just kind of be a little bit more helpful and answer more questions. Customer support is different for the two of them. The amount of services they need and the type of services they need is different.

I really think that once you have those personas nailed, it helps you a ton in terms of the strategy across your entire company, but especially in marketing in terms of the type of content and the things that you’re offering them.

David: Right. I mean I really think it can help solidify the stuff that you’re doing instead of trying to go after everyone. You can kind of narrow it down and focus specific efforts on a specific target market.

Mike: Totally.

David: I think it’s brilliant. We have a question from Twitter, a fan, a fan question for you. Okay. So, Kimberly Kohatsu, sorry about that, at CallFire Marketing asks, “What social media channels would you recommend for a B2B tech company?”

Mike: Yeah, it’s interesting because we do lots of research and we gather lots of data here at HubSpot. One of the things we’ve asked people is we looked at both B2B and B2C companies, small, mid-sized companies, what their more successful channels were in terms of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. B2B had a big advantage on LinkedIn. B2B, LinkedIn is much more of a B2B community, that makes sense. If you’re a B2B tech company, I would definitely recommend LinkedIn.

Twitter was actually, depending who you ask and how, it’s relatively close between B2B and B2C. Facebook tends to be a little bit more of B2C medium. If you have the time and ability to do all three, I think all three can be great. If I were a tech company, I would start with LinkedIn, then Twitter next, and then Facebook after that. That’s how I would think about it.

David: With the recent changes with Facebook fan pages, you can now surf Facebook as your actual fan page, brand name. I think I don’t know, I’m interested to see how that’s going effect how B2B is done on Facebook. Where are your thoughts there?

Mike: I don’t know. I think some of those changes are really interesting. Also, they’re making it a little easier for you to get other pieces of content from the Web back into your Facebook page. They’ve gone away from the whole FBML and now they’re doing iFrames.

One of the things that we’re actually about to have at HubSpot is this tool that a guy built internally to take your HubSpot landing page, your form, and put it into your Facebook page. So you can actually be generating leads on your website but on your Facebook page, which is kind of cool and good for a B2B company too.

I don’t know. I still think that kind of psychologically most people feel like Facebook is for their personal friends. LinkedIn is for their business connections. I know I use both for both, but I still think some people have this aversion to using Facebook for business. But that being said, we have over 20,000 fans of our page. We’re a B2B software company. So I don’t know.

David: Something’s working. Okay. I know this is Inbound Now and we’re talking about current stuff going on, but let’s take a look into the future.

Mike: All right I love it.

David: How about that?

Mike: Sure, let’s do it.

David: All right. So moving into 2011, what are you keeping a close eye on? What should people be keeping an eye on moving into the future?

Mike: I think there are two things that I’m really curious about how they play out. The first one is this theme of integration. I think that social media has been hot for the last year to two years. I think 2011, I hope, I think and I hope that it will be the year of much more integration and thinking about how all of these technologies will play into a much more robust strategy. Here we are, we’re on Inbound Now. It’s like the big strategy shift you should make is from outbound to inbound, because it’s more cost-effective, it’s less interruptive, and there are so many benefits that go along with it. Social media should be one of those things. But you need to think about not how do I incorporate social media into my outbound marketing, but how do I change my entire marketing strategy and incorporate social media and all those things.

The first trend is integration. The second trend is mobile. People have been talking about mobile for a really, really long time. We were thinking about five, six, seven years ago how do we incorporate mobile into B2B, and no one really figured it out. I do think that now between BlackBerry, Android, and iPhone is these different platforms that have a lot more capabilities on the device. They’re becoming a lot more mainstream.

Especially for B2B, I think mobile is going to be something you need to start to think about. More and more I think your web traffic is going to be from mobile devices. Certainly, e-mail, if you’re doing e-mail marketing to an opt-in list, you need to make sure that your e-mails are being optimized for mobile devices because everyone reads, especially in the B2B world, I think of tons of people read e-mail on mobile devices. So that’s sort of that second trend that I was just thinking about. How is mobile going to affect every aspect of what we’re doing? Social media is highly mobile-enabled as well. So it’s like people are using Facebook and Twitter clients on their mobile devices, things like that.

So, kind of integration and mobile are the two things that I think are going to be big this year and people should worry about.

David: Yeah, definitely. If your website is not readable, easily readable on a mobile device, you’re shooting yourself in the foot really. Definitely. Cool. Mike, where can people find you online?

Mike: Lots of places, my personal site is There are these search engines, and if you type my name in there, all kinds of fun stuff comes up. Most of my great blog articles end up at the HubSpot Blog, which is I don’t know if I can pitch a competitive show on your show, but it’s like I gave you a plug last week.

David: Go for it, go for it.

Mike: Every Friday we do a live show, HubSpot TV, so it’s every Friday, 4:00 Eastern. We have guests, we have some fun, and chitchat about some marketing topics. Less in-depth than this show, I think is what I would say. It’s kind of Friday afternoon, we try to have a little fun with it.

David: No, I’m a big fan of That’s kind of how I got my job here at HubSpot. It was kind of an inspiration for starting this one.

Mike: Totally.

David: Mike, thanks for coming on the show.

Mike: Fantastic. Yeah, thanks for the time.