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Why I Left Hubspot [Inbound Marketing Inquirer]

It's not youAs the title suggests, this week’s Tip Jar explains why I decided to pull the plug on Hubspot’s marketing automation software. I’ve been using it for nearly two years and before I explain why I decided to stop, I want to be clear on a few things.

Hubspot is a great company with a great product. The software was reliable and the support was great. The amount of time they invest into educating their resellers and customers is simply epic. The marketing community owes them a debt of gratitude for that and so much more.

But Hubspot and I just don’t fit anymore. I have lots of people ask me whether or not Hubspot is worth it. In this week’s newsletter I’ll use myself as a case study to demonstrate some of the pros and cons.

Tip Jar: Why I Left Hubspot

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[ismember]The Pareto Principle

One of the reasons Hubspot has done so well is that the product is so comprehensive when it comes to implementing inbound marketing. If you use all of the basic functionality, it means that you’re creating content, optimizing it for search, promoting it with social media, implementing lading pages with calls to action, and monitoring everything with analytics.

Simply signing up with Hubspot and going through the basic setup and on-boarding process will deliver substantial, immediate improvement in their marketing. The Pareto Principle is in effect here: 80% of the gains come from the first 20% of the effort. It did the same for me. It made me understand what was really important with inbound marketing and helped me form good marketing habits and practices.

It worked. However, I reached a point where the cost was creeping up and the benefits were not keeping up.

A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep

The problem with Hubspot is that last 20%. Because the product tries to be all things to all people, it lacks depth in some areas. In and of itself, that’s not a deal breaker. There are other services that can be used – and I did/do use them – to provide that depth. I’ll briefly cover the main components here and what I view as the strengths and shortcomings. This may help you decide for yourself.

The SEO capabilities are very thin. Once you get past the basics, you’ll need a pro tool like SEOMoz, which is additional cost. If you’re not experienced with SEO, it’s a great and simple tool for you to track and discover keywords. But if you need to perform website crawls and detailed backlink analysis, it doesn’t deliver and you need supplemental services.

The blogging module (and CMS system generally) is simply terrible. There’s no way to sugar coat it. It’s based on DotNetNuke, which is a platform I’ve used for a very long time. Unfortunately, it hasn’t progressed and grown like the world’s most popular CMS – WordPress. Writing a blog post in Hubspot is like commuting to Boston for work in a horse and buggy. It’s slow, unpleasant and frustrating.

Creating landing pages and calls to action are both incredibly simple and effective. In my mind, this is one of the two killer features and makes up the bulk of that 80% I mentioned earlier.

They released a new email marketing system last fall with Hubspot version 3 and it is very good. It was a huge shortcoming but not anymore. It’s not as robust as some of the other commercial solutions but for most of us, it works well enough. I will say that one area it shines is segmenting. It’s dead simple to send an email to contacts who took specific actions on your website (like downloading an ebook). This is powerful and what I consider to be the other killer feature in Hubspot.

The analytics are decent but nothing that can’t be duplicated in Google Analytics for free. Like most other functions, it takes extra knowledge and discipline to do. If you’re using Hubspot, “it just works,” which is nice.

They also have some more advanced features like workflows, smart content, custom lead scoring, etc. These are powerful tools that can really move the needle.

But it will cost you.

Went Down to the Crossroads

Which brings me to my crossroads. The cost of adding the features I wanted simply didn’t make sense for me. Some of the tools I wanted to use – like a CRM connection and custom content – were going to cost me hundreds of dollars per month. I knew I could do them for virtually nothing in WordPress. I couldn’t see spending the money.

For some companies, this isn’t an issue. Their volume and cash flow will support and justify the investment. Also, not everyone has the technical expertise that I do that allows them to hot-wire their blogs to do these things.

And so the bottom line is that Hubspot, like any product, has a sweet spot. Small customers may find the cost to be prohibitive. Large customers may find the functionality to be too thin. But there’s lots of territory in the middle for them to help companies make marketing people love. Not mention making a lot of money.[/ismember]

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  • Jon –

    Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you see the value in HubSpot for the right company! A couple thoughts I wanted to post here for your community.

    1) HubSpot analytics does a lot of things Google Analytics does not. HubSpot tracks individual people and can alert your sales team when a hot lead comes back to the website or use a certain page view to start a workflow that triggers emails or other activity. GA does not do any tracking of individual users, you only get aggregate information, so it is actually quite limited when compared to HubSpot.

    2) Our CMS is the biggest area of our platform that has not had an upgrade in a while, and I can promise that this year we will be making a huge change here (no more DNN). I can’t give you all the details now / here, but stay tuned or email me. To those reading this, I can tell you that we use our CMS for HubSpot.com and all our own websites and we’re happy with the design and flexibility.

    3) Unlike hacking together WordPress, a social tool, an SEO tool, an email tool, an analytics tool, HubSpot has some huge advantages. First, it all just works together out of the box, and we have live humans in the USA who will answer your questions and solve your problems if you call us. To get someone to answer your call at WordPress and Google Analytics is impossible. Second, having all the data in one place provides unique “1+1=3” kind of value. For instance, HubSpot can trigger an email alert to your sales person when one of their leads mentions your competitor on Twitter. Or you can personalize the content on your blog article if someone has visited the pricing page of your website.

    Again, thanks for the feedback! I think the overall value of HubSpot for the right company is tremendous, far more powerful than the free tools (but yes means it is not dirt cheap).

    • Mike – Thanks for your feedback. Great point about the analytics. In fact, I didn’t even really consider it part of the analytics because (at least in my own warped mind) it’s more of a lead nurturing feature. But thanks for clarifying. I’d counter that one thing Google Analytics does allow you to do easily is attribute values to conversions and track per-visit goal value. Unless I missed something, I’m not aware that Hubspot does that.

      Glad to hear the CMS is getting an overhaul.

      I could not agree with you more about point #3 and welcome your thoughts. I did admit that not everyone has the technical capabilities to hack together the solutions that I have. And I admit it’s a “hack.” But for the record, they’re not all free tools. I’m using several premium plugins and paid services. The fact that Hubspot “just works” is definitely an advantage.

      My own situation is that I have a set of skills that allows me to create the solution that works for me for considerably less than Hubspot costs. And for what it’s worth, two of the features I wanted to implement and couldn’t with Hubspot seem to paying huge dividends already. It’s a small sample size (only 48 hours) but the results are impressive so far. I’ll cover it in the next newsletter. :)

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