< Back to Main

Customer Journey Consolidation and HubSpot Trends

Stuart Balcombe: I’m Stuart Balcombe. I run growth at Arrows. We’re a HubSpot App partner, so ventures investment, collaborative customer onboarding tool, exclusively for HubSpot at this point. So really involved in the ecosystem, content, community and, of course, the product. So excited to be here. My first Inbound. Very excited to chat.

Mark Lerner (host): Yeah, yeah. Mine as well. Well, my first in-person one. Yeah. I think that what’s really been exciting for me over the last few years being in the HubSpot ecosystem and then being part of the community is, first of all, watching the growth that HubSpot’s had. I think they’ve really kind of ridden a wave where companies that may have been larger or had bigger, more complicated, use cases that may have not considered HubSpot previously are now considering ’em. But with that comes additional challenges, people that need configuring, or unique integrations or third party applications.

So I think that brings the user, the RevOps user kind of into the fold a lot more in the HubSpot space. So is that a trend that you’ve seen in the time that you’ve been kind of within this ecosystem?

Stuart: Yeah, certainly. I think we’ve definitely seen the impact that RevOps can have, or effective RevOps implementations and processes can have, and I think that the sort of bigger macro thing here, which we heard a lot about this week, at Inbound, is the connected customer journey, the connected customer platform, and having all of your data in one place has become such an advantage, a thing that people actively are trying to do and consolidate tooling into one place. And that ultimately means that you need more configuration, you need more, the implementation just involves more things to make that happen. 

So I think the RevOps role has just become more and more important to achieve the business goals that everybody’s trying to get, trying to grow while keeping the team lean, trying to grow while being efficient in the resources that they spend, and I think that the ability of the ops role to meet that need both improve the customer journey, improve the experience, while also meeting the needs of the team and delivering what they need to be efficient and effective, I think has only become more true and is only going to become more true as people try to consolidate more.

And on the role of data, and again, we heard this week, I’m going to mention it – I’m sure you will – but we heard a lot about AI this week. The impact of being able to layer AI on top of your data and not the general training data that the model has, I think is going to become a huge competitive advantage and the more you can consolidate that data in one place, the easier time you’re going to have doing that.

Mark: Right. What did Yamini, the CEO of HubSpot say? Content, context, and customer is how they deal with it. And it’s true. It’s like you have garbage in garbage out, so you can have the best AI in the world, [but] if the data is garbage. If your process is not good and you’re not capturing the right data at the right time, then any insights that you gain from that are going to be bad. 

And I think that’s going to be a hard lesson that some people are going to learn quickly, I think.,

Stuart: Yeah, absolutely. 

And I think that to the point that you made about HubSpot, is becoming the centralized place and there’s been more and more different use cases that people are trying to enable, HubSpot is an incredibly flexible and powerful tool, but at the same time it’s not built in the inverse of that. It’s not built opinionatedly for any specific thing,which means you have to go build and configure it to meet your needs. It seems like the platform is adjusting to enable more of that, but that does mean that there’s going to be more RevOps work and RevOps implementation to be done.

Mark: And I think that’s exciting because it’s really true that every kind of go-to-market strategy is, while they’re kind of the ‘tried and true’ models that people have, when you go under the hood a little bit, it’s like every company’s slightly different. They’re not going to be able to change their process in order to fit the way the CRM works. It’s got to be, kind of, ‘meet them where they are’.

Yeah, we’re here at Inbound, so we’re live. 

Yeah, so you’ve got to meet the customers where they are, which I think is kind of part of HubSpot’s whole thing, but have you seen this evolution of a HubSpot user and this more, kind of  ‘builder’, people that are building on top of HubSpot? Have you seen that shift happen over the last few years?

Stuart: Yeah, I mean specifically from our experience and our focus at Arrows and we’re working with teams on onboarding and after the point of sale, which is traditionally HubSpot has been a Marketing and Sales tool and they’ve sort of layering up Service Hub as a newer hub, they’re layering on more tools across the journey to continue engaging customers, ut out of the box, there’s a lot to do. 

So we’ve certainly seen just in the last 18 months that we’ve been in the app marketplace, more and more teams coming from where we started of, oh, having an onboarding pipeline, having a dedicated pipeline from implementation is a new concept to folks showing up with that already implemented and sort of ready to go, already thinking about, or even if they haven’t implemented, they’re at least thinking about bringing those teams in and trying to centralize more of that data in HubSpot. And I think we have sort of a couple of things that are happening at the same time. HubSpot is trying to expand across the customer journey and at the same time, teams are trying to cut out these dedicated point solutions that don’t integrate and create more work for everybody by siloing data and moving it around.

Mark: So that’s another point I wanted to bring up. This is a thing I’m seeing and I think partially due to macroeconomic headwinds, but it does seem like there was a point where every team was like, okay, go out and get the best point solution for whatever it is and we’ll figure it out and now there’s this consolidation happening. Are you seeing that?

Stuart: We’re certainly seeing that.

And I think that it’s not true for every team, but I think that teams are starting to understand, or at least better understand the trade-offs they’re making when they buy a point solution. 

It’s not just the point solution or the requirements for that point solution aren’t just “serve the team that’s using it day to day very well” because everybody else on the team is going to interact with that same customer at different points of the customer journey and if that data, that context isn’t coming back or isn’t available and visible to teams at different points, it becomes really hard to provide an experience that is beneficial and not frustrating. Nobody likes repeating information, especially customers.

Mark: Exactly.

Stuart: So the more that you can bring everything together, give context when you need it, and make sure you have that data available at all, has become more important. And the cost-saving benefits of consolidation are there as well, which can be helpful. 

But we have certainly seen that. I mean, we made a big bet at Arrows. We deleted a third of our product and went all-in on HubSpot that more and more teams would want to be CRM-centric, that they would recognize the value of having connected customer data or that they would make that better, that they would connect it in the CRM rather than trying to integrate every other point solution. 

So maybe we probably have some sampling bias there, but certainly we’ve seen more and more teams bringing post-sale teams into HubSpot, trying to keep everything together in one place.

Mark: The kind of proverbial single source-of-truth that everyone kind of talks about, but no one ever perfectly achieves. 

Yeah, I think that you may have a kind of biased view of, but as personally I’ve kind of seen this very similar move. I want to shift gears a little bit since we are at Inbound to hear about what you’re most looking forward to or which of the keynotes that you’ve had a chance to see, or that you’re interested in, or that you’ve seen already.

Stuart: Yeah, I mean, I think this is my first time at Inbound. I think that I’m, the thing that I’d be most excited about and has been really cool is meeting people that previously they’d only interacted with online, like yourself, in person. I think that,sort of, building deeper connections in person has been really great. I liked Damesh’s talk before, or talk this morning, on all the AI stuff and how it fits in, how to think about where things are going. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. I think there’ll be a lot of misapplication of all the new tools and everything that’s available. I’m especially interested to see what happens on the content side. 

Yeah, we will see what happens there. But I think that, yeah, it has been really nice to meet people and to sort of make those connections. The HubSpot community is definitely, definitely thriving and growing very quickly. I think the future looks bright. 

Wow, that’s a terrible commercial right there.

But yeah, no, it’s been really great to see people in person.

Mark: I agree. I think that we’re still, kind of, coming out of this time where we were all locked up at home and for me, this is, I think the first bigger event that I’ve been to since, and so it’s very nice to see everyone’s face in person.

Stuart: Yeah, absolutely. Cool.

Mark: All right, Stuart, well, it’s good to see you again. It’s been a few weeks since we spoke at Inbound, and I wanted to follow up with you, see how the rest of the event was for you and how things have been going since.

Stuart: Yeah, thanks for reaching back out. It’s been interesting, really interesting since Inbound.

I think an event like Inbound, there was so much going on that week. There was so much that you do leading up to that, you have expectations, or some ideas about how it might go and then the reality is that it’s nothing like that or at least to a large degree not as you expected. And I think for us it’s been… Inbound was really validating and in terms of the impact that we’ve been able to have and the recognition that, the visibility that we have within the HubSpot ecosystem. So I think the difference between – I wasn’t at inbound in 2022, but I know for the folks who were there from the Arrows team and then were there this year, I think it was sort of night and day, in terms of… in 2022, Arrows had been in the HubSpot ecosystem…Arrows  had been in the HubSpot marketplace for something like six months, whereas this time around it was 18 months, and we had done a lot more in the ecosystem, had matured in the ecosystem and that was, it was definitely validating to get some of the reaction from folks at Inbound that we got, which is always nice,  been interesting now that we’re a month or two after Inbound, seeing the follow on effects of that, which it’s been nice to be able to have some confidence to really push forward on things that maybe we wouldn’t have pursued so aggressively before.

Mark: I’m interested, maybe it’s just I haven’t been… followed it as much before, but it seems like the rate with which HubSpot is releasing new features has grown, I don’t know, exponentially since then. It seems like every day something new, very, maybe seemingly small to some person, but it made someone else’s year, they’ve been waiting for that one thing, but it seems like they’re releasing a lot more stuff now. I don’t know if that’s true or if I’m just…

Stuart: Yeah, I don’t know,  I mean it’s certainly true that they’re releasing at a very, very rapid pace and I think have shipped a lot of things. I think it certainly since Inbound it feels like there have been a lot of very impactful, even if small in, sort of, seemingly, scope features that have really big impact things that I think the community have been looking for, asking for a little while and they’ve certainly shipped a lot of those things. I think that that’s been one thing that is… I don’t think is just since Inbound, but the rate of shipping that the HubSpot is able to maintain has been impressive certainly since we’ve been in the ecosystem. So I think the rate is probably a little longer term, but I agree. I think there have been a lot of really impactful things in the last couple of months, even if they aren’t all giant, splashy launches in the way that generative AI was at Inbound.

Mark: So today is, we’re in November now, and yesterday there was a big announcement – I’m sure you saw – that HubSpot has acquired Clearbit, which I was pretty surprised by. I didn’t know if it was, kind of, known that that was in the works, but I’m interested from your perspective what that means…are there any tea leaves we could read from that about where things are going, both for HubSpot, and, maybe more broadly, the Operations world about how CRMs and systems of record are going to be changing?

Stuart: Yeah, I think it’ll be interesting, I don’t know a ton of specifics, I haven’t delved too deep into specifics of the acquisition, and I think maybe that’s a little unknown in general, what will this actually look like once it goes through.Will Clearbit be an add-on for HubSpot, that is a bundled add-on? Will it be something that is more baked into the core platform? Because I think that is the thing that, we talked about this at Inbound, was that ultimately the real power and the value of a platform like HubSpot, and they’ve talked about this the last couple of years, is the connected CRM, the ‘Smart CRM’ they’re now calling it, and the more you can leverage your own data and improve the quality of your own data, better understand how to take action and do things that are going to have an impact based on your own data, it’s going to be where the differentiation comes; the quality of your first-party data. 

So I think it’ll be interesting to see how this particular acquisition impacts that, and I think it’ll be interesting to see how native it becomes to the platform, how it fits into workflows, and all the other things that the platform is currently enabling folks to do on top of their existing data. Does that improve your ability to leverage some of those things with more enriched data?

Mark: Yeah, I mean, I think, to me, I was definitely surprised by it. I was not expecting it.

Stuart: HubSpot doesn’t make a ton of acquisitions, right, so it is interesting.

Mark: And Clearbit is a pretty big player, so I was pretty surprised by it. I thought it was a very shrewd move by them. I could see them completely merging it with the HubSpot platform… HubSpot, their whole, the way they began was they defined inbound marketing as being like somebody gives you their information and then you reach out to them. I think they kind of see that things are shifting in companies like Clearbit and ZoomInfo and Apollo and all that, that it’s potentially a way to help people expand their go-to market beyond just inbound and maybe look for some of the signals that might indicate someone from company X, Y or Z is looking at your content and then using something like Clearbit to then have your sales team go outbound to them. 

I think that might be the play, and I think that’s the smart play because I don’t know, from your perspective… I think these labels of, well, “our strategy is inbound”, “our strategy is outbound”, “we’re a product-led growth”, “we’re product, we’re sales-led growth”, I feel like the idea of being only one of these things is no longer possible. You have to be everything because you have to hedge, you have no idea what’s going to happen in the market.

Stuart: Yeah. I also don’t know that it’s ever been… it’s very convenient for folks to give something a name and then you can build around a name and something that is simplified to the point where it is shareable and easy to get a surface-level understanding. But I don’t know that it’s true that there are too many companies that have been, especially when you look at mega-successful companies that have ever been one strategy, right?

Mark: True.

Stuart: I always joke about Slack, for example, is like, yes, the sort of poster child of product-led growth, but they’re not making their money on free communities and folks who are getting up and running without paying; they’re making their money on big enterprise deals that are not product-ledadoption. At least they might be product-led adoption, but they’re not product-led sales necessarily. 

So I think that that’s certainly true, that the more blended approach, ultimately the approach that is the best fit for the customer, is going to win. And I think the easier it is for folks to meet people where they are and the tools that enable folks to meet people where they are are going to be the ones that win.

Mark: Yeah, I definitely agree. I do think that there is – and I think myself as a marketer, I’m guilty of this – there’s always looking to find a term that you can brand like ‘product-led growth’, ‘inbound’, ‘outbound’, and, kind of, win the SEO game on that. But I think it’s to people’s detriment because there was so much product-led growth, product-led growth, and you had VCs telling companies “you have to go product-led growth” and then the macroeconomic situation shifted and I think a lot of companies were not prepared for that. I get.. some of the RevOps people I’ve talked to say the challenge that they’re seeing is that their company tried to go all-in on this and then realize like, “oh no, we actually do need a sales led motion. How do we support that now?”. Have you seen any of that?

Stuart: Yeah, I mean I think it’s hard to… I think it’s much, much easier to start out in one motion or the other. I think it’s much, much harder to make a wholesale switch later because it is not as simple as “we’re going to switch our go-to market” and say in an exec meeting, “hey, we’re not going to be sales-led anymore. We’re going to be product-led”. That has implications everywhere. So I think that, and especially for Ops folks, dealing with the downstream effects of what that means. And so I think that it certainly… I think there are certainly more folks trying to figure out “how do I handle both?”, “how do I optimize and make both motions efficient”, in tooling, in companies and situations that weren’t necessarily designed from the start to handle both. I think that’s sort of where the challenge comes in is “what are the decisions that you’ve made because you were in one lane that now are either suboptimal or in some cases entirely the opposite of what the decision you would actually want to make now?”, and obviously the more complex the system, the harder those things are too to untangle.

Mark: Yeah, definitely. I feel like the lessons I’ve learned are that you have to be proactive and not reactive on strategy. You can’t just shift with the changing winds because winds are very fickle. 

I want to shift gears a little bit and maybe get a little bit of your point-of-view of things of how the world that we inhabit has been shifting, some of the trends that you’re seeing from the Ops perspective, from the HubSpot ecosystem perspective, things that are, kind of, maybe had started before Inbound and have increased any sort of observations that you have around the current state of play.

Stuart: Yeah, I mean I think we’re continuing to see, and we’ve certainly been seeing this for probably the last year, certainly the last six to nine months, of folks looking to consolidate more of that process in a single tool versus  cobbling together integrations and disparate sources of information. So I think we’ve certainly seen more of a desire to do that. I think that HubSpot’s… product-wise is, and it’s certainly ecosystem-wise, there are more folks who are helping make that more possible, and I think that that is the implication of that I think is that we are, and hopefully at Arrows, we sort of made this bet to go allin on HubSpot 18 months ago, and I think the bet that we made was that more people will want to have a CRM-centric approach because of the benefits of not having disparate tools, you have a sort of more reliable source-of-truth, you have transparency and access to shared context across teams. And we sort-of made that bet early and built the product around that approach that, ‘yes, there are pieces of the product that exist outside of HubSpot’, ‘there are things that will need to happen outside of HubSpot’, but ultimately everything needs to feed back to HubSpot and enable the workflow that starts, or at least the operational process that is managed on the HubSpot side, and I think that we are starting to see more and more integrations, more and more tools taking a more similar, or a similar approach and the depth of integration that we’re starting to see, and not just in our category but across the board is improving, and HubSpot is… I think the days of ‘check the box, we have a HubSpot integration’ or ‘CRM integration’ and it’s just a sort of one-way data connection that does this one little thing and doesn’t actually give you context on either side, it just sort of facilitates one thing’ it’s going to be challenging if that’s the state of an integration, to sort of keep up with what best-in-class looks like.

And I think HubSpot,certainly one of the big things that all the solutions partners are raving about is the customizable UI components. HubSpot is certainly, and we’ll see how quickly that comes to public apps, but certainly making moves to make it more possible to build more natively-integrated solutions. So I think that’s sort of the big trend, I think, is that more and more teams are trying to move, trying to take a more CRM- or HubSpot-centric approach, and that means that the level of integration isn’t just ‘integrate this’ or ‘make the data connect’, it’s actually the workflow and the context around the data that’s important.

Mark: So yeah, I agree. I definitely see this. I think that there’s a lot of consolidation going on. I think that there was a time where every small part of the company wanted their own best-in-class thing and figure it out later, and that’s changed. I’m interested in your thought about why that is. Is it a budget thing or, there’s more pressure on having… people took stock of the massive amount of different tools they had and realized ‘we got to cut this down’? Or is it something else? What do you think it is?

Stuart: I think it’s two things. I think it’s one… is the, not necessarily the total spend question, but more so that companies have a lot of tools that ultimately the more tools you have, the more tools you have to adopt, the more tools you have to train teams on, the more processes you have to keep up-to-date. They’re just sort of the breadth and overhead of having a more disparate stack I think is challenging, and ultimately we’ve seen, especially in the last year, the rise of the, I don’t know that this is necessarily new, it’s probably always been true, but maybe the degree to which it’s been true has changed, but the rise of the CFO as a decision-maker in purchase decisions, and if… the more tools that you have, or that you’re partially adopting or partially utilizing, it’s just more tools that are easy for the CFO to cut because it’s hard to make a case for a tool that you’re not using. So I think that, that’s part of it is on the budget side and on the stack side is ‘how do we make sure that we’re getting the most out of what we’re actually paying for?’, ‘why are we duplicating functionality or using only parts of things that one tool could do?’. But on the other side, I think the customer journey and the expectation of the experience for a customer has changed. The things that work in go-to-market today are connected, holistic experiences that actually consider the customer at all stages of the journey, and in order to deliver that, you need context for everybody who’s interacting with the customer. You need a shared understanding of where they’re trying to get to, where they’ve been. And it’s just much, much harder to achieve that if you have disparate data, if you have disparate tooling, as opposed to one centralized place where you can keep track of that, and make sure that everybody has context. So I think, and obviously you can do it in disparate solutions, there are ways, but I think the increase in expectation and the overhead of maintaining… of meeting that expectation is much higher if you are trying to maintain many more systems than one.

Mark: Yeah, I agree. And I think that that actually goes to the RevOps role. Someone-in-that-role’s benefit, right? I mean, I think there’s even more of a desire to make sure that you have that connected customer, the single source-of-truth and make sure that that data is being passed and is correct. And even further down through, not just the sales process, but revenue and revenue-recognition and upselling, cross-selling and all that stuff and ensuring all that data is correct because it all works together.

Stuart: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that is the biggest, I mean, I obviously have sampling bias here, we’re a post-sale tool on HubSpot, but I think that that is a… sort of, in line with that connected customer experience, is that it’s no longer “we closed the deal, great things are done, let’s move on to the next customer and close another deal”. The impact of recurring revenue, the impact of expansion, the impact of retention is top-of-mind for everybody in a revenue role. So having tooling that supports that entire life cycle is critical and disconnecting sale and everything else is challenging to maintain or reach the goals and the growth metrics that everybody’s looking for.

Mark: Yeah, I think that we’re in an era where the net revenue retention KPI becomes even more critical than net new customer acquisition, especially now, especially with CFOs, like you said, having an even more important role and it being harder to get a new customer. How do you squeeze as much juice out of existing customers as you can without losing ’em? I think that becomes increasingly more important as we go forward.

Stuart: And I think sort of on that note too, that the revenue or revenue-retention and ultimately expansion, is net revenue retention that’s positive is not just a selling thing. It’s not, “oh, we sold this customer at this price. How do we sell ’em at a higher price next time?”. The impact of having more financial decision-makers in deals isn’t just true in the first sale, it’s true in renewals, it’s true in everything. And unless you can start to prove the value of the investment, it becomes much, much harder to have a renewal conversation when there’s so many options, and that’s sort of to the point about how do you make sure that you have data, you have a process that supports every stage of the life cycle? If you don’t close the renewal, somebody else will close an initial sale with the same customer.

Mark: Yeah, I think it’s going to be, to me, that’s kind of the trend that continues and I think that companies that accept that are the ones that are going to do well. As we wrap up, I just want to give you the opportunity to tell the folks at home how they can find out more about you, about Arrows, where the best place to check out your content is.

Stuart: Yeah, totally. So for me, LinkedIn is…. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn, a good mix I think, or hopefully of very tactical HubSpot, ‘steal this workflow’, ‘steal this…

Mark: Big fan of those

Stuart:…kind of content, and how to operationalize and scale customer onboarding. That’s sort of where the Arrows product fits in, we’re a collaborative customer-onboarding tool built specifically for teams that are running their process, as we’ve just talked about, across the life cycle on HubSpot. So is the place for that. And we also have all the ‘steal this’ templates, all that stuff is on the Arrow site, so step-by-step walkthroughs of everything. So those are sort of the two places, LinkedIn and

Mark: Awesome. Well Stuart, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us again and I look forward to post-Inbound 2024, we can have a conversation again about the changes that have happened since.

Stuart: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

Mark: Okay, bye.