HubSpot, one of the vendors we evaluate in the Marketing Automation and Social Software Technology research stream, recently witnessed a bizarre drama. The firm's Chief Marketing Officer was terminated, its VP of Content resigned, and the co-founder CEO was sanctioned by the board for violating the company’s code of conduct.
The company usually tom-toms its highly transparent organizational culture, but it has been coy about what transpired here. Apparently, all of this is in connection with a soon-to-be-published, bare-it-all book by an ex-employee.
What are the implications for you, the customer?
To be sure, the irregularities in question are not about fudging financials or accounting data. To that extent, there is no obvious impropriety.
But there are additional issues to consider.
HubSpot champions "inbound marketing," or the intersection of content marketing and pull marketing -- i.e., attracting customers to your brand/product based on the content that you create. The CMO of HubSpot is highly regarded in the industry and is generally considered to be instrumental in positioning HubSpot as the prime case study for successful inbound marketing. Now, the clouded circumstances surrounding the CMO's exit rob some sheen off the company's exterior.
You have to keep in mind that successful content marketing is not just about marketing software. In fact, it is more about content. To be successful with inbound marketing of the type HubSpot evangelizes, you need to be able to create content that is useful and engaging to customers on a continuous basis.
Needless to say, this is not very easy to execute. I think it is reasonable to ask whether the main architects of HubSpot's content marketing program want some critical light shed on at least some internal aspects of that program: how much of it is really steak and how much of it is sizzle? Note that I am just talking about the content marketing program here -- not other aspects of the company or the product. The takeaway here is do not underestimate the effort required to taste success in content marketing.
More than this controversy, HubSpot is going to face greater challenges in the future as it tries to turn a corner on profitability. The HubSpot journey so far has followed the now-very-familiar playbook of technology startups: chase rapid growth at the cost of profitability. For instance, in the first 6 months of 2015, HubSpot incurred a net loss of $22 million on revenues of $81 million (numbers rounded). But as the example of high-flying technology company Jive shows, that path to profitability can be long and tortuous.
When a public company strives for profitability, the customers can get bombarded with upsell and cross-sell sales tactics, which (if nothing else) can be very irksome. Smart customer executives are those who are immune to such siren songs and do not overbuy technology they do not need.
HubSpot the Technology
As to the HubSpot product itself: In our marketing technology evaluations research, we highlight the use cases for which HubSpot is suitable and the use cases for which it is a misfit. The current goings-on at the company do not fundamentally change this reality. As a potential customer, just remember that tools such as HubSpot play an enabling role -- not the starring role -- in your content marketing success.