HubSpot has built their reputation on creating some of the best marketing content available online. They turn out an impressive stream of blog posts, white papers, ebooks and infographics, and most of it is excellent. Quality content is the core of HubSpot’s approach to “Inbound Marketing”—which means attracting prospects to come to you instead of hounding them through advertising, telemarketing and spam.
I was surprised to discover that HubSpot’s online reputation for sales and fulfillment is not as good as its reputation for content. Google “HubSpot reviews” and the number one hit is an independent review? that has attracted a pretty good rap session of negative customer experiences. What I find interesting about the comments is not the complaints about the product—every company has good and bad days satisfying customers—but? the complaints about the sales process.
The story that several HubSpot customers and prospects tell is that once they were attracted as an inbound lead, they were handed over to a high-pressure and highly scripted inside sales process.
“My impression of the one salesperson i spoke with was a robot with a nearly human interface. Each statement was crafted, and she refused to move from her roadmap. She was audibly upset if I did not answer her leading questions exactly as expected.”
“The aggressive and robotic tactics that frequently slip through the fingers of quality control are product of habit and frustration—they can just go to the next call and seal the deal with someone who will cooperate.”
“You should plan to dedicate huge amounts of time and energy to configuring and maintaining Hubspot. You will also find their Sales and Legal teams to be remarkably efficient when you try to stop using their platform.”
The second hit for “HubSpot reviews” on Google is from the employment site Glassdoor, where former employees also talk about the sales process, and list their gripes:
“Not really selling, just following up with leads. Reading off scripts while a manager IM’s you on what to say.Very degrading managers and directors. Extremely high turnover in sales.”
“With a company so driven toward success, it became apparent that the numbers were more important than the people. So in order to succeed at HubSpot you must constantly succeed or live in fear that you will soon be replaced.”
What’s compelling about these reviews is that together they tell the same story, from different angles. Some customers and some sales reps are alienated by a sales process they both describe as pressured and robotic. But that’s certainly not the whole story. HubSpot gets plenty of great reviews from former employees as well as customers who swear by them, and they have explosive revenue growth to speak for the effectiveness of their approach. If HubSpot’s software could get me the kind of numbers they’re posting, I’d sign up in a heartbeat.
There are two ways to look at the negative reviews. Either they represent a segment that just isn’t a good fit for their offering or they signal a problem with the system that needs to be fixed. In reality the difference may only be a matter of time. HubSpot has raised $65M in venture capital and is certainly running against the clock to perform for investors. They have to scale, and they have to scale fast. Sales must be constantly closing and they need a constant supply of ready leads. Obviously their system works—they’re reporting $50M revenue, 82% growth for 2012. The strategic question is: How quickly are they likely to tap out the supply of “good fit” prospects and start needing the kinds of prospects their process is alienating?
That question might be guessed at by comparing the volume of negative reviews to positive reviews, but that’s a challenge with HubSpot. True to their strategic focus on inbound marketing, they seem to use all the tricks in the book to shape their online reputation. Among other things, they seem to have some kind of relationship with partners that helps generate positive reviews. If you search on the names of the reviewers, you’ll find that a large proportion of the 4 and 5 star reviews were submitted by HubSpot resellers, not impartial customers.? One reseller has earned prime search positioning with a post titled “The #1 Reason HubSpot Fails”? in which he praises every aspect of HubSpot’s delivery, and lays any failure at the feet of HubSpot customers for not writing sufficiently good content. Even Wikipedia’s entry for HubSpot warns that the content is probably gamed.
None of this is inconsistent with how? HubSpot positions itself. HubSpot is about leveraging content that gets people to raise their hand as an actionable lead, and they use every tactic possible to achieve that end. Through the lens of the kind of data we look at, what they’re doing is actually pretty impressive. The question is whether it’s sustainable.? The negative HubSpot reviews are clearly a signal that should be carefully tracked.? Maybe the “good fit” prospects and happy customers vastly outnumber the naysayers. But a naysayer story is emerging, right there on the first page of Google results for “HubSpot reviews”, and it raises the concern that the main improvement Inbound Marketing represents over spam is the efficiency of luring prospects into the sales grinder instead of chasing them. That’s not the spin HubSpot wants on the Inbound Marketing story.
I wonder how much it would really take for HubSpot to change this story—not through content strategy, but operations. Clearly they are masters at focusing on their value proposition, which is all about getting people to the door with great content. If they can make customers feel as good about the sales process as they do about the content that brought them in, who can doubt they wouldn’t influence sales the same way they have influenced marketing?