President & CCO Ethan Whitehill sits down with Brian Bresee, HubSpot’s Director of Sales for its North America Solutions Partner Program. Brian shares insights on utilizing HubSpot to grow your business, marketing and sales automation, 2023 technology trends and more!
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Ethan Whitehill: I am Ethan Whitehill, President, and Chief Creative Officer at Crux. This is “To The Point,” a brand-new podcast by Crux, the un-agency that fuels business growth by elevating brands and amplifying missions. My guest today is Brian Bresee, Director of Sales North America Partner Program at HubSpot. If you’re familiar with HubSpot, then you know this is a company that has led the charge in marketing, technology, CRM, and customer data for many years. Brian has been a big part of that effort for the last at least 12 years, correct?
Brian Bresee: That’s correct.
Ethan Whitehill: Brian, welcome to our podcast.
Brian Bresee: Ethan, thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to join you today.
Ethan Whitehill: Why don’t we start at the beginning of your story. Where did you get your start and how did you find yourself at HubSpot?
Brian Bresee: So, it’s a funny story. I started at HubSpot right out of college, you’re correct, about 12 years ago. And I got connected to HubSpot as an intern in recruiting through a professor of mine in entrepreneurship at Tufts University. I had been in entrepreneurship and asked him sort of like, where should I look?
Since he was a mentor of mine and he said, there’s only one place you should work: It’s HubSpot. I’ll connect you tomorrow and figure out how to get a job there. I spent a couple months in recruiting, started in sales very quickly, and I’ve spent the past 10 years or so in the partner channel as an individual contributor, a sales manager, and over the past three years, director leading about half of the North America Solutions partner division.
Ethan Whitehill: So you, really caught a ride on the rocket ship
Brian Bresee: It’s funny to look back on it and say, wow, we were 175 employees and today we have 7,000. And to go from a couple thousand customers to 170,000. It always feels a little bit surreal when you paint the numbers. It’s been a fun ride.
Ethan Whitehill: Unbelievable. So, for folks who may not be familiar with HubSpot, can you describe HubSpot to.
Brian Bresee: so HubSpot is, we call ourselves the number one CRM for scaling businesses, right? HubSpot is essentially front office software, marketing, sales, customer service. We help you to connect with your customer, where they show up online, bring them into your website, attract, engage, and delight your best prospects.
It’s an essentially a software platform that you can use to run any piece of your front office, bring in leads convert those leads into sales. And make them super happy customers.
Ethan Whitehill: HubSpot originally started as an inbound tool in 2006, and you and I had a little conversation before this talking about the difference between a funnel and a flywheel, and I think HubSpot has completely evolved since that time.
So, maybe tell us a little bit about the change in the platform.
Brian Bresee: Yeah, it’s funny. Flywheel is maybe a little bit more difficult of a concept to land as you’re explaining to people, but I always think of like a pottery wheel, right? A type of flywheel is when you press down your foot on the pedal on a flywheel or a pottery wheel, it spins that pottery wheel, and when you stop pressing it, it’ll keep spinning.
There’s some momentum in that flywheel. And the reason we shifted from funnels to flywheels is when I started HubSpot, we are a marketing tool. We helped people get people to their website. We helped to convert those visitors into leads. We helped you turn those leads into customers. And the problem with a funnel approach is that the funnel thinks about, okay, how do I get these people to come to my website that don’t know me, these strangers, how do I turn them into leads?
How do I get those leads to ultimately become customers? But that’s not how businesses grow in 2022. So, what we found. So, what we found as we expanded into marketing, sales, customer service, and, and especially as we talked to a lot of our customers to see how their businesses were growing is that it’s not just a one-way cycle, right?
Like you don’t get strangers, turn them into customers, and then you’re done. This is like a virtuous cycle that has momentum. So, if you think about that pedal of the pottery wheel as something that starts it to spin. The more energy you put into that flywheel, the more momentum it gains, the faster and faster it’ll go.
And that has some half-life. Think about spinning your flywheel as something that you put energy in, and there are forces which make the flywheel spin faster and frictions that can slow your flywheel down or restrict your business’ growth. And we think that analogy of like you’re not just attracting customers, converting them, and then having them become customers and do nothing with you.
Your customers, a lot of times, are your biggest drivers of additional traffic leads and customers. So that’s the flywheel, that you’re going to attract, engage, and delight your customers, and by delighting your customers, they’re going to refer you more business. They become your best-case studies, they become your best advocates in the market and help your business grow even faster.
So that speaks to another critical piece of this, and that’s the relationship between sales and market and how most companies approach it. You know, there’s brand and demand; there’s sales and marketing. A lot of times they’re siloed and rather than isolation though the HubSpot approach is, is integration.
It’s bringing these things together, correct? Yeah, that’s right. A lot, a lot of companies think of the disciplines as independent, and the reality is, if. I’m a prospect or a customer of yours, and I interact with your marketing, and I download something off your website, I speak to someone via live chat.
At the point that I talk to your salesperson, like I want them to know the context. I want them to know that I’ve engaged on product A, not product C, D, and E. And then I’ve asked these three questions. And so, when you think about marketing as being in isolation, or sales as being in isolation, your kind of putting like work on your customer, you’re making your customer own.
The fact that you have different touchpoints that don’t know about each other, and that’s frustrating. Nothing makes my blood boil faster than getting on a customer service call with, I don’t know. Let’s say a nameless, large telecom provider, it takes me four bumps until I can get to a human being, and I explain my problem three, four different times.
Better is that your marketing, your sales, and your customer service has context to the individual and that you’re responding to who they are and where they are in the cycle. And that takes a huge degree of integration and cooperation, which makes perfect sense.
Ethan Whitehill: We live our life, not just moment to moment, but it’s kind of a continuous circle.
So why shouldn’t that experience be connected? Thinking about your customers, not just your customers’ customers, but your customer. What are the right types of companies for HubSpot? Like who would be the perfect HubSpot user?
Brian Bresee: Yeah, HubSpot works with companies across all walks of life.
We have 170,000 customers in something like 150 countries across the globe. They span from sole entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies. But if you think about something like the sweet spot for HubSpot, it tends to be companies that care about attracting leads, right? They have a concept of a lead and there’s some sort of considered purchase, right?
There’s an educational buy-in there for many of these companies, right? HubSpot’s tools help you build content and help you engage your best prospects by helping and educating them. So, we tend to work with companies that have this concept of a lead and a considered purchase, and they tend to be in what you would refer to as like SMB or mid-market space primarily today.
Ethan Whitehill: That makes sense. Do you see a pivotal moment where the light bulb comes on and it’s like, HubSpot would be a great solution?
Brian Bresee: You know, that’s an interesting question. I think I’ll answer this question by going back in time. If I go back like 10 years ago when I first started selling, you had a recognition from folks that they needed to do marketing online. You had folks starting to think about like, I need to generate traffic and leads to my website and that my website is this super important asset that I need to leverage. And over the past few years we kind of talk about these differences in sophistication. You have people that were not doing any sort of inbound at all, not doing any sort of marketing for their site. You had folks that were trying, but like not quite seeing the results. And they had these sophisticated marketers that were using a whole bunch of different tools. And I think today what we see more of, it’s certainly not everybody, you still run into companies that don’t have any CRM whatsoever in many of them.
But we see more of is there are a lot of companies that are like trying to stitch this tech stack together, with bubblegum and duct tape– like they’ve got 15 different point solutions. Six of them are free tools and it’s kind of this hacky kluge that we try and make, translate into a tool that we can use for our team.
And the impact is every different tool is using different reporting and different metrics in different languages. So, you dump this thing out to Excel and some poor analyst must spend like 30 hours torturing it to try and figure out any insights. It’s hard to run your business off that clue.
When I think about like we, we refer to that as like a Franken-spot, right? Like this orally tied together instead of systems. And when I think about that from the perspective of like when does someone say, hey, I need CRM. I think there’s kind of a broad-based recognition among companies that they need some system of record.
I think the bigger question that we hear a lot is like, how do I get this to work? Like, how do I make it easy? How do I make it powerful? How do I know if it’s working and what is the set of tools that are going into strategy that are going to get me from where I am today to like the growth targets and where we’re trying to go.
Ethan Whitehill: Yeah. It’s a little bit of the, I know 50% of my marketing is working, I just don’t know which 50%. Right?
Brian Bresee: Yeah. Famous that, that’s John. Wait a minute, wait a minute. Wannamaker. Yeah.
Ethan Whitehill: Knowing that you’re simplifying it by bringing all these things together, so you have that visibility in the analytics across, all your marketing.
HubSpot continues to add capability. And what are some of those new capabilities that you’re excited about? I know there’s a few of you just released this fall, correct?
Brian Bresee: So, the one I’m most excited about from our inbound conference. Every marketer I’ve ever spoken to is trying to figure out, how do I better justify my value?
Every company and every CEO I’ve ever talked to is trying to figure out what is it that I’m doing? What is it that our company’s doing that’s providing value, that’s delivering results and providing value, that’s delivering results? And how do we do more of that and less of the stuff that’s not necessarily impacting results.
So, we’ve launched this cool new tool called Customer Journey Analytics. And what it lets you do is understand what the touchpoints in a buyer’s journey in a graphical format are that are resulting in a sale. And why is that so important in 2022? Well, people don’t come to your website and download an early-stage informational offer and then come and engage with your sales team and just buy; like people bounce in and out of your website and through different points of interaction.
And it’s not a straight line. So, being able to understand like what are the things that are implicated in that sale and how do they influence that sale? I think it’s totally game changing, and I’m super pumped about it.
The idea is to create some predictability, but obviously there’s a lot of uncertainty in, the last couple years if they’ve taught us anything, is we don’t know anything and you know, we don’t know what’s going to happen next. How has HubSpot alleviated some of those concerns? You know, sort of the uncertainty of the last few years and even the future as we look at the economy ahead of us.
Yeah. On a personal note, so when Covid happened, I had just stepped into a director role. So, moving from managing 10 people to responsibility for about half of the division. And my boss had gone on her maternity leave about a week before Covid happened. It was a very scary time for me, personally, because I was in a span of responsibility that was like 10 x what I was working on before brand new to the job, and the world fell apart in March of 2020.A couple of things put us in a spot where we were able to be resilient to some of the changes that Covid brought. And then I think there were some tailwinds for us, which we’ll talk about in a moment, but in March of 2020, we had started to lean into remote hiring for our partner sales team back in 2017, 2018, 2019. So, by 2020, about 40% of our team was already fully remote, which made that transition not easy, but like a little easier to send the rest of the team home. And then we had this core of people who already kind of knew what it was like to work from home and could help us to build culture– like we’d already invested in some of those muscles.
So, it is a little bit of a smoother transition. We had some tailwinds and then, basically as soon as the Covid shock wore off, everyone started to look at their marketing and saying, okay, we can’t do trade shows. We can’t put our field salespeople on site. For HubSpot, we had this wave of demand as folks were saying, okay, we have to figure out how to enable our sales teams to better connect and engage online.
We must better invest in marketing and we’re taking these trade dollars and putting it there. So that was positive. One thing that I think was hard and is hard for a lot of companies that I talked to is how do you, when you’ve moved to this fully remote world, and even today, we don’t have the same footprint in our offices that we used to.
It’s like, how do you keep people really engaged? How do you make sure people feel connection to the community, the mission, the vision for the future of the company and, and just feel really tied in like a lot of sales leaders I talked to sort of lament this loss of like the over the shoulder moment where you have a bunch of people in a call center that are learning from each other.
They can hear each other on the phone, they can shadow, they can pick up lines and use them and be very adaptive and quick. And there’s energy to that. Like there’s energy to having a team kind of all dialing together as you’re working in inside sales. So that lack is something that you must fill and do it very intentionally.
One would be instead of having folks come in as new hires and letting them meet other folks within the company, you say, “youryour part of your job is to have a weekly chat with someone on the team, like grab 15, 30 minutes, or you’re grabbing coffee, you’re getting to know them. Bring like three to four questions. Bring some things that you bring to the company from your previous role and see if you can just get to know each other a little bit and maybe do a bit of knowledge share.” Like that motion of consistent connection tends to be important. I think everybody found out that virtual happy hours were the worst idea within about six months of Covid happening.
Ethan Whitehill: Amen.
Brian Bresee: Right? Like we’re all done with Zoom. Moving those types of events to be more tactile, like cooking or having someone teach something or bringing cultural heritage, like, and pushing those into the workday so that we’re not adding weight, we’re making it something that, is over lunch, a little bit lighter.
We have a team called the Culture Squad that builds fun events, and they do stuff like all our sales teams have a family feud once a year where they, they fight it out to see which team wins the crown as the, the top Family Feud contestant. Stuff like that has been helpful to like, make it fun and engaging, but still to kind of respect some of the changes and weight that too much Zoom bring.
Ethan Whitehill: So how does that culture bleed into your service, you know, how does that culture come through when you’re working with HubSpot clients?
Brian Bresee: There’s a couple of things we think about with connecting with clients. So, we, we have a relatively cheesy, but I think it’s helpful to have this, HEART acronym, which stands for:
Humble, empathetic, adaptable, remarkable, and transparent. And that’s the code that everybody wants to live by at HubSpot and, a little cheesy, but what’s nice about it is it, it kind of sets the values that we care about. So, we want folks that aren’t jerks to their coworkers. That’s something we proactively screen for when we’re hiring is that they’re going to be good teammates.
Because I’ll take someone who’s an A player, but a fantastic teammate over the A plus like most brilliant person in the field who’s like awful to work with 11 out of 10 times. And I think that that’s something that HubSpot’s been very intentional about. That idea of heart bleeds into how we work with our customers, our prospects, and our partners in that.
We’re sort of mission focused around, like we want to help companies grow better and help them achieve their goals. And that’s something that if you’re just looking at marketing software on the face of it, it could be like, okay, blogging software. How interesting is that? But if you’re working in the partner channel, like you may work with.
A marketing agency who can, one, create these incredible outcomes for their customers and help the customers scale their business. And by way of helping their customers to scale their business, they’re making this giant impact on their boutique marketing agency and able to save for their kids’ college, employ a bunch of people in their area.
You get these really cool over 10, 12 years of doing this, you get these really cool stories of of impact that growth drives. I think that that combination of like heart and the grow better message or things that, that people hear all the time inside HubSpot’s walls, and it really shapes how they try to impact and interact with customers by being helpful.
That empathy, I think I would describe those values. That empathy that you show for your customers and really the, the mission to grow those businesses comes through in some of the other things that you all are doing. You recently conducted a survey that provided some great insights into the decision making of business leaders, especially as it relates. Talk to us about that.
Brian Bresee: We looked at about 1700 business leaders across essentially CRM decision makers. It was sales leaders, it was CEOs and executives across small, mid-size and larger companies. The interesting thing that we found, is as you dig into the data, like you’re starting to see some challenge and frustration across your average buyer, like folks are feeling like expenses are really too high. There’s this narrative around costs is just dramatically increasing to prospects and customers and companies are finding towards the back half of 2022 that they’re starting to feel slow. So, there is this narrative that we’re hearing from business decision makers that sort of matches some of the macro picture of, hey, things are getting like a little tougher.
We’re seeing some challenge and we’re starting to feel this friction in getting to our growth targets this year.
Ethan Whitehill: Yeah, I think that’s a common theme across even the business that we service, we hear that from a lot of small and medium. Growing companies and, you know, we’re there to help.
And, bringing tools like HubSpot to the table is part of the solution. We also like to look around the corner for them. And as you know, just in the spirit of doing that, what are some of the trends that you see, across the business landscape that are kind of emerging that our listeners should be aware of?
Brian Bresee: I think being sort of thoughtful about market development is important. So, the way in which you reach your customers, the way that you tell stories that connect with your customers, the way that you hone in on the ideal client profile.
I read a stat recently about it. Cold calling like you are a salesperson between 2008 and 2022, the number of touches to reach a prospect. A touch would be defined as like an email or a phone call or a voicemail or maybe a message on LinkedIn. The number of touches has doubled from 2008 to 2022.
If I was calling in 2008, it would take me an average of maybe 3.7 touches for someone to pick up the phone and respond. In 2022, we’re up over just over eight. So, what does that mean if I am thinking about growth? Well, it, it suggests that depth is important. We must be thoughtful about who we’re targeting and make sure that we’re working those leads, those prospects to depth.
But I also think it suggests that targeting is more important. Like today, we have more data than ever on who our best prospects are, and we have more tools than ever to sort of get those people to come to us, to engage with us and to capture their information, engage with them in the ways they want to be engaged with.
There’s a level of like execution excellence that I think is going to be important going into next year where it. You must nail the narrative and bring the right people in. You must get those people converted. You must not miss any shots in passing that lead, from marketing to sales and make sure that your salespeople are engaging in a way that is helpful, personalized, and tailors some sort of insight to that prospect. When I think about that from a macro context, I think that there’s a lot of opportunity for companies to build better process. If I talk to an average VP of sales, they’ll say that 40% of their salespeople don’t even touch the CRM. We know that there’s a lot of unused, like good lead information there.
And when you look at that data, it’s clear. A good chunk of salespeople aren’t calling to eight touches of depth, and what that means is there’s missed opportunity. I think a lot about like kind of these metrics and narratives that help companies to execute better being important going into next year is, and we see that play out with tools too.
Companies that have a lot of point solutions, as I talked about at the beginning, like they find that stitching. Together, stitching a story together can be really challenging. So, having a unified view, whether that’s HubSpot or some other platform, where you’re able to see everything that’s going on across your business is important because you need to be able to see, am I calling eight times?
Am I getting those leads passed effectively to sales? Are we following up once they become a customer and getting referrals back to our business or building case studies? Like there’s a level of process that doesn’t happen in the average business and when the top of the funnel starts to get a little tighter, like it’s harder to get in front of your prospects.
It’s harder to hit your sales targets, harder to find that growth. One of the biggest opportunities is in executing perfect on the demand you are generating. And I think that’s where a lot of people have upside.
Ethan Whitehill: I’m a big fan of alliteration. If I just summarized what you said, I would say it’s process, personalization, and precision, if I could say that.
Brian Bresee: Said a thousand times more succinctly than I.
Ethan Whitehill: That’s amazing. Now Brian, we’re going to turn the focus to you. I’m going to ask you one of my, my favorite 20 questions. I have a 20-sided die in my hand. I will roll this and whatever it comes up, that’s the question.
Which gets me this question, what’s the best thing you’ve read in the last five years?
Brian Bresee: I’ve read several books in the last five years. I don’t know if this is the best thing I’ve read, but I really liked the book and I thought it gave me some insights and challenge to my beliefs. The book is, the Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, and what I like about it is he talks about these really challenging moments in business.
It kind of feels like everything’s like there; there are sort of existential times in his business career and he’s open about places where he made mistakes or didn’t feel like he did his best. I liked it. I didn’t agree with all the decisions necessarily, but it challenged some perspectives I had on leadership and like the way that you would go about leading through crisis. I thought it was a really good read, and I highly recommend it.
Ethan Whitehill: I love that. Thank you for sharing. Brian, before we close, what’s the best way for someone to learn more about HubSpot?
Brian Bresee: Tons of good ways, so you can work with Ethan and team at Crux, you. You can go to hubspot.com and you can interact with us on live chat, request a demo and reach out to our team.
We are available in pretty much any which way you’d like to contact us to help you learn more.
Ethan Whitehill: Thank you, Brian, for joining.
Brian Bresee: Thanks so much for having me, Ethan.
Ethan Whitehill: This was an awesome “To The Point.” Appreciate your time. For more information about Crux, you can find email@example.com and on social at Find Your Crux.
Hosted by Ethan Whitehill
Ethan has made a career out of building agencies and growing brands. He founded the firm Two West in 1997, running it as an independent shop for nearly 20 years before combining his firm with an AdAge Top 100 Agency, where he served as CMO. As an agency founder and entrepreneur, Ethan brings a business owner’s mindset to marketing, working on a host of diverse brands, from packaged goods and professional services to hospitality and healthcare.