It’s Not About the Tool…


How often have you heard someone talk about the latest tech tool they’re using for their organization? They say something like… “You gotta check this out. It’s so cool. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.” Sometimes you’re intrigued. Sometimes you roll your eyes.

Well, at the ASAE Tech show this past week, the shiny new tool was Hubspot. As a Hubspot user I was stoked to hear the tool mentioned so often. But at the same time I was a little surprised, if not a little disappointed. Picture me as Jan Brady saying “Hubspot, Hubspot, Hubspot!” Well, maybe not…but you get the idea.

Why am I disappointed you ask?

Because it’s not about the tool. It’s about the methodology. It’s about driving change through updated marketing practices better aligned with the digital age. Bringing in a new tool won’t guarantee your success. But making the right changes to your organization may.

Let’s get into it a little more.

Hubspot, the company, originally developed its software in 2006. Co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah have evangelized the inbound marketing methodology ever since – most notably in their book Inbound Marketing, Revised and Updated: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers Online.

Hubspot is an excellent tool but it’s the inbound marketing methodology that really makes a difference. And when you combine the tool and the methodology you create magic. To learn more about the inbound methodology check out my post The Biggest Problem with Association Marketing and How You Can Fix It.

For example, when I was the VP of Marketing & Content at the Electronic Retailing Association, we signed up for Hubspot and started using the tool. We initially saw it as a way to automate our marketing efforts. You know, create if/then logic to our outbound spray and pray emails. Boy were we wrong.

Here are the impacts of embracing the inbound methodology:

  • Attract – we learned how to use search engine optimization (SEO), keywords, blogging and social media to attract visitors to our website. We developed buyer personas and created content that solved problems for our prospects and members. The blog was our foundation with the editorial strategy and calendar our roadmap (see my post Your Blog as a Pillar of Inbound Marketing).
  • Convert – we next focused on converting website visitors to leads through calls-to-action (CTAs), forms and landing pages. We adopted the Always Be Subscribing (ABS) strategy including specific opt-in tactics to increase subscribers and, in turn, conversions and blog readership.
  • Close – we implemented lead nurturing activities including workflows, email and presenting the right content at the right time.

What organizational change happened as a result?

  1. Team Turnaround – we re-organized our team adding a content lead and a technical lead to complement our marketing manager.
  2. Process Prod – we abandoned (mostly) outbound yell and sell marketing tactics and processes in favor of digital marketing best practices.
  3. Direct Mail Ditch – we stopped sending direct mail. Done. Nuff said. (Yes, I know in advance this will really annoy some backward-focused association marketers but please re-think your strategy, now!).
  4. Budget Breakthrough – we saved a lot of Benjamins. We decreased our spend on expensive print creative and re-allocated budget to paid social media. Inbound marketing is more efficient than outbound marketing. Yup. Yes, it is.

It wasn’t until we embraced and absorbed the inbound marketing methodology that our organization changed for the better. The methodology, not the tool, led to dramatic changes in people, processes, and budgets.

So the next time someone starts blathering on about Hubspot (or any other shiny new tool) ask them if it’s the tool or the underlying methodology that will drive change in their organization.


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  • westrochlil ,

    Dave, kudos to you for incorporating Marcia, Marcia, Marcia into your blog post! I used this clip at a preso several years ago and I’m pretty sure 1/3 of the audience didn’t know who the Brady Bunch was!

    Oh, and good post, too!

  • Dave Martin ,

    Wes, that’s hysterical. I wondered if that might be the case and you’ve clarified it. 😉 Thanks for the feedback too!

  • Erik Schonher ,

    My only issue with this is believing that you can “ditch” any channel. In the ’80’s everyone said that vinyl records were “dead” and come the ’90’s everyone said “print was dead.” Yet, here we are, 2015, and vinyl records are making a comeback and i still see newsletters, books and magazines on newsstands. Don’t let arrogance drive your business and how you communicate with your customers. I believe that our job is to identify our markets and then communicate with them in a manner that THEY want to communicate in. That’s not to say that we don’t look forward and embrace new technology and the development of new channels, but it also doesn’t mean that we “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” And, BTW, LOVED THE BRADY BUNCH!! “Here’s a story, about a man named Brady…” (c’mon, you know the words). Have a very merry Brady Holiday!!

  • sigvandamme ,

    Dave – great post. I think the natural tendency is to throw technology at an issue. Hubspot is indeed a great tool but without great content it will not provide the inbound traffic desired. Technology is usually part of the solution but the softer side is just as important. I will second Wes on the Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

  • Dave Martin ,

    Erik – thank you for your feedback. You have a good point. In the end, we need to understand our audience (and our buyers) and how they consume information. The fact that print is very difficult to measure the impact of is problematic. It is also VERY expensive compared to inbound marketing practices. So it’s fascinating when you can free up $$ to put toward vehicles that are easier to track. Print is also outbound and interruption-based versus inbound which presents info to the buyer when they are ready for it. So when you combine this with the cost savings it’s a win-win.

  • Dave Martin ,

    Sig – thanks for the great feedback! I’m just reading your Dead Horse blog post at the moment which I found through LinkedIn Pulse. Nice use of inbound techniques so that I found you instead of you spamming me!

  • sigvandamme ,

    Dave – how’s this for a inboundmartech blog future topic: your thoughts on LinkedIn Pulse. I would love to get your take on that and best practices from both an individual and organizational level.

  • Dave Martin ,

    So one thing I noticed is that the Dead Horse post is not on your Nimble blog – best practices say to be careful putting content on properties you don’t own (since LinkedIn could kill that overnight and your content would be gone – you also don;t get the SEO from it). So I would post it twice: once on Pulse and once on the Nimble blog…

  • sigvandamme ,

    Dave – that has been our strategy so far with LinkedIn Pulse (publish first on the either the NimbleUser or Nimble AMS blog and then cross post to Pulse). The Dead Horse blog for instance is here:!/.

    I do think Pulse, Medium and the like are interesting Inbound plays but, as you alluded, the risk is that they shutter it and all of your content is gone. The advantages I can see is easier consumption, greater exposure, it is another channel, and it is free. The biggest disadvantages I can see are the previously mentioned risk, dual entry, inability to segment audience (although in most cases you network is represented by a smaller set of personas) by persona, and the SEO credits LinkedIn versus your property.

  • Dave Martin ,

    Sig – interesting. I assumed the post was from today so looked on the NimbleAMS blog and didn’t see it. Interesting because the content of the post is “evergreen” so can be repurposed at later dates on other platforms. Nice!

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