Dharmesh Shah seeks to improve inbound marketing in a high-tech world

All this week, CoxBLUE will be blogging live from Hubspot’s Inbound 13 Conference in Boston.

Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot, remembers that not long ago, he lived in the dark ages.

“Once upon a time, way back when, we had these things called ‘phones,'” Shah said, speaking at the 2013 Inbound Marketing Conference in Boston. “When we dialed a number on these phones, there was this little spinny thing on the phone called a ‘dial.’ When we said ‘dial a number,’ back then, that was what we meant. Buttons hadn’t been invented yet.”

It was a different time, and that being the case, we didn’t have nearly the same degree of access to information that we have now. Marketing was an entirely different endeavor – if people wanted to learn more about a product or a brand, they had to go out of their way to dig for information. It’s not like that anymore.

“Back then, when we were looking for something, we meandered through a dark, scary place called the Internet looking for that thing,” Shah said. “That was then. Now we have Google – the answer to every single question we can possibly ask. Back then, we were disconnected, and we felt isolated and alone in this big, dark world. Now we have Facebook.”

In this new, interconnected world, marketing is a more challenging endeavor. People are smarter and have more discriminating tastes, so inbound marketers must step up their game to keep pace.

Marketing is not the answer
Shah explained that in this new, empowered era, consumers are three things.

First, they’re informed. All the knowledge they could ever want is at their fingertips.

Second, they’re in touch. Thanks to the social media tools at their disposal, people can communicate ideas with one another within seconds.

Third, people are in charge. They have so many options facing them every day – different products, different services, different tech solutions – and they have the right to make their own choices.

Given all of these truths about people today, the HubSpot co-founder arrived at one big insight: Inbound marketing is not the answer. At least not in and of itself.

“It cannot just be about delivering an awesome marketing experience,” Shah explained. “It cannot just be about that. It must also be about the inbound experience. The inbound experience is the end-to-end, human-focused experience. It’s about every touchpoint with a customer – making that entire thing, the entire experience, awesome.”

That’s why Shah recommends reimagining the complete customer experience, scrapping what companies think they know about marketing. Rather than working from one rigid, predetermined strategy, he recommends putting people at the center, listening to their desires and letting them call the shots. That’s what “inbound” really means.

That includes inbound marketing. Rather than bombarding people with unwanted phone calls, marketers can cater to people’s needs by making it easy for them to access information when they choose. Shah pointed out that 5.1 billion searches are happening on Google every day, and yet so many businesses are still practically invisible online. Almost as egregious, some are accessible, but their websites are “mobile-hostile” rather than mobile-friendly.

There’s also the matter of inbound sales. The rigid progression that some salespeople follow – make a cold call on day one, introduce special features on day three, talk about pricing on day five – doesn’t work. Rather than follow rules, salespeople should try to deliver an exceptional buying experience for any customer.

Finally, Shah hopes for companies to improve in the area of inbound service. Rather than focusing on the lifetime value of business-to-business clients, they should instead emphasize the value of people. If an individual person falls in love with a brand, they’ll tell everyone – their spouse, their friends, their colleagues and their dog.

That’s why the goal these days isn’t just customer satisfaction – it’s what Shah and his team at HubSpot call customer “delightion.”

“That’s not a real word,” Shah admitted. “But it should be.”