Episode No:38

The Art of Customer Success at HubSpot ft.

Jonathan Corbin

Global VP of CS and Strategy, HubSpot

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Ep#38: The Art of Customer
Success at HubSpot ft. Jonathan Corbin (Global VP of Customer Success and Strategy)
Ep#38: The Art of Customer Success at HubSpot ft. Jonathan Corbin (Global VP of Customer Success and Strategy)
  • Ep#38: The Art of Customer Success at HubSpot ft. Jonathan Corbin (Global VP of Customer Success and Strategy)

Episode Summary

Today on the show, we have Jonathan Corbin, Global VP of Customer Success at HubSpot, a Leading CRM Platform for Enterprise Companies. He started by sharing his journey from being an engineer to launching his own startup and then embarking on his career in customer success. He then walked us through how HubSpot has evolved over the years and the various strategies that the company has implemented to stay ahead of the competition. He also shared insights into their approach toward customer success and how they leverage their own platform to serve over 150,000 customers.
Key Takeaways Time
How Jonathan went from writing code to managing Customer Success 1:21
Customer Success at HubSpot 3:41
What led Jonathan to form his own startup 5:54
How HubSpot helped customers grow and continue their businesses during COVID 11:20
HubSpot as a platform – for marketing or for customer success? 19:27
Three types of customers HubSpot serves 23:36

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Jonathan Corbin 0:00 I think one of the significant differentiators for HubSpot is, first of all, we think holistically about the customer experience, and the platform that we built reflects that. Taylor Kenerson 0:14 Welcome to the Hyperengage Podcast. We are so happy to have you along our journey. Here, we uncover bits of knowledge from some of the greatest minds in tech. We unearth the hows, whys, and whats that drive the tech of today. Welcome to the movement. Adil Saleh 0:33 Hey, greetings, everybody. This is Adil from Hyperengage Podcast. I have my co-host, Taylor Kennerson, and a really special guest, Jonathan Corbin from HubSpot. Prior to that he’s been a part of the team at Marketo, leadership at Sprinklr, and he’s also been a part of mentor program at Techstars, which most of this- early stage SaaS businesses startups look up to and they want to get enrolled, so it’s going to be a real conversation. Thank you very much, Jonathan, for taking the time. So starting off, Jonathan, you know, seeing your background, where you started talking about Marketo, talking about Sprinklr, talking about even the bit of experience you had at Techstars, and then moving on transitioning into even a bigger platform like HubSpot, staying in customer success. What made you so much resilient throughout this time? Jonathan Corbin 1:21 You know what’s interesting, is I started my career as an engineer, so I was writing code. And then I progressed through a couple of different areas of, kind of go-to-market teams where I started working with the pre-sales teams, talking to customers about the potential of technology and how it can help them build their business. I worked in the services organization where I was helping customers to actually implement the technology and figure out how we can best use it in order to build their business. I spent time at, at, you know, Adobe and, and Marketo, as you mentioned, and it was really interesting, because we’re going through a really transformational time in the B2B SaaS world where we’re thinking about what exactly is this like, SaaS business? And what our customers expect from us? What do we expect from our customers? And so the five years that I spent at Adobe, we were really going through figuring that out. And that was what was happening in the industry, I think the only other company that was really thinking about the whole, like, Customer Success aspect of that, was Salesforce at that time, they thought about it a little bit differently than we did. And so you know, it was really great for me to be able to spend some time thinking deeply about SaaS, economics, and why the CSM organization is so critical to your business function. At the root of the CSM function as we were thinking about it back in those days, and I still think about it now, it’s really about how do you help to retain and grow customers. If you understand B2B SaaS metrics, your CAC and your LTV are incredibly important. You can grow, you can acquire a whole bunch of customers, but being able to extend their lifetime value to the point where we’re actually making money from them is really critical, right? Otherwise, you lose money on every customer you bring in. So the average B2B SaaS company takes about 12-18 months is the payback period for each customer you acquire. So you have to retain your customer past that in order to make money as a business. And so as I was thinking about those SaaS economics, I was like wow, I see a future where it’s not just about how many customers we are acquiring, and like, kind of that, that top level of growth, but it’s actually about the retention and growth of the installed base. And so that’s one of the reasons why I said, “Hey, I’m really interested in this customer success thing.” And I think depending on where you are, Customer Success means different things for different companies. You know, for a startup, you know, maybe some of the tech companies that I talked to, you know, they’re thinking about customer success, and it’s really holistic around like, “Okay, we’ve landed a customer, customer test, you do the rest.” So it could be services, it could be support, it could be product usage and adoption, it could be installed base selling. And so it really kind of runs the gambit in terms of what- how companies are thinking about that post-sales aspect of the journey. For me, at HubSpot, the way that we think about customer success is, our customer success team is really focused on helping companies to grow using HubSpot. And that’s our mission at HubSpot, is really about helping customers to grow their businesses and our software, if you’re not familiar with it, it’s really go-to-market software. It’s how do we help to make customers more efficient at acquiring new leads, and handing those over to the sales organization, helping to service them and to make sure their customers are happy. And so, you know, it’s really exciting for me to be a part of HubSpot and be part of CS here. Taylor Kenerson 4:49 That’s, it’s- that’s amazing, Jonathan, and I love how you touched on so many critical points, you know? It’s important that depending on where you’re at and your business stage or business life cycle, there is a function that CS can play to provide value for that business. And just like you said, there’s just so many different, almost unlimited. And I would love if you could dive a bit more deeper into like, what are these, all of the different variables that you might find CS providing value to the company from a startup to you growing into mid-market and you expanding into enterprise? Like, what does that look like? And how to see us provide value at every stage in that life cycle? Jonathan Corbin 5:34 Yeah, it’s interesting, you know, I think it’s starting with the kind of that startup phase, you know, when you’re a startup, and I actually, when I left Adobe, I went and did my own startup. And so I have a little bit of experience in that space as well. Taylor Kenerson 5:47 Wait, dive into that! I hate to, I hate to interrupt but yeah, please dive into that. That’s so interesting. Jonathan Corbin 5:54 Well, I spent five years at Adobe, and I talked a little bit about the experience that I had there, I started off there as, really an account manager, you know? Where I was holding that bag, I was responsible for accounts and helping them continue to grow. And then we evolved to create the CSM function. But throughout the time that I was there, I saw the impact that the software that we were creating, had on the customers we were working with, it was transformational. You know, we were working with them on transforming their digital aspects of their business, helping some of them to, you know, really lean into the power of being able to interact with their customers in real-time to understand who their prospects were, how they could do a better job of converting them. And as I saw the impact of those having on those businesses, I said wow, you know, that’s- must be really cool to be able to think of, kind of a way of doing something differently, going up creating it, and then seeing people use it. And so I was surrounded by a whole bunch of other people and you know, Boston has a really burgeoning startup scene, it’s been around for a long time, you guys know some iconic companies like, out of Boston, and so you know, as I was going through that, I was surrounded by a bunch of people who are thinking similar thoughts as me. And so I ended up leaving Adobe and starting a company called Veer. And Veer was really focused on helping people to find the cheapest, closest parking spot wherever they were. And if you’ve traveled anywhere in the world, you’ve seen like parking is a problem everywhere. And so the cool thing about that- Taylor Kenerson 7:24 Oh my God. In a city, that’s like, that’s like the one thing to like- I literally use parking apps just like that to try to find like close parking. That’s great. Jonathan Corbin 7:33 Yeah. And the cool thing about that is that when you know you’re using that app, you sit at home, you say, “Okay, I want to go to this place.” So the cool thing is we understood like destination intent, and something that’s not that easy to ge- to get. And so we were able to think about, like, what are the marketing and advertising use cases, that are closely correlated to that. Unfortunately, we didn’t have quite the exit that we dreamed of when we were starting the company, but it was a fantastic experience. And one of the things that I learned from that was the different roles that people play as you go through different stages of your life cycles of the company. So an early-stage startup, you know, you’re a founder, you might be success, you might be sales, you might be marketing, you might be all of those things. And I don’t know if you’ve read any of like Peter Drucker’s books, he’s kind of like a guru on management. But the larger a company gets, the more you have to lean into specialization, to really reap the benefits of having the size of an organization. Otherwise, you know, you’re kind of running around doing a whole bunch of things, but you’re not really impacting anything. And so I think, you know, starting off, it’s like, okay, you’re defining, you know, what is the experience you wanted to deliver to your customers. And then as you continue to get more and more mature in your life cycle as a company, you’re able to better define those roles, the types of people that you’re hiring, that go into those roles, who are best equipped to be able to handle the customers’ expectations. And then moving from there, you’re able to kind of form the departments around that, create those KPIs and metrics that those teams are accountable for, in order to be able to achieve the things that you’re looking for as a company, and what your customers expect from you. Adil Saleh 9:12 Hmm, incredible, incredible. And in a startup with like, you talk about self-funded startup, like it’s a big shoot recession of, you know, startups, they’re complaining a lot about not getting funded, or maybe they’re like having like, 1 million pitch decks, 1 million investors, and they’re not getting invested, you know, being, being trusted in some way they can say- however, they’re not so much driven towards the technology towards the team that how they can form a team on a scalable model. Maybe they’re not doing all of, all of that at once. But, but they’re- they’ve structured it for, for a longer term view, which is very critical. And that is, it matters a lot for a startup to have a longer term view on the team as well as, you know, execution kind of the success side as well. Great stuff. So looking at HubSpot, because we use it a lot, we still like to use it for our marketing businesses and you know, customers that we have. And you know, I’m a big fan of CTO of HubSpot, I don’t remember exactly his name- Jonathan Corbin 10:12 Dharmesh, yeah, Dharmesh is great. Adil Saleh 10:12 Yeah, Dharmesh. Yeah, I love the podcast, one- “my first million buck”, similar to that on YouTube. So the key thing I noticed, you know, HubSpot- and the reason I think you guys killed on a very quick succession in the span of two or two and a half years, lately, was how you basically automated the customer centricity, like how you basically enabled your customer to automatically grow, and basically stay on top of some of the, on the data, and enabling your customers investing into the data early-stage. So in the early stages of mid-market, you have maybe 60%, or more of your customer base. That was a reason when you really nailed it, maybe in 2018 or 2019. So what do you think, during that time, post-COVID, or even during COVID, when everything kind of shut down? And people were just scratching their head and they were just laying off their employees and you know, everybody’s sick. So what was that period look like? As you- senior leadership at HubSpot? Jonathan Corbin 11:20 Yeah, you know, it was a challenging time where we looked at what was going on in the world, and there was a lot of uncertainty, there was a lot of uncertainty for customers, a lot of uncertainty for partners. So a lot of uncertainty everywhere. I don’t know if you were watching any of the news at that time, but there is like, all kinds of crazy things were happening. People telling us like, you know, maybe bleach and sunshine is the answer. And you’re like, “Wow, this is, this is really nuts.” But for us, you know, we understood that there was an opportunity for us to really take a customer-centric view of how we can actually help the customers who are relying on our products, in order for their businesses to function. And so we did a couple of things. One, we said, for our partners, we’re actually going to give you advances against payments that we normally give you as part of the kind of the partner organization that we have, and the system that we have in place. The other is, you know, for customers who came to us and said, “Hey, we’re really struggling with this, we’re not sure what to do.” We worked with them to help them understand how they can use our products to maybe bring their businesses online, to engage with people through digital functions, to create content that would help them to attract people that they were looking for. So they would actually be able to continue to function as a company. And so we actually created a fund where there were some companies who were challenged around paying their bills, and they were trying to keep team members on staff as they went through this transformation. And so we enabled them with significant discounts to be able to maintain the products they needed to go online, as well as the staff that were there. And so that was something that was really powerful. For us, it was a trying time for everyone. There were people on my team who were working from their cars, there were like, you know, people were locked at home. And it was not something anyone was really well-prepared for. I think the, the outcome for us was that, you know, we were able to help a vast number of customers, partners and prospects during that time period, to change their business to transform what they were doing and how they’re engaging and attracting potential customers and engaging with existing customers. And so, you know, I think that was something that we’re particularly proud of, being able to help people there. And, you know, that’s- you mentioned, you know, kind of Dharmesh earlier, and one of the things, kind of the foundations of HubSpot, is that we- our goal is to help companies grow. And doesn’t mean you only grow during good times, but it means like you’re consistently growing. And so that’s something that my team is actually very focused on. And that is our focus, is helping customers to grow with HubSpot. And so teams spent an unbelievable amount of time talking to customers, talking to partners, helping them to understand how the products that we have, can help them continue to build their business. And I had notes from customers and partners saying, “Thank you, without your help, we wouldn’t be able to pay our bills, we wouldn’t be able to put food on the table, my kids couldn’t go to school.” And so seeing that kind of impact, hearing from customers or partners, of course, was great, you know? We’re really excited to be able to have that kind of impact. Adil Saleh 14:39 Love the HubSpot team. We have like someone in leadership from Ireland team, in Ireland coming up in a few weeks time. We are also going to bring the CEO because we haven’t met her ever since she joined, it’s been more than a year now. And she’s like making some shift to see and like some of the investments that they, they’re pretty much driven towards communication, towards most of the strategy on the customer side, like investing into the customers’, you know, customer growth, like experiences to make it, make it whole lot of better experience, that is one thing. And there was another thing that, we had like people coming in asking about HubSpot because a lot of the SaaS businesses that we talked to here on the stage, they use HubSpot for their for their success teams. And they think that they yet not use the B2B platform and they don’t need the B2B platform. So I was thinking man, I’ll have Jonathan and I’ll have, definitely have the, even the senior leadership more, I’ll ask these questions. How do you think- not early-stage, let’s talk about some platform sitting in series B or C, with a team of 20 plus customer-facing people, 10 plus Customer Success post-sales operations, how they can replace any B2B platform out in the industry by just using HubSpot? Like of course, they can manage your data, you know, they can indicate all of the risk and health. How does that come into play for those people? Jonathan Corbin 16:07 I think there’s, there’s two aspects that we really try to focus on at HubSpot. One is around experience, how do you- how do we help our customers to craft a great experience for their customers. And one of the things that we’ve continued to invest in around that, is the products that we offer. And so you know, HubSpot got it started as like a point solution really focused on inbound marketing, we started off with something called ‘website grader’, or you could like give us your URL, and we tell you like, here’s the things you need to fix on it. And we’ve evolved since then to a platform that really thinks about the customer experience. And so you know, when you think about the customer experience, it really starts with how you attract prospects, who are the people that are interested in your products, what you have to offer, and you’re, you know, telling them, here’s the areas that you continue to evolve in. And so you’re attracting those customers. And once you have attracted that prospect, they go through the process where, you know, they engage with maybe your sales team, or maybe they convert online, and they understand how those products and the content that you’re putting out there, how that plays a role in them continuing to evolve the way that they do business. And then once they sign on as a customer, there’s that delivery aspect of like, how do you make sure they’re actually getting the value that they were attracted to? That they purchase during the sales process? And that delivery of it, I think, is something that’s really critical. And so when you think about, you know, a company of- with 28 customer-facing people, or hundreds of customer-facing people, that’s the platform that we’ve built. And I think one of the significant differentiators for HubSpot is, first of all, we think holistically about the customer experience, and the platform that we built reflects that. The second of that is that ease of use is incredibly important. Making sure that you’ve built something where people can sit down and they understand how to do their job going through that. Because you can go out and you can purchase a whole bunch of products. Just because you purchase the product doesn’t mean that it’s going to get to bring value to you and doesn’t mean your team is going to use it. So focusing on the product, it’s really customer-centric, focusing on that customer experience. And making sure that it’s something that’s easily- easy to use, easy to learn, ensures that you’re going to get the value out of it. So those are a couple of barriers that we try to focus on at HubSpot. Adil Saleh 18:35 Absolutely, because here, sitting in here like, you know, sharing these answers and some of the stories from the CS teams and then some of the marketing teams, a lot of people say that HubSpot is more of a platform for the marketing teams. Most lately, just in the last year, when I spoke to some of the Head of Customer Success, CCOs- even CCOs, they telling us that we have our entire success team pretty much integrated inside HubSpot. So what do you like, what is your opinion on this? Like a lot of them they say that we use it for only the marketing team and they have a success team on maybe Catalyst, or Gainsight, Totango, or Vitally, because they appeal the model? Because a lot of data metrics, a lot of events that we cannot track inside HubSpot, there they are more tailored towards the product usage. So what do you think about it? Jonathan Corbin 19:27 So you know, I might be a little bit biased here. But HubSpot is actually the biggest customer of HubSpot. And so we use HubSpot for ourselves, for our teams to enable our teams to ensure that they have the information that they need in order to do their roles. I think we’ve done that pretty well. So you know, my team’s little over 700 people at this point. And you know, we use that platform to be able to enable them to be able to engage with over 150,000 customers. So you know when you think about whatever scale the business is at, you know, make sure you understand what it is you’re trying to achieve with the products. And you know, for us, it works really well for us at the scale that we’re at. And it works really well for customers who are just getting started and thinking about the customer experience. So I think there’s, you know, kind of a wide range of capabilities with HubSpot, when you think about your go-to-market functions and customer-facing roles. So I think if people haven’t looked at HubSpot for customer success, then they should certainly consider it and see what to achieve and if it meets their needs. I think at the end of the day, in customer-centric means, that we want to make sure that the products that we’re providing people, who are prospects with people we’re looking to grow their business with, meet their needs. Adil Saleh 20:51 Yeah, it’s all about you know, knowing and being self-aware, as a marketing team, as a success team, what are your goals for the next one year, what kind of tools that can basically fuel it, it can be anything. It can be even- not in copying the tool, you can have, you know, you’re- a lot of teams, they have built custom objects inside Salesforce. Yeah, absolutely they have their DevOps team and they actually do it like in a month’s time and they, they think that it’s good enough for them. It’s just a single source of truth. And everything is seamless. But again, that scalability point, when you grow that big enough, the team of more than 700 people serving more than 150,000 paying customers, active customers, then things definitely need pretty much streamlined and unique tools like HubSpot tools, like, you know, gain side or the success side, cool stuff. So Jonathan, you have a team of 700 people, and how does that team segregate across different segments? Of course, you’re serving small businesses to midsize and also the enterprise. So how does that play around and how strategic you and your team are? Jonathan Corbin 21:56 Sure. So this- there’s actually three teams that make up the customer success team. One is the partner success team. And they’ve worked exclusively with partners to help them to get onboarded into the HubSpot ecosystem, understand how they can grow their business using HubSpot, and to make sure that they have the assistance they need in terms of continuing to sell and service HubSpot customers. So that’s one aspect of it. The other aspect is a contract management team and they’re responsible for working with our customers on going through, you know, pricing negotiations and things like that. And this- in the last area is around the customer success team. And so the customer success team is an area of the business that’s really vital to the way that we, you know, we retain and help our customers continue to grow. And so that’s kind of that third aspect of the way that my team is structured. Adil Saleh 22:56 So I’m sure since you said that you were using HubSpot, you are your biggest customer. So now, do you think the- do you need any tool to just like- I’m talking about the CS standpoint, from the CS standpoint like post-sales operations, especially on during the onboarding to adoption stage, where all of these monitoring, all of these proactive indicators or triggers come into play, to make sure you’re absolutely forecasting the customer journey, and having information ahead of time to drive conversations and maybe, you know, to analyze what can be done better. So do you have any other technology incorporated or any other system incorporated alongside HubSpot for that matter? Jonathan Corbin 23:36 Yeah, you know, we’ve made a lot of kind of updates. So you know, as being the largest user, we’re also, you know, kind of the, the alpha and beta user as well. So we get to test out a bunch of things. And so, you know, we do lean into things like alerts and triggers and things like that to understand how we invest, manage, you know, kind of those aspects of it. In your question earlier around, kind of our segmentation approach is reflected of the automation and the segment at- the highest segments, we use less, and the lowest segments, we use more, and so, you know, kind of thinking through that, you know, we have our largest customers. We have kind of a mid-tier, and then we have kind of the smaller ones. And in terms of how we go about our segmentation approach, what we’ve done is we’ve actually gone out and talked to customers, and being a customer-centric organization, that’s really important. And what we found is there’s kind of three distinct types of customers that work with HubSpot. The first is companies who say, you know, “Look, I get it, you guys have a whole bunch of like, people that I can talk to. My preference is that I can actually find the answers to the questions I have on my own. I want to be able to like self-serve, I want information available to me at my fingertips when I need it. I don’t want to have to like send someone an email, wait for a response, I don’t want to have to do each ad, I don’t want to, like, you know, hop on a phone call, I just want to have access to that.” So that’s kind of like the first type of customer that we identified. The second type of customer was one who said, you know, “I actually want access to all the same things that that first type of customer, I’ll be able to answer kind of questions on demand, I want to be able to, like, find the answers to the questions on my own. But like, this is really important for me, like my go-to-market functions are kind of critical to my job, to our company, want to be able to like just check with someone to make sure that things that we’re doing are right, if we’re doing that well.” The third type of customer, someone who’s like, “Actually, things that we’re doing are so important. They’re so vital to the way that we’re doing business, to our organization and to our company. We actually want someone who’s going to work with us on a consistent basis, make sure you’re doing it the right way. Like you have access to 160,000 customers at HubSpot, how they’re doing things, what best practices look like, what should my metrics look like, I want your help to make sure that I’m doing like, things the best way that I can.” So those are the three types of customers that we defined. And so we’ve categorized that customers into those three areas. And so depending- to your question around like automation and alerts, depending on kind of where the customers fall in that, those three tiers, we lean more into automation and alerts depending on the customer’s preferences, and kind of the tiers that they fall under. Adil Saleh 26:30 Cool stuff. So I do see that, you know, when I started my business back in 2018/19- late 2018, and, you know, I hosted my chat and all of that on HubSpot and still today, you know, I receive all my inboxes on HubSpot. And I still remember that point, you know? There was an automation workflow and, you know, knowledge base been thrown at you and that was pretty helpful. And I absolutely loved it. Not, you know, not to just having an occasion to engage, but you know, it was pretty engaging and pretty helpful. The knowledge base and support center that you guys have, I loved HubSpot Academy, and throughout this time. So, you know, there’s a handful of businesses, like SaaS businesses that you can talk about in just recently, you can take five to seven years, they have really scaled their operations and their customer base and, you know, on the marketing side, as well. So thank you very much, Jonathan, for taking the time today. It was really, really nice seeing you again, and someone from HubSpot, that, that’s senior and you know, it was quite a learning curve for both of us. And of course for audience too. Jonathan Corbin 27:37 Yeah, no, it was my pleasure. Thank you for having me join the conversation, and look forward to chatting again in the near future. Adil Saleh 27:45 Thank you. Yes, absolutely. You have a good rest of the day. Thank you so very much for staying with us on the episode, please share your feedback at adil@hyperengage.io, we definitely need it. We will see you next time and another guest on the stage with some concrete tips on how to operate better as a Customer Success leader and how you can empower engagements with some, building some meaningful relationships. We qualify people for the episode just to make sure we bring the value to the listeners. Do reach us out if you want to refer any CS leader. Until next time, goodbye and have a good rest of your day.

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