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#INBOUND19 – The Good, The Bad, and the Surprising.

by Kierstin Payne on September 25, 2019
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From a first time INBOUNDer.

As a new HubSpot Gold Partner, we were honored to receive a free ticket to #INBOUND19. After years of wanting to attend, it was finally happening!

While I’d had the good fortune of attending Social Media Marketing World in 2017 and 2018, I was incredibly excited to finally get the chance to experience INBOUND! I must admit, I was a little nervous too. This marketing conference is huge and in Boston, a city I’d never been to.

As I prepared, I read countless blogs and Facebook posts on #INBOUND tips and tricks. The consistent message was to wear comfortable shoes, leave your laptop in your room, make dinner reservations, and be sure to have a battery pack to charge your phone. This was all great advice and after attending the conference, I highly recommend every point.

In this blog, I’m going to share my impressions and insights from INBOUND – the good, the bad, and the surprising

THE GOOD

Keynotes

As with every INBOUND, the highlight of the event are the keynotes presented by HubSpot co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah.

Brian’s keynote was all about a new species of disruptors in the economy, what he refers to as experience disruptors. He focused on all the ways these companies are so powerful. What is it they’re doing different than the incumbents who are being left in their dust?

The message he continues to drive home is “How they sell is why they win”. I’ve highlighted a few of my favorite moments below, but I strongly recommend watching his complete keynote to hear all about the five genetic adaptations of these new experience disruptors.

  1. “With great data comes great responsibility”. While personalization is a must in an experience driven marketplace, you can over personalize. Basically, don’t freak-out your prospect! Even though this was a small point overall, it really stuck with me. We’ve all had those creepy moments of over-targeting.
  2. Another message that really resonated with me was “Stop simply selling to your customers, sell THROUGH your customers”. Since a large part of my job is dedicated to Social Media Marketing, I know how impactful this can be. While my clients are consistently striving to achieve this, hearing it within the context of his broader message really got the ideas flowing.

    Through delivering unparalleled customer experience we develop brand advocates. How can we encourage our advocates to spread the word? Street teams and loyalty programs have been around for decades in the B2C world. How can we apply that to the B2B world? How can we encourage our advocates to take their story to Social? For us, loyalty programs and our work in employee engagement has been a great way to turn a happy customer into new business.

  3. You can’t talk about Brian’s keynote without making mention of his pup Romeo. Last year’s keynote had the spinning flywheel for excitement, this year it was all about Romeo.

Brian’s entire presentation really made you stop and think about how businesses need to adapt the way they're selling to grow their business. Unfortunately, along with those thoughts comes fear. Change is scary! We must learn to overcome our fears in order to make and accept change. This leads us into Dharmesh’s keynote.

While Dharmesh’s keynote focuses on the 5 fears you must face on your way to growing better, it was really so much more.

I laughed the hardest during his hysterical story regarding his fear of the low battery indicator (please note the tip above to bring an extra battery to #INBOUND20). He began by showing us a message he’d received from Christopher O’Donnell which included a screenshot from Chris’ phone. When Dharmesh brought up the image, the first thing I noticed was the low battery indicator and the fact that it was 6:53 am. Seriously, how does that happen? I can completely relate to the anxiety resulting from seeing someone continue to send messages on a phone with <5% battery life before 7 in the morning!

For being a self-proclaimed introvert, Dharmesh is quite the entertaining speaker. The top 3 highlights for me were:

  1. “When you narrow your focus, instead of broadening your market, it’s easier to grow. It’s easier to delight your customers.” Since I come from a company that has a very broad focus, this is quite a challenge. But we continue to look for better ways to align our teams and stay focused within the specific channels of our larger footprint. For example, if we designate a team to focus on our Marketing Services it will be easier to identify prospects, convert customers, and most importantly deliver quality service. This results in happy customers which in turn, leads to more opportunities.
  2.  “When hiring, your goal shouldn’t be to hire for your culture, it should be to hire to add to your culture.” Culture within the workplace is SO critical to business success. I’m putting down my prediction that this is a future hub within the HubSpot platform. We have to focus on our people as well as our customers.
  3. “Trust is scarce and the companies that can provide it will succeed.” To me, this ties right back to #1. Stay focused, delight your customers, and they will trust you. When your customers trust you, it means they’re happy with the service you’re providing. Happy customers bring in more leads. It’s a win for everyone!

Do the right thing. Even when it's hard. Especially when it's hard. - Dharmesh ShahNear the end of his keynote, he said “Do what’s right, even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard.” Ironically, I’d seen this quote on a wall in the HubSpot Partner meeting rooms during the conference and had posted a picture of it to LinkedIn.

Breakout Sessions:

Now onto my favorite breakout sessions. As Anthony "Tas" Tasgal said in his session, there’s powerful magic in the number 3 (notice the pattern above), however I can’t limit these to just 3. Sorry Tas...

Breakout Session One:

I’ll begin with Tas’ session, Numbers Numb Us but Stories Stir Us. What an amazing title, right? Here are my top three one-liners from his session:

  1. “We are data rich and insight poor.”
  2. “Stories work because they break through the attention blockers.”
  3. “If you torture data enough, it will confess to anything,” - Economist Ronald Coase.

"If you torture data enough, it will confess to anything." - Economist Ronald CoaseI appreciated SO much from this session that it was hard to narrow it down to three, so if you ever get a chance to see him speak, or bring him into your organization for training, I highly recommend it. He is an outstanding presenter and storyteller. I left his room wishing it was longer, but still walking away with the most notes I’d taken all week.

The first lesson I’ve implemented is to always think, “is it TBU (true but useless).” Delivering the facts is not enough, you must provide the reasons why. You need to use the story, not just the data, to connect with your audience.

Breakout Session Two:

Social Media Marketing in 2019: What’s Changed, and Why Your 2016 Playbook is Broken by Isabela Carvalho. Another amazing title, as well as a session that lived up to the promise of the title.

Isabela is another amazing speaker and her session was packed full of perfect examples (both good and bad). As with Brian, she also talked a lot about the experience and how top companies of today are delivering a better experience. She carried that message through to social. How can we not only deliver a better social experience; how can we improve our customers’ experience through social as well?

In order to accomplish this, we need to stop thinking about how many posts we’ve made and think more about the quality of each post. Are they telling your story in an engaging way, are they personal, relevant to your buyer, and authentic to your business?

Social Media - Great Customer ExperienceOne of my favorite stories challenged us to think outside of the box. It was about a lady whose dog chewed up her credit card. Along with her new card, the bank included a chew toy for the puppy and a handwritten note. They turned a negative into a positive for that customer, and the customer was so thrilled with the kind gesture that she posted her story to Facebook. It received almost 50k views and was shared over 5.5k times. All from a $5 dog toy and a couple minutes of someone’s time.

Breakout Session Three:

Interactive Agency Talk – Unpacking What we Learned at Inbound19, by Eric Pratt. Eric is the founder and managing partner at Revenue River, a HubSpot Diamond Agency Partner. Eric developed this interactive session specifically for Agency Partners in attendance. It was an opportunity to unpack and discuss HubSpot updates and various things we’d learned at INBOUND. It also served as a large roundtable discussion between agencies to talk about challenges and solutions.

Being new to INBOUND, as well as only recently achieving Gold status, this was a great way for me to get to know some of the most successful partners. I enjoyed hearing their thoughts on the changes coming in addition to hearing their ongoing challenges and solutions.

I loved this session because it gave every agency, no matter your size or tenure, a chance to learn and feed off of each other’s energy. It was wonderful to see how well the top agency owners knew each other and how much respect they had for one another. For every question asked, Eric immediately knew which partner had the most experience and would be able to provide the most insight. Instead of a room of competitors, it was a room of collaborators. Everyone working together to grow better.

Breakout Session Four:

Last, but definitely not least, was Marketing Unplugged: Real Industry Talk with Nicholas Holland, the GM & VP of Product, Marketing Hub. This session took place in the same interactive room as Eric’s session. The small roundtable arrangement encouraged audience participation. After a little guidance and a few product reveals from Nicholas, he encouraged us all to ask questions, make suggestions, or simply just discuss.

Between Partner Day and INBOUND, this was the 4th product reveal I’d attended, and I wasn’t sure I’d get much out of it. I like Nicholas and the title intrigued me, so I kept it on my schedule. That was a great decision. He not only talked about the new product features he’d introduced in an earlier session, but a lot more on the “why”. He went into the overall story behind these changes and how they’re going to help all of us grow better.

He also talked about where things need to go in the future and how HubSpot is aware of the pain points we face. They always keep them in mind when evaluating updates and upgrades. He encouraged us to bring up the hard truths, the difficult topics that lesser companies would be happy to sweep under the rug. Not HubSpot, they want to hear the good and the bad. Segmented contacts, content partitioning, and offline attribution were just a few of the current needs that HubSpot has made note of. They’re dedicated to delivering an all on one platform, a central hub for growing your business.

My favorite memory from his session was Nicholas’ story on how he acquired his current role at HubSpot. In his first role, he kept complaining about the content tools within the platform. After consistent complaints he was eventually put in charge of that department so he could fix it. What a perfect way to solve a problem; take one of your top performing team members who has identified some of the biggest weaknesses in your product and give them the power to solve the issue. A win for Nicholas, and an even bigger win for HubSpot.

THE BAD

As you can tell from the length of The Good section, I thoroughly enjoyed my first INBOUND experience. Each time someone from HubSpot asked me what I thought (which they did frequently), there was one constant to my answer. If I could change anything, it would be to increase the room size on the most popular speakers and sessions, and therefore reduce the number of sessions being given. While I loved the wide variety of topics, I definitely experienced some subpar speakers. I also spoke with a few other attendees who had the same issue.

There were a few sessions that had encore performances, so that could be another solution instead of the larger rooms. I know there’s an increase to the perceived value of the conference based on the number of breakout sessions but it’s important to make sure each session is thoroughly vetted and of equal quality.

You know it’s an amazing event when the only complaint is so easy to fix!

THE SURPRISING

I was completely blown away by how organized the entire production was. There’s so much I could talk about, from the hotel booking process to the advance reservation of sessions. However, for the purpose of this article I’m going to stick to the actual event.

When I read that INBOUND would take place throughout the convention center, the Westin, the Aloft, and Lawn D, I was worried. How was I going to find my way around and make it to my sessions early enough to keep my reserved spot?

While I really didn’t have enough time to get from one session to another, many of the sessions let out a few minutes early, so it worked out. It also helped that it was incredibly easy to find your way. There was signage EVERYWHERE! If you weren’t sure which direction to turn, look around and you’d find a sign to point you in the right direction. If you still weren’t sure where to go, look around and you’d find a HubSpot team member waiting to help.

LUNCHLunch was another concern. How do you feed 26,000 people at the same time without complete chaos! Between the variety of venues serving lunch and the organized schedule it too, just worked out.

The lunch period was long, and they didn’t stop the breakout sessions. They did increase the time between sessions to 30 minutes, which allowed you to eat on the run and still make your sessions. Or you could miss a session and take a relaxing lunch on the lawn with all the food trucks.

I chose the latter and it was the perfect break to the long days. It also gave me the opportunity to schedule meetings with my HubSpot team or make other connections on the lawn.

CONCLUSION

I’ve chose to close with a quote from HubSpot’s INBOUND intro video because I’m a firm believer in the message delivered by these words. While they may scare some, I challenge you to think beyond the words that make your eyes bulge and absorb the significance of them. Nobody is saying that profit isn’t important, it definitely is, but there are better ways to get there!

“We're told to grow at all cost: get in people's faces, demand attention, and never put the phone down. At HubSpot, we see a different way. We believe that growth doesn't have to come at the cost of the customer. We choose to Grow Better.”

Topics: Digital Marketing, Inbound Marketing