CMO Confessions Ep 5: HubSpot’s Kipp Bodnar

Hi folks, and welcome to another episode of CMO Confessions, our bi-weekly podcast covering all things marketing.

For this episode, we got someone who knows content inside and out. I’m talking, of course, of Kipp Bodnar, CMO of HubSpot. Kipp’s work involves coordinating HubSpot’s global inbound marketing strategy, which means he does a lot of everything on top of a lot of writing. In fact, Kipp quite literally wrote the book on B2B social media marketing in his tome, The B2B Social Media Book: Becoming a Marketing Superstar by Generating Leads with Blogging LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Email and More.

In this episode, we discuss what went into producing his book, what goes into book promotion and how marketers ought to look to long-term growth  — even if a CEO is short-sighted.

As always, you can find Kipp and his latest insights on his Twitter feed, @kippbodnar.

Finally, if you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here in podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Without further ado, welcome to CMO Confessions. Let’s chat.

Transcript

Joe Hyland:

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of CMO confessions a weekly B2B sales and marketing podcast that explores what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m Joe Hyland, CMO here at ON24 and joining me. This week is Kipp Bodnar, CMO of HubSpot. Kipp, how are you doing today?

Kipp Bodnar:

I’m doing great, man. How are you?

Joe Hyland:

I am fantastic. Thanks again for joining me, I really appreciate it.

Kipp Bodnar:

Happy to be here.

Joe Hyland:

So, I found out that we have a few things in common. One being a huge marketing dork — something that seems like you take a lot of pride in — the other, perhaps, an unhealthy love of ketchup.

Kipp Bodnar:

I do love ketchup guy get a rap for that. The waitresses at the restaurant always look at me when I ask for a second ketchup. I’m like, “Yeah, can I just have some ketchup for the table?” I want a safe space, I don’t want any judgment.

Joe Hyland:

When I was last in London, they have those very small tubes of ketchup that is pretty small, sufficient for, like, seven french fries. When I asked for more, our marketing leader for EMEA was like, “Joe this is not normal.” And he just sat there and watched. So anyway.

Kipp Bodnar:

I do like the chili sauce that they use in London in Ireland and everything with their chips. I like that trend as well though.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah.

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah chili sauce and chips are awesome.

Joe Hyland:

Exactly. Well, let’s talk about dorking out on marketing and geeking out. That’s really what we’re here today to discuss. So, I guess I’ll kick it off with a question: what’s your what’s your biggest pet peeve in marketing or in your role? What do you struggle the most with?

Kipp Bodnar:

Oh, two different things there. Pet peeve in marketing is people who do incremental things. Marketing’s job is to try to do new stuff that is interesting and creative and solves the problems our prospects and our customers face. And if you just kind of increment on everything you’ve done you lose all your leverage, you lose all your advantage and you’re just boring.

So that’s pet peeve. Things that I most struggle with: Scales real, man. Everybody tells you, “Oh, scale’s hard.” No, scale’s really hard. Scale is really, really hard. Let me tell you that Marketing in six languages and always having somebody doing marketing any hour of the day regardless, whatever you have to do that hour of the day. That’s not easy. That’s hard. Anybody who tells you that’s not hard. I don’t know insane or something. It’s hard.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Well, I think the combination of those two answers is it makes it really difficult — is, one, scale is, and I couldn’t agree with you any more, scale is so real scale is difficult. And what worked before won’t necessarily work going forward, right? So, just trying to do incremental things or stuff is not is not the recipe for success, but that’s challenging because it might be what led to success up until now.

Kipp Bodnar:

Yes, it’s hard. Doing new stuff is hard. You know we call it “dragging the spreadsheet,” you can always just drag the spreadsheet out another year. Estimated another 10% improvement on this thing.

Joe Hyland:

I love that phrase. That’s fantastic. I never heard that.

Kipp Bodnar:

We talk about it all the time. You can’t drag the spreadsheet. It’s kind of colloquialism here. The flip side of it is like it’s easy to do too much new stuff.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah.

Kipp Bodnar:

Right? If you do something new and it works, you got to drag the spreadsheet in a while. You need to basically figure out like your point of maximization of return of that discovery and that effort — you do have to do it for a little while. But still, like if you only do that and you don’t do any new stuff, then you’re eventually just gonna kind of shrink and shrink over time.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. So, you’ve been at HubSpot for a while, right man?

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah, year nine now.

Joe Hyland:

Wow, that’s crazy. How big was the team when you started? And compare it to now.

Kipp Bodnar:

I think the company was coming to about 100 people and I think we’re now like 2,200 people maybe.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, that’s quite the ride.

Kipp Bodnar:

Somewhere around there? So, it’s definitely a change and 2,200 people across offices all around the world — so that makes it a little different too.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, that’s scale.

Kipp Bodnar:

Scale’s real man.

Joe Hyland:

So, I think there’s a lot of reasons people respect HubSpot so much. As a marketer, what you guys have built, the beyond the brand, I think that category creation is just something that’s admirable. And the commitment to content is, I think, the way to build a phenomenal marketing department — also a phenomenal company. But a lot of CEOs don’t either have the patience for that or the respect or recognition for how critical marketing is for growth. I think, when I started in marketing, we were kind of the T-shirt Department, right? You know, whatever sales needed but don’t be strategic at all and you know the tchotchkes.

I’ve seen that change a lot. But I still see a lot of CEOs who still look at marketing as the janitorial department of the executive staff. I’d be curious to know your thoughts, one at HubSpot, but also just in general, how CEOs are viewing marketing.

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah, I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m good with the broom. I can clean it the best on them. Not my preferred skill though. I think that question is very different depending on where you are in the world, one. There are lots of different markets at different levels of maturation. You know, marketing is still much earlier on and its growth and life cycle in countries in Latin America and Japan. Other folks are a bit further along in a lot of the European countries — very interesting in that way.

The reality is that a lot of CEOs are short-term growth focused. And when your short-term growth focused you want to do bad crappy things that get you results in the short term — cold email, cold call, have a giant outsource call center in some far-off land to try to qualify leads for you — and do all of these things that have huge, huge long-term negative brand drag, prospects perception drag, customer perception drag. And quite frankly, it’s just gonna all be illegal soon. I think if you look at GDPR, for example, I mean GDPR essentially makes cold calling, for all intents and purposes, pretty illegal. There’s some B2B intent arguments to be made, but even then, like, the first thing you do if you’re in Europe and you cold call somebody you’re going to tell them, “Oh, by the way, I have to disclose to you before we start our cold call that I found your information on LinkedIn…” And it’s like, you actually think that’s gonna be effective? Like is that actually gonna work? Like, what person you like, “Oh, yeah, these are the people I want to work with.”

And so, I think, because of that, the brute force short-term thinking — like marketing can get undervalued and get a bad rap — and part of it is that I think it’s on the onus of everybody who’s in the marketing profession to focus on the business strategy and to be deeply integrated into the business and understand where the core opportunities are and make sure that the marketing strategy and the effort that you’re putting against actually like foots with that well. I mean, oftentimes this problem comes out of the marketers and the core leadership team being disconnected in terms of strategy and priorities there. And so, I think it’s our job to actually get aligned and make that happen.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, where you ended is really where I sit on that point. I think it’s marketing’s job to ensure that marketing is strategic, right?

Kipp Bodnar:

You have to be good at marketing. You’ve also have to be good at your job. Like it’s hard. Marketing is a hard job. There’s a reason that the lifespan of a CMO is sub two years, you know.

Joe Hyland:

It’s true. And few CEOs come up through marketing. So, it’s a challenge you have as being a head of marketing is that you’re reporting to someone who might not necessarily have ever practice your craft, right? So, yeah, you’re right, the onus is on you to ensure that they understand the value of it.

Kipp Bodnar:

Absolutely.

Joe Hyland:

You ran demand gen prior to being CMO, right?

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah, I did.

Joe Hyland:

So, how do you — it’d be interesting to see if this answer would change from when you were the head of demand gen versus owning it all now — how do you balance…

Kipp Bodnar:

Almost always is probably the answer to that.

Joe Hyland:

Joking, aside probably — perspective changes a little bit. How do you balance building pipeline and building that demand with the kind of broader brand and content messaging?

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah for us, those things aren’t as much in conflict as most people, right? Because our content is how we get people to discover, learn about, not just our brand, but also our products, and get that initial engagement with us.

So, content is core to how we generate demand. Where you actually have that conflict is you know — if you think about content, I think there’s kind of two types of content in the world. There’s the content that your audience knows they want and your job is to give them what they want. And then there’s the content that your audience doesn’t know that it wants, and your job is to get the audience to believe what you want them to believe because you know, you’re right. And, if your job is demand generation, you really only actually really want the first part, which is the giving them what they want because your conversion rates are higher, your reach is higher your funnel looks way better when you look at the numbers.

If you run marketing and you’re a CMO you have to have both because you lose your brand if you only give people what you want, you don’t have a brand you’re not a point of view, you don’t have perspective — all those things. So, I think that’s probably the biggest change when you’re thinking about just demand generation versus the overall story of the business, the brand, and how everything that marketing does works together.

Joe Hyland:

Okay, and how about your — I’m not sure what you guys call them at HubSpot — your sales development team or the qualification arm. Are they kind of the intermediary between your group and sales? Are they only touching inbound leads or people who have expressed interest? What’s that relationship look like?

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah for us, it’s interesting because those folks have a bunch of opportunities. They have people who are coming in and actively engaging with us and have expressed kind of a marketing or sales problem through the content they consume. They are people who chat with us on our website or on Facebook Messenger, one of kind of our instant interaction messaging channels — having l-time conversation. We have an amazing free CRM product and we have lots of people coming in and signing up and using that and so they are also connecting with users who are in their journey on our free products to understand the problems they’re trying to solve and if they might be a better fit for, you know, one of our professional products, for example.

And so, they’re not doing much of any what you would consider cold would be. Maybe they’ve they’re talking to a user or somebody from a company and they’re like, “Oh actually really need to talk to a different person at that company.” So, I need to go and like find the right contact and go and reach out to them and they might like add that contact in and talk to them, but those are the those are the types of people that they’re really going to talk to on a daily basis.

Joe Hyland:

Okay. Does that group sit underneath the head of sales? Your counterpart in sales, does it sit in your group?

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah, that’s in sales and I totally think it should sit in sales. I think putting SDRs or VDRs or whatever you want to call them, your kind of qualifying sales team, on marketing is just not as effective. You can’t give them the leadership, the coaching, everything they need to actually develop their career and become remarkable sales people and leaders long term.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I think that’s a really good point because while some BDRs or SDRs might go into marketing, the vast majority think of themselves as early in their sales career, right? So…

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah, absolutely.

Joe Hyland:

They probably don’t want to look to you and I for guidance they want to look to the head of sales.

Kipp Bodnar:

I mean, I think I’m cool, but I don’t think they think I’m cool. So, they’re likely gonna want to look up at and work with other people and they should do that. And we’re in really good alignment with them and give them what they need, but I think that being part of sales is the right thing there.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I know from watching one of your presentations that you don’t think you’re cool, you just think you’re a marketing geek.

Kipp Bodnar:

Well, I am, and I happen to think of being a marketing geek is cool. So, I guess in a roundabout way, that’s true. But yeah, I’m a dork and I’d much rather be doing marketing than most other things. So that’s just who I am.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, you should love what you do and out here in the out here in San Francisco being marketing dork is certainly cool.

Kipp Bodnar:

That’s true, that’s true.

Joe Hyland:

I’d love to — I think it was a while ago you published this — but I’d love to talk to you about the process of writing your book.

I guess two reasons. One is I’m just curious since it’s been a while now. You know, what you think of it and what you think of the process. I also think it’s interesting from a career perspective because it was a pretty ambitious undertaking. I think a lot of the listeners would just be interested to hear how you even went about it.

Kipp Bodnar:

Like, how do you write a book, and should you write a book basically? It’s interesting — we talk about a lot about this internally. It’s like, you know, I think we wrote the book — I wrote my book with my co-author Jeff like five years ago, maybe — some like that? And then obviously Brian [Halligan] and Dharmesh [Shah] at the Inbound Marketing book a couple years before that.

I think books are very important at certain stages of markets and both those books I thought were important and worth writing at the time because the market was so early on, there was so much speculation and so much thought that, one, you just needed to take the exercise of compiling a lot of research and information into a book to solidify your thoughts and recommendations to the market because there’s so much conversation and disagreement and debate in the market. And so, I think, when that’s the case, they can be very, very valuable. I think books themselves are a little less valuable today. It’s harder to distribute a book. It’s harder to get people to read an actual book today…

Joe Hyland:

What a sad statement that is.

Kipp Bodnar:

That is. It might be sad, but it’s also true I think, unfortunately. So, because of that you’ve got to really think that your message is new, novel, if you have a compelling way to tell it, and it’s what your audience needs right now. And there’s, one, that long format way to tell that story and that depth is really needed to tell that story effectively and that there’s no other kind of version of that story in this format that exists.

You know, I think when Brian and Darmesh at the Inbound Marketing book, for example, that was a fresh novel story that really didn’t exist. And people needed to have that book because it was like this it was a transformational thing. You needed to talk to people in your team and your company to do things differently and you kind of need the validation of this physical thing that other people read the publisher said was good that you can kind of point to and say like, hey we can do this thing. There’s a lot more credibility that you get from that maybe just an article on the Internet or a video or something.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. So, for this book, talk me through the initial genesis, how the idea even started and then what you did right. Like, who do you get in touch with? How did you start compiling a plan? Did HubSpot stand behind it?

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah, so the HubSpot team, Mike, Brian and Darmesh everybody were like, “Yeah go do it.” Don’t see any issues any issues. So, basically did it kind of nights and weekends. So, on Sundays, I would spend like four to six hours on a Sunday, and I would just you know kind of head down right? I like to write early in the morning. So, I’d wake up and write for a few hours and then go about the rest of my Sunday and do that kind of thing…

Joe Hyland:

So that’s cool. Sorry to interject — you went to leadership and said “Hey I’ve got this idea. I think this is a unique point in the market, right? This isn’t just total BS. I’m not trying to get my name out there.” They nodded their heads. I like it. And then from there, you started working on it on your own time, though, it wasn’t like you were doing this 20 hours during the week.

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah, no, I was doing my real job and I just felt like, one, it was a topic that the market needed — it was a book about talking about social media from more of a B2B lead generation perspective — which nobody really talking about at the time. It was very much consumer, kind of community building, and so you needed that different articulation in the market. And I felt like there’s a lot of misconceptions and just myths and stuff out there. So, I wanted to kind of set that straight. Jeff, who wrote the book with me, kind of felt the same way. And so, we’ve known each other for a while so we decided to embark on that. I got connected with Shannon Vargo, who’s an awesome editor over at Wiley, and kind of talked to her about it, and she thought I was a cool idea. And so we struck an agreement with them pretty quickly and I think over the span of four to six months got everything written and edited and out the door.

Joe Hyland: Really? That is impressive.

Kipp Bodnar:

I am an impatient human being, man. I don’t do a lot of stuff over a real long period of time — if I’m gonna commit I’m gonna be all in and I’m gonna get it done.

Joe Hyland:

When I was at Kronos, a Massachusetts company, we authored a book as well. And I will admit that it was it was not that quick of a process. It was about a two-year process for us, so.

Kipp Bodnar:

It can be long, it can be hard. But, you know, it’s about what you’re putting in. If you’re clear on your point of view and you’re clear on the story you want to tell it can be fast if you’re willing to schedule it, make the time for it, and kind of make it happen.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I think the nights and weekends writing, while perhaps a little arduous, was helpful. It was just hard to squeeze it in with everything else we were working on.

Kipp Bodnar:

Exactly. Like anything else, you got to prioritize and make something a priority to get it done.

Joe Hyland:

So now you have a finished product — and, by the way, a pretty good name, “Becoming a Marketing Superstar,” which is only part of the title —  is quite a popular theme in a lot of marketing campaigns now. Five years ago, you know, it really wasn’t.

Kipp Bodnar:

I think it was pretty novel at the time.

Joe Hyland:

I think it’s catchy title. So, then what happens next? Other than your parents and family are probably immensely, you know, proud of you.

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah, sure. You have some people proud of you and you’re just relieved to have it done. Then you go, and you speak on the circuit. You got a new platform, you’ve got something very clear to talk about and so you sign up at a bunch of events and you kind of have a kind of a 45-minute keynote summary of the book that you are delivering and gauging with people on and that’s driving book sales and getting your kind of point of view in the market out over the course of the next 12 months.

And that’s kind of — for anybody out there is thinking about doing it — that’s kind of what you’re committing to. You’re not just committed to writing a book, you’re committing to all of the commentary, the content, the presentation development and everything that comes after it.

Joe Hyland:

And, at HubSpot was this a demand gen machine for you? Was this used in campaigns? How successful was it from that standpoint?

Kipp Bodnar:

We used it in some campaigns. At the time, the Inbound Marketing book was still so resonate that this was like a sub-campaign element. You had that marketing book still being the core book campaign and driver by far because the book we did was just focused on social media. Whereas the Inbound Marketing book was more representative of the macro change across all the channels, which I felt like — especially if you’re doing demand generation, as out there who does knows —  broader subjects tend to provide better results, right? Because you’re reaching more people and everything in that regard. So yeah, that how we thought about it.

Joe Hyland:

Okay, cool. I just think that’s an interesting story to hear. All right, I’d love to just I’d love to get your perspective career trajectory and career growth. I get asked this question a lot. I think there’s a lot of ambitious marketers out there and they’re curious to know how people get to certain posts. So, did you have some master plan?

Kipp Bodnar:

No, never. I would be lying to you if I did. I just interviewed a candidate and told them the exact same thing. So, I’m just telling you what I told them. I’ve no master plan. My master plan was to do work I like with people I like. That’s really all I cared about then and still care about today. That’s my motive.

My advice to everybody out here on this topic is most of the time, the people who have very grand career plans and have very prescribed, like, “I need to be at this title in this amount of time.” That doesn’t work that well.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I agree.

Kipp Bodnar:

You know what works really well? Solving remarkable problems in remarkable ways. That’s really all you need to do. My whole advice is find the most important problem that nobody wants to tackle because, maybe perceived to be boring, maybe it’s just not time for anybody else to do it yet, there are whole host of reasons, and if you go and do that and you have a big impact on that, then turns out you just keep getting the opportunity to solve more and more problems. Then you quickly become the person that everybody expects to solve all the problems.

And if you do that in a way in which you have a good attitude, and you’re helpful, and you’re somebody that people want to work with instead of against, then you can kind of do whatever you want in your career. You can lead the team or be a great individual contributor. I think manifests its way itself in many, many ways.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. I love how you how you ended there because I think life is too short to work with assholes. I mean, you see your co-workers, I see my co-workers more than you see your wife or I see my wife and family, and so you got to love what you do, right? You want to be around people who are optimistic and problem solvers and kind are like-minded. So, I think you’re totally right.

Kipp Bodnar:

Yeah, one, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, right? If you want to be better, you need to surround yourselves with truly remarkable people doing remarkable work — and that’s just a baseline to accomplish success I think today.

Joe Hyland:

I think that is an amazing point to end on. So, with that, Kipp, I want to thank you.

Kipp Bodnar:

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, this has been great and everyone, thanks for tuning in for another episode.