For the last few months HubSpot has been compiling trend data analysing the performance of marketing and sales activity across its 70,000 strong customer base to see how companies around the world are dealing with the impact and aftermath of COVID-19.
You don’t need us to re-emphasise that the last few months have been challenging.
Since the start of March, both deals created and deals marked “closed-won” have been in decline, hitting their lowest points in mid-April, according to HubSpot’s trend data,
But, while there is still a long way to go to recovery, the latest data has been slightly more positive. Trends show an upwards climb in created and closed deals in the last few weeks.
We sat down with HubSpot’s VP of Marketing Jon Dick, to talk about HubSpot’s trend data and what the latest stats showed about the current health and optimism of its customers, what companies could be doing to now to plan for the future and what HubSpot itself has been doing to help current and new customers get through the current situation.
Some small green shoots are appearing
As Jon explained to us, it’s hard for HubSpot’s data to paint a full global picture of what is happening and we’ve all recognised that there are lots of businesses that have unfortunately had to close or are seeking assistance to keep going in the short term.
But while the stats haven’t been pretty for sales in the last few weeks, HubSpot’s data seems to show some small green shoots of optimism coming back to the market.
He said: “You get a good sense of optimism from buyers and sales reps now. From the start we saw marketing metrics were maintained, and grew in this period. Web traffic went up, we saw big increases in marketing email send and open rates and more inbound conversations happening on websites.
“From a marketing standpoint we saw strong interest from people wanting to learn and get access to content that answered questions they had.
“That was reversed in the sales data. Deals started trending down pretty steadily, sales email volume went way up, but response rates totally tanked and buyers weren’t interested in engaging with sales.
“But we’re starting to see some light, some optimism from sales reps and the week of the 13th April, in that week was the first time we saw a pickup on deal creation volume, it’s still down about 20% from pre-covid but it’s a positive increase in deals created and we’re seeing some optimism for sure.”
Since we spoke, deals created have continued to trend up, rising 8% in the week of April 20 while deals closed increased 9%.
While there’s a long way to go, things seem to have started moving back in the right direction.
Businesses are dealing with uncertainty
As businesses try and take stock of what is happening and try to plan for the short term to come out of this COVID-19 period in as good a shape as possible, we spoke with Jon about businesses’ initial reaction to the market changes, and what (if anything) they should be focusing on now.
“My read on it is that businesses fell into three camps when this started. The first camp, unfortunately, was those whose industry was knocked out like we’ve never seen before. They’ve dealt with struggles we hope we never have to deal with as business leaders and that’s been a huge cost for business leaders and employees.
“The second camp, and this was more small businesses, was those who said ‘I have to act now’, ‘I have to make a change, I’ve got to shift my budget and need more flexibility in cost structure’. ‘I need to build a website’.
“These were the companies that maybe hadn’t invested much in digital marketing, inside sales, sales technology or customer success support and who said now was the time they had to.
“The third camp was the bigger companies who went into a wait and see mode. It was almost six weeks of businesses saying ‘I want to see how this shakes out’ who did their analysis, and now these businesses are starting to come out of it and accept that 2020 isn’t going to be what they thought but are starting to come forward with new plans.”
For businesses planning to try and get back to business and engage with customers, Jon offered the following advice:
“The first thing is this idea of educating vs promoting. As an industry, marketing and sales have invested a lot in promotional activity over the past few years and those activities have had a great return associated with them.
“In the last few weeks content has turned towards 70% educational to 30% promotional. I think we’re getting more towards 50/50 but it’s important to remember there’s still a lot of struggle going on and you need to be sure to find a balance.
“If you haven’t been investing in tactics to capture inbound demand, now is the time to do it. Look at the stats for people initiating chats on websites, globally they were up more than 12% in the last few weeks.
“It’s easy as a marketer to think during this time people just aren’t ready to buy, and that’s not true. A lot of people aren’t, but for those who are, the advice is to make it as easy as possible. Don’t put people through hoops, make it easy for them to contact you right away.
“Buyers now have moved into two camps. You’ve got those who are ready to buy, and you should be prepared to sell to them, just make sure you do it in the right way.
“The others aren’t ready to buy yet - and you need to strike a different tone with them. Sales response numbers show you that there’s no amount of cold emails or calls that’s going to convince someone going through a massive economic crisis at their company that now is the right time to buy something.
“You’ve got to play the long game. Maximise the amount of inbound revenue you can capture and take advantage of that. The rest, focus on producing the future pipeline. If you didn’t have content ready, or haven’t produced it yet, then now is the time because content not only pays off in the good times, it pays off in the bad times too.
“Just make sure you’re adding value with your content.”
How has HubSpot been dealing with these times and offering value?
During the initial chaos of COVID-19, HubSpot was quick off the mark to offer help to businesses looking to make the move towards online and inbound sales and marketing.
We spoke to Jon more about that help and what HubSpot had seen as a result.
“First off, sign ups for HubSpot Academy have gone through the roof,” he said.
“We’ve seen more new certifications awarded, more traffic to our blog and resource centre and that inbound, educational content has acted as a hedge against outbound strategies.
“Over the years we’ve invested a lot in freemium software and our starter products, so our goal really was to say ‘how do we make that easier for people to use?’.
“We tried to help sales teams quickly transition to selling online, we brought down a lot of features in to the free software and we increased or removed limits so teams could get more out of the software.
“Then we wanted to de-risk the purchase of starter bundles and make it much more buyer friendly in terms of cost.. Our ultimate goal is to make it easy for businesses that don’t have the financial flexibility to invest in and try digital marketing and inbound marketing.
“We believe in adding value before we extract value, and I hope a lot of businesses taking advantage of that are successful and grow with us over time.”
We're looking to talk with more experts to give us their take on the state of marketing, sales and service and how to get the most out of inbound, conversational, video for sales and other methods of engaging with customers and leads.
Along with this interview, we've been running a series of webinars with some leading tech companies in the sales, marketing, service and business sectors including a previous talk with HubSpot's Steve Vaughan when we talked about the challenges of moving businesses online and dealing with remote working.
To catch up with that episode and other webinars, click below.