The INBOUND 2020 keynote discussion just landed – here’s what you should know

By Si Muddell, Thursday September 24, 2020

INBOUND 2020, HubSpot’s annual digital marketing conference went virtual for the first time this week. It was a chance for HubSpot fans around the globe to get together (virtually) for two days of ideas, inspiration and networking. And even though we missed the buzz of attending such a great event in person this year, it was still a super-fun and fascinating update about all things HubSpot.

As ever, one of the most intriguing aspects of INBOUND was the keynote speech – which, again, was different from the norm. Instead of speaking to a packed auditorium, HubSpot’s co-founders and chief product officer discussed what the post-COVID future of HubSpot, work and life in general might look like.

Below are some of the highlights we took from their enlightening discussion.

Leading through Zoom.

“I think the role of technology is really changing,” said Chris O’Donnell, HubSpot’s chief product officer. “Everyone from my first-grader kids to my retiree parents are relying on technology not just for productivity but for every kind of human connection right now.”

Chris’ comments will echo with many. We’ve seen how technology has become integral to people’s lives, not just a nice-to-have. It’s how we communicate, it’s how we stay social, and it’s now how we shop, too – 36% of us shop online on a weekly basis. (Up from 28% pre-COVID.)

Thriving in the new normal will be about understanding how to do business online. How to create amazing products when people can’t be in the same room. And how to make sure your business and colleagues are faring well.

“One of the skills that forward-looking companies need to think about is how do we run our offices and our companies on Zoom?” So says HubSpot’s co-founder and CEO, Brian Halligan. “[The way we collaborate] isn’t going back to 2019. I think 2022, 2023 looks a lot more like today. And great managers will have to figure out how to lead through Zoom and Slack.”

While recent innovations in technology mean many of us can work with little obvious disruption, the physical, logistical and even mental challenges many of us will face (and are facing) due to a lack of human interaction will be a key challenge for management. Checking in with our colleagues and fostering a supportive business culture will be more important than ever. FaceTime is not necessarily a substitute for face-to-face time, and leaders will have to realise and find ways to cope with that.

Change equals opportunity.

Brian Halligan continues: “I’m kind of hardwired to think change equals opportunity, so I’m cautiously optimistic about companies that lean into this change.”

This is a crucial point that mirrors renowned management consultant Peter Drucker’s thoughts on change. He said: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Business leaders need to see the coronavirus pandemic as a gauntlet thrown down to them – a direct challenge of their ability to react, cope and come out the other end of a crisis better than when they went into it. This means finding new ways to reach their customers, either through new channels or with a new kind of messaging. (Much like we did with the Princess Yachts Experience page, which eschewed sales-oriented messaging for lifestyle content.)

And it also means being brave with marketing and advertising budgets in a time when the natural temptation will be to pare back such activity. As Mark Ritson explains here, those businesses who bump up their marketing spend will be long-term winners in this brave new business world.

It also means responding to the new needs of your employees. Brian Halligan explains: “Employees are really changing their expectations of their employers, of their leaders – and modern companies need to match up with modern employees. Forward-looking companies that take advantage of these changes will really benefit post-COVID.”

Stepping up the culture game.

As technology improves and working from home becomes the norm, employees will be less restricted by geography. Great candidates will have their pick of companies as the international barriers to working with them disappear. This means companies will have to be more appealing to attract and retain great employees – and much of that appeal will be tied in with their business culture.

“Culture is a product.” So says Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot co-founder. “Culture is the product we build for our team. People want a mission they can get behind. They want autonomy – the ability to make decisions. And they want brilliant peers – colleagues they respect, admire and enjoy.

“But since COVID, three new culture features have popped up:

  1. People are looking for flexibility in terms of where they work and the hours they work. 
  2. They want transparency; they want to know what’s going on inside their leaders’ heads. 
  3. They want diversity. The best people want to work with the best teams, and the best teams are diverse teams.”

This is a symptom of a potential paradigm shift, where the balance of power shifts in part towards the employee. For businesses to thrive in a world where anyone can work anywhere, businesses are going to have to step up their culture game to be an alluring enough target for the best talent out there.

The importance of empathy & trust.

“I have a renewed sense of empathy for our customers,” says Dharmesh. “I’ve always thought of HubSpot as an empathetic company, and this has really brought to light how important that is.”

Empathy is at the core of all great product invention and design. Understanding people’s wants and needs – and then using design to meet them – is integral to the success of anything you sell. Today, it’s arguably more important than ever. With social change happening at pace, our needs change, and if companies don’t react quickly to that change they risk being left behind.

HubSpot have recently started to host a monthly staff meeting that’s all about their customers. Not only do they get to hear from their customers, and thus understand what needs to improve, they hear from their customers as a team unit, so any learnings can be talked through with everyone in the room. “Hearing that pain together is useful!” says Brian.

But this isn’t just about COVID. Other macro-level issues are starting to affect how people think about the behaviours of the companies they buy from, most notably the harmful effects of doing business, from plastic production to carbon footprints. In the future, people won’t just buy things, they’ll buy into them – and they’ll be turned off by companies who don’t match their sense of purpose.

And this is largely an issue of trust, as Dharmesh explains. “Trust is like a score. It’s the probability that they’re going to something good minus the probability that they’re going to do something evil. And it’s this side – the evil side – that’s shown up a lot more lately [in buyers’ decision-making]. 

“So how does this help companies thrive in the new normal? Well, you have to realise your customers are looking at you with more scrutiny than they ever have, which is good news [because] you have the ability to stand out. You can recognise that every decision you make will either improve your trust score or decrease it – and then act accordingly.”

Change is opportunity.

The overriding sentiment from the HubSpot keynote discussion was the need to face into the changes COVID has forced upon us. Add a few letters to ‘change’ and you get ‘challenge’, but change isn’t just a challenge, it’s an opportunity. It’s a way to understand your audience even better than before, so you can sell better than before. A way to create a better business culture in the hope of attracting exceptional talent to your team. A way to consider new, more cost-efficient ways to reach your customers. And a way to have a more flexible, happier workforce.

The greater the change, the greater a business’ response must be. And changes don’t get much bigger than what we’re seeing right now. Which means the biggest risk you can take is staying the same.Want to turn change into your opportunity? Get in touch.

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