This week, Gabriel chats with down Samantha Ceppos, HubSpot's Director of Global Partner and Platform Marketing, to talk about how a business can choose a software platform that promotes growth and let's you connect with a broader marketing community.
Listen to the Podcast version of this episode:
- About Sam and the HubSpot Partner Ecosystem
- Why is Joining the HubSpot Partner Ecosystem Worth the Investment?
- How Would Someone Decide Which Platform to Develop On?
- What Are the Benefits of the HubSpot Ecosystem to an Agency?
- Overall Benefits of the HubSpot Ecosystem
- The HubSpot Ecosystem's Response to the Crisis
- Building a Positive Community Within the HubSpot Ecosystem
- Inbound 2020: The Digital Event
Gabriel: Hello, everybody, and welcome back to Martech Masters. Today, I'm here with Samantha Ceppos. She is the Director of Global Partner and Platform Marketing at HubSpot. I'm so happy to have you, Sam. How are you doing today?
About Sam and the HubSpot Partner Ecosystem (0:40)
Samantha: I'm doing well. It's really good to be here. I know it's been a while since we've seen each other in person. We typically get a bunch of in-person time at our Inbound and Partner events every year but, obviously, those have been virtual so I'm really excited to be here.
Gabriel: That's awesome. Thanks for doing this. So, why don't you introduce yourself for everybody to know who you are, what you do at HubSpot, what your role is, and also tell us a little bit about how you work with the HubSpot Partner programs.
Samantha: Right, so I've been at HubSpot about two and a half years and I lead the marketing teams that are responsible for acquiring, enabling, educating, and delighting HubSpot's Partner Ecosystem.
Our partner ecosystem is primarily made up of solutions partners and our app partners, both of whom really help HubSpot customers build and manage amazing end-to-end customer experiences. Our solutions partners, like Nextiny yourself, use HubSpot for their clients and provide a variety of services around the software, everything from CRM implementation, inbound marketing, and sales and web design to everything in between.
The solutions partner program actually turned 10 this year and includes thousands of partners worldwide of all shapes and sizes. Our app partners build apps that integrate with HubSpot that you augment and extend the functionality of our core product.
These apps are then available in our app marketplace for customers to browse and install and our app partners really run the gamut from big market makers like Zoom to SAAS entrepreneurs who have built apps specifically to augment HubSpot like Deposit Fix or Geo Mapper and we have a lot in between those two ends of the spectrum.
We just crossed an important milestone for our ecosystem with over 500 apps listed in our marketplace which was really exciting for us to be able to announce as we really view the ecosystem as an extension of HubSpot. These are the partners that have been vetted to help our customers be more successful whether they need a service or an integration or both and that's what I focus on on a day-to-day basis.
Gabriel: That's awesome and I love how you guys cross-promote and help us connect with each other. I know you guys do an amazing job at running the two programs but also they're not just separate programs, we connect with many software companies that are part of your ecosystem side of things and we add layers of quality and functionality and a lot of different things that ends up giving more value to our customers because those those apps exist in HubSpot like Wistia, Seventh Sense, Databox, and so many other ones.
So, thank you for all the hard work that you guys put together on that end. So, let's say you're a SAAS entrepreneur, why is joining a platform ecosystem worth the investment?
Why is Joining the HubSpot Partner Ecosystem Worth the Investment? (3:00)
Samantha: Businesses are using more and more SAAS apps every day. According to Blissfully, who publishes an annual report on SAAS trends, 2019, mid-market businesses were using, on average 137 apps to run their businesses and that was a 30% increase year over year and that trend has continued.
When these apps don't don't speak to each other and there's no system of record, the view of their customers becomes really fragmented and it's very inefficient to manage all of these different apps and different windows with different logins with data that doesn't match up, doesn't speak the systems, don't speak to each other. So, as more apps integrate with platforms like HubSpot, it allows businesses to actually have a more seamless experience managing their apps but also create a more seamless experience for the customers.
So, if you think about that as the main reason why platforms are beneficial, the specific ways they help you as a SAAS entrepreneur are to serve joint customers. If there are people in your install base who are already using HubSpot for example and your product, you're going to make their lives easier by building an integration between the two. You're also reducing the likelihood that they're going to leave you for a competitor that does integrate with that platform and so that's sort of the easiest, most obvious use case.
You're also going to gain exposure to a new base of qualified prospects. By integrating with another platform, you're making your product more useful in more contexts so you're basically expanding your total addressable market and when customers are looking for an app that integrates with that platform and fills a particular need they're going to go to a marketplace and look for apps that will do that thing that they need.
Apps should also be part of the core story that a company like HubSpot tells about its products. When we launched—we launched our new CMS Hub earlier this year—we actually featured the apps that integrate with our CMS not just just talking about the CMS product that we built. If you go to our product page you'll actually see those apps listed as sort of part of the overall offering.
And lastly you'll get some brand association. You're going to get the halo effect of the platform’s brand. By associating yourself with them you can build additional awareness and credibility. This is beneficial for both small, up-and-coming entrepreneurs but also for bigger companies that want to be known for something additional than what they produce themselves.
Gabriel: Yeah, and you also get the benefit of partners then promoting you and selling your apps so it keeps growing, right? It has a domino effect that more and more people will continue to recommend you because you integrate with the app because you have a great integration and things like that, so we've seen that over and over again.
So, if your company is looking to build an app in one or two or three platforms, how do you decide which platform to build on?
How Would Someone Decide Which Platform to Develop On? (6:05)
Samantha: So, in addition to making sure that any platform you build on has the tools your developers need to be successful, so they have to have great documentation and open APIs.
I'd say there are three key markers of an ecosystem that you should want to be a part of: Do they have a great marketplace? Are they transparent with their partners? And is there a vibrant partner community?
So, I'll dig into marketplaces first. Marketplaces are where users of a platform can find the apps that will extend the functionality, but what sets good marketplaces apart are our three sort of core tenets. Here, it's like discoverability, is the marketplace easy for customers to find if they need something? Are suggestions about apps surfaced in the right places, at the right time, during the user experience where they'd be most useful? This is something that we at HubSpot actually want to do a lot more of and we have a long way to go, frankly. It's not enough to make it easy to find the marketplace when a user knows they need an app, you want to be proactively surfacing that ‘Looks like you might need something to help you with X, here are apps that do that that have four star, four or five-star ratings.’
So, we have been investing in it for the long term, although we recognize that we need to do more here but it's something that's really important.
Another piece of a good marketplace is informed choice. Does the marketplace make it easy for customers to narrow down the options that fulfill their needs? Are there great filters? Is there a really useful search tool? Is there editorial curation where you might see the platform itself pulling together lists of products that fulfill certain criteria, "here are the top rising stars", "here are the most popular apps that do X", and do the app listings themselves provide robust information that allows customers to evaluate each app? Can you easily understand pricing? Features? What are the use cases? Is there a demo video? Is it clear how to contact the company to actually get set up?
And lastly, on the marketplace front is trust. Is there a mechanism for capturing social proof? Customers want to hear from other customers how well this integration works. You'll see out there are a million ratings and reviews websites. Like G2 is a fantastic one. But G2 listings don't show how the app works in the context of another platform. So, if you want to understand how good is that integration at doing what it says it's doing you actually really need that information in the app marketplace itself.
Last fall we launched ratings and reviews in the app marketplace for the first time because we knew it was important. Our customers were telling us over and over again they needed more information in order to build out their sort of integrated tech stack with HubSpot, so that was really exciting and obviously the ratings and reviews are still getting built out. You know, we only have, I think we have a thousand ratings and reviews in the marketplace today so we've got a long way to go but our app partners are really excited about the functionality and so are our customers. Without discoverability and sort of informed trust and and informed choice and trust marketplaces can't truly be useful to the customer.
Gabriel: Definitely, and two things there, one is I love: the video capability. You know we love video, so every time I see a video that explains something, I'm gonna go there. Not everybody is like that but it will make it easier for people to understand what it is, so making it easy on the directory and understanding, you know, is that information available in an easy way, so, it’s consumable and easy to make a decision, but the reviews have been amazing. We get those requests all the time because we use so many apps so it's always like "what do you think about Seventh Sense?" "What do you think about Databox?"
So, we're always leaving reviews and our customers are leaving reviews for the integrations, we're part of that process and I believe that continues to make it better and make the ecosystem better so people can actually make a good decision. A lot of the decisions are made on what the features are and what the price is, what I'm gonna say, my advice from an agency perspective to all SAAS companies trying to build for the HubSpot ecosystem and platform or any other platforms, I would say the integration itself has to be robust.
That is the number one reason why we stay with integrations. You might get to test one because it's easy to install or cheap or the feature seems to be amazing but then if the integration with the actual platform is not amazing it'll not work out in the end because that's where you get the most value when you can use the HubSpot CRM, the HubSpot CMS, and you have all these hubs in the middle. But, then you have layers of value that keep adding.
I have seen that over and over and the ones that win are always the ones with the best integrations in my opinion.
Samantha: If your product's not good ratings and reviews won't help you.
Gabriel: There you go, definitely.
Samantha: So, really, that's the core of it. But, if you have a great product then you can get your customers to leave great reviews, that's a really huge tool in your tool belt regardless of what app ecosystem you're a part of.
Gabriel: Of course, of course. So, let's go back to the other side of things and talk about agencies and client service businesses that want to partner with someone like HubSpot, with a platform like HubSpot. What are some of the recommendations that you have for them to take advantage of all the benefits of a larger ecosystem like HubSpot?
What are the Benefits of the HubSpot Ecosystem to an Agency? (11:31)
Samantha: Yeah, so, working with an open platform provides a lot of opportunity for agencies and other client services businesses to expand and diversify your services and your revenue streams and that really happens in two core ways.
You know, the apps that integrate with the platform that are available in a marketplace can help solve some of your clients' unmet needs. Just like customers can seek out apps to extend what HubSpot can do, you can do that for your clients, you can be that expert in the variety of technologies that will expand what it can do for you.
Think about the most common asks from your clients that maybe in the past you haven't been able to solve for with just the core software; there's probably an app for that. As we've talked about, you have been a major champion for this within the HubSpot solutions partner community, particularly when it comes to video, but it's definitely been a growing trend. We've had you speak about it at the past two or three years worth of Partner Days and two years ago it was people like ‘oh that sounds interesting, I'm not ready for it’ and then last year it was ‘wow, that's a lot, I'm going to do that, I'm going to get more, I'm going to get more involved.’
"And I think our partners have found that (using apps from the marketplace) makes you more indispensable to your clients. They're doing more for them which means it's harder for them to leave because they see more value and I think that that speaks for itself."
I think the other piece of it is you can actually build your own integrations for your clients and we're seeing more and more of our partners doing this, building out what you know technical practices and capabilities to actually allow you to build custom integrations for your clients. You're using our developer tools to build those custom integrations and some of our partners have even doubled down and actually commercialized their apps, put them in the app marketplace—because they've seen that multiple clients have benefited from a particular type of integration so you know maybe there's a bigger market for it and if I put it in the app marketplace more people will see it and that that's an automatic distribution channel for you.
So, the thing that's great about that is it actually means that some of our partners are both solutions partners and app partners and have really diversified the revenue streams as a result and it's great for me because I get to work with them in both contexts, but we actually refer to a lot of the folks that do that as sort of dual citizens and it allows you to do more for your clients and that's, that's really exciting.
Gabriel: That's awesome and, yeah, we've seen it over and over again that we either win an opportunity against another agency because we have these other layers and also these partnerships are something that we take advantage of. It's not just using a tool like Databox but now we have a relationship with Databox and a partnership with Databox and then that also builds up and we help each other.
The Benefits of the HubSpot Ecosystem (14:37)
Gabriel: So, I would say that the HubSpot platform has brought us to a lot of other entrepreneurs and amazing apps but it’s not just features and software, it's people and amazing teams and opportunities to do co-marketing and do great things together. So, I believe there's so many other layers to being part of a platform like this one and those opportunities are the ones that will bring even more business or bigger opportunities in the future.
And on the client side of things, we've seen over and over again that yes, HubSpot allows us to do these things, but when we add these layers then it gets stickier because we're at the same time creating more value for them. If I can send emails at the right time because I had Seventh Sense as an AI technology for email marketing then my customers are gonna be happier than just with what we were doing before, so keeping customers happy at the same time we're using many tools it's sticky on the business side but, at the end of the day, it’s all for the customer, for the happiness of our customers.
So, what are you most excited about in 2020? I know 2020 has been a crazy year for everybody. So, what's exciting about the ecosystem and the HubSpot platform in 2020, and what are some of the changes that you've seen because of the crisis going on?
The HubSpot Ecosystem’s Response to the Crisis (15:59)
Samantha: I think, first and foremost, our solutions partners have really been seen as experts in the type of digital transformation that small and mid-market businesses are undergoing because of the pandemic. Your expertise in software and the services around that software has really positioned our solutions partners to be great thought partners and facilitators in this transition and so we've actually seen a lot of success in our partner community because these are companies that maybe never did digital marketing before or didn't have an online CRM and were just keeping track of sales in like a spreadsheet or were not even doing online management of any of their business, or just portions of it.
So, they need someone. They don't have the money to hire a marketing team and they don't want to hire someone and then have to let them go right away. So, actually working with an agency or a service provider is actually perfect because you can engage them for at least a small amount of time to try and get them up and running and see if it helps. So, that's been really exciting.
Second I'd say it's been disappointing not to see our partners in person but it's been thrilling to have the opportunity to really lean into testing and learning ways to engage our partners virtually. We found that more frequent informal touch points have actually been really impactful. We used to rely really heavily on these two cornerstone partner events where you had to limit the attendance because you could only fit so many people or you only had so much budget and people had to travel and they had to spend money to come even if the event was free.
So we've gotten the opportunity not only to reach them more frequently, but to reach more people across more regions who otherwise wouldn't have been able to attend in person. So, it's accelerated what we were already starting to do this year but accelerated our testing of this so that even when we reintroduce in-person event—which we will so if you’re a partner don't worry at some point that will happen—virtual touch points will be a more frequent part, a more common part of our event strategy, as well. That could be everything from round tables with product managers, it could be peer-to-peer learning sessions, it could be networking events, it could be happy hours. There are lots of different ways to do that and our community is so important to us.
"I think [the community] is what sets the HubSpot ecosystem apart and it's something [to consider] if you are evaluating an ecosystem to join, try to see if there's a community. Because I think that's one really hard thing to find. You want to be able to learn from each other and from the company itself and sort of have those, build those relationships."
I'd say the last thing is just, we're continuing to invest in improving our developer experience and our app marketplace. Like I said, we know we've got a long way to go. It's super important to us and it's super important to our solutions partners and to our app partners and we really live for the candid feedback we get on things like our developer NPS because it helps us focus on what matters most: the people who are building on our platform or servicing our platform. And so I'm really excited about the road ahead.
Gabriel: That's awesome, and going back to the events, it's been super sad that we can't hang out. It's always the highlight of my year going to Boston and going to Partner Day and going to Inbound and those events have been amazing, but I see what you're saying. I know you were going through a transformation anyways because with an international business you had to make changes, you can't have everybody from all over the world. The expenses that everybody has to do, two events, you do five events. How do you even figure it out, right?
Everybody's going to be unhappy all the time because of it. So, also interesting that you said that it accelerated because I keep hearing that on and on, on these podcasts and these videos that we're doing everybody's saying the same thing: "this has accelerated our transformation,” "this has accelerated the way we do things,” "this is accelerated moving things into virtual.” And I'm not going to silver line the whole crisis that we're going through right now, but, of course, we have seen a lot of opportunities and a lot of positives that come from us being able to connect and then when things come back to some kind of normal, we'll have both. We'll have some kind of in-person, let's hopefully hug each other situation then—not from the distance like that—but then we'll have a lot of other, you know, touch points and abilities to connect together.
I want to go back to the community. I have weekly meetings with HubSpot partners and HubSpot sales people and I'm part of coaching groups and sales coaching groups. I'm part of the Lion Program, every week we meet and we want to meet even more.
Today in the meeting we have every Friday we were talking about creating a little meeting every day in the morning to get, you know, people excited about things and whoever can connect, when you can create and you can be part of a community like that one it'll make everything else so much better because, at the end of the day, software is beautiful, marketing is great, selling is awesome, but we're all human beings and this is what an ecosystem and a platform is all about. It’s connecting with other awesome amazing human beings that can help each other and I see that as the biggest value of the HubSpot partnership and being a HubSpot partner and being part of the platform is people like you and so many other amazing people that have made our company grow, our customers happier. It keeps growing, growing so the human aspect of it is the most important aspect when you choose actually a platform I would say.
Building a Positive Community Within the HubSpot Ecosystem (21:57)
Samantha: Yeah, I would agree and I think, you know, personal story, when I was transitioning from my previous job to this job I was moving from New York to Boston and I had like a really long gap because I was moving my whole family and my boss, John, called me and was like ‘you should come to Inbound and come to Partner Day. I know you're still at your old job but like, you know, we'll pay for you to come up. We really want you to just get a sense of what you're going to see. These partners in person until the spring if you don't do this now.’
And I was, I had been, it had been so long since I accepted the offer that I had started to second-guess myself a little like’ oh, am I making a crazy decision?’ And then I came and I saw the energy and I saw the engagement between the partners and how excited they were to see each other and to learn and I can't say enough, like we couldn't do it without the partners and the community that you guys have you all have built as much as you know what we have done to help foster it so it's very unique and special to me personally one of the reasons that I enjoy getting out of bed anymore every day to to do my job.
Gabriel: That's awesome, that's awesome, Sam. Thank you again for sharing all this and all the information and for an amazing partnership. I know you guys worked really hard to make us all happy and create these experiences and I can't thank you enough for everything you and your amazing team you have do on a daily basis for us. So, anything else you want to share with us?
Inbound 2020: The Digital Event (23:20)
Samantha: Well, I'll just shamelessly promote that HubSpot's Inbound is still coming up in September even though we're not doing it in-person.
Gabriel: Put a link right there and people can click on it.
Samantha: It's not my team that runs it but we do have some content for our partners but it is going to be totally different than our events in-person. We're not just trying to move the exam event online it's going to be this totally different online immersive experience.
I work with the Inbound team a lot and they have been working tirelessly to make this event amazing and reshape it into something that will work online and be just totally different and life-changing for anyone that attends.
As we've seen with our partner events, the benefits of going virtually is you can welcome people from all over the world. We're hearing from so many of our solutions partners that they're really excited that their whole team can attend inbound this year. So, yeah, you're right. Maybe not a silver lining so much, but like I won't complain about that piece of it and so you know trying to find ways to replicate that in the future is going to be really important even as things move back to in-person. So, come to Inbound and we'll "see you" there.
Gabriel: Thanks again, Sam for everything that you guys do and for being here today and sharing all the information. I know it's very invaluable information for partners and software companies, please go check the HubSpot ecosystem if you are not part of a platform.
I know many many SAAS companies that know and tell me that their number one source of business is one of these platforms, especially HubSpot. So, check it out and, of course, talk to the HubSpot people, they're awesome to work with, all right. Thank you, Sam, for everything, okay, and stay safe.