Welcome to This Is Why They Churn! In this series, I’ll dive into product reviews and do website teardowns for B2B software companies to identify customer churn risks & renewal strategies.
Today I’m going to focus on HubSpot – the makers of marketing automation & sales software, as well as the thought leaders behind the “inbound marketing” strategy. (NOTE: I’m a former HubSpot employee and current user of their marketing & sales tools).
HubSpot offers three main products:
- Marketing automation – a collection of tools needed for marketers to execute complete digital marketing campaigns, including email, social media management, blogs, & landing pages.
- Sales automation – a collection of tools for salespeople to work more effectively, including meeting scheduling, email tracking
- Sales CRM – a central database to manage sales interactions and manage company revenue pipeline
The company’s go-to-market strategy & success relies on practicing what they preach – using inbound marketing techniques to generate new leads and customers. More recently, the company has shifted towards a freemium model, with all three of their products having a no-cost tier. Previously, the entry price for the marketing product was $200 per month.
One thing leaps out to me right off the bat re: pricing. For the marketing product, the Starter tier is billed on a monthly basis whereas the more expensive versions all have annual billing. This gives HubSpot a new tactic for handling Basic tier customers looking to cancel – shift to monthly payments, and reduce total cost by 75%. Given that HubSpot already has all the data in the platform, this could be really compelling for companies with cashflow challenges: $50 each month is a lot less scary than $2,400 upfront. And for HubSpot, that increases the LTV on customers that would otherwise disappear.
HubSpot plays an EXTREMELY fragmented and competitive market. In addition to battling with other integrated sales & marketing platforms, it also goes up against a number of point solutions that specialize in individual features included in the platform.
Landing on the HubSpot homepage, it is clear that selling you on the value of an “all-in-one” platform is top of mind.
Sales, Marketing, & CRM are seen next to each other in a couple different spots. This is a big deal, as competing marketing automation solutions are view the “all-in-one” as all of your MARKETING in one spot. For HubSpot, they want all of your REVENUE OPERATIONS centralized on their platform: marketing, sales, & customer engagement.
This shift is reinforced by the language around the Growth Stack. Rather than cobble together a range of different marketing & sales tools, you can consolidate everything into a single platform and pay a single bill each month.
This all suggests that HubSpot is targeting customers who will value the broad feature set & integrated tool selection – their stickiest customers.
Additionally, HubSpot takes every pain to let you know just how cheap everything is – starting at the low, low price of $0 / month. Very clearly targeting the small-business or startup buyer.
So how does HubSpot stand out from the competition? Let’s dive into the reviews & find out!
REVIEW DEEP DIVE
Before jumping into the review analysis, let me explain the methodology. I sourced all reviews from the G2 Crowd website. For positive reviews, I examined the most recent 150 five star reviews and assigned each review to a category, with many reviews having multiple categories. On the negative side, I examined the most recent one & two star reviews. There were fewer than 150 such reviews.
Now – onto the positive reviews:
A few things stick out as noteworthy:
- Ease of use ranks number one: this is to be expected for a product aimed at mass market users. If your biggest fans don’t think your product is easy to use, you can bet that your haters won’t either.
- The “all-in-one” value proposition sticks: Core to HubSpot’s value proposition is the convenience & power of an “all-in-one” system to power the marketing & sales effort. Seeing multiple reviewers gush about the broad feature means that this rings true with actual customers.
- Great support, onboarding, & training: The customer experience is so much more than just product. Every touchpoint that a user has with your company is critical. This is even more true during the points of high friction, such as when a customer is initially unfamiliar with the product or has encountered a problem. That’s why support & training making the top 6 is impressive. What’s more, they would be #3 overall if combined into a single entry. Frustrated customers = churning customers.
- Thought leadership as differentiator: HubSpot popularized the inbound marketing strategy many years ago (the founders literally wrote the book on the topic). HubSpot has continued this pattern of differentiating through thought leadership by providing tons of free & paid educational content as well as hosting a massive conference each year. For many marketers, HubSpot is as much an educator as it is a service provider.
- Jack of all trades, master of none? My biggest area of churn concern so far is that the product may not deliver a “best-in-class” experience for each feature it offers. Referring back to the Martech 5000 image, there are enough competitors out there who specialize in just one thing that the choosy user may prefer to get a point solution rather than buy a platform. That’s especially true if they are only using a limited subset of the platform’s features.
Onto the negative reviews!
Here are the takeaways:
- My way or the highway: Coming out of the positive reviews, I was on the lookout for indications that customers may not be bought into the “all-in-one” approach. You can see that here as Feature limitations (#1) and Rigidity of platform (#3) were at the top. In addition, a few complaints were made about features being overly simple. These are the types of concerns you would expect from “expert” users demanding best-in-class in their area of focus vs. being broadly good enough.
- Is it actually easy to use?: You may be surprised to see that ease of use is one of the top strikes against the product. Don’t be. It is impossible to create software that please everyone – some people just like it regardless of how it is built. To control for this, a better metric I track is net ease of use (NEU) – the number of five-star reviewers who say it is easy to use / intuitive / etc MINUS the count of one-star & two-star reviewers who say the opposite. In HubSpot’s case, the net ease of use from this exercise came out as +46. For the average product, you should expect to see a positive net ease of use. Really poor products will have an NEU score close to zero or even negative.
- ABC – Always Be Closing: It isn’t uncommon for unsatisfied customers to feel that they were misled about features & capabilities during the sale process. But seeing sales experience as a top 5 concern could indicate that reps are pushing too hard to win the deal. If that means signing up customers who are bad fits for the product, that could be a double whammy. First, aggressive discounting & contractual terms needed to close the deal lower the guaranteed revenue on the sales. Additionally, bad fit customers are guaranteed churn once the contract renew date rolls around (unless they forget to check the credit card statement, of course).
- Where are the haters?: Given that HubSpot product has been around for more than a decade, seeing only 62 negative reviews strikes me as pretty impressive. When you consider their customer breadth & that they have collected 2,300+ reviews, it seems that they’re doing something right. To capture this relationship, I’ve created the Love-vs-Hate Ratio. The concept is very similar to the net promoter score as it gauges overall enthusiasm for company & product by ignoring middle-of-the-pack reviews. To calculate, I divide the total count of five-star reviews by the sum of one-star & two-star reviews. For HubSpot, that comes out to 28. A twenty-eight to one ratio of advocates to detractors is pretty good – I’ll share a benchmark of how other SaaS companies perform on this metric in a future article.
Before moving to the takeaways, one final thing that struck me from my evaluation of the customer reviews:
The number of reviewers coming from companies with 50 or fewer employees is significant. If this is an accurate reflection of the HubSpot customer base, then this is a red flag.
Most small businesses and startups just don’t survive. So a good chunk of churn may be due to companies going out of business. In situations like that, there is no renewal opportunity available.
Additionally, when companies at this stage have cashflow issues, spend on software tools is the first place to start cutting. Especially when those tools have a ton of free / low cost alternatives. That is a threat to an all-in-one platform like HubSpot, but the shift to freemium pricing alleviates this somewhat, as it means that budget-conscious customers can opt to downgrade rather than leave the service entirely.
Given everything seen in the reviews and on the website, the top churn risks identified are:
- SMB customer risk: high rate of company failure means some customers may just go out of business or have cashflow issues
- A la carte risk: For customers only using a subset of features, they may prefer best-in-class point solutions rather than buy into HubSpot’s integrated solution
HubSpot runs an amazing business and has seen fantastic growth for well over a decade. But no company is perfect, and HubSpot certainly has its own challenges to overcome in order to keep up it’s rapid expansion in a competitive space.