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Four Things I Learned at INBOUND, the IRL HubSpot Hub

By Adi Jagan

INBOUND is an annual HubSpot event that brings together tens of thousands of marketers from more than 160 countries. Experts in inbound marketing, sales, customer service, and revenue operations flocked to Boston for three full days of immersion in HubSpotlandia.

I saw and heard so much during my INBOUND experience—but four main takeaways stand out:

1. All-in-one software is dead. Long live middleware and all-ON-one. 

For my less tech-inclined readers, middleware is software that connects different applications. It provides a bridge between diverse technologies, tools, and databases, so you integrate them seamlessly into a single system.

The dream of all-in-one software is over (for now, at least). And that’s fine. We’ve learned that, while all-in-one technically “does everything,” software that tries to do everything generally does a mediocre job at too many of those things.

Business functions change at a lightning pace now. There’s simply no way one company can innovate and disrupt every function for every industry, much less every function, and keep up. No one company can provide high-performing all-in-one software infrastructure for entire industries.  

Better to choose best-of-breed software for its performance, and then link it all together to create a killer tech stack (or hire someone to integrate it, like us! But I digress). 

The way forward is to assemble a constellation of tools with one central hub of software. For that constellation to work, you need unified data, because everyone in your system must be working from a single source of truth—and your CRM should be that single source of data. Today’s successful entrepreneurs and businesses are built with customers at the center of your strategy. 

2. Full-stack services and industry expertise matter, now more than ever. 

Full-stack development includes both the front end (the client or public-facing side) and the back end (the server side) of websites or applications. Full-stack web developers do it all—and marketing agencies need to follow their lead.

Full-stack inbound services should include all aspects of marketing (ads, SEO, email, landing pages) plus all aspects of sales and customer service. If you catch yourself saying “I only do integrations” or “We only do SEO,” just know that long-term, you can’t silo like that. Why? Because you’re not really helping with Revenue Operations and holistic growth if you’ve confined yourself to one aspect of inbound. Mike Lieberman, CEO at Square 2, put it well

“Inbound marketing requires connectors across ALL of the tactics in the program, including web, content, email, social, conversions, search and nurture. Doing any of these tactics in a vacuum without context from the other tactics produces downward pressure on results in almost every scenario.”

The days when an agency could boast expertise in one or two areas and still succeed are numbered. Inbound marketing requires SEO, ads, social media, email marketing, content marketing, design and development experts working in concert. There’s never been a better time to get beyond your comfort zone.

Open Flow Team at HubSpot INBOUND
Open Flow Team at HubSpot INBOUND

3. Community matters, now more than ever.

What I saw and heard at this year’s INBOUND confirmed my hypothesis that, in business, zero sum games are done. The Attila/Kalanick ethos of “It is not enough that I succeed, everyone else must fail” has gone up in flames. Issa Rae, creator, writer and star of the HBO series “Insecure” famously stated in 2017 that “We tend to network up when we really should be networking across”—and she was ahead of her time. 

Why “crush” competition when we can build allies instead? We can help each other and create value with one other by connecting trade associations, pooling leads, and collaborating on solutions we all need. At Forbes, John Hall agrees: “More entrepreneurs should look within their industries for help. When competing companies focus on maintaining their market share and view each other through a cutthroat lens, great possibilities are overlooked.”

4. Diversity, equity and inclusion are a must-have, not a nice-to-have.

Bring up DEI in certain circles and people may roll their eyes. Some cohorts are consciously or subconsciously hostile to the concept, because maintaining the status quo works for them. Others—particularly people of color—may hear DEI in a business context and assume it’s all about gestures and posturing, rather than a real paradigm shift towards a fairer system. But DEI is not just a feel-good gesture or performative activism (although there are certainly many organizations that have implemented it purely for window-dressing). 

Setting aside debates around execution, efficacy or justice, here is the truth, backed by data: DEI is simply essential if you want your business to compete. 

As McKinsey reported, “Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability….[Inclusion] can be a key differentiator among companies.” Diverse teams are smarter—and we have data to prove it. Homogeneous teams underperform compared to diverse teams, over and over. 

With the rise of AI, DEI isn’t just a nice-to-have: It’s a must-have—unless we want to continue to program algorithms with built-in biases, which will have serious and detrimental outcomes for us all. If you want to succeed in marketing, you need a diverse team to connect with diverse audiences. Homogeneous teams designing apps and services to serve the needs of their own cohort…well, look at Silicon Valley’s last decade and you can see how that turns out for all of us. 

It’s a pragmatic, capitalist approach, but maybe it’s the only one we can all agree on.

Got more questions about tech stacks, HubSpot, CRM, inbound marketing or growth strategies? Let’s talk!

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