Hubspot VP Meghan Keaney Anderson: “I’m fascinated by the intersection of technology and social impact.”

I’m fascinated by the intersection of technology and social impact. I guess, looking back, those and writing have always been my great loves. Neither is perfect. True social change can be slow, arduous and fragile. Technology moves so fast that it can amplify bias and create unintended consequences. That said, together they can create movements […]

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I’m fascinated by the intersection of technology and social impact. I guess, looking back, those and writing have always been my great loves. Neither is perfect. True social change can be slow, arduous and fragile. Technology moves so fast that it can amplify bias and create unintended consequences. That said, together they can create movements and amplify impact. Lately there has been a rise of companies trying to simultaneously grow and channel that growth into social impact. Coined Benefit Corps — or B-Corps — companies like Cotopaxi and Topo Designs, find a way to both grow their bottom line and their impact on society around them. I’d like to see more companies like that. I’d like to see and be part of more moments that are self-perpetuating.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Meghan Keaney Anderson, vice president of marketing for HubSpot, a platform that helps businesses grow better. The company offers marketing, sales and customer service software and a strategy for aligning your businesses success with that of your customers. At HubSpot, Meghan and her teams lead the brand, content, product positioning and launch strategies. In addition to her work as VP, Meghan hosts The Growth Show, a narrative podcast exploring atypical growth stories and the people behind them.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started my career knowing I wanted a job in which I could write and one in which I would be surrounded by people who are passionate about their work. That led me to apply for my first real job as a copywriter for a nonprofit — United Way of Massachusetts Bay. There I got to expand my role in a variety of ways including running the web and social strategies. That taught me about the power of technology to enable action, influence others and fuel movements. To me, technology represented the greatest opportunity for understanding what catalyzes impact. So I wanted to learn everything I could about it. I left the nonprofit space to join a tech startup — Performable — in 2011. That experience gave me my first exposure to working with a team that was building something together from the ground up. Just five months later, HubSpot acquired Performable and I landed on my current path.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

Once at HubSpot’s annual INBOUND event, I got the chance to interview Alec Baldwin for the podcast I host: The Growth Show. I was looking forward to interviewing him. I was also excited for the big product launch my team was planning for the same day and for giving my own speech at the event. I was excited. That is, until my doctor told me she needed to schedule an early C-section for me on the very same day. I looked worried when she told me. “Don’t worry, C-Sections are common and you’re only 3 weeks early,” she said. “I’m not worried about the C-Section, I told her. I’m worried about Alec Baldwin.”

Turns out — I work with some pretty incredible people. They immediately expanded their own capacities to fill in the gaps. They did the extra work. They shushed all of my, “but Alec Baldwin…” remarks and focused me on the bigger personal milestone ahead of me.

And, as it turns out, at the last minute my doctor canceled the C-Section. I got to show up at the event after all, see the product launch my team had worked so hard on, and achieve a true bucket-list item: Giving a speech while 9 months pregnant.

And Alec? I didn’t get to interview him — we’d already found a fill-in — but I did meet him. He immediately offered me a chair and a snack, and when you’re 9 months pregnant, that’s about as good as it gets.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At HubSpot, we talk a lot about this idea of not just growing bigger, but also growing better. There’s a lot of pressure put on companies today to grow, and too often that pressure forces companies to make short-term decisions that drive growth but sacrifice the customer experience. Which may work for that month, but is never the right choice in the long run. We’ve done some research which showed that customer word-of-mouth and referrals are the single biggest influence on new purchases. At the same time the average cost of customer acquisition is on the rise for most marketing channels. So in truth, your customers are better marketers than any person, strategy or tactic you could ever put in place.

What I think makes HubSpot stand-out is how thoroughly our founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah get this, and how consistently our executive team asks the question — how will this decision affect customers? I’ve seen us walk away from growth, pricing or packaging strategies that benefit us, but put weight on customers. I’m proud of that. Earlier this year, Dharmesh Shah one of HubSpot’s cofounders put his thoughts on this into a public document he called The Customer Code. It outlines the changes we’re trying to make to be the sort of company our customers will love. We graded ourselves against it (7.1/10) and asked our customers to do the same and we have plays working to raise our score on each of the principles within it.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

HubSpot just launched a $30 million fund called HubSpot Ventures. I’m incredibly excited about it not just because it’s our first formal foray into venture investing, but because it strikes me as a very different approach to investment. HubSpot Ventures isn’t focused on quick returns; instead, it invests specifically in companies that grow by focusing on the customer, removing friction from their marketing and sales and developing inclusive cultures open to everyone. All investments are evaluated based on how well their practices reflect the tenets in the customer code — the same standards we hold ourselves to — and their customer NPS. If they have work to do in any of the areas, we match them with HubSpot employees, partners and experts to help them grow better. And we include access to our growth platform, educational program and events on top of the investment.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lessons that others can learn from that?

There aren’t ever really watershed moments — that’s a fallacy we grow up believing. I’ll hit this age, and I’ll be different. I’ll achieve this thing and I’ll be successful. It doesn’t happen that way. A career is made of a million molecules of moments — achievements, setbacks, discoveries — but there are no periods of stasis. It may seem like nothing is progressing, but it always is.

I will say one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten deeper into my career is to leverage the tools in front of you. As my team has grown, I’ve taken on more and more meetings. I used to see meetings as this utter distraction — a necessary evil that took me away from my real work. I don’t know when it happened, but I went through a sea-change in my thinking over the years. Today I realize that meetings are my real work — and I don’t say that facetiously. Every meeting is a singular opportunity to move the company forward. It’s an opportunity to set a project up well or develop a new leader in the company — or industry for that matter. It’s funny, I used to teach at Boston University and I prepared my lectures or workshops a week in advance. I poured my entire mind into them. Meetings are no different than classes. I should be just as prepared and they should be just as fortifying. It’s hard to achieve this for everyone. My ratio of great meetings to mediocre ones is still not where I want it, but it’s something I aspire to now.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

The best way to thrive as a marketer is to find the greatest levers of influence. Often in marketing we think of our job microcosmically. We think, “My job is to execute product launch campaigns.” Or “My job is to get this conversion ratio up.” That kind of focus will make you effective, but it won’t make you thrive. To thrive you need to think beyond singlar roles or job definitions and try to find unique opportunities of leverage. Often this comes by forging partnerships that advance multiple causes or by finding and analyzing new pockets of growth that you’ve historically overlooked.

Avoiding burnout is less vague but requires just as much intentionality. You have to make your work fit who you are. If you are introverted, build blocks on your calendars between meetings for a little space and quiet. If you have young children or otherwise want undivided attention at home, set parameters with your team so that when you leave work it’s known that you are not reachable. If you send emails weekends, make sure your team knows you don’t expect an immediate response. Here’s the problem with what I just said. I offer all of this as advice for those who are able to take it, but it comes from an incredibly privileged place. I work in the type of company and industry that allows such flexibility. There are countless people in jobs that can’t be flexible, and countless others working multiple jobs to meet financial needs. We can’t talk about burn-out without including those roles and people. The only universal advice I can give is to be present in the moments that you have away from work and try to keep perspective about what motivates you and what matters.

How do you define “Marketing”? Can you explain what you mean?

Marketing is a catalyst to create momentum for your business. If you think about your entire business as a sort of energy storing flywheel, there are a lot of forces that influence how fast it turns and point of friction that slow it down. Marketing can add force to make your business grow faster; for example, it can create a steady stream of demand through a blog that generates compounding organic traffic every month. It can also reduce friction; for example, It can use messaging and bots to help would-be customers find answers when your office is closed. Marketing is a momentum builder. You just have to aim it correctly.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Oh man, it’s always so hard to pick one. There are the people who have taken chances on me and helped me develop my skills. There are also those who have been steady streams of support throughout my career. Lately though I’ve been really grateful not just for people who taught me the ropes as I was coming up, but also for those who keep me growing smarter or better even as I’ve become more established in my role. Emma Brudner who runs our blog team taught me how you can garner more traffic with less content. (She’s also is the sort of manager I hope to be,and I’m her manager). Evelyn N. came into my life through United Way. She’s a student who is the first in her family to attend college. She commutes, works, and studies in the moments in between. It’s isolating, exhausting, and every time I see her I’m smacked in the face with what determination actually looks like. I’m not saying that I take these influences perfectly or as wholly as I should, but in moments, they make me better.

Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners?

A CRM changes everything. That’s the primary reason we made ours free. It’s the foundation of your whole business and your relationship with customers. People think it’s something you get later on in your businesses growth, but there’s no reason not to start with a good CRM when you have five, ten or a hundred customers.

We speak with customers all the time who are tracking their activities and results in spreadsheets, across multiple project management systems, and even sometimes with pen and paper. Not only does this slow down their teams, there’s also no guarantee that the information is up to date and fully accurate. A CRM that integrates with your other tools is a saving grace for any team that’s relying on human labor to keep your systems updated.

What are your “5 Non Intuitive Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses”?

1. Customers are better at marketing than you: Ironically, the biggest marketing opportunity ahead of you doesn’t sit in your marketing department at all. Over the last five years, two key trends have emerged that should change the way most small businesses think about growth. The first is data which shows that the average Cost of Customer Acquisition (CAC) has risen by 50% over the last five years. The second is the fact that customer word of mouth and referrals are now the single largest influence on purchase behavior. All of which means, that your customers are more powerful than any marketing or sales team ever could be. So, your most efficient and effective new marketing strategy? Invest in customers. In practice that means have your team nurture customers just as you would nurture leads, invest in customer education and content in just as you would invest in prospect-facing content, and use data to spot and score your happiest customers, incentivizing them to spread the word, just as you would spot and score high value leads. It may not be as obvious, but existing customers have become today’s strongest marketing channel; and the businesses that empower them best will realize today’s biggest arbitrage opportunity.

2. Don’t fear the snippet. When Google first rolled out the concept of snippets, many a marketer started to feel nervous. For those who don’t know, Snippets are those little answer boxes that now appear at the top of an estimated third of all search queries on Google. They pull content from your website directly into the answer box to get the searcher their answer faster. When snippets first appeared, marketers who depend on search for their traffic wondered — “if Google pulls content from our website into those answer boxes, won’t searchers stop clicking through to our website all together?”. We wondered too, so we ran an experiment. We took some of our top ranking posts and restructured them to be more friendly to Google Snippets. From a sample of just under 5,000 queries, we found that the click through rate to our website for high volume keywords increased by over 114% when we managed to get our content into the snippet answer box, even when we had previously ranked #1 for a search query. Why is this? Our theory is that a snippet operates much in the same way that a free trial does — it gives searchers a taste of the content without having

3. Sometimes you should just ask (nurturing): We’ve tried overly complicated segmentation by company size, industry etc and found the easiest way to deliver on what our contacts are interested in was to ask. When we started asking people who were early into our email nurturing sequences what they wanted to learn about next, we raised our CTR from 17% — 61%

4. Cut your email lists: Businesses get blinded by the allure of a large subscription list, but unengaged subscribers aren’t just not interested in what you’re sending, they’re actually harming your deliverability. This is why we unsubscribed 250,000 people from our blog subscription list and didn’t see any downside in traffic. Plus we got the added upside of not cluttering peoples inboxes and making our readers lives a little less chaotic.

5. Less content can mean more traffic: It used to be that our answer to everything was to write another blog post. It was our version of Portlandia’s “Put a Bird on it”. But what we discovered is that all that content actually wasn’t helping us from a traffic standpoint as much as we’d hoped. In 2017, we changed our content strategy to be highly focused and intentional around the search traffic we wanted to bring in. We also removed and redirected duplicate content to double-down on our best posts. The results were the best growth we’ve seen on the blog in years.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m fascinated by the intersection of technology and social impact. I guess, looking back, those and writing have always been my great loves. Neither is perfect. True social change can be slow, arduous and fragile. Technology moves so fast that it can amplify bias and create unintended consequences. That said, together they can create movements and amplify impact. Lately there has been a rise of companies trying to simultaneously grow and channel that growth into social impact. Coined Benefit Corps — or B-Corps — companies like Cotopaxi and Topo Designs, find a way to both grow their bottom line and their impact on society around them. I’d like to see more companies like that. I’d like to see and be part of more moments that are self-perpetuating.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. — Bertrand Russell

Everyone always worries about about uncertainty. But uncertainty is what keeps us striving. It’s what keeps us questioning. It is what got Einstein to the theory of relativity and Ani DeFranco to pretty much every song she ever wrote. I’m most productive when I’m unsure of something, when I get over my own ego enough to ask questions about what we’re doing and why. Especially when those questions are about work that I’ve grown comfortable in. You can’t allow yourself to drown in insecurity, but it can be a super-power if you use it right.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m most active on Twitter — @MeghKeaney.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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