Q&A with Marketing Leaders: Kipp Bodnar, CMO at HubSpot

kipp bodnar cmo at hubspot marketing leader interview on the infinigrow blog
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Welcome back to Q&A with Marketing Leaders, our series designed to provide B2B marketing leaders with the best insights and actionable tips on how to improve their marketing planning by learning from the best marketers in the industry.

This week, we have a special Q&A for you. We sat down with Kipp Bodnar, CMO at HubSpot, to hear about his approach to B2B marketing planning.

HubSpot is a leading growth platform with thousands of customers around the world. Comprised of Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, Service Hub, and a powerful free CRM, HubSpot gives companies the tools they need to grow better.

Kipp sets HubSpot’s global inbound marketing strategy to drive awareness and demand for HubSpot’s inbound marketing and sales products. Prior to his role as CMO, he served as Vice President of Marketing at HubSpot, overseeing all demand generation activity worldwide, building out the EMEA and APAC marketing teams, and managing HubSpot’s field marketing, localization, strategic partnerships, and social media efforts. Kipp serves as a strategic advisor to select companies and holds a BA in Journalism from Marshall University.

Kipp is the co-author of “The B2B Social Media Book: Become a Marketing Superstar by Generating Leads with Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Email, and More.

How did you originally get into marketing and why?

The thing I love about marketing is that it’s one of the ultimate meritocracies. You don’t have to have a big, certified degree or go to college for 10 years to do marketing. It’s largely about your own aptitude and your ability to teach yourself as fast as you can. If you can learn quickly, you can be a great marketer.

The main thing that drew me to marketing was the problem-solving nature of it.

I think the other thing that drew me to it was that I was coming into the profession at the time where the internet was just getting started and you could already tell there was going to be a major shift in the marketing world and a reshuffling of expertise and knowledge.

There was a great opportunity to jump in and learn this new thing “online marketing”. Everybody was basically starting at the same level of information and education so it was up to me to try and outlearn everybody. I knew if I could do that, I would be in a really good position to be successful.

Why B2B over B2C?

I like things that are less flashy! I also like to be on the right side of the supply and demand curve.

If you look at B2C marketing, there’s a ton of people doing it because its a lot more flashy. B2B marketing was just more interesting.

Also, this may come off as opportunistic, but it was way less competitive than B2C. I was optimistic that my chances to achieve success would be a lot higher in B2B because of that.

Why did you choose to join HubSpot?

I believed in Brian and Dharmesh from the very first day that I met them, which is over 10 years ago now. They’re remarkable founders! The vision that they had for the business was a vision that I thought would endure for a long time and really had a chance to change how thousands or millions of people worked.

Over these past 10 years, that’s proven to be true. As it turns out, leadership actually matters!

What was the best marketing advice that you’ve gotten in your career?

That came from Dharmesh, within the first few months of knowing him.

It was like “Hey, look, anytime you’re about to embark on a big endeavor, think if you had a magic wand and you could wave it and what you’re about to do is going to go completely perfectly, just as you planned and expected. Would it actually work? Would it make the impact that you needed to make? Would it make the difference that you ultimately need it to make? If the answer is yes, go and do it! If the answer is no, then don’t start to begin with and go do something else that’s actually going to accomplish that.”

Essentially, you need to focus on the impact. 

It’s too easy to get lost in the solution. “Oh, we’ve got a problem. I’ve got something I’m trying to achieve” versus saying “Oh, actually the solution to this problem, even if it goes perfectly, isn’t a great solution and doesn’t really solve the problem to the level that I need to solve it”.

Doing this mental exercise in advance will save you a lot of time and effort and help you refocus.

How’s the role of a CMO changed over the past five years?

I think being a CMO in 2020 versus 2015, there are some things that have changed and some things that haven’t.

The things that haven’t changed: our hiring and organizing people is just as important today as it was five years ago, if not even more important.

The same goes for corporate-level technology. How you use technology and integrate it is just as important today as it was five years ago. 

But if you step back and say “what are the things that have fundamentally changed about the role of being a CMO?”, it’s that the CMO owns a lot more of the customer experience and that the customer experience is way more important than it was five years ago. This is in part due to the focus and adaptation of better customer experiences, especially with consumer companies, like Amazon, Netflix, Zappos, Spotify, etc..

Those services have fundamentally changed consumer expectations for the experience they’re going to have when they’re shopping and buying and transacting. That carries over to the B2B side of things.

If you’re a CMO today, versus five years ago, you’re much more obsessed about the buying experience, reducing friction in the buying experience and making it easier for your prospective and current customers to have a remarkable buying experience.

The focus on customer experience has also changed who we’re working with.

Five years ago, a CMO would typically be working closely with the sales team and building a great partnership. But today, CMOs find themselves working a lot more closely with the Product, Customer Success and service teams.

In your opinion, what is the most important skill or set of skills that today’s marketing leaders need to have?

If you’re going to become a remarkable marketing leader today, you need to be a good marketer!

Marketing has become so granular and technical that if you don’t have a deep background in and a complete understanding of marketing itself, it’ll be hard for you to become a successful marketing leader and executive. 

You also need to know how to identify and hire people across a broad range of skill sets.

One of the biggest challenges for a CMO today is that you have functions like brand marketing, product marketing, demand generations and marketing operations. These are VERY different functions and the people who work in each have fundamentally different skill sets, interests ad passions.

Identifying those people and bring them onboard and subsequently managing them and getting them aligned is a huge part of what it takes to be a successful marketing leader today.

What are some of the more common mistakes that you see B2B marketers making?

One of the more common mistakes that marketing leaders make is not evolving their marketing strategies and documenting what is working for them. 

If you’re not evolving your strategy and adding new aspects over time, you’ll end up doing more of the same and it will become progressively less effective.

Email marketing is a classical example of this. You start with email marketing and it works but after a while, it stops and your returns diminish pretty quickly.

I think if you look at marketing leaders who aren’t successful, the main reason would be that they are failing to evolve and add new strategies.

Another core failure I see is spreading your investments too thin.

You can do 20 things but they are all going to be done okay. It’s a more specialized world. It’s better to do 3 or 4 things exceptionally well than 20 things okay.

How do you set your goals and KPIs for your marketing organization? What’s the process?

We go through an annual planning process and map our marketing goals to the overall business strategy goals as well as company revenue goals.

That’s where we look at sales performance. What are we trying to achieve there? How is that going to be distributed across the different business segments and different geographies? What is marketing going to contribute to that revenue?

We then build what we call a “demand model” to determine how many leads, free product signups, etc. that we need to generate.

All of our core transactions in our go-to-market needs to have happened on a monthly basis for us to achieve our goals so we go and build that model and refresh it as the new year goes along.

It’s important that you review and adjust the model that you have built. You are building the model at the end of the previous year and you’re assumptions are based on what you accomplished in the previous year.

But you’re not just going to do the exact same thing the following year, right? You might change strategy, do different things, launch new products…it’s going to be different.

On a monthly basis, you need to review those assumptions and your performance and look at how the new things are working out and adjust your assumptions accordingly. You need to make sure that the model you have and the goals you have are actually delivering the growth that you want to achieve.

Do you incorporate the team into the marketing planning process?

Yes.

For us, we do the core plan with our director group.

Our directors and VPs from across our team work together to basically build the goals plan and subsequently works on building a bottoms-up budget, matching that with a top-down budget for Finance and delivering a financial plan for us to execute.

Individual directors have a budget from the previous year so they have some foundation.

Essentially, they do a bottom-up analysis of what they need for the following year.

We bring those together and identify any overlaps or gaps between those teams. We roll all this up into an overall team budget that is divided by segments, like our core initiatives, cost centers and those types of things.

Once we have that, we can reconcile it with the company’s financial plan of quarterization of our budget so we know on a monthly and quarterly basis.

How do you define successful marketing planning? How do you know if you’ve planned well?

If you plan well, you know a clear model for what success looks like. 

You’ll have a budget that is distributed so that you feel prepared to achieve the goals set forth in that model. The money and work that everyone is spending and doing is well aligned, don’t overlap and isn’t inefficient. If you have these, you can feel really good about the work ahead of you.

What’s the biggest challenge for CMOs regarding marketing planning? Where are they failing?

For me, the hardest part is having the right data and infrastructure. Are you sure that you have access to ALL of your performance and financial data? Do you have the right analysts on your team to help build models that allow you to build a strong plan?

The second biggest challenge is prioritization. Can you handle all that work and prioritize planning during what is normally a busy Q4? 

What advice do you have for other market leaders looking to improve their marketing planning and strategy processes?

My advice is to get alignment around what the process looks like for you and your team and make sure that your Finance team is deeply involved.

After you have that alignment in place, you need to be clear about what data you’re using in your process and where you’re getting that data from.

Know who is responsible for performing the modeling and analysis of that data, both on your team and on the finance side of things.

I also recommend creating a clear calendar of your planning cadence so you know when you need to check-in and do revisions to your model and your plan.

All in all, know that it will take several iterations. On the first pass, you are going to start with a rough version and after a few iterations, you’ll be much closer to a final, shippable budget.

Is there any other CMO that you’d like to get his/her perspective on marketing planning, budgeting and strategy?

That’s a great question! There are a bunch of awesome CMOs. 

Allison McLeod, who is the CMO at Flywire, is somebody I really respect and comes from a different world than I do.

I’d love to hear her approach to marketing planning coming from the payment space.

You can follow Kipp on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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