By @SimonCocking interesting interview with Kieran Flanagan VP Marketing and general marketing nerd. I tweet on content marketing, inbound marketing, growth hacking

What is your background briefly?

I graduated from University with an honors degree in computing science. I worked as a software engineer for many years but was never that passionate about the work I did.

When I was living in Australia, I was part of a team who launched a large e-commerce store. In the context of that project, I realized I was more interested in how the company was going to generate traffic and sales for the store and not the development of it.

When I got back to Ireland, I started working for a leading Irish agency as an SEO consultant. Since then I’ve worked for a number of B2B SaaS companies including Salesforce, Marketo, and HubSpot.

Tell me a little bit about your current role in HubSpot

When I first joined HubSpot, it was to build out the marketing function for EMEA. It was a lot of fun. When I joined there were 12 people in total as part of the EMEA office, and now there are over 250.

I was in that role for 2.5 years and then changed positions to help build out HubSpot’s freemium funnel as their VP of Growth. We have free products for both marketing and sales people. I have teams who both acquire free users and work with our product team to optimize the upgrade paths to turn more of those free users into paying customers.

Creating product driven growth is something I’m extremely passionate about and the last 14 months have been an exciting journey.

What were some of your biggest challenges in 2016?

There are a lot of challenges to making a freemium funnel work. If I could best sum up the challenges we needed to overcome in 2016:

1. The structure of a Growth Team:

Most companies who invest in a growth team struggle with getting the structure correct. They’re usually made up of different functions, including marketing, product, engineers and data insights.

I spent a lot of time in 2016 talking to companies who have invested heavily in growth to figure out the optimal team structure.

What you’ll find is no one standard will work in every situation. Over the course of 2016, we learned a lot and managed to get a structure in place that works for us and that I’m really bullish on for 2017.

We have a cross-functional team made up of marketers, product, engineering, design and product insights.

The most important part of getting a cross-functional team to work as a single unit is making sure they have shared goals. Once people are incentivized by the same thing, everything else gets a little easier.

2. Acquisition at Scale

To make any freemium funnel work you need to have a lot of people signing up for your free products. Consider the fact most freemium funnels convert free users to paying customers at less than 4%.

We had a good year in 2016 on the acquisition front, but part of our goal was to not only hit that years targets but figure out what channels would sustain our growth over the medium to long term.

That’s always a challenging balance to find and something we’re still working on in 2017.

3. Optimization of Upgrade Paths.

We also invested a lot of time in figuring out the best upgrade paths for our free users. Our goal as a company is to allow users to buy our software however they wish to do so.

If at a certain point they want to reach out and speak with a sales person, we make it easy to do so. At the same time, if they want to purchase without ever having to talk to a human, we provide that option as well.

All of these goals are as important in 2017 as we try to improve upon 2016.

Is inbound marketing still achieving the same results now that so many more people are doing it? Are you / or will you ever become victims of your own success?

There is always an inherent advantage in being an early adopter of new trends. For those who invested at the beginning of Inbound Marketing, they’ve managed to steal a march on their competitors.

Today the popularity of Inbound Marketing just means the playing field is a lot more competitive, and marketers need to step their game up continually.

There is only so much room on Google’s first page, or in someone’s inbox or their social media feeds, inbound marketing can help companies get there, but they also need to have a marketing plan that earns them that real estate.

As more and more people create compelling content, does this mean our attention spans will continue to diminish or will something else happen?

People only have so much attention span to give. We can only consume so much content. What that means is ‘good’ content won’t be good enough to sustain our growth in the future.

You’ll need to figure out how to make your content 10X what your competitors are doing.

I would be asking myself, how can I create something that’s 10X what others are doing on this subject?

10X content is what helps you break through the noise, grabs the attention of people who’re interested in that topic, gets people to follow you on social media and link to your content from their website.

Is it ‘all going to video’? or are you finding that people still prefer to consume content across a range of formats?

People love to consume content in a variety of different formats. Although video has grown a lot in popularity, it’s not going to replace text. People still love to read.

When planning out your content strategy understanding the answer to two simple questions can help a lot:

1. How does my audience like to consume content
2. What platforms do they spend their time on

Maybe your audience doesn’t watch a lot of videos, consume a lot of text or spend much time on certain social media platforms.

I would create content based on my audience’s consumption habits. If they spend a lot of time on Facebook, creating native videos designed for the Facebook platform should be part of your plan.

If they spend a lot of time searching Google for help on certain topics, I would want to create some content that can rank highly for those terms.

It’s always worth testing both the content formats and platforms that work for your audience. You don’t want just to play it safe and copy what your competitors are doing.

Remember, there is a real advantage in being an early adopter of trends, but to do that, you need to be ok for a bunch of the things you try to fail.

What data driven insights have yielded unexpected results for you in your work at Hubspot?

I talked about this a little at my talk on creating product driven growth at the Dublin Tech Summit.

We do a lot of deep dives into our product usage so we can better understand how users are interacting with our products.

Using R, we did a lot of work to pull usage events that:

– Correlated highly with a free user become an active user of our product
– Correlated highly with an active user become a paying customer
– Correlated highly with a paying customer churning

Having this data helps us continually test and optimize both our pre and post product onboarding. We can run tests to see how the changes we make impact our core metrics like become an active user of our product, upgrading to a paid customer and retaining.


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