The Future of Sales with Mark Roberge: Part 1


What is the future of Sales? How do you align Marketing, Sales and Customer Success as a company grows? These are some of the topics we discussed recently with Mark Roberge.  Mark was the fourth employee at HubSpot and was its SVP of Global Sales and then CRO for 10 years. He is currently a professor at Harvard Business School and is the author of the bestselling book, The Sales Acceleration Formula.

About HubSpot

Founded in 2006 and headquartered in Cambridge, MA, HubSpot (Nasdaq: HUBS) develops and markets software products for inbound marketing and sales, including social media marketing, content management, web analytics and search engine optimization. Hubspot reported FY 2017 revenue of $375.6 million.

About Harvard Business School

Harvard University was established in 1636 and is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States.  Harvard’s Business School was established in 1908 and was “the first school in the world to develop a signature, distinctive program in business, later to be called the MBA.” Harvard Business School pioneered the case study method of teaching – drawing inspiration from a similar method of teaching used at Harvard’s law school.  Harvard’s case studies are used in the MBA programs of many thousands of universities around the world.

Background and Career

Mark studied mechanical engineering for his undergraduate degree. He said this was “largely because I was good at math, and everyone told me throughout my life I would always be an engineer.”  After graduation he went to write code at Accenture, which he said “added to the technical foundation of my career, and through this process about a year or two later I discovered entrepreneurship.  While today entrepreneurship is relatively accessible as a career path, entrepreneurship was known then as more of a ‘rich person’s career path’.  The late 90s made it a more of an accessible career path, and today it is has become one of the more popular career aspirations of both undergraduates and graduates.”

Mark worked on a startup with a few of his colleagues at Accenture, and then enrolled in an MBA program at MIT where he said he was very attracted to the entrepreneurial curriculum. During the MBA program, he started several companies as side projects with different students. One of these was funded and he ran it as the CEO for a year after graduation.  One of the investors in this company was Dharmesh Shah, a co-founder of HubSpot.  As part of the investment, Dharmesh asked Mark to help HubSpot one day a week, and when Mark’s company wasn’t able to close its next round of funding, he and co-founder, Brian Halligan, recruited Mark to HubSpot full time as employee number 4 and the first salesperson. 

In reflecting on his 10 years at HubSpot, Mark said: “It wasn’t like I proactively went into sales and pre-planned to leverage my engineering roots and apply them to sales and write a book about it later. It was more that I really wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I found myself with a company that needed help in the sales domain that I had demonstrated ability to help with. Add on top of this that I had a baby at home and a pregnant wife, and here I am at a startup with a mortgage and when I get freaked out, I lean into ‘quant’!  That’s really what motivated me to leverage my engineering roots into the sales function; in hindsight, it was an opportune time because a lot of the outside sales organizations were moving inside, which opened up an opportunity to use more data and process.  The other thing that happened was that buyer journeys were starting with the web or email in a domain owned by Marketing, and then passed off to the domain owned by Sales, and data and process helped to manage this alignment.  I was lucky that my skillsets intersected with macro changes in the sales and marketing functions.” 

Favorite Sales and Marketing Books

As with many of our guests, we asked Mark about the books he has read over his career that he most highly recommends.  He gave us his top recommendations for both Sales and Marketing:

Sales:

  1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  2. Spin Selling by Neil Rackham: “It is amazing in terms of how to truly understand buyer needs and develop those buyer needs emotionally so they prioritize them and want to solve them more quickly.”
  3. The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson: “They have really codified a modern approach to good consultative selling.”

 

Marketing:

  1. Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah (the founders of HubSpot)
  2. The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott.
  3. Pre-suasion by Robert Cialdini

     

On the marketing side, Mark said he also follows the “growth marketing movement”, which he described as “a full funnel approach to marketing that has blurred the line somewhat between what we typically see as ‘marketing’ and ‘product’.  It is extraordinarily data driven and grew out of places like Google, Facebook, Airbnb and Uber. It represents a much more rapid experimentation marketing muscle, where you may do say 50 experiments a week instead of just 5 a month.” A good resource that he follows in this area is Reforge which publishes a lot of online content on growth marketing. He said that its founder, Brian Balfour, is “someone I had the good fortune to hire earlier and now he is a great peer.” Mark continued: “In the world of marketing, I think this is a potential next wave.  It is coming out of the tech sector, but it can quickly influence a broader set of verticals and companies of all sizes.”

In the next part of our conversation with Mark, we discuss what he is currently working on at Harvard Business School, as well as his thoughts on what would be different if HubSpot started today.

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