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What is HubSpot, really? (The definition most get wrong)

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What is HubSpot, really? (The definition most get wrong)

You'd think given that it's 2022, a topic like "what is HubSpot" would be a little too basic for yours truly to dig into. But a few recent HubHeroes conversations made me realize getting that answer right is more important than ever because of how many still get it wrong. 

You see, the answer to "What is HubSpot?" has radically changed over the years.

In fact, I guarantee there are those of you reading this right now using HubSpot today with a mindset of what it used to be. Why does this matter? How look at the platform directly affects how much you do (or don't) see a return on your investment in HubSpot.

For example, it might be easy to look at that question and say, "Well, it depends. If you're using the Marketing Hub, it's a marketing automation software. If you're using it for sales, it's a sales CRM and automation platform," and so on. On its face, that answer may seem technically correct, but it's also the totally wrong way to answer this question. 

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So, if you're already using HubSpot or if you're considering it for your company's growth efforts, I want you to gather 'round the George B. Thomas campfire, folks. We're going to take you from HubSpot Zero to HubSpot Hero, and that begins with answering "What is HubSpot?" together, the right way. 

In this article you'll learn:

  • What HubSpot used to be, and how that influences how many folks still look at the platform today.
  • What HubSpot is today, and why understanding what it truly is matters so much to your success. 

If you're looking at HubSpot as part of your growth strategy for 2023 and beyond, that makes this article a must-read. Alright, let's get this party started by taking a trip down memory lane ... 

What HubSpot used to be

Does anyone else have moments where they look at snapshots of what the internet used to look like and go, "Whoa, it was like that?!" Or is that just me? Whatever, anyway, let's hop in our time machine back to 2005 when HubSpot simply was ... 

hubspot-in-2005Image source: Wayback Machine

... a platform for creating organizational portals for sharing information. For example, you could create an Intranet for your employees or "manage your public Internet website" without coding knowledge.


I know I'm stating the obvious when I say this is not the HubSpot any of us are used to today. Heck, even when I was introduced to HubSpot in 2012, it had already changed a lot:

Screen Shot 2022-11-20 at 10.35.15 AM

Image source: Wayback Machine

Ah, that's much more like it.

When I first met HubSpot, this is what it was – an "all-in-one marketing software" platform ... but let's be honest here. Really, back then it was a blogging tool that worked most of the time, so you could execute an SEO content strategy to drive organic traffic and leads through your website.

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The original promise that attracted me to the platform was always there, though. You can see it up there in their original copy: "Stop pushing. Start attracting. Stop interrupting. Start engaging."

From the very beginning, the people at HubSpot have challenged us to view our buyers as humans first rather than numbers. From this point on, they drove this human-centric marketing point home, pushing marketers and business owners to rethink their customer experience.

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A few years later in 2015, along with the introduction of the sales CRM and Sidekick (RIP), HubSpot transformed into the marketing automation platform many of you seasoned inbounders are likely much more familiar with:

Screen Shot 2022-11-20 at 11.12.53 AM

Image source: Wayback Machine

This is when HubSpot really started to deliver on its promise of empowering organizations to holistically reimagine how they market and sell to customers in a way that's more human through smart automation.

Unfortunately, this is also where many folks who've been using HubSpot for years stalled out with their definition of HubSpot – it's a marketing automation platform first, always and forever. End of story. 


What HubSpot is today

Does HubSpot technically enable you to refine and scale parts of your business to spark growth through robust automation capabilities? Yes, it absolutely does. But to slap an "automation platform" or "automation software suite" on HubSpot and call it a day is lazy

"Automation software" also misses the point of what the promise of HubSpot truly is in a big way. 

The practical "What is HubSpot?" answer

In the most straightforward and technical sense, it doesn't matter if you're talking about marketing, sales, service, or operations ... HubSpot is actually a CRM first, and they even market it that way:

what is hubspot today

Image source: HubSpot

I've talked about this before but (once more with feeling), HubSpot is a powerful CRM that you leverage for your business across a wide variety of different contexts, depending on the Hub you're using:

  • The HubSpot Marketing Hub is all about how you communicate outward to your contacts – through blogs, email, social media, website pages, and so on – to attractengage, and delight them.
  • The HubSpot Sales Hub is all about managing processes and reaching goals around those contacts through pipelines, deal stages, tasks, meetings, playbooks, etc. In sales, it's all about establishing visibility for parts of your process that were once hidden and streamlining.
  • The HubSpot Service Hub is all about focusing on the voice of the customer or your contacts who have now said "Yes!" to your products or services. You do this through knowledge articles, NPS surveys, answering questions, ticketing systems, and more.
  • The HubSpot Operations Hub is all about taking all of the disconnected work everyone is doing across the company for the humans and bringing it all together with features like coded workflows, data syncs between integrations, and more.

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Now, I noted this as the "practical" answer – a way to technically express the WHAT of HubSpot. That's because there is a secondary answer that I believe is the most important one you can answer.

Here's the real "big picture" answer to "What is HubSpot?"

To recap, when your guy, George B. Thomas went all 😍 for the bright orange sprocket back in 2012 with their "I'm a human, don't call me a customer!" battle cry, it was still just a glorified blogging platform. (To be fair, getting businesses to blog back then with transparency and an education-focused mindset was a huge step!)

Wild Boy at Inbound

Exhibit A: My 2012 mind being blown at my first INBOUND.

Today, what is HubSpot?

HubSpot is your business' growth engine. Through a dynamic suite of CRM-powered tools, HubSpot enables you to grow your business in a way that fully aligns all of your departments – marketing, sales, service, and operations – with a streamlined strategy, so you can take over the world. 

Or, at the very least, meet and exceed your growth goals. πŸ˜œ

The best part is HubSpot has managed to accomplish something that most of its competitors have not – as it's become more powerful, it's only become easier to use. I don't care if you're a business owner, a marketing leader, a marketer, or someone in sales, what I just said holds true to you.

This is due in part to their obsession with creating an intuitive user experience for companies using HubSpot. But the real reason is because they've been equally obsessed with creating powerful educational materials. Through HubSpot Academy and the knowledge base, each and every one of us (no matter our role) is empowered to be more helpful to the humans we serve (our customers), as well as masters of the technology.

Seriously, think about the amount of dollars they've spent over more than a decade to create such an incredible library of FREE certifications to educate the world on how to do business better.

Why this knowledge will increase your HubSpot ROI

Now, some of you reading this may still be scratching your head wondering why the heck understanding this "bigger picture," fluffy sounding answer I shared with you above makes a lick of difference to the results you see with HubSpot. 

The thing is, the last thing that answer is, is fluffy. In fact, the number one most costly mistake I see businesses make with HubSpot is that they look at it with a tools-and-tactics-first mindset. Companies like that rip into HubSpot obsessing about tunnel-visioned questions like:

  • How many emails should we be sending?
  • How many times per week should we be blogging?
  • Should we be posting on LinkedIn?
  • Do we have enough workflows?

When you become trapped in that tools-obsessed loop, you're perpetuating the silos that exist within your organization, where the only people who think your MQLs are qualified are your marketing team. More importantly, when you focus on tactics, you aren't thinking strategically. You aren't asking yourself questions like:

  • How can we better align our marketing and sales teams with technology so they work better together as humans AND as a single team to achieve our goals?
  • How can we leverage HubSpot from a service perspective to help us improve our entire business – marketing, sales, service delivery, product – by engaging more effectively with the humans we serve?
  • How can we empower every team in our company to work smarter with a single, streamlined, customer-focused strategy that helps us get better results, and empowers everyone to enjoy working together more?
  • How can we better wrap HubSpot around our business, so we can serve and grow and scale better?

It's within the answers to questions like that where the real magic happens with HubSpot. It's how you achieve wins that are even bigger and better than the deals you close – for example, everyone on your payroll, across every team, moving together as one, and they're excited about it.

So, that's why if you continue to look at HubSpot with a 2012-2015 transactional lens of it being an automation platform, period, you're missing the entire point of HubSpot. HubSpot exists to help your entire business (marketing, sales, service, ops) serve your humans (the customers) better at every single touchpoint – attract, engage, and delight

The rest is up to you.

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