Hubspot’s Mark Roberge and Base CEO Uzi Shmilovici Talk Startups, Growing Sales Teams and the Future of Sales

Mark Roberge, Chief Revenue Officer and SVP of Inbound Sales at Hubspot, shares his story about taking Hubspot from a class project in 2005 to 80M in revenue in 2013

Mark Roberge

Mark Roberge is Chief Revenue Officer of the HubSpot Inbound Sales Division.  Prior to this role, Mark served as HubSpot’s SVP of Worldwide Sales and Services from 2007 to 2013, during which time he increased revenue over 6,000% and expanded the team from 1 to 450 employees.  These results placed HubSpot #33 on the 2011 Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Companies list. Pretty impressive right? That’s why we invited Mark to speak at The Forecast Club. During a fireside chat in Boston, Roberge and Base CEO, Uzi Shmilovici, talk about startups, scaling sales teams and the future of sales. This is the first part of a 3-part interview series we’ll be sharing on the blog.

Uzi: Mark, great to have you here. Let’s start with a little background about yourself and your path at HubSpot.

Mark: It was an interesting journey. I met Dharmesh Shah, one of our co-founders, when I sat next to him in class at MIT in 2005. It was a good choice of seats that day. Who would have thought, right? And it was one of those entrepreneur classes actually, where everybody shows up with an idea. There were like 70 students and we all posted our ideas on the class wiki and voted on the ideas. The top 10 got picked and worked on that semester, with everybody else in the class joining a company. So Dharmesh had his idea picked, and it was HubSpot, and my idea got picked as well. At the time, I was developing a social networking site for pets.

This was before Facebook or Twitter, and literally, people were like, “There’s some guys at Harvard doing one called Facebook, you should meet with them.” So I met with those guys. It was kind of cool to be driving all this stuff during that time.

Anyways, Dharmesh and I hit it off.  We had Chinese food like every week and talked about startups. At one point I was like, “I’m going to do my thing.” He said, “Great, I’ll invest, and by the way, as part of the deal, I want to you to help me with HubSpot one day a week.” So, every Thursday afternoon I would stop by and see him in his office and spend a few hours just chatting about strategy.

Then, one day, he said, “You know, I’m not going to run this company. I’ve got a friend who also graduated from MIT named Brian Halligan, and I think I can convince him to be our CEO.” So, a few weeks later, he introduced me to Brian, and for months the three of us would just try to work this thing out. When Brian came aboard, he said, “Mark, enough of this strategy stuff. I love you. I think you’re smart. Just go out and close deals.” So he and I would just go out and close business in the very, very early days.

About a year later, my startup (the pet social networking site) was kind of flat lining. At that time, Brian and Dharmesh wanted someone to run sales and they asked me to come do that. So, the kick of it all is that I’ve never done sales before. I’m mechanical engineer by trade. I wrote code for the first years of my career. So, I ran sales, and I think in 2010 took over the services team as well.

Like most startup software businesses, we started to realize the criticalness of churn. Brian wanted “one neck to choke”, as he called it, around the new revenue coming in and the revenue going out. So he gave me services as well. From there, I scaled both the divisions to about 450 employees, and if you read the news closely, we posted about 80 million in revenue last year.

So it’s been a really fun and interesting run. A lot of hard execution, a lot of luck, you know.

Uzi: I guess that many people don’t think about it this way. People have this romanticized way of thinking about startups – thinking “they probably knew each other for years and they knew exactly what they wanted to do, and they started immediately to raise money,” but, you know, there are all these great stories around founding startups.

So you ran sales at HubSpot, and you’re scaling the team with no background in sales. What are the key things that have kept you going and how did you think about evolving and growing your sales team?

Mark: The first thing I did honestly was meet with like 30 sales VP’s in my first year. We’d just grab coffee and I’d see if I could learn from them. I asked them things like:

  • How did you grow your team?
  • How did you hire?
  • How do you scale?

There wasn’t a lot of strategy to the answers to those questions. A lot of these folks, a lot of them came up through sales, some of them didn’t go through college. They’re salespeople who got promoted to manager and then took over the team. I saw an opportunity to be much more quantitative about it. That’s really the way I approached a lot of these problems.

I literally sat down after going through that process and said: “My mission is to create predictable scalable revenue growth, and I’m going to do that by hiring the same successful sales person every time.”

You can kind of imagine a quantitative approach to this stuff. I graded my new hires on 12 different criteria that I was looking for, and as the year progressed and I hired 15 or so people, a bunch of them did really well, some of them were mediocre and some didn’t work out.

I could go back to that quantitative score and see what was actually predicting success. It wasn’t too long until I had enough data to run a regression analysis of observations.

I could figure out in the interview, what predicted success later on. We would run that sort of analysis every year to fine-tune our own hiring process.

That’s just one of many examples of how we really just took a scientific and quantitative approach to this whole process of sales and scaling the team.

Uzi: My next question was about whether sales is an art or a science, but I think we can skip this one now.

Mark: Yeah, I mean, as quantitative as I’ve approached sales leadership, it is both. Listen, I had to bring in the first hundred customers myself, and that was not pure science. I mean, there’s all the typical stuff of rapport building, and asking great questions and doing your discovery and having a qualifying matrix, but there’s art in science. I think the industry though has probably been too far on the side of art, and hasn’t explored too much on the side of science. Especially with all the changes you guys (at Base) talk about a lot, where more of this starts in the digital world, more of it is inside, it really presents a huge opportunity for more of a quantitative sales leader.

Uzi: One of the things we’re thinking about a lot at Base is all this innovation happening in the market on the consumer side, but not so much on the business software side at all. There’s a lot of innovation in marketing software, social networks and all those, and you’ve seen a lot of companies like Hubspot and others, growing very, very fast, but when we look at sales technologies, it seems like it’s almost the same as it was 20 years ago. Why do you think that happens?

Mark: Yeah, the last major disruption was probably Salesforce, and you know, you guys are working hard on changing that. Honestly, I think we’re ripe for something like that. I think personally in our own exploration of technology in Hubspot, we’ve built a lot of it ourselves, kind of like Hubspot sales labs where we literally have hackers trying to optimize our own sales process and help our sales reps out.

I think one of the issues that’s happening in the sales ecosystem is most software in sales is built for the leader. The reason why it’s built for the leader is the leader has the budget, and is the decision maker, and who’s left out? The salesperson.

No one’s really done a phenomenal job of building sales technology that the salesperson wants, and I think we’ve started to see that change a bit this year, and I think that’s the explosion that we’ll see in the next year or two, it’s the folks starting to pay attention to that salesperson, because what’s the biggest issue in the world of CRM? Reps don’t use it. I literally did a speech at this year’s Dreamforce, “The Future of Sales”. I had so many questions like, “How do you get your sales rep to use your CRM?”

And we were five guys in a garage having invested a few million dollars. We spent $50,000 dollars in our first month, configuring Salesforce to the business process that we wanted to run, the sales process that we wanted to run, to make it really easy for the rep. Like, I remember, leaving a voicemail, sending an e-mail, and scheduling a follow up appointment – something you do 80 times a day as a sales person – taking something like 50 clicks in Salesforce out of the box. So there was just like – so much opportunity there to streamline the process. Reps didn’t want to think about when they need to call this person again, they just wanted us to figure it out for them. We never had a problem with adoption because of that. But I think there’s just a big gap in the market around sales software that is really sold for the rep.

Uzi: Yeah, that’s exactly our pitch at Base. No one pays attention to the users. The managers are super important because they have to see reports on everything, but what do the reports mean even if only a fraction of the data is captured? That is fascinating. But I really I think it is overused already. You have consumerization of IT software, but you know what, especially in sales, it’s going to be critical. We think of the sales rep.

Stay tuned for part two of the interview where Mark and Uzi talk inbound vs. outbound sales, transparency and big data.

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