5 takeaways from our week at INBOUND 2019

Now we're back, we’d like to share just a few of the most powerful things we learnt from INBOUND 2019. Having taken some time to process our fast-paced week in Boston, we’ve decided to sit down and write the best, most actionable things we took away from the conference.

Surrounded by experts – not only from the business world but leaders in trust-building, integrity and customer experience (more on these themes later) – we certainly had a lot of food for thought. We've put our heads together to find five takeaways you can start actioning right away.

1. Remove friction for customers

Our Director of Growth, John Kelleher, observed a shift in the way INBOUND ran this year, and it was a powerful way to learn new things:

“This year’s INBOUND was different. The past two we attended were huge, seismic events: at INBOUND 2017 they launched Sales Hub Pro, and at INBOUND 2018 they launched Service Hub Starter, Pro and Enterprise, Sales Hub Enterprise, and a whole rebuilding of Marketing Hub Enterprise, plus they spun off the CMS – that was huge. They also did the formal launch of the flywheel.

This year was never going to be as big as that. In my mind, 2019 was a celebration of 2018 rather than its own enormous shift. Focus was far more on giving attendees concrete ways of doing everything they were promoting as big concepts last year.”

The main emphasis – which ran throughout the whole week-long conference – was customer experience: what can you do as a business to reduce friction, build trust and develop integrity? The advice was to:

  1. Say what you mean and mean what you say
  2. Make sure your words and actions align 
  3. Be honest about your intentions

So many businesses miss out on at least one of these – they say “we are a customer-focused business” and then make their customers fill in a 45-step process to make a purchase, or make it incredibly difficult to get someone from the business on the phone. Think carefully about if what you’re claiming is honestly true.

Co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, Brian Halligan, explained in his keynote speech, A New Species of Disruptor, the difference between merely being an incumbent who gets on with their job, and being an 'experience disruptor' who stands out and provides greater value to the customer:

“Incumbents look for product-market fit, while disruptors look for experience-market fit… Incumbents are filled with friction, disrupters are frictionless… Incumbents deliver an anonymous service, while disruptors deliver a personalised service... Incumbents sell to customers, while disrupters sell through their customers (by delighting them and turning them into evangelists.)”


Halligan also provided us with a thoughtful shift in the wording of HubSpot’s well-known “add value before you extract it” mantra – he recommended “add value, don’t extract it.” This powerful tweak emphasises that if you just keep adding value for customers, you’ll get it back in the long run.

2. Collaboration and contribution (not competition)

One of the most powerful recurring messages throughout the presentations we saw was: collaboration. Reminding ourselves about the inbound methodology – and in turn sharing this with our customers – is something that’s really important to us (why else would we have the term 'inbound' in our company name?)

The message was to stop waiting for inspiration to come to you, and bring it to the table yourself. Ask: what can we contribute ourselves, instead of taking out of situations? The old adage, “You get out what you put in” really does apply to inbound marketing. A top tip? Put yourself out in your community and see what great things it leads to.

One of the speakers we saw was Janelle Monáe – a singer, songwriter and producer – who explained that it’s about:

“Collaboration not competition… When I’m not contributing I don’t feel whole.”

This approach couldn’t have been more apparent than during Partner Day where we presented to agencies and worked together in focus groups. To some people, sitting down in a roomful of ‘competitors’ and sharing your top secrets would be business suicide. But through the lense of inbound, sharing benefits everyone. We loved the conversations our presentation sparked, and how many fellow business people wanted to come and share experiences with us afterwards.

Untitled design (40)

You get more from cooperating and collaborating than squirrelling the best things about your business away. If you’re going to lose a customer because they’re a poor fit, you’re going to lose them anyway. But if you know who to recommend them to as an alternative, then you can still deliver a good service – pass them on to a fellow business who you know will do a great job instead. And if they are ever in the same boat, the chances are they'll return the favour and recommend you. 

3. Ask if customers trust your brand

We enjoyed one of the main spotlights by Rachel Botsman – a world-renowned expert on trust in the era of technology. She asked us to look at famous brands such as Tesla, Facebook and Amazon and consider which we trusted the most. The overwhelming winner was Amazon. When she showed us the faces of these brand’s creators – Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk – she got us to consider if we trusted them, or if our perception of the brands changed. What do people know and think about your brand? Do they trust you? Do they know and trust your creators?

The topic of visibility was huge at this year’s INBOUND, with speakers regularly coming back to whether you are being open and building trust with customers. There are a few things that lead to the breakdown of trust with customers; Rachel Botsman explained:

“Trust has two enemies: bad character and poor information.”

None of us like to consider ourselves bad characters, nor that we aren’t professional enough to provide customers with great information. But if you aren’t being totally up-front with your customers, consider how you might be coming across from their side. Botsman also explained how trust presents itself when your customer has a confident relationship with the unknown. If they trust that your intentions are good and you have their best interests at heart, they will follow your guidance, whether they know all the ins and outs of your processes, or not. As Botsman explained:

“Secrecy is not the enemy of trust, deception is.”

She also said "Money is the currency of transactions, trust is the currency of interactions." To build trust, you need to focus on reliability and consistency of behaviour over time; inconsistency of behaviour will damage trust. Work on delivering repetitive processes to every one of your customers. No matter who it is in your team that customers interact with, they should receive the same level of service and approach to problem-solving. Refine and discuss your in-house processes to ensure the tools are in place to offer customers a consistent experience with your brand.

4. Grow better by growing bolder

HubSpot CTO and co-founder, Dharmesh Shah had an important message for businesses who want to grow smarter, not just faster. The tagline of his Facing Fears keynote was: Grow Better by Growing Bolder. In his talk, he explored the concept that there’s a fine line between building a team which works effectively, and one that is merely a clone of you. It’s important to put diversity first.


It sounds so obvious, but it’s surprising how many managers only want to employ people who are like themselves – a shared vision and values is essential, but if you only employ people who you feel familiar with, share your skill set and approach to work, you’ll never evolve as a business.

Shah showed a Venn diagram with ‘people who do things we want’ on one side, and ‘people who don’t do things we don’t want’ on the other, before highlighting that trustworthy businesses are the ones who overlap in the middle. This sweet spot is where companies who really focus on trust fall; those who follow a brief, are honest and don’t go against the customer’s wishes.

Dharmesh Shah venn diagram trust with customers

Shah also explained the importance of fixing one point of friction to get it perfect, and consistently going on to improve one point at a time, rather than trying to get everything right in one go – mainly focusing on customer experience:

“Develop the experience and nothing but the experience.”

One of the ways Shah recommended focusing on these improvements was to switch your mindset when it comes to how customers perceive you. For example, your fear should be that you aren’t delighting your customers, not that you are disappointing them. You should fear being seen as untrustworthy, not being seen as inferior. If you take your ego out of the equation and empathise entirely with the customer’s view of you, you’re likely to keep customers happier in the long run.

5. Hire a team that sets and contributes to your culture

As you grow, it’s even more important to pay attention to how the people you hire contribute to the culture of your business. The Boston Sports Leadership Team featured on a panel talk, including leaders from the Boston Celtics, New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox. 

During this discussion, they reminded attendees that as you increase recruitment, you’re building a team, not "collecting talent". Adding the most expensive player from a competing club to your team isn’t necessarily the right move. Nurturing new talent, or bringing in someone who has the right chemistry with the existing team might be a much better decision for the longevity of your business. They also made the point that you need to:

“Be on top of your culture to build a team.”

Ask yourself: have we got the right people in the right seats? You need to hire people who will contribute to your culture and enrich it. The most successful companies are not the ones where leadership dictates the culture, but ones where it is fostered and nurtured by the whole team as a joint culture.

Having a mission statement and core values is key. Be really clear about what your purpose is and find your ‘why’. Journalist and author, Katie Couric encouraged us to:

“Make the positive change you want to see in the world part of your business mission.”

She also recommended hiring happy people because:

“You can’t teach people to be happy!” 

Your customer experience is directly related to your staff experience. It doesn’t work if one part of it is broken – so if your team is happy, this naturally filters into the experience your customers have. Couric also encouraged us to be curious. Her uplifting approach was:

“Never be embarrassed to be a beginner.” 

This is not only an attitude we want to promote amongst our own team at ESM Inbound as we grow and develop our offering, but it’s something we want our customers to take on board, too – especially when they are first getting to grips with HubSpot. Couric also reminded us that:

“Being interested is what makes you interesting.”

Ask questions – not just about your customers’ pain points and professional goals – but about themselves, their families and plans. Pass the time of day with them, ask how their holiday was, and if their child is feeling better. If you are interested in them, and genuinely so, you'll build bonds that are far harder to break.

We learnt so much from our INBOUND 2019 experience, and we hope that the overwhelming themes of trust, integrity, and the removal of friction for customers have resonated with you, too. HubSpot consistently chose experts in these topics for a reason; you need to have a holistic approach to customer happiness across your whole business, and with these tips, we're sure you'll be on track to truly delight them. 

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