HubSpot is one of the most popular CRM and Marketing automation tools out there.
It was established with the core principle of “inbound” marketing, which recognizes that individuals prefer not to be interrupted or bothered by marketers and salespeople but rather seek assistance and valuable information.
HubSpot was founded in 2006 by MIT fellows Dharmesh Shah & Brian Halligan to help small businesses attract more leads using inbound marketing principles. In fact, Dharmesh and Brian initially launched a blog to share their inbound marketing philosophy and to share a demo of their product.
After all these years, HubSpot has become small businesses’ de facto marketing tool. However, lately, HubSpot has lost some of its appeal for small businesses. This decline is due to various factors, including steep pricing, modifications to their partnership model, and the emergence of numerous competent alternatives in the market.
Let’s put our curious hats on and figure out if HubSpot is still worth the hype as an essential marketing tool for small businesses in 2023.
What is HubSpot?
HubSpot’s definition of their key offering:
” HubSpot is a comprehensive CRM platform that encompasses a wide array of software, integrations, and resources, serving as the ultimate solution to seamlessly unite marketing, sales, content management, and customer service. “
HubSpot is a marketer’s Swiss knife, encompassing many essential tools within a single platform. It’s a toolkit businesses can use to grow and manage their customer relationship. HubSpot has five primary “hubs” for different departments of a company:
- Marketing Hub
- Sales Hub
- Service Hub
- CMS Hub
- Operations Hub
Image courtesy of HubSpot
The unique feature of this singular platform is that each of these hubs is connected to the same underlying CRM database. This architecture provides a holistic view of customers as they progress along the different stages of their buying journey.
Hubs of HubSpot
HubSpot is a powerful platform loaded with so many tools one can get lost easily. Here is the lowdown on core product offerings of the HubSpot ecosystem.
Marketing Hub: The Marketing Hub is designed to help businesses attract, engage, and delight customers. It includes email marketing, social media management, content creation and optimization, lead generation, analytics, and automation tools.
Sales Hub: The Sales Hub empowers sales teams with tools to manage and close deals effectively. It offers features like contact and lead management, email tracking and templates, meeting scheduling, pipeline management, sales analytics, and productivity-enhancing features.
Service Hub: The Service Hub focuses on delivering exceptional customer service and support. It provides ticketing and help desk management tools, knowledge base creation, live chat, customer feedback, customer satisfaction surveys, and automation capabilities to streamline support processes.
CMS Hub: The CMS Hub enables businesses to build, manage, and optimize their websites. It offers features for website creation, content management, SEO optimization, mobile optimization, personalization, and collaboration tools for teams.
Operations Hub: The Operations Hub is designed to streamline and automate operations and data management. It includes data syncing and integration, automation workflows, custom reporting, data quality management, and advanced analytics to improve efficiency and data-driven decision-making.
In addition to these five core products, HubSpot also has an app marketplace. HubSpot’s App Marketplace provides a wide range of integrations and extensions to extend the functionality of the HubSpot platform. It offers various apps and integrations for CRM, marketing, sales, customer service, analytics, and more.
HubSpot for Small Business
HubSpot’s comprehensive features, user-friendly interface, cost-effectiveness, emphasis on lead generation, sales efficiency, and customer service make it an excellent tool for small businesses looking to enhance their marketing efforts, drive sales growth, and deliver exceptional customer experiences. These features can help small businesses streamline their marketing and customer engagement processes. We are HubSpot users ourselves and have streamlined our email marketing and sales processes with HubSpot.
HubSpot also offers a free plan enabling small businesses to build their marketing tech stack. Small businesses can use this free plan to create processes for their marketing, sales and customer service efforts. It is a different thing that as small businesses scale, the free plan quickly caps out.
HubSpot has different plans to suit a wide range of requirements. HubSpot plans for all hubs are categorized into three preliminary plans: Starter, Professional & Enterprise. Each plan for different hubs is priced depending on factors like the number of contacts, users, etc. One can also add additional features like API access limits, Custom SSL and so on. They offer discounts on yearly subscriptions if paid upfront.
Since we are a Vancouver-based branding and marketing agency, it makes sense to discuss the prices for the marketing hub in Canadian dollars. The marketing hub starter plan costs CA$26/mo for 1,000 marketing contacts. The professional plan for the marketing hub costs CA$1,150/mo for 2,000 marketing contacts. The enterprise plan starts north of CA$ 50,000/year. These prices don’t include federal and local taxes as applicable.
You can get the complete details about the pricing for all HubSpot products here.
Pro Tip: To get more discounts and better prices, it is better to reach out to their sales department and negotiate with them instead of just signing up on the website. There is no guarantee that you will get better pricing, but it’s worth a try. You may get lucky.
HubSpot for Agencies
The meteoric rise of HubSpot is in part due to its partner program. HubSpot has relied on marketing, branding and digital marketing agencies to sell HubSpot to their customers around the world. Initially launched as a reseller program, the HubSpot Agency Partner Program has become a full-blown ecosystem of agencies & app developers that upsell HubSpot as a solution to their clients.
The partner program was very successful and led to many agencies earning hefty commissions since its launch in 2010. However, the program’s structure led to many businesses paying for a tool they didn’t necessarily need and was driven solely by partner agencies’ greed to increase their bottom-line profits.
Nonetheless, HubSpot noticed that this structure led to more sales but more dropoffs after the first year and low engagement for the tool. To mitigate these shortcomings, HubSpot made some drastic changes to its partner program in December 2022, and now agencies cannot earn perpetual commissions by just selling HubSpot. Most agencies don’t welcome this change, but we think it’s overall good for the ecosystem and businesses that must pay hefty fees to use these software tools.
The Need for HubSpot Alternatives
HubSpot is an excellent tool for small and medium businesses. Even so, it has limitations and might not be the ideal solution for small businesses. Here are the top reasons why HubSpot might not be an optimal choice for small businesses:
- Complexity: HubSpot’s comprehensive suite of features and tools can be too much for small businesses with limited resources and technical expertise. The platform may have a steeper learning curve, requiring more time and effort to master. Smaller companies with simpler needs may find it unnecessarily complex for their requirements.
- Cost: While HubSpot offers a free plan, its more advanced features and capabilities come at a price that is not affordable for a lot of small businesses.
- Industry-specific & Customization limitations: HubSpot’s capabilities may not align perfectly with certain industries or niche business models. On paper, it looks like it will work for all kinds of businesses, but in reality, it doesn’t translate well to all industries. That is the reason why HubSpot users are mainly concentrated in a few industries (Information Technology and Services, Marketing and Advertising, and Computer Software). The limited flexibility in customization options could be detrimental for companies with unique workflows or highly specialized requirements.
- Integration challenges: While HubSpot offers an extensive App Marketplace, it may not have seamless integrations with all the software and systems a small business relies on. And the majority of apps on its marketplace are paid, adding more cost for small businesses if they need a plugin for integration.
- Subpar Customer Support: The customer support on free and starter plans is mediocre. The support for some of the higher-tiered plans could be better, and a request can fall through the cracks easily, especially in 2023. Here is a screenshot of a recent conversation about customer support in HubSpot’s official group.
These challenges have created a need for alternative software solutions for small businesses. The great thing about a free marketplace is that competition drives the evolution of a category. And there are many different alternatives to HubSpot for small businesses; here are some top contenders:
- Zoho CRM
Note: All of the above platforms cannot replace all the hubs within HubSpot. These alternatives will fit most needs of small businesses.
HubSpot is a powerful tool for small businesses to drive growth if used correctly. However, the recent change to their partner program, the deteriorating service levels (link only visible to group members), the restrictive packaging of plans, etc., are signs of changing times and are why many alternatives are thriving. Zoho CRM is a strong contender to HubSpot and achieved unicorn status in 2022. HubSpot could still be a great fit, but it’s not the only one for small businesses in 2023.
Full disclosure, REX was also a HubSpot partner agency for a year or so. We have never sold HubSpot or any other tool to our clients if they don’t need it. We did recommend HubSpot to some of our clients because it suited their requirements at the time. Even though we are not a HubSpot partner anymore, we still think it is a fantastic and powerful tool to automate or “digitize” many business processes. We are also a HubSpot customer and use it for marketing activation.
If you are a small business in Metro Vancouver trying to understand if you really need a CRM or marketing automation tool, you can reach out and let us help you figure out your marketing stack.