94: Ryan Gunn: HubSpot Cheat Codes, AI Features, Attribution and Documentation

What’s up folks, today we’re joined by Ryan Gunn, Director of Demand Gen & Marketing Ops at Aptitude 8.

Summary: HubSpot is not just a user-friendly CRM but also a forward-looking tool in the rapidly evolving world of AI and martech. While it’s not a substitute for a dedicated data warehouse for complex queries, it serves well as a real-time connector to other systems via CRM cards. Gaining practical skills from HubSpot’s developer portal is critical—certifications alone won’t cut it. If keeping up with martech changes overwhelms your in-house team, specialized consultancies offer a reservoir of constantly updated expertise. Sound documentation serves as the bedrock of your internal processes, setting you up for long-term success. Don’t just read about it; listen to the podcast episode for deep, actionable insights into leveraging HubSpot for AI integration and data quality.

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About Ryan

  • Ryan started his career by getting his feet wet freelancing in design and social media projects
  • He took on the role of Inbound Marketing Account Exec at Boyle public affairs where he got to wear a bunch of different marketing hats, including his first taste of Hubspot
  • He later became Senior Digital Marketing Manager at WealthForge, a fintech company where he owned marketing automation and lead gen
  • Ryan the took on the challenge of Head of Marketing at Array, an event technology startup where he built their marketing department from the ground up in two years
  • Today, Ryan works at Aptitude 8, an Elite HubSpot partner consultancy where he started in a client facing consulting role helping clients with big hairy migration projects like migrating Marketo and Pardot into Hubspot and marketing attribution projects
  • Today he’s Aptitude 8’s Director of Demand Gen and MOPs responsible for growing the consultancy’s services business and brand awareness

HubSpot’s Emerging AI Landscape and Market Adoption

We started by asking Ryan about his experience with HubSpot’s new AI tools and their current usage in the market, he offered a comprehensive view. HubSpot is rolling out two significant tools: Content Assistant and ChatSpot. Content Assistant serves as an internal ChatGPT, letting users draft blog posts or emails directly within HubSpot’s interface. ChatSpot, while more complex, operates as an external system linked to your CRM data, generating reports through natural language prompts.

However, these tools are still in the nascent stage. Ryan revealed that the implementation rate is relatively low at this point. Despite the curiosity among clients to explore these features, the tools haven’t fully integrated into business processes yet. But don’t let that deter you; HubSpot is ahead of the curve in the AI game. According to Ryan, HubSpot has already laid out a roadmap for AI-based tools that will extend far beyond just Content Assistant and ChatSpot. We’re talking about reporting assistants, automation assistants, and even an AI-powered website builder.

This isn’t a mere extension of existing features; it’s a reimagination of what a CRM can be. HubSpot is not stopping at providing the basic CRM tools; they’re layering AI functionalities on top, touching every aspect of their platform. While current adoption may be slow, Ryan sees this as an indicator of an inevitable, transformative change in how businesses will interact with CRMs.

Key Takeaway: The adoption rate of HubSpot’s new AI tools may be in its infancy, but that’s more a function of market readiness than a comment on the tools’ potential. With an expansive AI roadmap, HubSpot is setting the stage for a future where AI isn’t just an add-on; it’s intrinsic to the CRM experience. It’s worth keeping an eye on HubSpot’s next moves, as they’ll likely set the pace for the industry.

The AI Integration Dilemma for Emerging Tech Founders

When Ryan was asked about the hesitation some tech founders have regarding AI integration into their products, his stance was unequivocal: it’s early days, but progress is rapid. A mere six months ago, AI was barely a blip on most of our work radars. Now, it’s becoming integral. Founders find themselves at a crossroads, forced to make a pivotal decision. Either integrate AI into their software or offer the option to connect their software with AI tools via third-party platforms like Zapier.

But this isn’t a decision to make lightly. According to Ryan, it boils down to whether the company aims to be a comprehensive platform or a specialized point solution. Opting for the latter means the pressure is on to excel in that niche. If they don’t, larger platforms like HubSpot are poised to scoop up those features, layer AI functionalities over them, and package it as a part of their already established CRM systems. These integrated solutions may not be better, but they offer convenience by residing in an ecosystem clients are already invested in.

So what’s the crux of the issue? To integrate or not isn’t just a technical decision; it’s a strategic one that could define a company’s future. Choose to stay specialized, and you need to be the best in that realm to stay relevant. Integrate AI, and you may not outshine the giants, but you become a part of a broader, rapidly evolving landscape.

Key Takeaway: Hesitation to integrate AI into your product could lead to missed opportunities. You’re choosing between being a specialist in a niche or part of a wider, faster-evolving tech ecosystem. Each has its merits, but understand this: indecision is a decision in itself, and the pace of AI development waits for no one.

The Vital Role of Data Structure in AI Adoption

When Ryan was asked about the practicalities of implementing AI tools in CRM systems like HubSpot, he was quick to pinpoint the critical role of data structure. It’s simple: your AI experience is only as good as the data you provide. If you’ve got a shaky foundation, don’t expect the sophisticated algorithms to correct your mistakes. AI isn’t a magic wand that turns bad data into insightful outcomes; it’s a magnifier that accentuates the quality—or lack thereof—of your existing information.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Ryan compares the situation to current reporting structures within organizations. How many times have you heard, “I don’t trust this report” or “These numbers aren’t right”? Often, the blame doesn’t lie with the reporting tool but with the underlying data or its flawed structuring. Just like you wouldn’t blame a mirror for how you look in the morning, pointing fingers at AI for poor results steers the attention away from the actual culprit: bad data.

This brings us to an important realization: if you’re going to integrate AI into your processes, you need to take the time to audit, clean, and structurally organize your data. AI isn’t forgiving; it doesn’t make bad data better, it makes it obvious. And in the realm of business where data-driven decisions are pivotal, shoddy data is not just an inconvenience—it’s a handicap.

Key Takeaway: Before even thinking about adopting AI into your CRM or any business process, ensure your data is clean and well-structured. Anything less and you’re setting yourself up for failure. AI amplifies the quality of your data; it doesn’t fix it. Make this your first step in any AI implementation journey.

The Tug-of-War Between All-In-One Solutions and Niche Expertise

When asked about the consolidation of martech tools, particularly in platforms like HubSpot, Ryan offered a clear-cut viewpoint. The future belongs to either all-encompassing platforms or specialized point solutions catering to niche markets. There’s a thinning middle ground, and if you’re neither a giant like HubSpot nor focused on a niche, you’ll likely be pushed out of the marketplace.

Ryan also shed light on the growing demand for industry-specific expertise. Clients are turning away from large agencies that claim to be jacks-of-all-trades but masters of none. They want agencies that excel in distinct verticals or use-cases. It’s a trend that’s not limited to service companies; tech providers face the same reality. HubSpot may offer an extensive toolset, but it can’t cater to every specialized industry need. That’s where point solutions step in, offering highly customized options that HubSpot can’t afford to focus on due to its broader customer base.

But let’s not underestimate HubSpot’s adaptability. Ryan likens HubSpot to the Apple of martech—a comprehensive, seamless ecosystem. It’s no longer just a canned platform; its extensibility allows for customization down to individual CRM cards and custom code, thus enabling companies to craft tailored solutions within its structure. In a way, HubSpot is morphing into a platform where you can build point solutions atop its robust foundation.

Contrary to the perception of being solely HubSpot-focused, Ryan clarified that his agency is not strictly “tool agnostic,” but they do possess expertise in any tool that complements or integrates with HubSpot. He recognizes that even with HubSpot’s expansive features, there are instances when an external tool may be more fitting for a specific use case.

Key Takeaway: If you’re a business deciding between an all-in-one solution like HubSpot and a specialized point solution, know this: the ecosystem you choose will heavily influence your capabilities. You’ll either embrace the depth of a niche tool or the breadth and adaptability of a platform like HubSpot. Make your choice based on your specific needs, not the general buzz in the industry.

The Data Warehouse vs. HubSpot CRM: Where Should Your Data Live?

When asked about the evolving role of data warehouses and HubSpot CRM as the “source of truth,” Ryan provided an insightful two-part answer. On one hand, data warehouses are starting to integrate AI tools that could mimic functionalities like HubSpot’s chatbot features. With these AI tools, you can query all customer data that’s consolidated in the data warehouse, across various systems. Ryan believes that while these advancements are underway, HubSpot itself isn’t inherently built to serve as a data warehouse. It excels in areas like usability and quick onboarding but falters in serving as a comprehensive data repository.

The issue intensifies when teams have to toggle between multiple systems for a single task. Data loss and inefficiencies arise, especially when manual data transfer between systems is required. Ryan points out that this inefficiency can be mitigated by using CRM cards. These cards retrieve and action data not stored in HubSpot but are built into your HubSpot contact or deal record. They facilitate real-time connection with other systems like ERP for tasks such as inventory management or dynamic pricing. All of this is done without ever leaving HubSpot, making the process seamless and efficient.

Yet, the fact remains that HubSpot shouldn’t try to be your data warehouse, according to Ryan. Its design and functionality are geared towards user-friendliness and quick task execution. If you’re dealing with complex data retrieval and queries, a dedicated data warehouse with AI capabilities is where you should be looking.

However, the nuance here is that while HubSpot should not be your data warehouse, it can still serve as a hub to access that data. The CRM cards function as a practical bridge between HubSpot’s easy-to-use interface and the heavy data lifting that takes place in a specialized data warehouse.

Key Takeaway: HubSpot serves a specific need and does it well, but it’s not designed to be a data warehouse. Leverage CRM cards to bridge the gap between HubSpot’s user-friendly environment and the more complex, data-rich capabilities of a data warehouse. This way, you’re not sacrificing efficiency or risking data loss.

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When asked about the challenges that have evolved in the realm of data management and collection, especially with the rise of Google Analytics 4 and HubSpot’s expanding capabilities, Ryan had a layered response. The HubSpot ecosystem itself has become significantly more complex over the years. What started as a simple inbound marketing tool has grown into a platform that encompasses CMS and Sales Hub, and it now finds itself in an even more complex martech ecosystem.

Ryan emphasized that data attribution has become increasingly difficult to nail down. Unlike five years ago, marketers today face the challenge of eroding first-party and third-party data. Cookies are going away, forms are losing their appeal, and this makes it difficult to track precisely what drives revenue. In such a climate, data serves more as a directional indicator rather than a strict “source of truth.”

In terms of operational challenges, Ryan pointed out that the key is not to get bogged down in trying to capture every data point, which is both resource-draining and virtually impossible. Whether you’re a small business with a one-person marketing team or a larger entity with a full-fledged marketing operations setup, the objective should be to collect what’s reasonable for your scale.

Ryan’s perspective is a wake-up call. Trying to pinpoint an exact ROI down to the last cent is no longer feasible or even sensible. Instead, businesses should aim to get a directional sense from their data. HubSpot, with its user-friendly interface and versatile features, can serve as a reliable tool for that, even if it isn’t built to be a data warehouse.

Key Takeaway: Stop chasing an exact ROI from your data. Focus on gathering actionable insights that give you a directional sense of your marketing efforts. With the right approach, even amidst data challenges, platforms like HubSpot can be powerful allies.

When asked about the operational challenges of implementing HubSpot and focusing on data attribution, Ryan offered a cautionary perspective. Shoving all your data into HubSpot isn’t the move. Why? Because data overload leads to an intractable mess that becomes someone else’s nightmare when your in-house HubSpot wizard moves on. Ryan advocates for a minimum viable product approach to data. Capture only what’s absolutely essential for making informed decisions. The goal isn’t to turn HubSpot into a dumping ground for data but to transform it into an effective tool for relevant, actionable insights.

Ryan stressed that HubSpot’s reporting functionality can be quite user-friendly when used effectively. Here’s the low-down: create a deal-based custom report. Link any property on the deal record to your revenue numbers. He emphasizes the utility of HubSpot workflows, specifically the ‘create a deal from a contact’ action. By automating deal creation through workflows, you can copy any property from the contact record to the deal record. And why does this matter? It captures data at the time of the deal creation, giving you a snapshot of the customer’s last interaction before conversion.

Ryan pointed out one of HubSpot’s significant limitations: its inability to effectively track a timeline of interactions over time. For example, if a contact fills out multiple forms that influence lifecycle stage changes, HubSpot won’t intuitively show this data sequence. However, Ryan offered a workaround. At the moment a deal is created, capture the last form the contact filled out. This data will be preserved on the deal record, even if it changes on the contact record later. This strategy, Ryan argues, offers a valuable attribution tool within HubSpot’s framework.

For those getting lost in the nitty-gritty of data management, Ryan’s approach simplifies it. Instead of grappling with a flood of information, focus on gathering only what’s crucial for making effective decisions. Yes, HubSpot allows you to create detailed attribution reports. But simplicity and precision often trump complexity. Make it about actionable insights, not data hoarding.

Key Takeaway: Don’t turn HubSpot into a data landfill. Prioritize essential data that informs decision-making. Leverage HubSpot’s ‘create a deal from a contact’ feature to link data to revenue effectively, and gain insights that are immediately actionable.

Why HubSpot’s Developer Portal is Your New Best Friend for Learning

When asked about the ideal pathway for acquiring HubSpot skills, Ryan flipped the script entirely. Forget years of standard use or merely relying on HubSpot’s official certifications. Ryan’s game-changing insight? Anyone can set up a developer account on HubSpot, granting you access to enterprise-level tools. With this, you’re not just restricted to learning; you’re empowered to solve real-world problems in a sandbox environment.

Ryan has been in the HubSpot game for almost a decade, but this revelation only came to him in the last year. The developer portal, he pointed out, enables you to take questions from communities, like those on LinkedIn, and then run experiments to find solutions. It’s not just theoretical knowledge anymore; it’s about rolling up your sleeves and digging into the weeds to resolve genuine issues. The aim isn’t merely to understand HubSpot but to apply that knowledge in complex, real-world scenarios.

It’s not that Ryan discounts the value of HubSpot certifications. He actively encourages taking them to stay current. But where certifications can teach you the “what” and the “why,” the developer portal teaches you the “how.” The questions you encounter from the community are grounded in genuine business challenges, bringing you much closer to the day-to-day experiences you’ll face with clients.

The contrast couldn’t be more stark between standard certifications and handling a client’s live concerns. By using the developer portal, Ryan has shifted from passive learning to active problem-solving. You’re not just being taught; you’re learning by doing. In a landscape filled with ever-increasing tools and features, this hands-on approach may be the most beneficial way to stay ahead.

Key Takeaway: Don’t limit your HubSpot education to official certifications. Use HubSpot’s developer portal to get hands-on experience with enterprise tools and solve real-world problems you encounter in online communities. This practical approach will fast-track your learning and make you a go-to HubSpot expert.

The Power of Collective Expertise in Martech Tools

When asked about the complexities of becoming a specialist in a single martech tool versus a generalist in multiple platforms, Ryan offered some keen insights. According to him, the challenge for in-house marketers is manifold. These professionals often juggle tasks that leave them no room to stay updated on the consistent changes in tools like HubSpot, which practically churns out new features daily.

Ryan emphasized the underestimated value of a community of experts within a consultancy or services company. Using his own experience at aptitude eight as an example, he illustrated that it’s not about hiring one person with specialized knowledge, but rather tapping into a reservoir of collective intelligence. He recounted how the company’s internal communication channels become a flurry of problem-solving activity whenever a client issue arises.

Interestingly, Ryan attributed his own ‘aha moments,’ such as the comment he made on Mike Rizzo’s post, to this collective wisdom. These insights don’t solely come from his own experience; they’re shared knowledge gained from ongoing conversations with colleagues. Ryan firmly believes that the power of many far outweighs the capability of one, especially when navigating the intricate world of martech tools that continuously evolve.

The dialogue also addressed the question of whether small teams should rely on in-house expertise for managing tools like HubSpot or Iterable. Ryan’s perspective makes it clear that the advantages of hiring a services company go beyond simple delegation. It’s about leveraging a vast pool of information that is continually updated and shared across experts in the field.

Key Takeaway: Don’t underestimate the collective knowledge within a specialized consultancy. While an in-house expert may struggle to keep up with constant updates, a team of professionals can provide real-time solutions and avoid costly errors. In this fast-paced martech environment, the wisdom of the crowd is invaluable.

The Imperative of Documentation in Marketing Operations

When asked about the challenges of change management in marketing operations, particularly with the turnover of employees, Ryan emphasized the critical role of documentation. Unlike many in-house teams that often neglect this step, his team ensures that every project or retainer is accompanied by comprehensive documentation. This comes in various forms—spreadsheets, loom videos, and detailed Word documents. The goal is straightforward: to create a seamless transition for clients or internal teams, especially when there’s a change in the delivery team.

This documentation-first approach tackles a significant gap in many organizations. Typically, an employee’s departure over two weeks leaves a vacuum filled with undocumented tasks and processes. It’s akin to trying to piece together a puzzle without knowing what the final picture looks like. Ryan’s approach fills this gap and ensures that tasks don’t fall between the cracks. They even use a well-structured project management system to track completed tasks, upcoming activities, and the state of different projects.

But Ryan’s advocacy for robust documentation doesn’t end with client-facing projects; it extends to the internal team as well. Ryan praised his VP of People Operations for setting an example with an impeccable onboarding process that includes pre-recorded videos and walkthroughs for every piece of software used by the company. This recorded content serves as a resource that new hires can revisit, which is particularly helpful when absorbing a large amount of information in a short period.

What sets Ryan and his team apart is that they’ve baked documentation into their operational DNA. They’re not just doing it for clients or for transitions; they recognize it as a cornerstone of effective operations. Ryan candidly admits that even he could do more on this front, an acknowledgment that the process of documentation is an ongoing endeavor.

Key Takeaway: Documentation isn’t a one-off task or a box to be checked; it’s an ongoing commitment that has a profound impact on the efficiency and resilience of an organization. Make it a part of your operations rather than an afterthought, and you’ll find that changes and transitions become markedly easier to manage.

Finding the Sweet Spot Between Career and Personal Life

When asked about how he manages to remain both happy and successful while juggling multiple roles, Ryan highlighted the significance of balance. “You have to make sure you’re not dipping too far in one direction or another,” he said. He touched upon a challenge many of us face—burnout. Diving too deep into work, according to Ryan, not only led to emotional exhaustion but also caused physical injuries. It’s clear that imbalance in one area can have a domino effect on other parts of life.

Ryan emphasized that maintaining this equilibrium isn’t merely about managing work. It extends to ensuring you’re getting enough sleep, exercise, and even a dash of outdoor activity. Ignoring any of these aspects can create a lopsided life that, in the long run, serves no one. Exercise stands out as a particularly important component, acting as a sort of anchor that helps to maintain a stable mental state, thereby enabling more effective work and a more fulfilling personal life.

What’s striking about Ryan’s perspective is its simplicity. There’s no magical formula or secret sauce for a balanced life. It comes down to fundamental aspects like sleep, physical activity, and time spent outdoors. His advice aligns with the well-documented idea that happiness and success don’t always spring from extraordinary actions but often from getting the basics right.

However, the real world always poses the challenge of application. Recognizing the need for balance is one thing; implementing it in the chaos of everyday life is another. But if we take a page out of Ryan’s book, it starts by setting small, achievable goals for these fundamental aspects of life. After all, as he pointed out, the cost of imbalance is not just emotional but can have physical repercussions as well.

Key Takeaway: Balance doesn’t require revolutionary actions; it needs attention to basics like sleep, exercise, and a touch of the outdoors. The focus should be on maintaining this balance to prevent burnout and ensure both happiness and success.

Episode Recap

HubSpot is more than a CRM—it’s a glimpse into the future of AI-driven business, and you can’t afford to be left behind. If you’re a tech founder, listen up: choosing whether to integrate AI isn’t a ‘maybe someday’ decision. It’s now. Don’t let the slow adoption rates of HubSpot’s new AI features fool you; marketers are is just catching up to what the tools can do. Your data is the fuel for this AI engine, but bad data? That’s like throwing sand in the gas tank. If you’re going to play the AI game, you’ve got to get your data house in order, period.

HubSpot isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, especially when it comes to data. Sure, it’s user-friendly, but for the heavy data lifting, you’ll still need a dedicated data warehouse. Where HubSpot shines is in its evolving adaptability. They’re constantly adding functionalities, making it not just a CRM but part of an expanding martech universe. So, make your choice wisely. Are you looking for an all-in-one platform, or do you need specialized tools? Each path will define your capabilities, and this isn’t a decision to make lightly.

If you’re striving to become a HubSpot pro, don’t just settle for certifications. Dive into HubSpot’s developer portal. It’s not a playground; it’s a training ground for tackling real-world problems. Here’s your chance to go beyond the “what” and “why” and dig into the “how.” Practical skills trump theory every single time.

And let’s talk collective smarts. In the fast-paced world of martech, even the sharpest in-house marketer can get swamped. That’s where a specialized consultancy steps in. You’re not just outsourcing tasks; you’re tapping into a hive mind of expertise. This shared pool of knowledge is continually refreshed, giving you insights and solutions you couldn’t get flying solo.

Don’t underestimate the grunt work of thorough documentation. It’s not sexy, but it’s the backbone of any successful operation. Documentation isn’t just for the client transition; it’s also a lifesaver for internal processes, especially when you’re juggling team changes. It’s not an extra—it’s essential. Get it right, and you’ll not only survive the inevitable team and tech changes, but you’ll thrive. Now go on, give that episode a listen. It’s packed with real talk you won’t want to miss.

If you’re grappling with the complexities of AI, data attribution, and martech decision-making, this podcast episode is your roadmap. Ryan doesn’t just skim the surface; he dives deep into actionable strategies for leveraging HubSpot, integrating AI, and maximizing your data quality. This isn’t a passive listen; it’s a call to action for anyone looking to be a front-runner in the rapidly evolving martech space. So don’t miss out—listen to the episode and arm yourself with the insights to stay ahead 🎧👇

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Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Cover art created with Midjourney

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