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HubSpot's growing CRM takes on Salesforce -- but not head-on

No one is saying that HubSpot is building a 'baby Salesforce' for small to medium-sized businesses. But it looks a lot like that is exactly what's happening.

BOSTON -- HubSpot platform features planned for later this year reveal how the popular marketing automation technology company plans to grow its business -- by catering to users in SMBs.

At its Inbound user conference, HubSpot previewed features in beta planned for later this year that included AI-powered data cleansing and normalization tools, role-based custom dashboards for HubSpot CRM customers and a refreshed Connect.com community site. Another feature, Marketing Campaigns, which runs analytics to determine what data sources generate returns on marketing budgets, is already live.

Taken all together, HubSpot shows signs of evolving into a Salesforce-like platform for SMBs, said Predrag Jakovljevic, a principal analyst at Technology Evaluation Centers. Few vendors can offer such an array of technology tools to those users -- the list is mainly Zoho and SugarCRM and a few others, he said. No SMB-facing CX vendor has the marketing foundation that HubSpot has built, a key piece of customer experience.

HubSpot's growth plan includes a tenfold increase in revenue in the coming half-decade, said Andy Pitre, HubSpot senior vice president of product. It involves adding many, many SMB customers, as opposed to chasing a few massive accounts. For its part, Salesforce has courted SMBs over the years with limited success through subscriptions such as Salesforce Essentials. Just last month, Salesforce released its Easy subscription for SMBs as well as department-level Salesforce instances within larger organizations.

One thing Salesforce has that HubSpot doesn't is a low-code platform for users to build connectors within HubSpot and to exchange data with outside applications. That -- or some similar means to enable users to build their own connectors for last-mile integrations in a straightforward manner when HubSpot partners don't offer a tool -- is part of HubSpot's roadmap, Pitre said.

HubSpot appears to be just starting on a long plan to build a CX platform that ties together marketing, sales and service. While an e-commerce cloud doesn't yet appear to be on the roadmap, HubSpot does have many of the pieces to enable customers to manage e-commerce transactions, such as payments processing, website and content tools.

"They'll never be a Salesforce," Jakovljevic said. "But they don't want to be a Salesforce."

The data tools, collectively known as HubSpot Operations Hub, may resemble a customer data platform (CDP) to some prospective users. It's not, Pitre said, but it does address some of the problems that CDPs solve, such as finding duplicate customer records or fixing wrongly formatted email addresses.

One HubSpot user, an email marketer at a medium-sized business interviewed by TechTarget Editorial at Inbound, said those two problems in particular are the bane of marketers, because salespeople and others who enter data into HubSpot are inconsistent -- or worse, incorrect. AI to catch and fix such errors would justify the cost of an Operations Hub subscription, she said.

Connect.com revamped as community site

The fledging Connect.com site previously catered to those within the HubSpot tech community to evangelize their HubSpot certifications, consultant experience and developer expertise. The new version is a way for HubSpot users to build communities of their customers and partners in order to generate consented, usable first-party data as well as to engage with them.

Dharmesh Shah speaking at Inbound conference
HubSpot CTO and co-founder Dharmesh Shah lays out the company's vision at the Inbound user conference on Wednesday.

"We want Connect.com to be an open community," said HubSpot co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah in his Inbound keynote. "It doesn't matter what CRM platform you're on, it doesn't matter what products you use. It doesn't matter what sportsball team you cheer for. You are all welcome. We won't be able to do it all at once. We like to dream big and iterate small."

Pitre said that while Connect.com may sound like a LinkedIn business social network competitor in theory, the idea isn't to build another LinkedIn. Instead, Connect.com will be a business network of HubSpot users and their customers. HubSpot plans to manage privacy more tightly than on LinkedIn, where users can purchase access to other LinkedIn members in order to message them unsolicited, Pitre said.

Don Fluckinger covers enterprise content management, CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, customer service and enabling technologies for TechTarget Editorial.

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