As of this writing, there are close to 6,000 HubSpot partners who help businesses across the world implement HubSpot’s solutions, automate their marketing workflow, or offer consulting services.
And that includes your agency, which means that you are a shark fighting in a narrow strait full of other hungry and probably bigger sharks. If you want to survive and thrive in such bloodied waters, and get to implement interesting solutions for a wide variety of clients—you need to have a strong client acquisition engine.
It’s generally challenging for agencies that offer a broad suite of services, to become known for all the services that they offer. Most agencies operate at similar level playing fields, i.e. you will often run into agencies that are solving the same set of problems as the other agencies.
In contrast, some of the most successful HubSpot partners focus on offering just one core service—be it implementing HubSpot’s CRM, CMS, Marketing Hub, or Sales Hub.
Niching down the service offerings is what helps even newer agencies scale quickly. Zeroing in on one or two core services and being the best at that gives you an edge. It also helps if the leadership in your agency has a strong background in the niche that you serve.
Most people who start their own agencies are well-networked in their niche. This was my personal experience when launching a web design agency in the early 2000s. We quickly went from zero clients to nearly more than we could handle in a few months. Other good bets to build a steady client pipeline are: building a good online presence, completing your HubSpot Solutions Partner profile, or spending on ads to drive website traffic.
- John Tabita, Senior Account Manager at Front Burner Marketing
Here’s another strategy that you can try out to get more targeted clients in your agency’s pipeline: find HubSpot sales reps, channel partners, or affiliate marketers and earn deal flows directly from them.
There are agencies who run LinkedIn ads targeted at Hubspot sales reps and bag deals that work out to be mutually beneficial for all—the agencies, clients, and even the sales reps.
HubSpot sales reps are obviously not the customers themselves, but they are influencers who have close relationships with all kinds of HubSpot customers. You can use this strategy as a lead gen template to reach out to other referral channels like resellers and affiliate partners to earn deals.
Solution implementation best practices for Hubspot partners
Once your client acquisition engine starts working for you, it’s time to scale your implementation to match the influx of clients. Through this blog post, we discuss some solution implementation best practices for Hubspot partners, based on our conversations and experience with our agency customers at Avoma.
1. Kick off the project with a formal client onboarding
Assuming that you have made the sales and already run a pain discovery to understand the requirements of your clients, the next step for you is to formally onboard them into your business.
The nature of onboarding depends on whether it’s a one-off project or a retainer-based engagement. A one-off, small project usually has a clear beginning and an end. For such engagements, it’s best to define the project scope and provide a quote even before the sales is made.
A retainer-based engagement usually involves two things: quick wins that you can implement immediately and an elaborate conversation around the overall implementation strategy, goals, and benchmarks.
Starting your client relationship with a formal onboarding helps you control the project’s variables. It allows you to set the right expectations with the clients and establish clear accountability for both parties. It also lets you set benchmarks for the project so that you can reference the project’s success later.
Onboarding is also a perfect opportunity for you to set timelines, budget, tactics, and collaboration parameters that are critical to the project’s success. A well-defined client onboarding process is a must when you have signed a retainer agreement and there are clear timeline estimates.
To be fair, not all clients (or agencies) have the luxury and time to go through a week-long onboarding process. Some clients, for example, have simple implementation requirements like setting up the Sales or Marketing Hub—and that’s about it.
There are also a few instances when time is of urgency for clients and your agency might have a high-level understanding of their requirements. In such cases, you might want to dive headfirst into the implementation process as the first step and figure things out as you go.
An upside of this hurried approach is that you can start implementing the project from day one. It shortens your time-to-value for the clients and helps your technical team knock out the low-hanging fruits in just the first week or month.
The downside is that you go blindly into a partnership without specific goals and targets—which might become a source of contention for both parties later.
2. Set realistic success metrics
More often than not, the way agencies set success metrics is based on the client’s current situation, their growth goals, and their future aspirations. However, you should also build project benchmarks off of their own experience. It’s the most honest way to treat clients.
In the context of implementing a solution like HubSpot for clients, the success metrics are more or less some proxy for improving efficiency and increasing revenue. For example, most clients partner with HubSpot partners to speed up their implementation time, cut costs of doing so on their own, or achieve their revenue goals quickly—all of which map back to efficiency in one way or the other.
If your agency can take that and benchmark it against your agency’s expertise and goals, it can turn out to be a win-win partnership. However, if you’re just starting out and don’t have experience working with a lot of clients, it’s tough to do that because you don’t have any historical data to bank on. Up-and-coming agencies don’t have much choice but to go with industry benchmarks in their respective niche.
You also might want to set a low barrier just to be safe and in order to exceed the goals to use it in your marketing. As you grow, it’s better to base the success metrics of an implementation project based on your own benchmark.
Sure, there are agencies that help their clients grow 300% per year—but such metrics aren’t always a fair representation of a typical client. And when you benchmark metrics that are unrealistic and beyond what you can offer the clients, you are setting everyone up for disappointment.
3. Assign the right resources to a project
One of the most important relationships that agencies have is the relationship between sales and delivery—between people who make the promise and who keep the promise. In the context of agencies, the implementation teams are the last-mile delivery partners. If that alignment is there, your agency will be able to improve your relationship with clients and retain them for longer.
Assigning the right resources to a project is an important factor in this handoff between the sales and implementation teams. Many agencies assign technical experts to a project purely on a round-robin basis, i.e. tasking the implementation job to a list of individuals and teams in a rotational order.
Most agencies also have a system for assigning certain points to clients so that they can allocate the right people and resources to them. For instance, if a client is higher up on the value scale for your agency, you would want to offer a more high-touch experience to improve customer retention.
Not too far off from the strategy of round-robin assignment, some agencies allocate resources based on their team’s current bandwidth. But it gets a bit tricky to assign people by this rule if you don’t have clarity on the core services you offer and the kind of clients or niches you want to serve.
The very best agencies follow an assignment framework that matches the client’s requirements with the competencies of your technical team. For instance, if you have team members who have experience implementing HubSpot for SaaS clients, they can match the expectations of new clients from similar backgrounds and hit the ground running in no time.
Ideally, you should have a framework that combines both approaches—matching the competency of your team members to relevant projects and assigning them based on their availability. It works out best when you are really clear about your service offerings and the target accounts you want to service. The more specialized you are in your offerings, the easier it is to assign optimum resources to an implementation project.
4. Get the leadership buy-in early on
Most HubSpot implementation projects tend to be about change management—and change is not always received in the friendliest of terms by everyone on the client side. As an agency partner, you have to be prepared to deal with friction and resistance to change to adopt the new system.
Clients come to you when they have a perceived technical or strategic need. These implementation projects usually have three pillars to them: People, process and tools that need to go hand in hand.
The processes and tools are easy to manage—it’s mostly the people and their behavior that’s the toughest to overcome because change doesn’t come without pushback. The best way to handle these situations is to get the leadership’s buy-in as early as possible and let people know about it.
David C Baker, a well-known management consultant and author, addresses this topic from the lens of “separating the thinking from the doing” in his book The Business of Expertise.
From the strategy point of view, you need to get buy-in at a leadership level to make an implementation successful and to let the project work its way down to everyone having clarity on why it matters to their business.
It looks like a straightforward job. But if you fail to combine the thinking from the doing—or the strategy and the execution—most people won’t believe in the project’s merits. They will look at the project as a simple tooling problem—a generic need any tool could have fulfilled.
The teams won’t be open to adopting the new system or workflow—or will downright refuse to work with you—unless they really see value in the project. If you can get top-level buy-in from the leadership, it’s much easier for you to sell the project’s benefits to every team in the client company.
Mandy Thompson, CEO at Digital Reach Online Solutions—a HubSpot Solutions Partner agency based out of Anchorage—offers an important advice on the importance of getting early buy-in from the client teams:
You have to think about the individual users who aren't part of the buying committee. These are people who don't get to sit at the table and make decisions—but they are the ones who are most impacted by the decision. Therefore, if you're implementing Sales Hub for a team of 20 people, they are obviously not going to have the same profile.We use psychometric profiles for our hiring. We have three different types of profiles we hire for in sales so that each of them can work with the CRM implementation differently.
You still have to clearly articulate the project’s impact on their lives and establish the rules of engagement to make sure you get the right stakeholders to work alongside you.
Sometimes, dealing with resistance to change is best handled by asking a simple question:
Can I challenge your thinking on that?
And if you can change their minds about the assumptions they have against your suggested solution, you almost always win.
5. Be careful with scope creep
Scope creep is one of the biggest challenges that agencies face in their implementation projects—and it often stems from a lack of clarity in defining objectives during the onboarding stage. Scope creep happens when a client starts adding new requirements, changes, and ad hoc tasks and the project starts ballooning beyond the defined scope.
Let’s say you took up a client project to implement the HubSpot Sales Hub for them.
But midway through the implementation, your team discovers that the clients have tools and workflows that don’t play well with HubSpot. Now you either have to configure HubSpot to fit their custom requirements or ask the clients to change a few things in their existing techstack or workflows to make the implementation successful.
In any case, the new requirements will demand more time, energy, and budget—all of which exceed the project’s scope. Scope creep builds into your project by default if you fail to clearly define and document the project deliverables at the very beginning.
The best way to fight scope creep is to have clearly defined objectives and SLAs (service level agreements) at the trailhead of the project. The SLA should include details such as how exactly you are going to execute the project, what’s the timeline, how the end results should look, and so on.
But here’s where it gets tricky—scope creep will crop up no matter how clear your SLAs are. If you don’t comply with the client’s requests, you become the “bad agency”—and a “pushover” when you do.
It’s important to remember, your clients likely don’t understand the world of marketing or as much about HubSpot as you do. Therefore, you must set boundaries and stick to the SLAs.
When scope creep does become an issue, you can’t simply say “no” to the clients because you risk losing their business. Instead of saying flat-out “no,” agree to accommodate the new requirements at a high level and have an honest conversation with the client about the changes in the project's variables. For instance, let them know that you are willing to figure out new ways to handle the ad hoc tasks given the client is ready to have a conversation about the project’s renewed directions and the price change that go with it.
Here’s Mandy again, on how to avoid scope creep:
Our average SOW (statement of work) is at least six pages long, and it includes how many meetings we're giving, how often we're meeting, and for how long. Of course, you don't want to nickel and dime people for the small stuff. Your goal is to be reasonable and ask yourself, 'are the clients being reasonable in their ask?' If it's unreasonable, you have to sit down with the clients and scope out the project from the beginning.
6. Get the right tools at your disposal
The list of tools that you need in your agency techstack can be endless—and vary based on your requirements, budget, team size, and other factors. Thankfully, when it comes to implementing a HubSpot solution for a client, you don’t need an expansive list. You just need a few tools to optimize your project for success.
Here are four must-have tools that will help your implementation team see through the entire project without any hiccups.
From a project management perspective, we recommend you use ClickUp, the all-in-one project management software. ClickUp offers a wide variety of offerings ranging from word processing to CRM. It has a suite of apps that allows your teams to manage various projects under one roof.
ClickUp lets you streamline multiple projects such as task management, document collaboration, spreadsheets, goals tracking, wikis, chat, process automation, and team-specific templates for all kinds of projects.
Having all projects in one place makes it easier for your teams to improve productivity, collaborate with each other, and save costs. For agencies, ClickUp also offers specific features such as Workspace and Spaces to manage teams and their workflows more efficiently.
Avoma helps you improve the efficiency of your agency by giving you actionable insights into your client conversations. It records, transcribes, summarizes and analyzes your meetings and calls (via conferencing tools as well as dialers) so that you can understand your clients at scale, shorten your sales cycles, thus boosting your agency’s productivity and impact.
More specifically, Avoma helps you in ramping up your new account managers faster, identifies areas of improvement so that you can coach them, and most importantly automates note-taking and CRM data entry, so that you focus your energies on what really matters.
Here’s what Gray MacKenzie, Co-founder at ZenPilot, says about Avoma’s value for agencies:
If you (agency) can keep clients for over 3 years, you would be in the top 2% of agencies who can retain customers. To achieve that kind of retention, you need a tool like Avoma to gather important customer context.
Employee turnover is common across agencies and people who served an account in the past aren’t going to be around forever. For new team members to catch up on such key accounts, using a tool like Avoma is super helpful.
For many agencies, there are handoff workflows between people who build the strategy (e.g., account manager) and the implementation team who see through the actual project. Managing client projects from start to finish is way easier when you have a tool like Avoma to record, transcribe, and analyze your customer conversations.
Retently lets you improve retention rate by allowing you to collect and measure customer feedback through features such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) and email surveys, thank you pages, data segmentation, and industry benchmarks. You can monitor data and insights across various parameters and manage your customer interactions to improve retention.
If you want to explore Retently alternatives in terms of pricing or features, you can evaluate other software like Delighted, Promotely.io, or Survicate—which come with more or less the same set of capabilities.
HubSpot also has its own customer feedback software that it offers as part of its Service Hub plan. If you’re a HubSpot partner agency, you can leverage that capability for the agency's use cases.
Every customer-centric business needs some software to manage their customer conversations, escalations, and support tickets. We strongly recommend Slack because it brings all your customer conversations and internal team conversations under the same umbrella. This lets you establish agency-wide transparency and improve team productivity.
But there certainly are other options many agencies prefer ranging from a simple email platform like Gmail to a dedicated helpdesk and ticketing tool like HelpScout.
7. Regularly run review meetings with clients
You can’t skip over the importance of having standardized project review meetings with your clients at regular intervals. The cadence of these meetings varies based on what clients are paying or where they rank on your agency’s value scale. In general—the bigger the retainer contract is, the more frequently you need to have review and check-in meetings with them.
Many times, the frequency of these meetings also depends on the complexity and urgency of a project. If you have a $7,500 month retainer contract with a client who is chasing a campaign deadline or has heavy technical requirements around the HubSpot solution, you probably should have weekly or fortnightly check-in meetings with them to go over the project’s progress.
If you have a retainer project that pays you $1500/month and the client needs your agency’s help on the maintenance side once the implementation is over, you can have a monthly review. The cadence also depends on the relationship that you have with a client or the SLA that you have signed with them.
Having a standardized agenda is a great way to make these meetings efficient for both you and the clients. Everybody is naturally programmed to do better when they stick to meeting agendas or some kind of script to follow every time they are entering a meeting.
Here is a quick tip on how to divide a review meeting into a well-defined agenda:
- Activity: The set of activities that you did over the last few weeks
- Data: The results that were derived from the project during the said timeline
- Insights: The findings from the activities and data that you can apply immediately
- Action items: The steps for you to follow based on insights and meeting discussion
Depending on the nature of the project and how deep you are into the project, the action items might be the continuation of the same plan that you planned two weeks ago. Don't spend the bulk of our time in the review meeting talking about what you did. If you are still early in the project, there are going to be many things to talk about—except for asking the clients how they feel about the progress of the project.
On the other hand, if you are already three months into a project, talk about the results and show the clients the metrics that have changed from the time you began to the current day. From an efficiency perspective, the more clarity you can give clients on the things that you need from them, the better it is for your ongoing partnership with them.
It’s also best to use a tool like Avoma to document the review meetings so that you can improve your team’s performance or refer back to specific conversations at a later date.
8. Arrive at a perfect project closure
You should always aim to deliver on the defined scope of the project like implementation or end-to-end automation of the client workflows. Have a formal project close-out meeting with the client to review the project deliverables. Manage these conversations like post-mortem meetings to honestly assess the success of the implementation project.
Ideally, you should run these meetings as you are coming toward the end of the project and not at the last minute so that you still have time to fix things—if there’s anything that needs fixing before the contract ends.
For instance, let’s say there are a few issues on the client side that aren’t going as expected. You can use the close-out meeting to ask a handful of questions to clients such as:
- How was the experience from your end?
- Are you happy with the results of the implementation?
- How confident are you about running the implementation?
- What are a few things that you plan to do in the next few weeks?
- What’s a piece of advice you have for clients who are in your shoes?
- Do you have any questions or hesitations that you want us to answer for you?
It’s even better if you let your clients know about the close-out meeting during the onboarding stage so that they have a clear picture of your entire process and can share honest feedback when their partnership with your agency comes to a formal end.