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Why Hubspot CRM? - a consultant's perspective

Over a year ago I elicited opinions on the best choice of a CRM for a small business from the LinkedIn community. This crowdsourcing helped inform a project I was leading for a small, but fast growth business that is a heavy user of Microsoft Office, in particular Outlook and Excel. The client had used Salesforce in the past, but not for sales, and were not keen on the complexity and cost. Integration with Outlook helped narrow the field of available CRMs to obviously include MS Dynamics and various Outlook add-ins. Following the review I recommended we went with Hubspot because:

  • The CRM and hubspot sales are free. We could have a prolonged test with little cost.
  • The integration to Outlook email works well. Companies and contacts can be added to hubspot automatically from the sidekick Outlook add-in. Email opening and conversation trails can then be tracked in hubspot.
  • It is clean and fresh with a clear conceptual model.
  • It is all in the cloud. Collaboration and multiple devices are all possible.
  • A useful API is available, even for the free version.

  • There is little point me listing all the features, most of which will be common to most modern CRMs, so I will highlight a few points, many of which have both advantages and disadvantages:

    Both the "Track Email" and "Log to CRM" options from the Outlook add-in work well, and the users like this.

    Hubspot will go off to the internet to try to fill in some missing details (company details from domain names, LinkedIn lookups), and this is helpful. But sales people being sales people, the data will be minimal unless you create some regime (and incentives) for them to come back and tidy it up. Don't expect to get much insight or target your marketing from the contact data unless you do this, but this is a universal issue.

    Adding new properties (fields) is easy, with a good selection of field types. I have a slight concern that creating new properties is too easy, and users may be tempted to do it without checking whether there is an existing field or functionality to meet their need, or they create a structure which meets an immediate need but is not normalised and quickly becomes unmanageable. This will need controlling, but again this is a universal issue.

    The "out of the box" reporting is minimal. The "Dashboard" looks nice at first glance, but most of it is "crippleware" unless you subscribe to the paid version. However, the filters on the browse pages for the major tables (Company, Contacts, Deals), all work well, including filtering different stages of your sales pipelines. You can save named filters, so there isn't so much need for traditional reporting. With the necessary rights, you can download data into Excel.

    One can record only a single level parent-child relationship between companies, i.e. a company can be a parent, or a child, but not both. There is no data sync between parent and child companies and no data will roll up to the parent company. This is sub-optimal, but is also something that it is very difficult to get right in any system without hideous complexity that baffles the ordinary user, and in this respect sums up where hubspot CRM sits: It does not have the functionality of Salesforce, but neither does it have the complexity and clutter. Most users will be up and running in minutes.

    Initial data load is very easy, and companies and contacts can be updated via an upload if you want to go for a soft start. However, deals can be added but not updated by this route. If you want to do a bulk update of deals then you will need to use the API.


    The ease of adding fields, and the possibilities opened up by the API, make it possible to extend the use of Hubspot's CRM. Whilst there is always likely to be some tailoring to fit to a particular business, this opens up the possibility of building out the workflows beyond just sales. If we can extend the deal record with a few extra fields such that production can then use it to record and control their business, then we leverage the existing data, and sales even get a view of the progress of jobs. If we can create the invoices in our accounting system from completed deals, then it can reduce re-keying within the company and incentivise sales to get their data right up-stream. There is a judgement call here in terms of how much can be moved into hubspot, and once more it does not have the facilities of Salesforce, but there will be enough for many small businesses to integrate their business beyond just sales and marketing.

    We have used the API to report directly into Excel. Whilst this has saved the cost of the reporting module, we did it because there was some complexity in the reporting: customers mostly pre-pay annually for this particular business, and then draw-down individual projects against the pre-payments. We track these as two different flavour pipelines and then match it all up in Excel.

    Having set off down this road, we now do lots more reporting via the API to Excel, and by providing hyperlinks back to hubspot, most of the sales users actually use the Excel reporting as an index to their work, and the sales management use it at both a summary and detail level.

    Conclusion and Recommendation

    There have been implementation issues, but these are mostly associated with organisational behaviour and would apply to any CRM implementation. I will cover them in a follow-up blog.

    Some technical confidence and discipline will be required to set up default field choices, possibly add new fields, load data, and create filters etc. This would not be beyond competent users with a feel for data, of the type you might find in a modern marketing department. Finding someone who has done it before would accelerate the process as long as they can see your particular needs.

    Utilising the API needs professional IT skills. If you can combine this with someone with business understanding and vision, this really opens up the possibility of integrating the CRM into your business, both to leverage the data, and also to build your workflows into and on top of the CRM. This is more of an investment, but provides a path for a small business to grow without losing control.

    Hubspot CRM and sales are certainly working well for our client small business, and I am happy to recommend this path to other small and medium sized enterprises.

    I hope this blog is helpful and I welcome comments; but of course if you are looking for more specific help with #Hubspot do get in touch - no sales pitch just genuine independent advice!

    John Davis
    20 Jul 18.