HubSpot has a new edict: enable businesses to “help customers however they want whenever they want with whatever they want.”
That was a phrase from HubSpot CTO and co-founder Dharmesh Shah when he was revealing the Cambridge company’s “biggest project we have ever undertaken,” a conversational platform for marketing, sales and customer support that unites all conversations with customers — across email, on-site live chat, social media and messaging platforms like Facebook — into one inbox, visible for all teams. Shah made the announcement last month at HubSpot’s flagship event, Inbound.
Called Conversations, the new platform is an upcoming feature for HubSpot’s free customer relationship management software that will integrate a visual chatbot building tool from Motion AI, the most recent of three artificial intelligence startups HubSpot acquired this year.
“We realized chat became a great channel for one-to-one conversation but not the only one,” Christopher O’Donnell, HubSpot’s top product executive, told BostInno in a recent interview.
Up until Inbound in late September, HubSpot had mainly focused on inbound sales and marketing tools for small- to medium-sized businesses, ranging from email automation and blogging software to embedded live chat and sales call management. But at this year’s events, the company announced that it was expanding to customer support through its new Customer Hub product, expanding its view of the entire customer lifecycle. O’Donnell called Customer Hub the “third missing leg” of HubSpot’s CRM.
“The more we can paint that picture of running your entire customer journey on HubSpot, the better off customers are going to be,” he said.
With a platform now focused on serving everyone from prospects to existing customers, HubSpot is starting to lean heavily into AI as a way to augment work done by sales, marketing and customer support teams.
The most prominent way AI will play a role in HubSpot’s future is the visual chatbot builder from Motion AI, which is meant to help businesses respond to prospect and customers online when employees aren’t available. The chatbots can also be used to answer simple questions. Altogether, the goal is to help businesses more easily scale one-on-one communications.
“The automation piece gets you to inbox zero much easier,” O’Donnell said.
As for how else HubSpot will integrate AI into its software, O’Donnell said there will be a lot more to come. That includes using machine learning to sift through millions of web pages a day to provide sales representatives with relevant that can help them close deals faster — a capability that is being added, in this case, through its acquisition of another AI startup.
What puts HubSpot in a competitive position when it comes to AI is all the data it has already collected in understanding best practices for marketing and sales, O’Donnell said.
“We are in a unique position as a [marketing tech] CRM vendor in that we have the entire customer journey already loaded into one place,” O’Donnell said. “That allows us to build the best lead scoring in the business,” as well as train machine learning algorithms on a “very straightforward data set that is uncommonly robust and exhaustive.”
“2018 is going to be the year when we spread the gospel of how to use machine learning across marketing and sales and customer care.”
While O’Donnell declined to provide the amount HubSpot has spent on artificial intelligence projects through acquisitions or research and development, he said the company’s investment in AI and machine learning has increased tenfold over the last year.
“2018 is going to be the year when we spread the gospel of how to use machine learning across marketing and sales and customer care,” he said.
With a new focus on messaging and chatbots, it raises the question of whether HubSpot will eventually clash with its most recent startup investment, Drift. The Boston-based startup was founded by two former HubSpot executives, and it recently closed a $32 million round backed by previous HubSpot investors General Catalyst, CRV and HubSpot itself to build out a conversational system to drive marketing and sales efforts that is augmented by chatbots.
“It’s an emerging market and the rising tide of more awareness of the product will lift all ships,” said O’Donnell, who first worked with Drift co-founders David Cancel and Elias Torres at their previous startup, Performable, which they sold to HubSpot.