Focus Groups are Dead: An Interview with Mike Volpe, HubSpot CMO

Mike Volpe

Mike Volpe, Chief Marketing Officer of HubSpot

Editor’s Note:  I recently attended the Social Media FTW (For the Win) conference where HubSpot‘s Chief Marketing Officer, Mike Volpe was a keynote speaker.  During his talk, Mike contrasted the analytics HubSpot gives marketers with traditional feedback, using focus groups as an example.  I caught up with Mike afterward to get his further perspectives on market research and marketing. 

Dana Stanley: For those who don’t know, could you please give a quick overview of what HubSpot does for marketers? In particular, how does it help with marketing analytics?

Mike Volpe: HubSpot is an all-in-one marketing software platform. Rather than using one tool for blogging, another tool for social media marketing, a different tool for landing pages, yet another tool for email marketing, some other tool for marketing automation and yet an additional system for marketing analytics, HubSpot combines all of that into one.

This is powerful for marketers for two reasons: first, you have one hub to manage all of your marketing which is faster and easier, and second, you can easily measure and analyze things across all these different marketing tools. For instance, HubSpot gives you closed loop marketing analytics, so you can link it to your CRM system and know not only how many web visitors you got from social media, but also how many of them became a lead and how many of those leads converted into customers. Or, you could measure how many of your leads that became customers visited a specific web page on your website or used certain functionality in your mobile app, etc.

DS: In your recent keynote at Social Media FTW, you said, “Focus groups are dead.” Can you tell me what you meant by that?

MV: Of course “dead” is strong language meant to invite a response and dialog. Focus groups still have their place, however they are much less useful or attractive today for two reasons.

First, the low cost availability of other ways of gathering information about your market and customers. You can listen to what they say in social media, you can read the reviews they write. You can analyze how they actually use your website. You can see the videos and blogs they post about your products.

Second, I think the information you can get today is a more accurate view into your customers, because it is based on their actual behavior, not how they answer questions in an unfamiliar room with 5 strangers. I’ll take the status update that someone wrote from the couch in the comfort of their own home as more accurate than the comment they made in a focus group room when they are given a $100 gift card to show up.

DS: Your company has been on an impressive growth path. How does HubSpot take stock of and incorporate feedback from customers and prospects?

MV: We get feedback in a number of different ways. We conduct usability sessions where we have someone use the product online while we watch and they talk us through what they are doing, we have discussion forums for customers that we monitor, we get feedback from the sales team on what people say when they they demo the product, we have usage monitoring built into the product that gives us reports about what customers do and don’t do in the product, we have where customers can submit ideas to make the product better, we visit HUG (HubSpot User Group) meetings and we regularly survey the customers as well.

DS: What do you envision market research will be like in the future?

I think it will allow for faster and cheaper insights and more witnessing of actual real life activity, not simulated activity.

About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.


  1. ingles Leah McGrath says:

    Interesting – we do Facebook Forums on our Ingles Mkts FB page…I tell brands that they are like ” a focus group w/ over 13k people in 40 minutes”. immediate feedback.

  2. I think that is a good analogy! The ease and speed with which you can get feedback is very different today. The other side of it is that it is easier to observe customers in their natural environment (the web) rather than an artificial environment (focus group room).

  3. Although you clarify your “dead” comment as a way to invite response & dialog, I still think that sort of repeated language does damage to our industry and our relationships with end clients.

    From all of the traditional focus group people that I know, none of them have avoided this conversation and are more than happy to engage in it so why use a pejorative term other than to call attention for your own offer? Fair game, it’s a free world and it’s your right, but if you truly wanted to help the Market Research industry move forward into new techniques and methods, there’s better language that doesn’t make it look like a typical sales ploy.

    To clarify my own position, I’m a firm supporter of the NewMR movement and do everything I can to move it forward but a good 70-80% of clients budgets are firmly rooted in the “old ways”. Calling that significant of an investment (or part of it) as “dead” is like calling their babies ugly.

    But I guess it works, you got me to respond & dialog :-)

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