The Age of the Connected Customer

Growing a business has never been easy. But these days, it feels impossible.

Companies are trying to predict growth in an unpredictable macro environment. The economy is down, the market is volatile, socio-political issues are raging, and the dust is still settling on hybrid work. Every week, there’s a new twist or turn.

In case navigating all this uncertainty isn’t hard enough, companies are dealing with another major shift. Over the past year, the strategies that businesses rely on to attract, engage, and delight customers have started to break. It’s harder to generate demand, drive leads, reach prospects, and meet customers’ high expectations. At the height of the pandemic, many businesses thrived in a digital-first world, but now that momentum is slowing and it’s harder than ever to connect with customers.

The flywheel feels frozen. But why?

This question keeps me up at night. Helping organizations grow better is our mission at HubSpot. We’re passionate about helping scaling companies get ahead and navigate periods of uncertainty. That’s why we went on a listening tour to understand what’s standing in the way of our customers’ growth, and how we can help solve it.

Across hundreds of conversations with customers, there was one word that kept coming up: disconnected. We discovered that companies are in a crisis of disconnection today, caused by three major disconnects. They’re struggling with disconnected systems, disconnected people, and disconnected customers. I want to share what we’ve learned about each disconnect, and how we believe companies can solve this crisis.

Systems Are Disconnected

The first theme we heard loud and clear is that companies are struggling with disconnected systems. This has always been a problem, but it’s gotten worse over the past few years. We recently ran a pulse survey to understand the biggest challenges businesses are facing, and the number one pain point was disconnected systems (HubSpot Market Research, 2022).

It makes sense when you think about it. During the pandemic, companies shifted to fully-digital overnight and there was a frenzy of buying point solutions. They bought a tool for every task, every team, and every department. As a result, the average scaling company has 242 SaaS tools today. The problem isn’t that companies have a lot of tools, though — it’s that too few are connected. Each has its own data and processes but there’s no one place tying it all together.

As a result, companies are spending more time connecting data than connecting with their customers. They have to spend hours cleaning data and trying to cobble insights together from different systems. What’s worse is that their go-to-market teams don’t have a unified view of the customer’s journey, so they’re working in silos and their customer experience is suffering.

It’s a total mess.

That’s why, when it comes to growth, it’s time to accept that disconnected point solutions are not the solution.

People Are Disconnected

The second disconnect is that people have become more disconnected from each other. From quarantining, to social distancing, to working remotely, isolation has become part of our daily lives. The problem is, we’re human. We rely on each other for support and connection.

When I need advice at work, do you know what I do first? I lean on my peers. I reach out to a mentor, a co-worker, or my network for support. But it’s become harder to tap into one another; we aren’t bumping into each other at the office or meeting up at networking events like we used to.

In fact, 45% of workers say that the number of people they interact with at work decreased, and 57% of people say that they engage in fewer social activities these days. No wonder Peloton became so popular during the pandemic. For me, it wasn’t just about exercise, it was about being part of a community.

And I know I’m not alone. When I talk to our customers, I hear the same theme loud and clear: They crave community. They want to build deeper relationships with their co-workers, their customers, and their network, but it’s not as easy as it once was.

Companies Are Disconnected from Customers

The third and final disconnect is that companies are more disconnected from their customers than ever. They’re writing blogs at a frenzied pace but still can’t drive traffic. They’re emailing prospects but can’t get a response. The channels and strategies that used to work for companies now seem to be working against them. So, what changed?

We dug into this and found that there are two major shifts happening. The first is that people are digitally drained. From our social feeds, to our inboxes, to our text messages, we are bombarded at every turn. As a result, buyers aren’t engaging with companies like they used to, and you can see it in the data.

In 2020, 65% of Google searches ended without a click, and the average blog shrunk by -1.64% in 2021. According to HubSpot data, sales email response rates have plummeted by 40% compared to pre-pandemic rates. The channels companies have relied on to attract and engage customers are now overly saturated, pushing people out and ad costs up.

The second change is that we are now living in a privacy-first world. People are more protective of their data than ever. Apple’s recent ad campaign is a great example of this shift; they’re positioning privacy as the iPhone’s core value proposition. When one of the most valuable companies on the planet comes out that strongly on a value, we should all take notice. What this means for businesses is that the cookies, tracking, and consent they’ve depended on are now being cut off in a privacy-first world.

Buyers today are digitally drained and distrusting of companies with their data. Both of these shifts lead to companies being more disconnected from their customers than ever. And that’s exactly what I hear from our customers. They’re struggling to cut through the noise, to reach prospects, and to build relationships with customers the same way they used to. They’re coming to terms with a hard truth which is that old go-to-market strategies won’t work in this new world.

Based on our research and conversations with customers, these three disconnects are clear. Systems are disconnected. People are disconnected. Companies and customers are disconnected.

This all leads to a crisis of disconnection.

Companies are struggling with unprecedented disconnection from their customers and each other, compounded by disconnected systems. They’re grasping for growth. Their revenue is unpredictable. Their flywheel is stalled. Their teams are burnt out.

That’s why it’s time to evolve. Companies can’t continue relying on broken data, broken processes, and broken strategies. The only way to solve this crisis is to adapt and find new ways to grow in the Age of the Connected Customer.

Introducing the Age of the Connected Customer

For years, companies have relied on legacy CRMs to ‘manage’ their customer relationships. But that won’t cut it in this new world. We believe the companies that will win in the future are the ones that focus on customer connection, not customer management. That means you need more than data, you need context. You need more than leads, you need connection. You need more than contacts, you need community.

You need a connected customer growth strategy. Connected customer growth is about optimizing every stage of your customer’s journey to boost connection. It’s about evolving your Attract, Engage, and Delight strategies to provide more value and relevance. You can start by asking yourself questions like: What 20% of content creates 80% of value for our customers? How can I use data to bring more context to my customer conversations? How can I make it easier for customers to buy? These types of questions will help you identify easy ways to optimize your flywheel for customer connection.

But evolving your strategy alone isn’t enough. You need the right technology to make connection possible — connection with your data, your teams, and your community. That’s why we’re bringing three powerful parts of HubSpot’s solution together:

  • Connected Applications: Our Hubs — Marketing, Sales, Service, CMS, and Operations — are designed to connect your entire front-office. They give go-to-market teams a single, unified view of the customer journey.
  • Connected Platform: Our CRM platform powers the Hubs with connected data — including commerce data — and extensibility. The platform is customizable and has over 1,100 app integration partners to give companies flexibility at scale.
  • Connected Community: Companies need more than software to grow, so we’re bringing together educational content through our Academy, as well as assets and expertise through our partner networks.

The combination of all three is our connected customer platform. To learn more about what we’re building at HubSpot and some exciting new features to help boost connection, visit hubspot.com/new.

You can expect to learn much more from us over the next year on how to put customer connection into action, optimize your strategies, and how HubSpot’s platform is evolving to connect data, strategies, and people. As we step into the Age of the Connected Customer, I am confident that scaling companies can emerge stronger from this crisis.

And we’re here to help you grow better, connected.