Mark Roberge Scaling a Sales Team Featured

Mark Roberge: How an Engineer Scaled HubSpot’s World-Class Sales Team

Mark Roberge Scaling a Sales Team

When one of the cofounders of HubSpot asked Mark Roberge to build the sales team at their startup, Mark said yes. Problem was, he had no experience running a sales team. But there was something in his background that he thought he could draw on to build and scale a world-class sales team and help make HubSpot one of the fastest growing companies in the US.

HubSpot was the brainchild of an MIT classmate of Mark’s who saw massive potential for a software solution that automates inbound marketing for businesses. Mark was asked to join in 2006, a year after it was founded, on a part-time basis. After working one day a week for a year, Mark had helped bring in the company’s first 50 customers. At that point, with the number of businesses going online and HubSpot’s opportunity rapidly expanding, Mark joined full-time as the SVP of Sales.

Scaling in the Digital Age

As Mark saw it, the big risk for HubSpot was losing out on the chance to dominate the inbound marketing space. To reduce that risk, Mark’s priority became scaling a sales team as rapidly and successfully as possible. Because he had no experience doing that, he decided to draw on his non-sales background—engineering training from MIT—and look at the problem the way a scientist would. His approach, which would emphasize rigorous attention to metrics and analytics, would not only transform HubSpot into a market leader, but would also set a new precedent for how others could scale a sales team in the digital age.

In this post, we’ll look at three critical phases in Mark’s approach.

Phase 1: Coding the Sales Model

To scale, Mark knew he first needed a model for how sales were made at HubSpot, so that every sales rep he hired would have a process to follow. Because Mark was the first and only salesperson at the time, he created the prototype based on his own selling experience.

Mark examined everything he did, carefully mapping out the buyer’s journey, the sales process, and how leads moved through various qualifying stages. He broke everything down to finite steps. And then he measured all his activity—obsessively. Mark knew exactly how many dollars he made a day, how many prospects he connected with, how many presentations he made, and how many prospects he closed. This became the model for success.

By measuring every rep he hired against the model, Mark could easily see how well they were replicating his success and which skills they needed coaching on in order to close any gaps. (More on how Mark designed coaching success coming up.)

Hard Science Frees up Soft Sales Skills

Another key way Mark engineered for scale was to make the model as efficient as possible. He did this by investing heavily in customizing their customer relationship management software so that all tasks, like sending emails, could be done in the fewest clicks possible. In this way, Mark used the hard science of engineering to create the conditions for the soft skills of sales to have the most impact. Instead of trying to figure out what steps to follow to move a lead forward, or spending tons of time managing and tracking activity, sales reps could focus the bulk of their energy on things like creating trust or building rapport with prospects—the exact experiences that were core to HubSpot’s brand. HubSpot has recently commercialized some of these technologies into its free product.

Phase 2: Cracking the Hiring Code

With the sales model in hand, Mark turned his attention to the next key phase—hiring. The problem with hiring, as Mark saw it, was that traditional hiring decisions usually come down to a gut decision. That’s not scalable, because it’s not a way to ensure you consistently hire candidates who are going to succeed. So Mark’s strategy here was to create a hiring system that relied on quantitative analysis, not gut feel.

Mark’s first step in the hiring phase was to define the 10 criteria, such as curiosity and work ethic, that he thought would be most important for sales success at HubSpot. He then developed a 10-point scoring system, carefully defining what each point along the scale meant. Then he started scoring every candidate he interviewed using this system. After he’d hired several people, he began to analyze the performance of every salesperson and compare their results to his interview scores. By doing this, Mark could identify which criteria mattered the most and revise his system to improve hiring decisions. The formula helped him bring on rockstars who would not only deliver exceptional results, but also raise the bar on the hiring criteria.

Analyzing the Data to Predict Hiring Success

After a year—with 20people on his team and hundreds of documented interviews—Mark had enough data to ratchet up the science, so he ran a regression analysis and created an index that allowed him to predict sales success at HubSpot based on a candidate’s interview scores. He would run an analysis every year, fine-tuning the system. One key change Mark made, based on his analysis, was to include coachability, a trait that didn’t appear as a criterion in his original list. Coachability would become the main trait he focused on, which leads us to the third phase.

Phase 3: Designing a Leadership System

Once the number of sales rep grew to 20 or so, Mark began to focus on creating the structure and systems to develop the reps for optimal performance. For Mark, the main goal here was to put leadership and coaching front and center, and to make it consistent and repeatable by relying, as he had with the other stages, on metrics and analysis. When it came to choosing who to promote to managers, Mark analyzed everyone’s performance and selected reps who were competent across the broad range of criteria. He did this rather than simply promote the top sales reps, because those reps often excelled in certain areas, while lacking in others. By choosing reps with a broader range, he was able to eliminate the risk that a manager would focus their coaching efforts only on the skills they personally excelled in, which wouldn’t be effective or scalable.

Standardizing Leadership

To further ensure that coaching was consistent, Mark put managerial candidates through a 12-week leadership course with a standard curriculum, which he built specifically for success at HubSpot. Once someone became a manager, they would spend as much time as possible coaching, rather than on things like forecasts and pipeline management, which were largely handled by systems. Again, it’s an example of Mark using the cold science of engineering to optimize soft skills.

However, when it came to choosing what skills to coach, something that is often left to instinct and guesswork, Mark turned to metrics. Every rep was measured against the sales model to accurately identify where they were weak. Managers would focus their coaching on these weaknesses, ensuring they didn’t waste time on skill development that would have no impact on results. It was a system designed to bring the best out in people—and it worked. A rep who started at HubSpot was constantly growing and improving their performance—something that provided personal fulfillment while also benefiting the organization.

$90 Million

So, where did Mark’s scientific approach take him and HubSpot? In 2010, Mark was awarded Salesperson of the Year at the MIT Sales Conference. In 2011, with a three-year growth rate over 6,000 percent, HubSpot would place #33 on’s list of the Fastest Growing Companies in America. In 2013, his team numbered 450 people and the revenue run rate reached $90 million. Today, HubSpot is the world’s leading inbound marketing and sales platform with more than 11,000 customers.

Mark’s success at HubSpot is a clear indication that no matter what size your sales team is today—even if it’s only you—using metrics and analysis as early as possible is key to both preparing for scale, and ensuring you’ll scale successfully.

Mark is now Chief Revenue Officer of the HubSpot Inbound Sales Division. Today he is spearheading the effort to bring to the world many of the technological innovations HubSpot has created to make a salesperson’s job easier. One of those solutions is available for free at, an app that shows you who opens and clicks in your emails, where those people are from, and what device they used.

For more ideas on how to build a leading sales team, see:

The unique strategy Paul Jackson used to build his top sales team at Method

How Mike McDerment dramatically increased sales at FreshBooks

How Mark Organ discovered sales success at Influitive

Paul Jackson: Why Agility Is the Key to Method’s Sales Success

Paul Jackson: Why Agility Is the Key to Method’s Sales Success

In 2010, when Method Founder and CEO, Paul Jackson, set out to build a sales team for his software business, he made a costly assumption based on a widely held notion of sales. Turning his software solution into a top-rated app would require Paul to turn that assumption on its head.

Method’s cloud-based customer relationship management software, Method:CRM, integrates with Intuit’s QuickBooks accounting software. It’s specifically designed for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and is fully customizable, so any business can set up a CRM suited for their unique workflow. But, for Method’s sales team, this product benefit creates the challenge of approaching each customer differently, because what works for one customer may not work for another.

The Costly Assumption

Paul’s first attempt to meet this sales challenge was to hire what he refers to as “universal reps”—multi-skilled salespeople who would manage the entire customer experience, from onboarding to account management to support. For Method, this meant that when a business would sign up for a 30-day free trial (and become a lead for Method), the sales rep would manage the lead’s initial CRM setup as well as provide ongoing account support and customization guidance for the duration of their relationship with Method.

The concept of a universal rep is a proven approach that has worked in other industries to build strong, lasting client relationships. The underlying principle is that customers prefer to develop a relationship with a single contact at a company, rather than be bounced around to different people. It was a convincing notion and Paul assumed it would work for Method.

Urgent Help

To his surprise, Paul’s universal rep plans didn’t pan out with the level of success he had anticipated and businesses that had signed up with Method weren’t receiving the top-notch experience Paul had envisioned for his customers. For example, a rep would be on a long two-hour call helping a customer create a custom workflow, while another customer would call in repeatedly trying to get urgent help to log into the system.

As Paul thought about what to do, it hit him that he had approached the sales problem the wrong way—trying to plug someone else’s model into Method was never going to work. What he needed was something that fit with the unique journey his customers were on. And, to find out exactly what sales solution to build, he needed to walk in his customers’ shoes—to experience what they were experiencing. Only then would he know how to lead them seamlessly from a free trial to a paid plan.

The irony for Paul was that customer insights are the cornerstone to Method’s approach to building their software. It’s central to their whole development philosophy, which is based on something known in the software industry as Agile development. The more he thought more about it, Paul realized he could in fact apply the whole Agile philosophy to solving his company’s sales problem. If it was helping Method build a killer app, why not use it to build a killer sales team?

Changes on the Fly

As the name implies, Agile development is about adapting quickly. Instead of trying to get the design of the product perfect upfront, developers design and test and get customer feedback all at the same time—and use the information they gather to iterate and make changes on the fly. The result: you end up giving your customers what they need, when they need it. And that was the big problem with Paul’s concept of a universal rep. It wasn’t what his customers needed.

So, when Paul focused on understanding the customer journey, he discovered that having the same person to talk to wasn’t what his customers cared about. What they really wanted was to get someone knowledgeable on the phone in the area they currently needed help with. And that wasn’t always happening because the reps who were good at helping someone in the initial free trial phase weren’t the best at providing in-depth customization or ongoing support.

In the spirit of getting Agile, Paul decided to adapt quickly. He immediately ditched the universal rep role, and instead began hiring for three different roles—a sales rep to handle initial set-up, a rep for support, and a consultant to work on customization.

Something Even Better

The new approach was a big step in the right direction. Method began delivering a better experience for their customers and more people were converting from the free trial into a paid plan. But Paul sensed they could do better. As he kept his eye on the customer experience he noticed that many still weren’t seeing the value in the Method app. They weren’t having their “Aha” moment. Paul realized that to fully solve the sales problem, he had to focus here, on this part of the customer’s journey—he had to make sure Method delivered those critical revelatory moments.

And to do that, Paul knew what he needed—salespeople who possessed a key trait: the ability to listen, tailor, and ultimately show. Only people who excelled at showing would be able to demo the app in a way that clearly demonstrated to customers how Method could help them.

Top Rated

So, Paul adapted again and began to invest more heavily in bringing on experts at showing. After building out his sales team with this new strength things began to really click. Retention soared and the lifetime value of each customer grew. Method began to convert customers from trial to paid at a world-class rate. Furthermore, the app became the top rated app in the Intuit App Center, where it now also has the highest number of reviews, the vast majority of which tout Method’s exceptional service—service delivered by the sales team.

So, can Paul step back from the sales challenge now? No. And that’s because the app will change, the world will change, and customer needs will change—and that means the right sales approach will have to change too. If that means completely overhauling the sales solution again and again, that’s what Paul and his team at Method will do. When you’re Agile, the evolution never stops.

For more ideas on how to build a leading sales team, see:

How Mike McDerment dramatically increased sales at FreshBooks

How Mark Organ discovered sales success at Influitive