The Hubspot Partner Ecosystem: Early Observations from a Hubspot Developer (Part 2 of 2)

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As covered in Part 1 of our Hubspot Partner Ecosystem Opportunity Review, Hubspot is making a big bet on its transition from app to suite to marketplace.

Its Marketplace offers SaaS leaders a golden opportunity to connect over 73,000 Hubspot customers through a universal integration app.

In this Part 2, we offer six observations for any SaaS leader interested in joining the Hubspot Partner Ecosystem.

Early Observations from a Hubspot App Developer

First, a quick contextual humble-brag to explain how and why we come by our vantage point:

  • We built our first Hubspot app in 2019 for FreshBooks. (You can learn more about the app’s features in depth in its marketplace listing).
  • We’re working on a second app now (client undisclosed), with more in the pipeline.
  • Because our core business is building 20+ different universal integrations for SaaS companies, we naturally perceive Hubspot’s Marketplace in contrast to other ecosystems.

On a weekly basis we view the Hubspot opportunity through the eyes of many different potential partners, each with their own goals and technical capabilities.

We then guide these SaaS leaders through a consulting process to assess how the Hubspot ecosystem and platform matches up (or doesn’t) with their own strategy.

And with that context, here are some early and general observations about becoming a Hubspot App Partner:

#1: Define Success First

General wisdom! Even a relatively simple Hubspot App is a significant investment of time and resources, with long-term support and improvement required.

Before committing, it’s important to know why your team thinks a Hubspot integration is valuable. You’ll want to articulate your argument to win internal support.

We help our clients define success first by asking these leading questions:

Is your goal to:

  • Please existing customers by solving well-defined use cases?
  • Close potential leads that need (or think they need) a Hubspot integration to buy?
  • Generate new prospects through a Hubspot’s Marketplace listing?
  • Proactively co-market with Hubspot (i.e. more than a simple marketplace listing)?
  • Encourage Hubspot salespeople to promote your integration?
  • Fill a functionality gap in your own product?

Once you’ve answered, then we ask: what weight do you put on each of these goals? Are some more important than others?

And a final question: what metrics will you use to prove back success to your internal audiences?

(We’d love to help you think this through!)

#2: Hubspot’s High Bar: Quality is King

To get the most marketing benefit out of your Hubspot partnership, you need a certified integration.

In our experience, this certification process is rigorous. Hubspot is clearly in no rush to promote a mediocre or risky app. Quality is King.

For example, Hubspot now requires your app to be listed in the marketplace for at least six months before they will consider certification. Security and API efficiency are important considerations in their review process, as is your responsiveness to user feedback.

Back to #1. If your goal is to leverage Hubspot’s marketplace to get “get rich quick” through distribution to new customers, stop here, because Hubspot’s Certified App Rewards do not unlock quickly or easily.

If your goal is to solve use cases for existing customers or leads, then Hubspot’s “quality before promotion” approach won’t be a problem. Your integration will be listed and will work for them immediately (though Hubspot will still monitor problematic apps.)

#3: Many Features, Many Flavors

Hubspot allows for many different integration scenarios, including:

  • Bulk uploading contacts and other types of spreadsheet-based data
  • Bi-directional data movement and syncing to the CRM and Marketing/Service Hubs
  • Robust event-based workflows
  • CRM Extensions (covered in depth in #4 below)

Before getting excited, you’ll need to evaluate your app’s technical readiness for these scenarios (i.e. can your API deliver ready-to-integrate data.)

You’ll also want to understand how to build scaleable middleware solutions to handle authentication and orchestration. (This is Left Hook’s sweet spot. Chat with us if outsourcing is on your mind.)

#4: CRM Extensions are Super Cool

At the center of the Hubspot platform is it’s CRM, the “system for managing customer relationships and a central place to store data your business needs to grow.”

Hubspot wants end-users to live inside the CRM as their system of record. That’s why their developer platform offers several ways for end-users to take action, consume information, or trigger external events from within the CRM UI.

These various UI-based tools are called “CRM Extensions.” And they are the creamy center of the Hubspot platform experience.

To illustrate, here’s an app we’re developing right now: imagine your SaaS is an e-signature tool. You know many of your best customers are sales teams that “live” inside Hubspot’s CRM all day long. Wouldn’t it be sweet if those reps could access agreement templates, merge in prospect data, send documents out for signature, and see signature status updates, all from within the CRM UI?

To achieve this rich user experience,  we leverage of a number of Hubspot APIs, as well as iframes and UI elements knowns as “cards” to display data and enable actions contextually (i.e. from w/in a particular contact’s CRM record.)

You can also check out the sweet CRM extensions we built for FreshBooks, which include invoice details displayed within a contact record, timeline event(s) to show you when a contact pays their bill, and quick links to the full invoice, all accessed within the Hubspot CRM UI.

If your mutual customers prefer to consume your app inside the Hubspot CRM, extensions offer a powerful opportunity to simplify and speed up their workflow. Nothing pleases a salesperson more than closing a deal faster with less work (i.e. learning/managing two different SaaS tools.)

If you’d like some help getting a CRM extension planned and launched, we’re here for you!

#5. PieSync, Zapier, and your Raison D’Etre

You see the potential for a Hubspot App. But do you really need one to achieve your goals?

Is there a faster, cheaper way?

The integration landscape is getting crowded and complicated, with an over-supply of acronymic pretty things.

But TBH, there’s a reasonable chance that an existing tool might solve your customer’s pressing use with minimal development effort.

Again, Return to #1:

A. Is marketing/distribution/exposure your goal?

B. Or do you just need a workable solution to satisfy existing users?

If you chose “B,” then we might recommend exploring two well-known integration platforms: Zapier and PieSync (now owned by Hubspot, though still in the early days of assimilating to the mothership.)

Zapier makes it easy for an end-customer to build a multi-step workflow that triggered from inside your app, the Hubspot CRM, or even a third app. With 2,000+ apps and reasonable subscription prices, Zapier is one of our favorite integration tools.

(note that we’ve launched more than sixty public apps on behalf of our SaaS clients. We know SaaS leaders find their Zapier partnership highly valuable. Hubspot certainly does- see its robust Zapier app!)

PieSync is a little more niche, but it solves a hard problem: continuously syncing data between two SaaS systems, with deduplication and conflict management built-in and user-friendly.

While it doesn’t offer SaaS partners a development platform like Zapier, PieSync is a really useful case-specific, more expensive solution. (In general, bi-directional syncing is wicked hard, and worth the extra money to get right.)

[Note that Left Hook can build a similar syncing function into your Hubspot app, if you want to offer this along with a CRM extension.]

Integration platforms like Zapier and Piesync are sweet, but you can’t have everything. (Where would you put it?) There are some downsides to consider.

For one thing, end-customers aren’t crazy about you externalizing costs by making them buy “yet another tool.” Our friends at ProfitWell have studied this “willingness to pay” dynamic, and it’s not a great story for third-party tools that require a separate subscription.

And in addition, integration platforms also often require professional services  to implement, adding friction and more cost.

Some SaaS companies object to being intermediated and losing control of the user experience, the data, and the customer’s affection for solving a hard problem.

Others are happy to make that trade. And still others decide to offer both, so that all their needs AND their user’s needs are covered.

Our advice is to understand the pros and cons, and make thoughtful choices that support your overall integration strategy. (We’re here to help guide you.)

#6. Your Hubspot Partner App is a Product, not a Project

Another general wisdom: no universal integration is a “project.”

We meet SaaS leaders all the time who struggle to accept the reality that integrations are SaaS products, too.

Just like their core app, universal integrations require attention, iteration, customer support, and ongoing management to remain valuable over time.

We know what happens when SaaS leaders take a “project” mentality into this process. Marketing isn’t invested in promoting it, sales people don’t know about it, and the customer success team can’t answer the most basic questions about how to use it.

Eventually the integration stops working. Customers complain. Everybody get bitter about the time and money spent.

If you’re serious about investing in a Hubspot Partner App, get ahead of this train-wreck. Set reasonable expectations by budgeting staff hours for marketing, user feedback gathering, and sales training every six months.

We see this play out every day. We’re happy to help you plan and execute!

Watch this Space

As Left Hook gets more and more involved in the Hubspot Marketplace ecosystem, we’ll update these posts and add insight into the process.

The upcoming Hubspot Partner Day in March will give us some new things to blog about too. So stay tuned!

About the Author

Tom Elliott

Tom is the Co-Founder and CEO of Left Hook and the Managing Partner for Integration Helpers.

Read more about Tom on .

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