HubSpot in Higher Ed: Lessons from the Classroom Part I

Inbound Blog

Emerson College HubSpot and SafeRide come together to pioneer a unique, hands on learning experience… Including the opportunity to earn full HubSpot Software Certification.

Introduction

We are halfway through the semester of our first full blown Inbound Course at Emerson College in Boston entitled Inbound in the Integrated Marketing Framework in partnership with HubSpot and client SafeRide/WalkSafe.

At this point I can say with certainty that this has been one of the most exhilarating, scary and exciting classes I have ever taught over these past 15 years, with the positives making the ride worthwhile even before the semester is over.

That said, and with this halfway milestone reached, this seems to be a good time to share what we have learned so far with anyone interested in HubSpot and Inbound, including Academia – Students, Faculty and Administration or anyone who may want or be looking to bring Inbound and HubSpot into their academic environments.

THE Mission…

The core missions of this partnership are to:

1. Provide students a hands-on experience with HubSpot tools on behalf of a live client, in this case a ride sharing security app called SafeRide/WalkSafe (now a HubSpot customer as a direct result of this project), and

2. Offer students access to the HubSpot Software Certification course and the opportunity to earn HubSpot Software Certification, which is traditionally only available to HubSpot customers.

It is clear HubSpot views its relationship with the academic community as a partnership, all predicated on the open source creed of “information wants to be free.” Info Libre!

As one of the top ranked marketing programs in the country, Emerson is outstanding in offering students the core foundational and customer-centric skills in marketing and communications. HubSpot is the leader in Inbound.

The outcome of this partnership can be considered a “hybrid” to a traditional marketing course. In this case, students are offered an applied learning experience using the “latest and greatest” digital marketing tools to produce tangible business results for a real client, coupled with the college’s core competency of providing students context and strategy in the framework of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC), and exerting influence in any and all customer touch points from product development all the way through the product lifecycle.

What led my personal teaching journey to this place is the quest to expand learning opportunities around B2B and Direct Marketing, and how it all connects to the digital transformation we are experiencing at an accelerated pace today.

With this hybrid educational model in play, students are offered the opportunity to learn and earn HubSpot Software Certification in a manner that works in parallel with and complements Emerson’s robust Marketing Communications curriculum, while opening up new internship and career tracks leading to well-paying jobs right away, for those that are so inclined.

A Hybrid Model for Education: What We Have Learned To Date

Overall there are three (3) high-level learnings I have been able to take away from the teaching the course so far:

1. The students are, in this context, classic early adopters and naturally digital savvy. Their participation indicates a real hunger for the opportunity to work with latest and greatest technology in a real world setting. Word-of-mouth around campus for this course, which currently takes place on a Friday afternoon for four (4) hours, is strong and demand is growing.

2. From the college’s point of view, this experiment clearly opens the door to develop leadership in terms of the transformation of the ever faster changing marketing and communications landscape in a manner that supports and works off of the traditional curriculum at the same time.

3. This “hybrid” model works and can indeed open the door for other institutions and other marketing professors of all stripes to offer similar opportunities to their students.

Course Mechanics: Seven (7) Steps So Far…

Step #1: Certification Courses

There are two (2) certifications that we sought to integrate into this Inbound course:

A. Inbound Certification Course

Inbound Certification reviews the basics of Inbound including the Methodology and “Buyers’ Journey.”

This course is free to anyone. I found that it is essential that every student take and pass the high level Inbound Certification course immediately. I would now allocate a maximum of two to three (2 – 3) weeks for students to complete, and pass the test!

B. HubSpot Software Certification Course & Practicum

The HubSpot Software Certification Course is broken down into two (2) components:

1. The Video Course and associated test, administered by HubSpot; and

2. The thirteen-part practicum, which is all done on HubSpot though a Customer Portal.

Originally when I set up the course calendar, I allocated the full semester for students to complete the HubSpot Course itself, as well as take and pass the test.

All of us realized early on that the videos are themselves the primer on the tools, and since they are aligned with the practicum, watching the whole course provides essential information students need right from the start, and as such, be experienced at a high level by students, much, much sooner.

In response, I broke things up and assigned watching the whole course a 1st half of the semester activity, with the deep dive and passing of the test a full semester assignment. I will zip this up even faster next time. Lesson learned!

Step #2: The Kickoff

I am very lucky in this regard in that Emerson is located in Boston, right in HubSpot’s backyard of Cambridge, Massachusetts. This afforded us the opportunity of kicking the course and semester off with an offsite visit at HubSpot’s offices. The kickoff included a tour and overall presentation, as well as a meet-and-greet with HubSpot recruiters and Emerson Alum HubSpotters.

A couple of things for non-Boston area professors to consider.

Isaac Moche and the HubSpot Academy team put together two (2) great tools you need to be aware of which can be used to create your own course kick-off even if you are not in the Boston area:

1. A great Project Kickoff Deck with links to the HubSpot Academy and relevant resources drawn from the Academy’s robust suite of materials. The scope and scale of this content can be overwhelming!, so these links coupled with the Practicum are a great and necessary starting place for students.

This element is important in that it does a great job of defining the opportunity, the “what’s in it for me” as well. As we all know, there is literally zero (0) unemployment in this sector of marketing right now, and students who earn certification and possess soft professional skills can be assured of well paying job opportunities ahead.

Simply put HubSpot, and the HubSpot ecosystem of Agencies and Customers need high quality talent that can hit the ground running.

2. Direct Track to HubSpot HR and both the Job and Internship Recruiter Teams, with an associated checklist of what HubSpot and its partners are looking for, along with a live mini-resume review. The students loved this.

3. Don’t forget Culture! I used to pooh-pooh culture until I got in the tech space way back when. Culture and understanding both how it works and learning what is expected are essential, along with, of course, how to surpass expectations too. HubSpot’s Culture deck is a great tool in this regard and one can argue that its core characteristics apply in any company today.

Step #3: Project Brief

I put together a Project Brief that is mapped against the practicum, which itself is mapped against the HubSpot Software Certification Course chapters. Feel free to reach out to me through LinkedIn if you would like a copy.

A couple of things to note:

1. HubSpot Software Certification with the associated practicum is, by definition, a real-world and applied learning experience, not an imitation! This is part of what makes this type of class so exciting.

Remember too that HubSpot Certification requires working with a client that is a HubSpot customer with an active portal. Students get access to HubSpot and the Academy as “assigned users” through the Portal.

2. In the academic setting, one ideal client would the school itself. This way HubSpot can serve as the platform for using authentic student generated content to attract and convert a variety of constituencies and focused on a variety of objectives from enrollment and alumni fundraising and mentorships and much, much more.

3. The practicum requires some real results from live campaigns. In order to have the time to meet these criteria, I broke the semester in to three (3) pieces: 1. “playing” and hands-on learning; 2. building on HubSpot all the necessary content offers and campaign elements; and 3. going live and adjusting based on results.[10]

It will be fun to see what happens when we go live somewhere around week 9 or 10 in the semester.

Step #4. Flipped and the Learning Power of Being in the Deep End of the Pool

I have found that in an applied learning environment, the “Flipped” learning approach works very, very well, and is the core of the first phase of a course like this.

The idea is simple.

Once the Kickoff (Step #2) has taken place and the Project Brief (Step #3) distributed, students are granted user access by SafeRide to the HubSpot Portal and the Tools, and then given the instruction to “figure it out” to make sense of it all… you can say they are literally thrown in the “deep end” of the pool, just like real life.

In this phase, I see my role as the Facilitator. This period went on for the first five (5) weeks of the class.

During this time, students asked all sorts of questions and tried to lean on me to provide structure, to set up deadlines and milestones besides what I already provided, for example. I declined.

Some asked me how do they manage the project? Again, I declined, and asked in return “what do you think you need to do?”

And others asked about specific problems like how do I set up say a Landing Page? My answer… Google It (HubSpot Landing Page).

This part of the process is crucial!

Students need to grapple with and attempt on their own to figure it out. Some were clearly intimidated. Some afraid. Now the controls are in their hands, and no doubt about it, learning a new set of tools on the fly like this, is by definition, scary.

Will these talented juniors and seniors rise to the challenge?

Step #5: Inbound Expert In-Class Visit #1

Fortunately I have been through this before and believe in the power of today’s students to rise to any challenge. The first time we brought HubSpot into one of my classes in the Spring of 2014, the students were frustrated, angry and upset at this point of the project. I was getting all sorts of e-mails(!), and was, quite frankly concerned what would happen.

I was very lucky in that I had scheduled one of HubSpot Academy’s amazing instructors, Lindsay Thibeault, to come in and address their concerns after struggling with building, in this case, Landing Pages and Calls To Action.

All I can say is it was magic! Over a period of an hour and a half, students’ frustration and fear transformed into confidence and certainty… “We can do this!” You could see it and feel it happen. Extraordinary!

That was then, and the question now was could it happen again?

This time around we were lucky to have HubSpot Consultant extraordinaire Jon Gettle come in to an equally emotionally charged class, and the results?

Here are some student comments:

Jon is an absolute HubSpot ninja. He knew exactly what we were getting at even when we felt lost with the software and the direction Inbound needed. Jon expertly broke down the complexities into something we could immediately implement and feel comfortable working with. — Emily Schnider

He explained the concepts and software in terms that were easy to understand, and that made a big difference. — Milo Goodman

We would make things harder and more complicated on ourselves, but Jon put us in check by letting us know that we need to take a step back, take a breather, and focus. We feel good about the direction everything is going now. 🙂 — Catalina Nguyen

Jon is a great resource that bridges the gap between HubSpot and the class. It’s beyond helpful to have a living, breahting HubSpot resource in the classroom to address any roadblocks and troubleshooting we have. — Amber Hughes

Jon was really knowledgeable about the inbound stuff, and knew where we weren’t doing well and where we were doing well. He helped us with landing pages and keywords, and overall added to the HubSpot process. — Jamie Wong

HubSpot is not just marketing, it is life, it deals with the same principles and understanding of the world! — Nick Kitsos

He was also able to connect with us and was VERY effective with his analogies. HE CAN TALK WITH THE YOUTH! “The juice is not worth the squeeze.” — GENIUS! — Hantzley Audate

As the Q&A with Jon progressed, it became clear that the path ahead was do’able and not out of reach. You could actually see and hear the energy of the students change as the visit progressed as frustration and struggle turned into the “we can (and will!) do this” energy and spirit.

And here is what Jon himself said about his class visit:

I love seeing the “a-ha” moments the students have during our conversations when you can tell they are really grasping a concept. Seeing the next wave of talented inbound marketers apply the concepts we think about every day at HubSpot is rewarding in a special way. — Jon Gettle

Magic Again! Mission Accomplished!

Again there are three (3) aspects to consider in this phase:

1. Struggle is necessary. The greater the struggle, the richer the learning experience.

2. Students at this level, once challenged, WILL rise to it.

3. The need for Inbound/HubSpot expertise is a key. Most of us who teach marketing in higher ed may be very familiar with Inbound and HubSpot, but we are not Inbound/HubSpot experts. HubSpot knows this, and we are working with the Academy Team right now to build out a process to help fill in this gap for classes everywhere.

Step #6: HubSpot Customer/Power User Visit

After all that has taken place this first half of the semester, it was time to lighten things up, take a larger view and see how it all fits, in application. In other words a Case Study. And what better way to do that than have a real Inbound user come visit to provide this real-world context?

In this case, we had a local Inbound/HubSpot power user, Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Yale Appliance and Lighting in Boston to come to class. Students loved hearing from a master how it all works, and what can happen results-wise when it is done really, really well.

It’s one thing to learn from the Certification Course videos, another to get the under the hood view from a real customer. When it comes to Inbound and who sells the “Best Appliances” with the “Best Service” in the Boston area, no one does it better than Yale.

Dishwasher User Guide anyone?

Step #7: Do the Work

With just seven (7) weeks (out of 14) under our belts, we have gone through a couple of cycles, in terms of who does what? This was a surprise.

This class is made up of twelve (12) students.

SafeRide/WalkSafe is an app that you can use to alert your friends that you are in transit… Cab, Uber or Lyft… or even walking alone, and that you have arrived to your destination safely. If there is a problem, the app provides a way to alert the network you set up as well.

From a product positioning point of view, users in essence create a micro-community of like minded folks who watch out for each other, who have each others’ back. And all for just $.99 at the app store!

SafeRide is new. The space is cluttered. And in their wisdom, they adopted Inbound and HubSpot as their marketing tool of choice, and sought to focus on college students as their beach head, to use Crossing the Chasm lingo.

One more thing. SafeRide seeks to scale its user base, and after some initial discussion has basically agreed to offer students the app for free.

Multiple Class “Re-Orgs”

That said, here is the progress of how the teams re-organized themselves and the work progressed:

1. In the beginning… it was a free for all. Where to begin? What to do? Students broke into two (2) competitive teams of six (6) students.

The Student “Market” although a niche perhaps if you take into consideration the market as a whole for SafeRide, was still way too broad and hard to “personify” as is. So the question then became where was the most value for SafeRide in this population? And value as the students started to perceive it equates with safety and vulnerability, and what student communities are potentially most vulnerable, and would get the most value and benefit from using the SafeRide app?

As the students and teams digested the project, the first action item was to define the Personas with each team focusing on three (3) content offers, one for each of three (3) personas.

Some of the Personas students identified in this manner include:

●      Sororities

●      Fraternities

●      Women of Color

●      International Students

●      LBGTQ Communities

●      Freshmen

●      Tinder/Daters

●      Late Night Working Students

2. During the next phase, students organized themselves in teams of two (2), each focused on building out an individual persona, and seeing how for they could take it. It was in this mini-team format, that students were in during the struggle phase, when HubSpot consultant Jon Gettle visited.

As the process unfolded, it became clear that the class as a whole needed to focus on SafeRide and its objectives, all aligned with HubSpot Certification, and not be distracted on competing with each other. The oars needed to be moving in the same direction if this was going to work.

3. Coming Up. The Final Phase… The class is made up of students with a diverse range of talents. Some are content and creative types, some are analytical and SEO savvy. We also have a few Quants, sprinkled in with some Strategy and Account Managers with an Entrepreneur or two, and Student Leaders. Some are working professionally already. All are digital by nature.

One thing I was struggling with is how to organize these student resources to ensure efficiency and non-duplication of efforts, consistency in terms of messaging, look and feel and the developing SafeRide Brand, let alone meeting the Practicum requirements so that students who pass the HubSpot Software Certification Course Test can earn full HubSpot Certification?

Then it became obvious. Use the practicum to re-organize and break down functionally.

So once the class reconvenes after Spring Break, each student will be tasked to take responsibility for one (1) Practicum requirement, and then draw from the collective resource pool of class talent to assist in meeting their requirement.

Classes will then be in essence “floating meetings” to meet, collaborate and track and do work, to both ensure consistency and that all the requirements are met by semester’s end.

Three Next (3)Steps…

Here is what is coming up for the second half of the semester:

Step #8: HubSpot Expert Visit #2

Step #9: Going Live on HubSpot

Step 10: Improvement and Delivering Results!

It should be fun to see how this works… More to come

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