Learn the definition of SaaS deferred revenue, why it’s important to your accounting practices, and how to properly calculate it.
November 9, 2020
With limited time and resources, efficiency is everything for early stage startups working hard to build and sell their product. But investing in the right tools to power your business early on can pay off in multitudes when your growth accelerates.
One of the investments we made in our first few months was customer relationship management software (CRM). After doing our research, we decided to sign up for Hubspot due to its full suite of software available across CRM, sales, marketing, reporting, and so forth. Hubspot is not specifically built as a SaaS CRM, but we didn’t know exactly which features would be most important to our business in a few years’ time, so we figured using a solution that offers a solid CRM platform plus marketing, sales, and reporting capabilities would give us enough to work with until we decide we need something different.
It’s a big investment, but one that plays an integral part in our day-to-day operations at Zeni and, we’d imagine, could be a helpful tool for other SaaS companies and B2B startups looking for a tool to help stay organized as their business grows. That said, there are startup pricing specials available directly via Hubspot, and special discounts through perks programs of vendors you might already use; for example, Brex customers get 30% off HubSpot marketing and sales software for the first year, and 15% off ongoing.
Note: At the time of this blog post, Zeni is signed up for the Marketing Hub Professional and Sales Hub Professional software subscriptions.
While we can’t speak for every early-stage startup, below we’ve outlined a few key ways Zeni has used Hubspot since its earliest days.
We think of Hubspot as a supercharged CRM solution, and rely on this function to keep track of our sales prospects, blog subscribers, and customers in its database. Some of our most-used features of Hubspot’s CRM software include:
Hubspot offers a free CRM tool, which could be a good place to start familiarizing yourself with the service before you decide on a paid package.
See also: 8 Best Accounting Tools for Startups
We customized our sales pipeline to reflect our sales process, and use the Workflow automation tools to automatically plug leads into and move them along the sales pipeline based on specific triggers. For example, if someone books a demo using our “book a demo” Hubspot calendar link, they are automatically added to our sales pipeline into the “Demo booked” stage. Then, we have rules in place to update the associated company and contacts’ lifecycle stage to reflect the latest status across the board. This seems simple enough, but saves a ton of time in having to manually keep our CRM system and sales pipeline updated.
Using Hubspot, we can upload things like our product overview, sales deck, and pricing sheets, requiring viewers to enter their email address for access. This allows us to understand who is viewing what documents, and how often. So, if we see a sales prospect has re-reviewed our pricing sheet a few days after a demo, we know to check in and see if they’re ready to sign up for a Zeni plan.
When you embed the Hubspot pixel onto your webpage, you’re able to track how new contacts found your website and what led them to becoming a contact, or converting in some fashion (signing up for a demo, subscribing to the blog, downloading a resource, etc.). This has been a very helpful tool for us to understand which assets and landing pages are driving qualified leads to our site, and inform future marketing and sales strategies.
We’ve created a series of emails that are sent to customers once they’re successfully onboarded to Zeni highlighting the various features of our service, and making sure every customer can get the most out of their Zeni subscription. We have a similar workflow in place for Zeni Dashboard functionality.
The ability to easily share product and service updates with our customers in a visual, compelling and seamless manner helps build trust and brand loyalty. It’s also helpful to have a gauge on customer engagement with your email marketing efforts. Hubspot offers free trials of its marketing tools, however the timeframe is rather limited at 30 days and may not be enough to determine whether or not the tool is a great fit for your business.
Not only do we set automatic reminders for when to reach out to customers to gather their Zeni feedback, we also leverage Hubspot forms to capture product-market-fit survey responses. After the survey is completed, their responses are automatically added as contact properties, making it easy to segment customers based on product feedback for future initiatives, so we can be thoughtful and targeted about our communications accordingly.
Hubspot makes it easy to create tracking URLs to see how leads are finding your website from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or the likes. You can create UTM tags related to campaigns on Google Analytics as well. Some advanced skills in digital marketing are required to use this tool to its fullest potential, but the process of creating a simple, trackable link is simple for any startup founder or small business owner using Hubspot.
The default reporting dashboard wasn’t super relevant for our business, but there is an almost overwhelming number of ways you can customize your reporting dashboard on Hubspot. This is a good and a bad thing, because sometimes it’s hard to narrow down the report
We’ve set up a custom reporting dashboard specifically for investor updates, so we can easily grab the latest metrics and analytics related to our sales activity for our monthly investor updates. We also have a reporting dashboard for our all-hands data, so we’re able to quickly pull those insights and data points into our deck.
While slightly ‘outside the box’ of how we’re categorizing the usefulness of Hubspot’s software features, we’d be remiss not to mention how helpful Hubspot’s live chat and other customer service offerings are. There’s almost nothing they haven’t been able to help me with, from technical assistance to workflow troubleshooting, and have been great about escalating the conversation or adding in subject matter experts to help troubleshoot and problem solve along with us.
And while we’re slightly off-topic, the Hubspot “knowledge base” blog and website have countless educational resources from the Hubspot Academy Team available free of charge. Hubspot requires new customers sign up for the personalized onboarding service to help get you familiarized with the software and set it up correctly, plus more training programs, courses and certifications for additional fees.
There’s a lot to love about the breadth of Hubspot features, but there are a few we’re less excited about as well.
Our current Hubspot subscription only includes five paid sales seats so we’re unable to solely rely on the Hubspot meeting tool, particularly when it comes to pulling in members outside of our core sales and marketing team. Instead, we use a combination of Hubspot and Calendy for team meetings which was the most cost-effective option than upgrading our Hubspot account. It’s worth mentioning Hubspot has a seamless Calendly integration.
We started out using the Hubspot quote feature, but we’re capped at 10 quotes per month. This was fine when we were just getting started, but we quickly outgrew the limitation and it’s more cost-effective to use PandaDoc for our customer quotes and contracts (which as a Hubspot integration) than upgrade to the next level on Hubspot.
We felt strongly that the Zeni blog needed to be hosted as a subdirectory (e.g. zeni.ai/blog) for SEO purposes, so we did not use Hubspot’s built-in blogging feature which is hosted as a subdomain (e.g. blog.zeni.ai). Instead, we use the blog feature on Webflow, and a third-party SEO content tool called Topic (which, we believe, is a much better product for us than the Hubspot SEO tool anyway).
It’s still important for us to connect 1:1 with potential customers, building trust and engaging in hyper-personalized communications to make sure they understand how Zeni can be a fit for their business. The idea of a ‘one size fits most’ sales sequence just doesn’t make sense for us at this time. There may come a time when we rely on this feature, but for now it’s not a priority.
In our minds, an investment in software that helps us manage customer relationships, sales and marketing, and reporting is well worth the annual fee. As we grow and expand our sales team, it’ll be an even more crucial tool to keep the team aligned. Like any new software, there is a learning curve and it’s helpful to designate an in-house “Hubspot expert” leading the charge. While Hubspot may not be perfect, it’s a great tool to help us stay organized and effectively communicate with our current and potential customers with ease.
Zeni uses a combination of AI and human finance experts to maintain accurate books and manage all of the finance functions for your startup, including daily bookkeeping, ongoing accounting services, access to our finance concierge, bill pay and invoicing, budgeting and projections, and even annual taxes and R&D credits.
Zeni customers also gain access to a single dashboard to see and manage their finances in real-time.