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Season 2, Episode 6

Asking the Right Questions as Your Industry Evolves

With Daniel Graff-Radford, CEO of Allbound

On this episode of the Intelligent Inbound Podcast, Jen and Daniel talk about how businesses can build better customer relationships by asking the right questions upfront. 

As a former founding member of Allbound, Jen opens the conversation with a full-circle moment. She’s once again leveraging Allbound’s software solutions, but this time, from the vantage point of SmartBug’s CEO. Since those early days, as Allbound’s CEO explains, a lot has changed within the industry, yet the company has managed to stay on top of the trends, all while retaining top-tier talent. 

For businesses to remain competitive, especially as rumors of economic uncertainty loom, they’ll also need to invest in real, tangible solutions to their customers’ most pressing challenges. As both Daniel and Jen pointed out, it’s about posing the right questions, to the right stakeholders, at the right time. And to truly measure the success of those initial inquiries and proposed solutions, companies must deliver reliable, relevant, and pointed metrics so that customers and executive boards alike can make data-informed decisions to end the year on a high note and enter 2023 with confidence.

Jen and Daniel discuss:

  • Facing economic uncertainty with poise and agility (07:08)
  • Nurturing partner relationships (12:24)
  • Thriving in a digital world with a remote workforce (16:20)
  • Asking your customers the right questions (22:36)
  • Measuring your organization’s health (25:42)
  • Investing in content that connects with your customers (31:31)
  • What should Saas CEOs invest in next? (36:34)


Jen Spencer (00:01):
Hello and welcome to the Intelligent Inbound Podcast, brought to you by Smart Bug Media. I'm your host Jen Spencer, and today I'm speaking with Daniel Graff-Radford, CEO of Allbound. So if you're not familiar with Allbound, Allbound is a partner relationship management platform that really helps teams simplify and digitize their entire partner life cycle. So think anything from partner onboarding, to enablement, to marketing, collaboration, and of course deal registration, which is a huge part of channel management. Just full disclosure, I was a founding team member of Allbound, having joined Allbound when we were frankly pre-product and pre-revenue. So I am so excited to have Daniel here on the show today to talk about how the business has grown and thrived over the last few years with him at the helm. So welcome Daniel, so glad to have you on the show.

Daniel Graff-Radford (00:58):
So glad to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me and the team speaks very fondly of the time you are here. I'm sorry our paths didn't cross at that point, but you've been a great champion and advocate and we've all learned a lot by listening to your podcast and all the content you put out's been really fantastic.

Jen Spencer (01:16):
Well thank you, and it's so funny because sitting where I am now at Smart Bug, we have over 25 different marketing technology, sales technology companies that we partner with. We've got a couple of tier one partners that are really critical to our business, HubSpot and Clavio, and then we have a bunch of others that we recommend and refer and we co-market with and we co-sell with. Every time I get introduced to a partner and they welcome me into their partner portal or their system and it's Allbound, it's such a cool feeling that just full circle to be now on the partner end of the conversation.

Daniel Graff-Radford (02:04):
Yeah, that's really wonderful You have some fantastic customers that we share here, that's for sure.

Jen Spencer (02:10):
Absolutely. Well I wanted dig into the topic of this show. It's the Intelligent Inbound Podcast, and we look at inbound being more than just a marketing tactic. It's a methodology, it's a way of life for a lot of revenue organizations, and so I wanted to start with what does inbound mean for you in your revenue organization? What kind of feelings does that word evoke and what role does it play in your business?

Daniel Graff-Radford (02:45):
Well, yeah, thank you. I've been thinking a lot about that for a few years now, and I am talking to you from Atlanta, Georgia where we have a fair number of marketing technology companies like SalesLoft and what was now part of Salesforce, Calumly, Terminus and so forth. So we have a lot of people in this town that think really hard about how you define your company through inbound. So I've really learned a lot from some superstars around here. For us, we are a fantastic place for partners to come together and collaborate. We're in this really cool space of channel technology, where a lot of people are spending money to figure out how to partner, but what does not really exist is a brand that everyone trusts for amazing content around channel. So we are working really hard through inbound to become a place that people come to as a destination to learn.

So whether you're setting up your channel for the first time, you're trying to present to your leadership team on why you're spending this money and time on channel, what the return on investment would be, how you compare to other groups out there running channel programs, we want to be that source and that truth. So for us inbound, sure people think about it, about lead gen and we would love that. But more than that, there's so many people trying to learn about our space and it's not as well understood as you think it would be, when 75% of the world's goods and services are sold with partners according to the World Trade Organization. There just isn't a voice yet that owns that space. So when we do this right, people look to us for that information, whether they buy from us or not, we're totally fine with that. If they come to us when they want to learn, then we'll be here for when they're ready to advance and grow through our software.

Jen Spencer (04:49):
I love that so much. It's so interesting, just literally yesterday I had a mentor call with someone external of Smart Bug who has been in the strategic partnership world and definitely has been struggling a little bit because so many organizations don't understand what it takes or under invest in the resources that are necessary to really support a channel, I literally quoted the exact same stat that you just shared. I think I underquoted, I think I said more than 70%, but close enough, that there's a lot of business being done worldwide through these channels and there's still a tremendous opportunity to educate revenue leaders globally. So that's exciting and I applaud you for leaning into the inbound methodology for this because it is something that's important, and it's not just something that we've seen in channel. There are other industries, there are other verticals, other parts of business that there's just not as much educational content out there to help support those business leaders that are driving those organizations.

Daniel Graff-Radford (06:11):
Yeah, no, I think that's exactly true and the knowledge isn't really there. I just got back from a trip to Miami where partnership leaders, an. Organization that helps people that are leaders of partner organizations got together for all sorts of discussions about how trends and changes are happening in our space. People are starting to see, because I think a lot of your listeners care a lot about this, that conversion rates for partner revenue are somewhere between 50 and 100 percent better, and if you think about why that is, is that if you have more touch points with those prospects that are coming from partner referrals or from alliances or joint selling motions, your opportunity to make a difference with that end prospect is twice as good. So we're finding it's a really efficient way to grow, and so some of those things are starting to become more apparent and out there in the world.

Jen Spencer (07:08):
So I wanted to ask you, and this aligns nicely, is as there are shifts and changes in your industry, you're mentioning one which is very relevant to the work that Allbound does and the way that you can help support organizations. But are there other ways, thinking from your seat as CEO, how do you prepare a team when there are big changes that are happening in an industry? Just little bit more about how you go about operationalizing some things as you got your finger on the pulse of what's happening in the market.

Daniel Graff-Radford (07:48):
There's been so many changes, so whether they are industry changes or changes in our world. There's
just always change and you find that the people that lean into those changes tend to do better than those people that shy away from them. So an example of that, when Covid first hit, a lot of people that we'd worked with were laid off and we created a channel's jobs board and help those people to get roles very quickly. They are big advocates of Allbound, so even though there's not money for that, if you are meaningful to the people that the change is happening to them, if it's a negative change, then they'll remember that. On the positive side, if you see some massive growth like what's happening in our space, we needed to raise a significant amount of capital in order to address what is a really rapidly expanding space. So seeing that as that's unfolding, allows you to work proactively to change your go to market and your technology stack at the speed that the market's changing, as your customers are demanding that. So sometimes just because you're comfortable with how your company's organized or you're comfortable with how the market is organized doesn't mean that you get to pick those things. So finding out what's happening and then addressing it makes a lot of sense.

Jen Spencer (09:18):
Well I appreciate the callback to COVID-19 and the pandemic and the way that event that we're still living is definitely impacted organizations. I'm wondering, sitting where we are now and in 2022, with the currency of the economy with some concerns over potential economic downturn, are there major threats or even opportunities that you're foreseeing for Allbound and for the partner community right now? Is there something really cool that might come out of some of the concerns that we're hearing about on a daily basis?

Daniel Graff-Radford (10:10):
I think that there are both things, as with a lot of these changes. Such a significant downturn in the economy is negatively affecting a lot of people, so we all have friends that are losing their jobs and that's really rough. We all have companies that we thought were stable and great that are not as stable and great. So figuring those things out can be really hard and really scary for people. The other side of it is to start to realize that there is a shifting in how people are doing business and the earlier you can start to lean into those changes, the better. So companies are looking for efficient ways to grow their revenue, growth at all costs is not what we're heading to in 2022 and 2023, which was a truth of 2021, and that big shift is different.

So those of us that are backed by private equity firms are all learning what a rule of 40 company is, if they didn't know beforehand. So if you're looking at profitable growth, we're seeing a lot of our heads of channel that are our customers, collaborating with their CROs and CMOs on how channel is a way to grow with people that are not on your books. So a direct sales model and marketing model can sometimes take a lot of time to hire, train and then you're carrying them on your cost side. Whereas there are armies of people in some industries, not all, that are looking for amazing technologies to bring to market that can make a dramatic impact to their customers. So how do you grow efficiently and quickly and profitably is now the name of the game, whereas in 2021 it was about speed. I think that when you start to align how you market and align how you message and how you interact with your customers and how your product is set up, those are some of the things that really matter for working in this new economic reality.

Jen Spencer (12:24):
It's interesting, you talk about being able to activate a partner, activating a channel and having access to sometimes tens, sometimes thousands of "volunteer sales people" who are at the ready, as long as the alignment is really there. Obviously Allbound offers technical infrastructure support, but those channel leaders that come in and create that alignment and build those programs, I guess my question is do you need a channel leader inside your org? If you're an organization that's been thinking about building a partner channel for themselves, building that indirect sales channel, what are some of the first steps that you would recommend that they take?

Daniel Graff-Radford (13:21):
So that's a really great question, and some of the greatest CROs and CMOs that I've seen have been channel leaders that have been promoted up into that overall revenue task. Here we are on a podcast talking about inbound and you know, have to have a whole consideration for recruiting those partners, how you communicate with them, how you become a resource center to this other constituency and how do you care and feed for those partners the way that you care and feed for your customers. There are nuances there. So if you're a CRO or a CMO and you're listening to this and you don't have a senior person on your team that has that level of channel experience, it's really hard to recreate the wheel. This knowledge exists, it's out there and so finding someone that can come in and be a leader and start to create those changes really matters.

Then you always worry about hiring ahead of when you have the demand, and so how do you do that? So I like to say that you should probably not be spending money on PRM or on channel team members until you create a repeatable sales cycle through a partner, get one partner, get some revenue running through them, get some coaching around that, then get a person and get some technology and then grow from there. Just like you wouldn't want to implement a CRM before you sold anything directly, because you'll just reimplement it. I think thinking through from there, what the inbound plan is for bringing on partners and the inbound plan for all of them are, for bringing in more prospects, then it becomes a more natural way to do it.

Jen Spencer (15:18):
Yeah, absolutely. Back to that channel leader, I've always thought of that person, the best fit person, they're almost like a mini CEO because they have to pull together marketing, sales, customer success, product. They're really helping understand strategy, understanding how those partners go to market, where those partners, how those partners make money, how those partners lose money. Then figuring out, "Okay, how do we actually then align with you and how do we create these win-win relationships?" Then, "Okay, what's the technical infrastructure we then need in order to make sure we've got really clear bilateral communication and we're serving for our shared customer that we have," which is most important. If we think about a lot of the change that's happened, I mean you've been at Allbound little over three and a half, almost four years.

Daniel Graff-Radford (16:16): Yeah, that's right.

Jen Spencer (16:20):
There's been a lot of change in the world over the course of those three years. Is there anything that you would say that's happened in the market, in our world that you think has been most influential? It could be positive, it could be negative, but something that has happened that has shifted something in the business for you?

Daniel Graff-Radford (16:49):
Yeah, well let me answer that a little more personally. I would say that we were always a hybrid kind of work environment, and when I meet with other CEOs that were more an in-office sort of culture and then they moved to hybrid, they talked about the struggles of connecting. I've always enjoyed that face to face time and still do with my team. But finding ways to communicate with your customers, with your internal team and your investors in a genuine way when all you have is a box on a screen or an email or a message. Finding ways to be really present in those communications, when things are a little dark around you in the world and that you have to share very openly and that goes really well, and people share back, that some people really struggle with that first set of sharing.

I would say that watching people grow, for instance, last year we promoted 65% of our team to higher level roles. We are seeing amazing growth in people and I think that that ability to be present and share what's not working and be experimental, I think that that is accelerated during the last couple of years. So that's a positive. I think that breaking out that first time when you're sitting at home and you're trying to be open with your communication, that can be really hard for people. But it works out, it's been working out for some and not everybody.

Jen Spencer (18:28):
Well we're, at Smart Bug, are huge advocates of remote life, having always been remote from the get go. My cousins in, I love him and he's in commercial real estate and so he just doesn't understand how businesses can operate unless you're all in that same building and how you have to flex and the things that you do in order to create those more connected experiences. I think what a testament to the work that you're doing, if you have 65% of the team that's been promoted to higher level roles, that's awesome, something's working.

If we pull this back, what you're talking about into the partner relationship world and driving opportunities and inbound marketing and sales and customer success. I remember years ago, I had interviewed Justin Gray, the founder of Lead MD on the Allbound podcast and we were talking about when he first got started being this partner to Marketo and what was part of their secret sauce, what did they do that just really helped them just really align with that organization. He talked about how the early days they actually had sales reps that they placed, they negotiated to place these people literally on the sales floor at the Marketo office and how that sales rep was then able to listen to the conversations and gather all this information and be there at the ready with Enablement to really work together and co-sell. Wow, that's awesome, but it's also not really scalable and not as doable in today's environment. So I look at that as being that's here's something that's changed, but how do you evolve with it with what's going on in the market? Then I look at, well how does a solution like Allbound, how are you helping organizations cross this chasm in this digital remote world?

Daniel Graff-Radford (20:43):
Well, let me give you a more virtual story that might be relevant to your listeners and then explain how people can operationalize that through Allbound. So my first venture capital backed, company's called Link Systems and we had an amazing partnership with Verizon and we brought a product to market culture response and you could buy it in any Verizon retailer, it was a medical panic button so it would think help by phone, I can't get up. So it's not for everyone that walks through the door, it's an add on sale for someone buying for a broader family and maybe they have someone at home that they're taking care of. So they had projected massive revenue for this, so excited as my first major channel deal and I was going to be so rich, and then it didn't really work out that way in the first few weeks.

What I found was that finding the people that sold something and interviewing them, there was a woman in New Jersey who was killing it, and what she was doing was she had one question which was, is there someone at home that you take care of? If they say yes, then she would show the shared response. So there were three lessons to be learned to speed this up. It's one, find that one question that could be part of your reseller referral partner, someone's day, that is part of their cadence. What are they asking? What are they saying? You don't have to be fly in the wall or in the room to hear that. They'll share with you if they're a good partner, how they sell, what they sell and you'll think of what they could ask and experiment with that.

The second thing that I learned in that process was I needed the way we sold, so instead of a hardware plus subscription to just turn it into a monthly recurring revenue because they were compensating the reps on monthly recurring revenue, so fit in their comp model. The third thing, which is really important to working through companies like Allbound, is tying into their CRM, they used Salesforce at the time, they still do. So what Allbound does is it lets you run those experiments of those sales questions and content that can be shared. It ties your CRM system with a PRM for them to connect up through and so that you can see that they can see they're getting compensated. You can see what's working in a very real time way without having to fly around. So we've seen dramatic increase in utilization of our system because we're digitizing what was an in person set of relationships, that still have a really important in person component, but you want to track it in real time, whether that rep is properly trained, whether they know the question to ask, whether they have access to the right material, is that driving revenue, whether they're getting paid for it and how fast and all of those things matter.

But it was definitely a flying around sort of world to go sit in sales cycles before that now you can watch
 digital body language on an inbound basis.

Jen Spencer (24:08):
Yeah, that's awesome. Going back to that question that one salesperson was asking, I mean if you do proper persona research and you understand what makes someone tick and you understand both the demographics and the psychographics, then that unlocks so much, how you come up with what's that one question to ask, that's awesome.

Daniel Graff-Radford (24:37):
That's really great. She did it very naturally and sometimes, and most times you have to do it for them
and so that's a very good point.

Jen Spencer (24:46):
Yeah, it's so funny, one of my favorite questions that we'll ask folks who are looking for our services and especially marketing leaders, they'll come in with their hair on fire, all these things that they need, and then we'll ask, "How are you measured? How are you compensated? Is it on marketing generated pipeline? Is it on like SQL creation?" Because it doesn't matter what they say they need, if you go back to, "Well, how are you actually measured, what's the compensation model behind you?" That will typically unlock, "Okay, well this is maybe where we need to be focused strategically, this is how we're going to be best able to support you." Sometimes people, they don't know what they need, but it's being able to ask those questions, which those come up through inbound research and persona research.

Daniel Graff-Radford (25:37): And trial and error.

Jen Spencer (25:41): Yeah.

Daniel Graff-Radford (25:42): That's right.

Jen Spencer (25:42):
Yeah, for sure. So speaking about some trial and error and getting a little bit more in the weeds metrics wise, you mentioned private equity owned, you worked for VC backed companies, you know what it feels like to stand in front of a board and share the health of the business. If you only were allowed to share three business metrics with your board that would let them know this is how healthy the organization is right now, what would those metrics be?

Daniel Graff-Radford (26:22):
Yeah, those are great. So I would say that boards are going to care if I get only three. So we're going to have to go with ARR growth, we're going to have to go with LTV to CAC, and then we're going to have to go with EBITDA.

Jen Spencer (26:48):
So let's just share a little bit more because not everyone listening is a SAS.

Daniel Graff-Radford (26:55):
Yeah, those are very targeting things to say, aren't they? So my business is a subscription, so people will pay us a subscription and we're charging based on the features that people are using. We're really proud of the fact that in the last two years people have sold a hundred billion dollars of goods and services through Allbound. So you could argue we're not charging enough, and the answer is that when you look at our revenue at any given month and you project that revenue forward for 12 months, that would be what we call an annual run rate. So if you have 10 customers that have agreed to pay you a $1000 a year that month, then you have $10,000 of ARR, and your growth rate is a year over year or quarter over quarter number, month over month, whatever the period is that you're reporting for that ARR.

Then it really matters if they stick around with you, that's their long term value or LTV. So if people tend to stay for 10 years at that $1000 a month, then that would be a $10,000 long term value. Then your customer acquisition cost, was it cost to go get that $1,000 a month customer? If you can pay a dollar to Google or if you can write an amazing blog that draws them in, then that cost of that blog or the cost of that click would be your acquisition cost. If you have sales people, you would add that in too. So you add all your sales and marketing costs and then if you compare the ratio of your value that you get over that 10 years to the cost of getting them whether this thing can make money, because if it cost more to acquire them than they'll ever get, then you don't have a good business. So that's a health metric that is an important metric.

Then there's lots of ways to understand profitability. A very common way is called EBIDTA, which is earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization. So you have your pure earnings before you mess around with it too much and that's your EBIDTA. So if you are earning money every month, quarter year, and you have a good growth rate for ARR and you're acquiring your customers in a profitable way, those are the only three metrics I'm allowed, then that's the way to do it.

Jen Spencer (30:09):
Obviously I know there's so many more metrics that I'm sure the board's pouring over, but I think the three that you've identified, they make a ton of sense because everything else could fall beneath it. What is your employee attrition rate, which will definitely impact your EBITDA. How long do people stay with you? How long do your customers stay with you? What your product usage is, can be directly correlated with that customer journey and their long term value with you of how much value they're actually getting from the product or the services that you provide. So many other dashboards upon dashboards, but thank you. I know at your level in the organization, there's a couple of metrics that are going to be top of mind and tell you, "All right, these are the things that tell me the company is healthy or these are areas that we need to work on," and the rest is those are more of those drill down types of reports.

Daniel Graff-Radford (31:20):
If you're trying to fix something, you're going to need to drill down, but if you just want three numbers
to know whether your investment is safe, that will give you a good indication.

Jen Spencer (31:31):
So switching gears and thinking about marketing and the reason I bring this up is because as CEO of the organization, you're casting the vision for the company. You're making decisions on where energy is focused in the organization, not everything can be a priority. So pretend that you're given this blank check to spend on marketing, which I know it's a big thing to imagine. Most of us don't have blank checks for marketing, but how would you go about deciding where you'd want the marketing team to put those funds? Or maybe you've been thinking about this and dreaming about it and exactly where you'd want to spend that money. Some people come on the show and they're like, "Yes, I would buy a Superbowl commercial and this is why." Maybe you've thought that through, but where does your mind go when it comes to marketing spend?

Daniel Graff-Radford (32:30):
Well, having just raised some money, that question got asked a lot.

Jen Spencer (32:34): Sure.

Daniel Graff-Radford (32:36):
So the way I recommend for anyone to answer it is to think about the following. So first is, how large is the market that you're addressing? I used to debate this with a Chief Marketing Officer at a prior company and the private equity firm, this was years ago and we had this silly analogy of thinking about it like prom dates. So if we were going to a school, a high school, a very small high school with a hundred children in the high school, we were a high school senior and there were say 25 kids in each class, you start to think about who's a fit for your asking to a date and that everyone will have a different thing. So in the private equity firm field, they felt like the addressable market might be 300 because you could ask all the kids, you could ask their parents, you could ask lots of people, but that's really rough for a head of marketing because in your given market, if your product is really a good fit for a certain buyer, then talking to all the people that can't buy your product doesn't feel like a really good use of money.

So you might have an amazing consumer product and buying a Super Bowl ad feels right, but if the people watching the Super Bowl, there's only 1% of them that fit, that might be tough if not a lot of those buy, depending what you're charging. The thing is, back solving for what it costs to bring someone in is really important. So I will always ask for more money for marketing for things that we think can have a really good, like we talked about, acquisition cost and will bring in those customers that love our product and therefore they stay a while. So soon as you understand who those people are, we think we really know that. So what we are really interested in is being in front of those people months and months ahead before they decide to buy.

So what we really want to spend money on here at Allbound has to do with content. We really believe that bringing in some of the best minds that understand our buyer and writing really meaningful things that they find useful in their day is the best way to spend money. It's almost harder to find those perfect people than to spend the money. The right person with the right voice and the right content, the right creativity. We should take on all of those people as quick as they're willing to come in our doors and we should have lots and lots of opportunity for them. The issue is that that's a tough role. A lot of your listeners do that and what they do is really hard and staying fresh and staying relevant and the level of creativity that I see is astounding. It's just astounding and I think it's really wonderful for those marketing leaders. We have Tori Barlow leading marketing here at Allbound that keep everyone excited and coming up with new strategies and that's that shows through their metrics.

Jen Spencer (36:21):
Awesome. Well, I agree completely with everything you just shared and wish more organizations
thought similarly. So thank you.

Daniel Graff-Radford (36:33): Sure.

Jen Spencer (36:34):
One last question for you before I let you go. Putting your CEO hat back on and thinking about other CEOs or soon to be CEOs who might be listening, especially in the SAS space, what do you think is most important right now for those fellow CEOs of these high growth SAS companies? Where should they be spending their time and their attention?

Daniel Graff-Radford (37:01):
Well, I think that the first thing for all CEOs is to be really honest about how your product fits with your customers. Are they staying with you? Are they happy? Are they unhappy? Customer happiness should be a driving force in your day and that before you think about doing anything else, anything else that's on fire, make sure you're solving for that every day.

The second thing is to make sure that you have a sustainable business, that has to do with those metrics we talked about and enough cash in the bank. There's much smarter, better people than me that have been on a million podcasts to talk about the amount of money you're burning if you're burning versus the added revenue or ARR that you're taking in. If you can do those two things right, then I would say the other place, if you get three things to spend your time on is culture, and it means so many things to so many people, but once you've defined what a good culture is in your company, to be ruthless about rooting out people, process and anything that is not that and celebrating everything that is that. Negative culture will be just focused on the rooting out, the celebration will set examples.

Jen Spencer (38:31):
Beautiful. Well Daniel, thank you so much for joining me today. If anyone listening wants to learn more about you or the work you're doing at Allbound, maybe they want to learn more about their own partner program, how it can be better. Where should they go? Any place in particular you want to send them?

Daniel Graff-Radford (38:49):
We think we have amazing content at If there's any content you wished exist, please ask us. We will definitely want to hear about that. I'm pretty active on LinkedIn, so if you reach out to me on LinkedIn, you'll find me to be pretty responsive. So those are the two places to connect.

Jen Spencer (39:11):
Perfect. Well thanks everyone for listening. Please join us next week for another episode of the Intelligent Inbound Podcast. You'll meet another industry expert like Daniel, and if you learn something today, please pay it forward by rating and reviewing us on your podcast listening platform of choice. Make it a great day everyone.

Daniel Graff-Radford (39:31): Thank you so much.

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