Hubspot inbound marketing certification - waste of time or valuable pursuit?

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed April 8, 2015
Summary:
I bravely faced off against Hubspot's inbound marketing certification exam. Here's my opinionated review - along with some burning questions about why enterprises don't utilize training and certification the right way.

kid-graduating
Have you ever wanted to test your rogue knowledge against a known benchmark? That's what happened to me with Hubspot. I've been taking potshots at B2B content marketing on these pages for a while now, so in the new year, I decided to test what I'd learned against Hubspot's inbound marketing certification.

The anti-climactic part was passing the certification test. The more interesting part is whether the Hubpost inbound marketing certification is relevant, and why enterprise marketers are ignoring a massive training and certification opportunity.

Why bother with an inbound marketing certification?

I won't bore you with the details of Hubspot's inbound marketing certification and how it works. I seriously doubt that would fascinate you, and Hubspot's own FAQ does a fine job covering the basics. The gist is: you study up, you take the test, and if you pass (80 percent is a pass), you get the certification for a year. It's free to enroll and you don't have to be Hubspot customer - something to keep in mind as we weigh the merits of such programs.

"Inbound marketing," a term successfully coined by Hubspot, is by now a pretty widely accepted approach to marketing to the modern customer - a finicky breed that, for the most part, can't stand being marketed to. I have availed myself of Hubspot's content in the past; they've done a nice job of documenting the elusive ROI and actual benefits of business blogging, and how to execute on it.

The biggest perk I've derived from Hubspot is using their own web site as an example to my own clients on how to properly structure a content strategy that combines all the elements, including: free blog content for building audience, smart landing pages that gets readers opting in (and sharing their vitals with you), and a robust mix of free, sign up, and paid content or services options.

I honestly don't know much about Hubspot's back end software/platform for inbound marketing and sales (how they actually pay the bills), but I like the concept of "progressive sign up" they have developed. It makes sense that an audience would gradually share more about themselves over time, as their trust and reliance on your content grows - that's progressive sign up in a nutshell, though it takes time to organize the content and tech needed to make it work.

Taking the exam - the perils and problems of multiple choice

Those of you who fancy yourselves as content marketing savvy may be wondering, "Can I just show up and take the test and voila, impress my pals on LinkedIn with a spiffy new certification?" Alas, the answer to that would be no - but for the wrong reasons.

You'll need to work your way through the 11 video classes (30-45 minutes each), or at minimum the study guide and sample questions. Not because you don't know the content, but because you need to have a grip on how Hubspot approaches inbound, and the psychology behind their multiple choice format.

I've long been a basher of the multiple choice questions as a way of validating knowledge, particularly in an enterprise context where field experience is so much more important than ticking a few boxes. To make matters worse, most multiple choice tests require some "gaming" - by that I mean, knowing how the test was designed might matter more than the content itself.

Sure enough, when I did a search online, I found some articulate belly-achers who weren't too pleased with Hubspot's multiple choice format and approach (See: Is The Hubspot Inbound Certification Wrong? and Analyzing the Hubspot Inbound Certification.

The first author wasn't fond of this question:

hubspot-blog-formatting

I can understand the test taker's frustration on this one. At first glance, this looks like an "All of the above" answer but it may be a minefield. The study guide is a cold comfort on this one, it doesn't address some of these points. The best answer would be "It depends." Or perhaps Hubspot has already taken "it depends" into account, in which case the "subheads" answer is correct because it is the only one of the three that allows for contextual choices by saying, "where appropriate." If so, that's more of a reading comprehension and phraseology test.

Or, and try not to get a popsicle headache here, what if we decide that "posts should fill in whitespace using text and images" is definitely wrong, because we all know some whitespace is important. In that case, which of the other two answers besides "all of the above" is also wrong? Maybe "400-600" words, because in truth "it depends," which leaves us with "subheads", an answer almost impossible to eliminate due to the "where appropriate" qualifier. Fun right? Not sure how that kind of thinking helps validate our marketing effectiveness though...

The second test taker picked on this question:

Hubspot blogging frequency

Again the wording of the question, not the actual know-how, is the key. In different businesses, each of these answers could be viable. But: Hubspot has given a big clue with the use of "numeric" in the question, and only one of the answers is numeric. None of the options ferret out what I see as the correct view: "As frequently as you can do it while maintaining schedule consistency and quality." But instead, we're getting tweaked by a reading comprehension question. Studying may actually hurt us here, because "As often as you want to get found online" is a catch phrase that comes up in the course content.

From an online testing perspective, the passing rate is around 44 percent, so at least it's not easy to get through the test. But like most multiple choice tests, it may be difficult for some of the wrong reasons.

Hubspot's inbound marketing exam content - the opinionated/quick review

By now you may be thinking, "Well, if I understand the psychology behind the test than I can just skip the learning." That may be true for some, but I'm guessing there is something in the course content you'll need to review, especially when you consider this is a test on Hubspot's approach to inbound, not on what's worked for your firm. So, how good is the content?

Well, first, most of the content is structured in sections around Hubspot's four inbound principles: Attract, Convert, Close, Delight. What you need to focus on will depend on your field experience, but here's my subjective take:

Attract

  • Optimizing Your Website - Re-visiting buyer personas is always useful, but this felt like review content to me.
  • The Fundamentals of Blogging - This was mostly review also, but the secrets to business blogging is one of Hubspot's greatest strengths. Enjoyed.
  • Amplifying Your Content with Social Media - Didn't enjoy this much, but that's probably due to my chip-on-shoulder about social media overhype.  Liked the tie-ins to the "buyer's journey" and creating content that relates to each phase of that journey, which is often overlooked in the mad pursuit of attention for its own sake.

Convert

  • Creating Content with a Purpose - A strong section. Understanding why you are creating content and for whom is essential.
  • The Anatomy of a Landing Page - I'm not a big landing page geek, but this section impressed me as much as any in the course. Hubspot has a firm grasp here.
  • Perfecting the Conversion Process - Useful. Tying content to conversion matters.

Close

  • Sending the Right Email to the Right Lead - Hubspot is right about the continuing traction of email, but the content in this section didn't stand out.
  • The Power of Smarketing - Could have used more content here, "Smarketing" is an overly-cute phrase for merging the interests of sales and marketing. Converging marketing and sales metrics and improving sales-marketing collaboration is one of the most important concepts in this course.
  • Taking Your Sales Process Inbound - More practical goodness.

Delight

  • Cultivating Happy Customers - I like the idea of delighting customers, but wasn't impressed by the material here. I like this line though: "The businesses that are the best educators will be the most successful." Though there is more to business success than education. If you changed the end of the sentence to "will be the best marketers" you'd be onto something.

My other issue with the course was that most of the video instructors didn't seem like real marketing geniuses to me. They seemed like junior-level folks - energetic to be sure, but watching the videos, I questioned whether any of the instructors could produce the kind of content and results my industry would need. In turn, that impacted my perception of the content's credibility. But you may find them perky and engaging.

Wrap - why don't enterprise marketers learn from Hubspot's certification?

I keep waiting for more enterprise software companies to make all of their trainings, and perhaps even some of their certifications, completely free. But I guess that my Adoption is the new lock-in article hasn't been read by every executive yet. If gaining widespread adoption and "thought leader credibility" is a huge advantage (and it certainly has been for companies like MongoDB), then why not move training and certification from profit centers into a content marketing expense, which can be tied not only to adoption/goodwill but also directly to lead gen?

This is where Hubspot is way ahead of the curve. Though not all their certifications are free are open to all, some of them are, and that's both welcome and unusual. There's plenty of learning here for enterprise marketers who are constantly pumping out junky press releases and pitching iterative product news into the inbox of nobody cares,

I have yet to receive an invite to train and certify in a vendor's products. If so, I'd strongly consider doing it, and writing about it.  The Hubspot model is out there, seems like good 'ol low hanging fruit to me, and yet, so many marketers and PR folks insist on climbing trees. And as a sidenote, having Hubspot-certified folks out there doesn't hurt for project success either. Though the inbound certification doesn't focus on Hubspot's products, other certifications they offer do.

When it comes to exam criticism, I've seen Hubspot responding on blogs and making clear they are trying to improve the questions. The exam questions are also frequently updated as new trends unfold. But - the ones I singled out above were on the version of the exam I took also.

As for the career value of the Hubspot inbound marketing certification, I did see a comment or two saying that the certification got them a foot in the door. I was surprised to receive a couple of LinkedIn questions about my own certification, which leads me to believe that I made better use of my time in January getting certified than I would have shoveling snow.

Finally, if you're just in it for the content, the best (free) course of this kind I have seen is the "New Rainmaker" training (from Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger). It's the most sophisticated approach to content marketing I have seen, in a very entertaining format (no certification is offered, however). But that's another blog post.

p.s. I hope the 400-600 blog word count wasn't the right answer!

Image credit: Physics © olly - Fotolia.com

Disclosure: diginomica has no financial ties to Hubspot. I had free access to the course like anyone else, and wrote about it on my own volition.