How 11 Students Built a Company's Inbound Strategy with HubSpot Certifications

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Isaac Moche
Isaac Moche



If you're familiar with the HubSpot Academy, then you know it offers online certifications and free tools to help people all over the world learn how to market, sell, and grow an inbound business.

Recently, HubSpot Academy launched its Education Partner Program, which helps college and university professors teach inbound marketing, sales, and provides guidance on using the HubSpot Marketing Software and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). The mission of the program is to bring the theory and practice of running and growing a business into the classroom -- and to give students the hands-on experience they need to launch their careers right out of school.

But when it came time to drive even more value for this program, there was much more we could for students. The program already provided educators with the software, resources, community and support to build leading marketing classes. We wanted to do even better at providing students with valuable, market-ready skills -- by way of certification.Click here to learn about using social media in every stage of the funnel.

Here’s what happened when we challenged 11 marketing students to get their HubSpot certifications in one semester -- and build an inbound strategy for a real company in the process.

How HubSpot Certifications Helped Build an Inbound Strategy

The Hypothesis and Objective

The Certification

HubSpot Academy certifications are designed to help marketers stay up-to-date on the latest marketing and sales techniques, while also boosting their resumes. They allow users to take their inbound skills to the next level, with a confirmed completion of a qualifying exams.

When we looked at which certifications were being assigned by Education Partner Program professors -- and which ones students were receiving -- the HubSpot Marketing Software Certification (HSMC) was missing. But we didn't despair at that finding. Rather, we looked at how we could address those barriers to adoption.

To say that the HMSC is "difficult" is a tremendous understatement. It involves an exam, a mastery of the Inbound Methodology, a practicum component, and a proven ability to achieve results using the HubSpot Marketing Software.

Having this certification can help a marketer stand out during a job search -- especially a recent graduate.


The prospect of more students receiving their HMSC was a mutually beneficial goal for instructors, students, and their respective institutions. We wanted to show that students could get their HSMC within a single semester, so we created an experiment to do that, with the mentality that if it was successful, we could roll it out across the entire Education Partner Program community.

The Framework

The biggest HSMC adoption barrier for students seemed to be the practicum component, which requires users to carry out actual inbound marketing activities using HubSpot Marketing Software -- and achieve tangible results. That meant we would need a real business to agree to let these students use its HubSpot portal to complete these tasks, while working toward the HSMC.

But a barrier to adoption didn’t have to be a deal-breaker. In fact, it turned out to be quite the opposite -- in addition to building an experiment to show that students could get their HSMC within a single semester, our objective would now also require them to complete real-world marketing work on behalf of an actual business. Around here, we call that a “win-win.”

Using those factors as a foundation, we determined our hypothesis: Students will be able to earn their HubSpot Marketing Software Certifications within a single semester.

The Experiment

What We Did

To test the hypothesis, we first pitched the experiment to Randy Harrison, a senior member of the affiliated faculty at Emerson College’s Department of Marketing Communication. He had previously spoken of his desire for his students to become certified, and was eager to give them the real-world experience that came with completing the HSMC.

Since HubSpot has roughly 30,000 customers, we (optimistically) figured that at least one of them would be willing to let a classroom of eager students do free marketing work on behalf of the company. The idea was that the customer would add the students as users in its HubSpot portal, who would then work to complete the practicum requirements of the HSMC by way of the aforementioned marketing work.

But Professor Harrison was already way ahead of us. After we approached him with the experiment he convinced one of his business contacts to not only become a new HubSpot customer -- but also, allow his students to carry out the marketing work for their HSMC.

Before jumping right in, we established some guardrails. If the experiment was successful, we wanted it to be designed to scale -- and more seamlessly replicable by other educators in the future:

  • Every student should become certified.
  • The class would visit the HubSpot office at least once.
  • A member of the HubSpot team would visit the class at least once.
  • Professor Harrison would work with a member of the Education Partner Program team to design the course.
  • Professor Harrison would document this experience and allow it to be used publicly.

How We Would Measure Success

Success would be measured according to the following metrics:

  • Every student meets the practicum component of the certification.
  • 80% of the students complete the HSMC in its entirety.

The Spring 2017 semester began -- and we were ready to get to work.

The Results

All in all, the experiment was a success.

Every student completed the practicum component with flying colors -- which meant they were able to accomplish the objective of applying the Inbound Methodology to build and execute an inbound strategy for a real business.

Meanwhile, 66% of the students passed the entirety of the HSMC -- which meant they both completed the practicum and passed the certification exam. And while we didn’t reach the 80% metric we originally established, the benchmark was high enough for us to take the experiment out of beta, tweak it to even better set up students for success, and replicate for the following semester.

And finally, here’s our favorite part: The company that became a customer for this experiment hired four of the students before they even graduated.

Where We Go From Here

Next Steps

As we mentioned previously, following the success of the experiment, we structured it in a way that has allowed it to become an official offering of the Education Partner Program. Working with our Customer Success team, we have established a system to match professors who want their students to obtain the HSMC with HubSpot customers, using criteria like product fit and shared expectations.

How Marketers Can Use What We Learned

When we carried out this project, we didn’t just learn more about Education Partners -- we also learned some valuable lessons about experimentation in general.

Go Big

Pick experiments that, if they’re successful, will produce significant results. Design them with impact and scale in mind -- for many, time is the most valuable resource, so don’t let it go to waste on an experiment that will only have minimal impact.

In our case, we needed a way to dramatically increase the value of the Education Partner Program for participating schools, professors, and students, and knowing whether the students could become HSMC in one semester was crucial to that. Even if our hypothesis was proven wrong, we would know to look for a different potential value source.

Recycle When Possible

Unless your company was founded yesterday, you likely have a wealth of resources to draw upon for your experiments -- things like previous experiments, marketing collateral, fellow employees, and historical data.

Notice that we didn’t actually create any net-new assets to conduct this experiment -- the only investment was sweat equity and time. Additionally, the other major stakeholder in the experiment, Professor Harrison, agreed to document the experiment, regardless of the outcomes. That meant we would be creating a new value point for the program, as we paved the way for other professors to get their students certified … or cautioned educators on what we learned, had it failed.

And About That Documentation

Document everything like your life depends on it. Use the scientific method, and be sure to debrief when it concludes -- remember, if it succeeds you’ll be repeating it, and regardless of the outcome, you want to discuss ways to improve upon it.

And remember this: Many times, an experiment is more valuable if it fails. For that, we use this famous quote from Thomas Edison -- “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

What are some of the ways you've used HubSpot Academy certifications? Let us know about your best experiment in the comments -- and hey, we might even feature it on our blog.

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