HubSpot EMEA head: ‘Customers are less tolerant of bad service than ever’

As vice-president of sales and managing director for HubSpot EMEA, Christian Kinnear is responsible for driving growth in the region, leading the business from the company’s EMEA headquarters in Dublin.

Kinnear joined HubSpot from a successful tenure at Google, where he managed the Google for Work sales development team in EMEA, Japan, Asia and the Pacific.

Prior to this role, Kinnear enjoyed a seven-year career at Oracle, where he managed core elements of Oracle’s technology and applications sales business across the UK and northern Europe.

Earlier this month, HubSpot announced that it was expanding to lease all of the office accommodation at 1 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay on Dublin’s South Docks.

Describe your role and what you do.

I’m the vice-president of sales and the managing director of HubSpot in EMEA, based in Dublin. The majority of my time is spent overseeing the sales organisation, and the performance and expansion of the sales business.

I also have broader cross-functional leadership responsibilities with regard to culture, facilities and overall business cohesion.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Twice a year, I decide how much time I should work ‘on the business’ (strategic) and ‘in the business’ (operational), and aim to stick to the split over the six months ahead.

For the operational work, I primarily use an urgent-important matrix to help me map and prioritise the variety of tasks that I have at any given time. I keep my core objectives top of mind, so any task or activity that aligns directly with those core objectives is, by definition, high-importance; everything else is low-importance. I may push back or delegate out the low-importance items and, when handling the high-importance items, I tackle in order of urgency.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

One of the biggest challenges across all parts of tech is finding the right talent to fuel growth. In one way, it can actually be beneficial to your business, as you need to continuously up your game when it comes to building an environment and culture that will be attractive to top talent and allow them to flourish. We’ve always been obsessed (in a good way!) with our culture since our culture code was first published. I’d like to think it’s something we’re known for and helps us attract top talent.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Today, the front office is fragmented and disjointed. Companies of all sizes are using so many individual tools that are stitched together. This can result in a terrible customer experience, and an unproductive and inefficient operating model for businesses.

Customers are more demanding and less tolerant of bad service than ever before. They expect instant great service and if it isn’t delivered, they will disengage, disconnect and move away.

The opportunity for the team at HubSpot is that our product is built on one stack on top of our CRM, covering marketing, sales and service functions. It’s all natively integrated, so the experience for both the customer and the business is seamless, simple and beautiful.

‘What led me to HubSpot was a belief I had that there had to be a better way of marketing and selling than the old-school method of outbound cold calling and trying to force your way into someone’s consciousness’
– CHRISTIAN KINNEAR

What set you on the road to where you are now?

The main reason I’m now in the tech industry is that I’m personally driven by the opportunity to break new ground; to innovate, launch new products and markets, and solve complex issues for customers. The tech industry is such a fast-moving and ever-changing environment that it ticks all those boxes.

What led me to HubSpot, specifically, was a belief I had a number of years ago that there had to be a better way of marketing and selling than the old-school method of outbound cold calling and trying to force your way into someone’s consciousness. It was when I was looking for new solutions that I came across a bunch of HubSpot’s content and, when they contacted me later, my reaction was: ‘I love Hubspot!’

The key moment came when I realised that, instead of trying to solve these problems for my business, I could join HubSpot and help solve them for hundreds, or even millions, of businesses.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

In one of my earliest roles, I had what can only be described as an intervention from my team! They correctly challenged me on the way I was managing them. They told me that they saw me trying to do everything and never asking for help, and felt that I was exuding an ‘all-seeing, all-knowing’ persona.

They were concerned that I would burn out but, more significantly, they told me that the way in which I was leading them made them feel like I didn’t trust them. That was the last thing I intended, but I learned the lesson that it’s important to be aware that there’s a downside to that approach.

I’m now hypersensitive to it and have learned to not just assign tasks, but to assign objectives. And, when I did that, the team came back with much better ideas than I had!

How do you get the best out of your team?

As a leader, I like to set a vision and then get out of people’s way so they can get on with executing. I think of it in terms of pull energy, by painting a picture of the end outcome that’s attractive, and I invite people to work with me to come towards this end state. I find it far more effective than pushing people towards a goal.

As a manager, I trust, empower and delegate a lot. I’m incredibly lucky to work with such a talented team that are willing and able to be challenged to take on additional responsibilities. However, it’s key to ensure there are equal amounts of support to meet the challenge.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

Yes, I have observed a diversity problem in the technology sector, along with other sectors as well. It’s an issue we need to solve for two main reasons:

  • Firstly, diversity of thought, opinion and perspective leads to better ideas and solutions. It’s a logically better way of running a team and business
  • Secondly, it’s just the right thing to do. If there’s an environment in which people are marginalised or excluded, that’s simply not OK

From an inclusivity perspective, I think a great place to start is by focusing on communication and meaningful, open conversations. Everyone can help create a positive and safe environment in which people actively seek to gain a better understanding of one another’s perspectives and experiences.

‘As a leader, I like to set a vision and then get out of people’s way’
– CHRISTIAN KINNEAR

Who is your role model?

Joe Schmidt is a role model of mine. The man is a master at solving complex problems in a competitive, high-pressure environment, and I have a lot of admiration for the way he strikes a balance in implementing world-class processes while also empowering individuals with key decision-making responsibilities. He does all of this with humility, constantly viewing himself as a servant to his team, and always seems to make time for his charity work and giving back to the community.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I’m currently reading The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility by Stewart Brand and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh insight into planning.

The book tackles the topic of how we think about time, existence and planning. For example, most of us tend to think of longtime horizons in lifetimes, eg 80 years. The book challenges the reader to think in terms of tens of thousands of years. If we think in terms of the latter, we would make big decisions like climate change in fundamentally different ways.

In the business world, we often think in terms of quarters and months, and decide that we’ll worry about the future when it gets here. Reading this book has really challenged my perspective on planning for a company’s long-term growth.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I assume I can’t say HubSpot! I’m on the move a lot in my role, so I find Google products like Gmail and Google Docs to be incredibly helpful. To know that my inbox is synced across multiple devices helps to me to prioritise tasks and tackle urgent items as they arise. Docs is particularly helpful when collaborating with colleagues in different offices and timezones.

I use Trello a lot, too – it helps me to think horizontally, as well as vertically. I try break up my tasks and to-dos across different topics, rather than simply working through a long, vertical to-do list. Trello is a great asset to this way of thinking.

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