This post is part of Made @ HubSpot, an in-house line of thought leaders, where we draw lessons from experiments conducted by our own HubSpotters.
At the end of 2019, the Education Partner Program team at HubSpot had the challenging opportunity to set our priorities for the coming year.
The HubSpot Education Partner Program (EPP) is a community of educators who teach in colleges and universities around the world and receive free software and support from HubSpot to educate the next generation of marketing, sales and service professionals.
The support and empowerment of these students and professors is critical to maintaining a healthy HubSpot ecosystem of future customers and users.
Like most teams at HubSpot, we are insanely focused on how to create a positive experience for those who rely on our program – in this case, university professors. To make sure we had such experiences, we first had to find out what novel problems and pain points this audience was facing.
Click here to learn more about the Education Partner Program and how to participate.
Identify the pain points of our target audience
The EPP's focus is on students who need to enter the world of work with the tools and methodologies they need to grow a business. We pay close attention to business training and invest a lot in it.
Although the HubSpot Academy serves thousands of learners around the world, the EPP is focused on college and university education. Our team would be negligent if we did not recognize and adapt to the educational inequality that pervades higher education in the United States.
In particular, we wanted to address the following issues that bring these issues to light:
1. Students must be experienced in applying the skills learned in class to find employment after graduation.
Often times, this means doing internships (sometimes unpaid) in expensive cities, which can put a financial strain on an already expensive college experience.
If HubSpot could find a way that would allow students to virtually contribute to solving a real business challenge in their course – all with the added safety net of their teacher to answer questions – we would prepare them for success . When these students add this work on their résumé, they subsequently reveal work experience they might not otherwise have found.
2. Educators are mandated to prepare their students for real business challenges. However, this can lead to so many undesirable variables in the classroom.
In educational institutions, there are only so many companies in their Rolodex that are open to working with students in their personal or professional network. In addition, awkward conversations about professors' expectations and due dates can completely deter professors from the experience.
At HubSpot, we have over 78,000 customers who all hope to grow their businesses with our software. Many of them could use help and new eyes as they approach new projects. However, we have recognized that it is not enough to just offer something to our customers. We needed a way for our clients and our professors to hold themselves accountable for creating fruitful relationships and learning experiences for the students they work with.
3. HubSpot customers don't always have the bandwidth to complete their many projects.
While the visible impact of the Education Partner Program is the support we give professors, we also intend to embed ourselves deeper into the company and work on the many teams at HubSpot who want the best for our users. As a small team of three, it's important that we cause a sensation wherever we can. Working with other teams – and especially our Customer Success Team – to support HubSpot customers is mutually beneficial. We wanted to find a solution for our educators and one for our customers at the same time. We had to put safeguards in place to ensure the company wasn't taking advantage of the student's free labor and making it easy (and enjoyable) for a client to work with an educator, and vice versa.
That's why we decided in 2020 to focus on … applied learning.
Providing a solution through applied learning
Applied learning is the practice of classroom learning with pre-approved practical, meaningful and creative contributions from work in a community or external organization in an area related to a student's academic and professional goals. Has a HubSpot customer not updated their lead generation workflow since the early 2010s? Perhaps some students could come in and make suggestions. Does a HubSpot customer not have the bandwidth to create engaging blog articles to promote their product or service? Have the students of a Digital Marketing class provide some articles as a graduation assignment!
When higher education switched to virtual or hybrid models in 2020, we had a unique value proposition to enable our educators to improve their students' employability while providing free work to our clients – many of whom are ready to take on the challenges from have done business almost exclusively online and could use the help.
That's how we did it
1. We have partnered with industry leading software, Riipen, to create new applied possibilities in the classroom.
We first examined which providers have already gained a foothold in this area. Riipen, a technology platform that enables micro-experiential learning opportunities by connecting students with industry partners through on-course assignments or competitions designed by teachers, was way ahead of all other options.
2. We tested and then tested more.
Shortly after we decided to work with Riipen, we enlisted some of our most dedicated education partners and clients to test the market and see if we could expand this to hundreds of other professors in our network.
After a little research and conversation, we teamed up with Tim Marshall of Baldwin Wallace College and Elaine Young and Champlain College (eternally grateful to him). The students of these two educators worked with six different HubSpot customers (three each) with great success.
- CAPA The Global Education Network (Boston, MA, USA): Students worked on developing leadership development workflows to encourage and encourage freshmen abroad for freshmen.
- The Woods (Norway, ME, USA): Students worked to improve online ads and an e-commerce platform for a luxury tree house in Maine.
- Run Away Travel (Miami, FL, USA): The students created marketing materials and content for an all-inclusive travel agency.
- Cosmic Booth (Orlando, FL, USA): Students created marketing materials and content for a commercial photo booth rental company.
- ETTCH (Dublin, Ireland): Students created marketing materials and content for an education company developing tools for children dealing with anxiety and low self-confidence.
- AirWorks (Boston, MA, USA): Students doubled the number of pillar pages for an AI start-up.
My colleagues and I attended the final presentations that the students gave to their employers and were impressed with the preparation and professionalism of everyone involved.
The Woods saw tremendous growth (500%) in clothing sales. Run Away Travel and ETTCH in particular had some great feedback on the maturity of the students and the innovative content they were providing to their companies.
Given the success of the pilot program, we have decided to continue our partnership with Riipen and create even more connections between our clients and trainers.
3. We promoted our program internally and worked with other teams.
There were several considerations that we took into account when planning to launch our partnership with Riipen on a large scale.
We had to make sure that our educators couldn't do without a HubSpot customer – and vice versa. This meant that our biggest obstacle was doing this too quickly and too slowly. We had to make sure we were recruiting equally on both sides of the market. For example, if we put pressure on the recruitment of educators, we could have more educators than clients. The opposite was also true. Because we were able to control the flow of educators who knew about this program and could sign up for this program, we had to do the same for our clients.
Join the Customer Success team at HubSpot. We have relied on Customer Success Managers (CSMs) to handpick “Good Fit” companies for this opportunity. We shared the “what” and “why” of our applied learning program through an in-house “applied learning resource center” with small, actionable steps for CSMs who wanted their clients to join the program. CSMs then introduced me personally to companies that they think are a good match. We have also created publicly accessible pages for educators and clients that set out each participant's goals and responsibilities for participating in the program.
Applied learning in times of uncertainty
While at HubSpot we have always loved the prospect of connecting clients with educators so students can acquire work-ready skills, these times of economic uncertainty have brought a new sense of urgency. If the way we work and our learning changes fundamentally, we need to ask ourselves how we can better prepare ourselves and others to respond to new challenges. The practice of distance-friendly learning has become the new normal for most colleges and universities around the world, opening the horizon of what virtual leadership and project management from your kitchen or bedroom desk look like.
The project-based learning experiences that students have with Riipen are always completely virtual experiences. This makes them more flexible and accessible to a new group of students who could never commit to the traditional 9-5 internship experience in the office.
We still have a long way to go to scale this from highly personalized one-on-one contact to an automated, self-identifying opt-in process for clients and educators. Fall 2020 will bring some interesting challenges as we prepare to introduce this to our educational partner community at a time when many are questioning the ability to offer virtual learning – let alone virtual applied learning opportunities.
We're trying to create 15 more matches between educators and our clients (and even more in the spring) and we're confident we can hit that number. Ultimately, we want to give students the opportunity to graduate with the skills and experience they need to feel safe in interviews and in their jobs.
Our partnership with Riipen is an important step in empowering these students and building a customer base that values these students' prospects.
Click here to learn more about the Education Partner Program and how to participate.