Main illustration: Kelly Carpenter
As 2019 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on another amazing year at Intercom.
In the past 12 months on Inside Intercom, we’ve published nearly 200 blog posts covering everything from product launches to product strategy; from growth stories to goal setting; from building teams to bot skills; from sales insights to stand-up comedy.
We’ve launched three new podcast series and released 58 individual episodes. Since its debut in March, Scale has featured in-depth interviews with industry leaders such as Google’s Head of SaaS Initiative Matt Rogers and HubSpot’s Meghan Keaney Anderson; the Sales Summit featured wide-ranging conversations on the art and science of SaaS sales; while on Intercom on Product, Des and Paul take a monthly deep-dive on how to build product and scale a product org.
“It’s our great privilege to help tell the Intercom story, to bring you the personal stories of the wonderful people behind our product”
And last but certainly not least, we published two books: a second edition of Intercom on Onboarding featuring our latest thinking on this key topic; and Intercom on Sales, where we we take you inside our journey to building a billion dollar business.
In this post, members of the Intercom Content Team offer their highlights of the year, from the projects they most enjoyed working on to the articles they just enjoyed reading.
It’s our great privilege to help tell the Intercom story, to bring you the personal perspectives of the wonderful people behind our product, to share our advice and tips on how to engage with customers, to present our thoughts and opinions on how to build and scale a company. Thanks so much for reading and listening throughout the year.
Finding time to think
Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow may be one of the best-selling non-fiction books of the decade, though I’d also vouch it’s one of those books we all start with great intentions but put down before we complete the first 100 pages. Luckily Enzo, one of our Product Managers, made it through, and inspired by the psychologist’s insights, he published “Product management, fast and slow.” Despite the title, the insights are applicable to anyone who needs to get creative work done at the office but constantly finds themselves driven to distraction by having to make quick decisions. Even if you’re familiar with the brain’s two distinct modes of thinking and the implications for how we work, these 1,400 words provide a fresh perspective on how you can harness them most effectively.
“This piece details how we are able to be thoughtful and intentional about how we celebrate the different cultures that make up Intercom”
On a personal level, I was delighted to see Jess and Leanne publish “The evolution of how we celebrate Pride at Intercom.” We’ve matured and come a long way as a company from the motley crew that rocked up at Dublin’s Pride parade in 2016; this piece details how we are able to be thoughtful and intentional about how we celebrate the different cultures that make up Intercom. And that feels very appropriate as we approach the holidays and reflect on the year.
Reaching an “aha” moment
We’ve seen a renewed focus on user onboarding in SaaS this year as more and more teams come to the realization that new customer sign-ups alone can’t guarantee business growth. If you want your users to stick around, onboarding has to be a pivotal part of your product strategy.
“Onboarding at its core is about getting users to experience moments of illuminating clarity and emotional connection with your product”
But in our zeal to onboard users, we run the risk of oversimplifying the work and making it about getting users to take an artificial set of actions. Our product researcher Lynsey Duncan shared a timely reminder in her article “Understanding your ‘aha’ moments and putting them to work” – onboarding at its core is about getting users to experience moments of illuminating clarity and emotional connection with your product. So how do you guide users to those moments? Our Manager of Product Education Phil Byrne laid out our team’s playbook for creating a comprehensive onboarding experience.
One last article that elicited an “aha!” and vigorous head-nodding from me this year: Paul’s lessons on avoiding the pendulum swing. It’s a must-read for anyone who’s ever been charged with tackling problems for which there are no clear solutions.
There’s plenty of useful advice out there on starting a business and acquiring customers, but a dearth of recorded knowledge about sustaining one. In Des and Paul’s conversation “The intersection of company and product strategy,” you can be a fly on the wall as they discuss how we at Intercom learned to align our product strategy with our company strategy. It’s an act that sounds so obvious, but is actually quite nuanced and required several operational reboots. The conversation goes beyond the usual punditry and offers a valuable strategic framework that we use internally.
Also the entire Intercom on Product series, from which this derived, launched this year and is for sure worth a road trip binge!
Stand in the spotlight
Intercom has been holding events for years now, from large-scale world tours to more intimate Building Intercom events, with our founders, leaders and teammates delivering acclaimed talks on everything from building software to scaling your customer support team.
“If you’re looking for tips on public speaking you won’t see anywhere else and some inspirational resources, look no further”
For almost as long, I’ve been working behind the scenes, helping colleagues hone their material, and practice their delivery. For my (nerve-wracking) debut on the Inside Intercom blog, “So you wanna give a Ted Talk?”, I tried to distill everything I learned down to a few key areas. If you’re looking for tips on public speaking you won’t see anywhere else and some inspirational resources, look no further.
Running the endless race
In the world of product-led companies, sales can sometimes feel like a dirty word. It’s something businesses only turn to when they don’t have a product that “basically sells itself.” But as we – and the likes of Stripe, Slack, and Google – have learned, sales can be the force multiplier that companies need to graduate from scrappy startup to profitable scale-up.
“I think LB Harvey, our SVP of Sales & Support, summed up our journey best when she said, “Growth is a race with no end”
Our latest book Intercom on Sales lays out the plays that have helped us scale a billion dollar business and the hard-earned lessons that inspired them. It’s a fascinating look at how sales teams are evolving to keep pace with changing buyer expectations, technological advances (chatbots, anyone?), and overwhelmingly crowded markets.
I think LB Harvey, our SVP of Sales & Support, summed up our journey best when she said, “Growth is a race with no end.” If you’re in this race with us, good luck . . . and be sure to grab a copy for the long road ahead. 😉
Understanding the bots
Over the last decade, consumers have become accustomed to an increasingly high level of connectivity as a result of technological advances, like email and live chat. But as a result we are seeing consumer expectations expose the limitations of real humans. Enter bots. Bots have the ability to deliver radical efficiencies and help today’s businesses meet these consumer expectations.
That’s why we worked with an independent market research firm to survey a random sample of 500 consumers and 500 business leaders about chatbots in 2019. This research culminated in our first ever “Chatbot Trends Report.”
From extensive cost savings to increasing sales, this report by Sara Yin gives an in-depth look at the state of chatbots in business today, and where they are headed for the year ahead.
From signed-up to success
We’ve always placed a huge emphasis on helping customers achieve long-term success with our product and shy away from short-term wins. Some things will never change, but our thinking on onboarding has definitely matured over the past year – especially as we’ve scaled the company and learned new lessons.
This year has brought a huge step change for us – we released Product Tours, redesigned and optimized our onboarding flow, found new ways to hook trial users from the first use, and so much more. The new version of our Intercom on Onboarding book is a culmination of all of the best practices we’ve learned onboarding tens of thousands of customers. My favorite lightbulb moment? Onboarding shouldn’t be the domain of any one team – it takes a village (or cross-functional team) to guide users from signed up to success.
P.S. You won’t want to miss Des’s chapter on why customer retention is the new conversion.
Designing with confidence
Intercom is a product-led company that builds a tool relied upon by thousands of businesses to conduct relationships with their customers, so it’s probably not a surprise that we spend an exceptional amount of time thinking deeply about the design of tools and how we interact with them.
Our Senior Director of Design, Emmet Connolly, published not one but two pieces exploring how we think about these design choices. “Shortcuts to superpowers: What an emerging design pattern tells us about disruption” examines a suddenly popular design trend and what it says about the future of productivity software.
The second piece, “The tools we use: Challenging dogma in the design process,” draws parallels between the tools we build and the processes we use to build them – it’s worth watching the accompanying talk to appreciate the full power of Emmet’s argument.
“Read it and be inspired for what you might achieve in the next decade”
On a different note, I think product engineer Sofia Tzima’s wonderful essay “Overcoming uncertainty: Why we need to redefine confidence for the workplace” is an honest, important articulation of how to develop a healthy sense of self, particularly when it’s all too easy for that confidence to prove elusive. Read it and be inspired for what you might achieve in the next decade.