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How Intercom helped a bootstrapped SaaS business punch above its weight

Co-founder of Ad Reform and Userfeed

Landon Bennett

Main illustration: Sophia Foster Dimino

In order to make bootstrapping work, you need to be scrappy, ruthlessly prioritizing your actions and avoiding non-essential expenses. Having one tool that helps you do all your most important work – sales, marketing and support – makes life so much easier.

We’ve been pretty vocal about our love for Intercom as we’ve grown Ad Reform and Userfeed, our profitable, bootstrapped SaaS businesses over the last year. We run both entire businesses through the platform.

However, when I talk to other entrepreneurs or startup folks, most of them ask:

“Isn’t Intercom just a chat app? Aren’t there lots of those out there?”

I’ve been asked this so often that I figured I’d share exactly how we use Intercom, the benefits it provides our business and more importantly, the benefits it provides our customers. I’ll break it down into standard use cases, and some of our more unique use cases that Intercom enables.

Standard use cases

Support

Support is one of the most common use cases people think of when using Intercom. By giving your users the ability to chat directly with your team, not only does it give your team the ability to solve support issues faster, but it allows your users to engage with your company in a much more human way.

Nobody wants to go write up an email or fill out a form for support anymore. We’re in the age of messaging, so it’s important to connect with users in their preferred channels. Conversations like these just don’t happen when a user fills out a form.

intercom support

When a customer has an issue I want to do three things:

  1. Chat with them quickly to understand the problem.
  2. Replicate the issue.
  3. Track the issue so we can address it quickly and share updates with the customer as we go.

I can chat with the user immediately in Intercom, replicate the issue by watching the last Fullstory user recording (via Fullstory’s Intercom integration), and track the issue in our “Bugs ? feed” via Userfeed (which will associate the user with this issue and link the conversation in Intercom so whoever is fixing the issue has context).

fullstory_userfeed_intercom

In addition to talking to customers directly, you can empower them to find answers themselves using Intercom’s knowledge base.

knowledge base

We’ve built out Ad Reform’s knowledge base to allow users to search on their own and make it easy for our team to send help articles directly within the Intercom Messenger.

knowledge base 2

Sales

Making it simple for website visitors to engage with you at the beginning of the sales process is key to conversion rates. You did all this work and spent all this money to drive someone to your website. Don’t blow it by making it hard for them to engage with you.

We have Intercom’s Messenger on our website, enabling visitors to ask us questions, provide us their email for content or trials and schedule demos at a time that works best for them (via Calendly). We also use Intercom’s Operator (their messenger bot) to automate lead flows for situations when we’re not around our computer (e.g. when we’re sleeping ?).

intercom for sales

Intercom is continuing to expand what it can do for the sales use cases and I’m excited to see what’s next here.

Marketing

The value Intercom brings to your marketing team is the ability to segment users on tons of attributes, send targeted in-app or email messages to those segments and market to both leads and users.

With Intercom, you can capture valuable data about your users and how they’re using your product. This enables you to create segments of users based on things like location, revenue, industry or certain behaviors within the product. Once you have some segments set up, you can email users with more targeted, relevant content that they might be interested in (like an update to a feature they requested), or that could help them achieve better results within your product.

user attributes

Most companies spend all their marketing efforts on leads and trying to generate more leads. Marketing shouldn’t stop after you bring on a customer. Losing customers is so painful to a bootstrapped SaaS business, so keeping (and upgrading) current customers is hugely important to growth. Marketing to current customers enables you to improve in these two areas, and Intercom enables you to reach out to the right people, at the right time, within the right channels (email/in-app).

in-app-message

Onboarding

When we started our business, I was reaching out to leads manually upon signup and during our 7-day trial period. Our whole sales team used to do this at my previous company as well, all manually. To improve upon this, we implemented Intercom, which has a pretty awesome startup plan for just $49/m. We built out a fairly simple onboarding flow which includes:

  • An email upon signup.
  • An in-app message for a first-time user, linking them to helpful articles in the knowledge base.
  • An email reminding the user they have three days left on the trial.
  • An email notifying the user that the trial has ended, offering a link to the upgrade page and asking for any feedback.
  • A knowledge base, complete with Loom videos.

More importantly, there are no pop-ups on every marketing page asking if you need help. We aren’t big fans of that experience so we didn’t want to force it on our users. Here’s a link to awesome examples of SaaS onboarding that we used for inspiration.

Unique use cases

Feature flipping

If you’re building a SaaS product, you’re probably rolling out features and improvements all the time. Moving fast is key, but it can be helpful to test a new feature with a certain segment of users before you roll it out to everyone. We utilize Intercom’s data platform and tagging function to do this.

When we want to toggle a feature for certain companies, we simply search for the companies in Intercom and tag them with the corresponding feature tag we created. Boom: the feature is live in their account.

I can then gather product usage data on all companies that have this feature turned on and send them a relevant message (within Intercom) if necessary.

User feedback

Intercom is the best source of user feedback that I’ve experienced in my career. In the past, I’ve seen people try everything to gather valuable feedback from customers:

  • On site meetings.
  • PM asks sales or customer success for an intro to a client so they can jump on the phone.
  • Surveys with incentives for users who fill them out.
  • A link to an ideas forum the user has to create a separate login for.
  • Post-churn call or email.
  • Asking sales people to put feedback in Salesforce.

All of these channels are flawed, and anyone that’s done them knows that a very small percentage of users will actually offer feedback through these avenues (maybe 5%). Nobody has time. It takes effort on their part to respond to a survey, spend time on a phone call or go login to some other product and write up a feature request. Even when you do get feedback, the silos between customer facing reps and your product team, plus the multitude of places people put feedback (Trello, Slack, email, Google Chat, Salesforce, etc.), makes it incredibly easy to let that valuable feedback slip through the cracks.

Intercom, on the other hand, offers users the unique capability to chat with the team behind the product, in the context of the app. It’s seamless, so you are far more likely to get questions from users that turn into feedback or feature requests.

Often what starts as a question turns into a feature request and the conversation continues to develop.

You’ll notice this conversation in Intercom started as a question and evolved into a valuable feature request, with our CTO chiming in via notes (which the user can’t see). We added the feature request to our user feedback product that we built (Userfeed) and linked the conversation to that feature to add context for our product team. Plus, if that request ever comes up again in Intercom or elsewhere, all I have to do is tag the interested user to tie them to the post in Userfeed (e.g. tag them with custom-scheduling-for-ads-txt-monitoring:userfeed).

userfeed

Intercom and Userfeed make it dead simple for users to offer feedback freely within our app, without being prompted. Plus, it provides a clear channel for customer success folks to relay that feedback to our product team. This process allows us to get more feedback where users already offer it, decreases the chance that feedback slips through the cracks, maintains context for your product teams and shows your users that they’re partners in the growth of the product.

Development platform

When we first started using Intercom, I remember my co-founder Kyle and I looking at each other and saying, “Man, you could build a bunch of interesting products on top of the Intercom platform.” The biggest reason for that being the powerful API they expose to developers. If you’ve read this far, then you already know we’ve built a user feedback product on the Intercom platform (Userfeed).

Intercom has been really focused on being a platform for developers, doubling down on that recently with the release of their new Business Messenger.

Now, companies can build apps for Messenger to enable an even more personalized experience for users. In fact, we recently built one for Userfeed, making it easier for customer success reps to submit feedback on behalf of a user, and giving users a simple way to submit, browse, and vote on feedback without ever leaving your app. ?


If you’re a smaller SaaS business, do yourself a favor and give Intercom a try. There are a few other tools out there like it (we’ve tried out Drift and Crisp which are both great products too), but nothing has given us a better overall value. The product has been a huge reason for our early success, and the possibilities for improving user engagement are endless.

I can’t give the product enough ❤️

This post was first published on Medium.

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