2022 in review: Highlights from this year’s best conversations

A digest with noteworthy insights, business learnings, and personal reflections from this year’s guests on the podcast.

We’re not going to lie, 2022 was a challenging, nerve-racking, gripping beast of a year, but here we are at the end of it – and there’s plenty to be thankful for. Throughout the year, we’ve talked with and learned from industry leaders, experts, and innovators about a multitude of topics: from facing the tech slowdown to the dawn of machine learning, from the trends transforming customer support to using human insight to create memorable experiences.

And so, before we ring out the old and ring in the new, we’ve put together our favorite stories and conversations, insights, and reflections from 2022 in a special end-of-year episode.

In this wrap-up of the year’s best bits, you’ll hear from:

Thank you all for tuning in this year – we hope you enjoy this episode and have a lovely, stress-free holiday season, and we’ll see you back in January.

Make sure you don’t miss any highlights by following Inside Intercom on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, or grabbing the RSS feed in your player of choice.

Intercom on Product: Speeding back up when momentum drops

Liam Geraghty: Hello and welcome to Inside Intercom. I’m Liam Geraghty. This is our last episode of 2022. For the past 12 months, we have talked to CEOs, thought leaders, authors, engineers, journalists, and many more, all imparting nuggets of wisdom on everything from customer experience to the dawn of machine learning.

As is tradition on the podcast, we have assembled an assortment of clips from some of this year’s best conversations on the show. In January. Intercom co-founder Des Traynor and Chief Product Officer Paul Adams sat down to talk about speeding back up when momentum drops.

“We believe that if you become satisfied with how fast you’re moving in terms of shipping high-quality products to customers, you’re entering the world of complacency”

Des Traynor: One of the things we sat down to do at the very end of last year was plan out 2022. An area we paid a lot of attention to was our own internal rate of productivity and efficiency, and we kicked off a project to evaluate everything, every process, every step, every part of how software goes from idea through to live production. We learned a lot. Paul, what did we exactly do? And how could people learn from it?

Paul Adams: Yeah. What we did was, for us, massively insightful, maybe more insightful than we ever realized going into it. It probably started around October last year, where myself and Darragh – I run a product team; Darragh runs an engineering team – were looking at how we work, and we’re hearing a lot of feedback bubbling up from some of our people that we were getting slower. And both Darragh and I have, as you have, Des, an obsession with moving fast and speed and efficiency. And so, when you hear from some of your best people you’re moving slower than you used to, that’s not good news. And we believe that if you become satisfied with how fast you’re moving in terms of shipping high-quality products to customers, you’re entering the world of complacency, and you’re just going to kind of spiral downwards.

We surveyed some of our best people and different managers and leaders in the product and engineering org, and they gave us amazing feedback. Then, we talked to them directly, one to one, to follow up and understand the nuances and the details, and pulled all those things into themes. We did this very fast, by the way – we did all this in a small number of weeks end-to-end. We pulled it all into a small number of themes, understood where and how we could change, looked at our process, looked at our culture, made some really sharp, incisive changes to how we work, and it’s been received really well. People were just fully energized by the whole thing. It was only last October that we started this, and we’re into the new year, but so far, so good.

Des Traynor: Just to modulate one piece out, the stuff we heard, it wasn’t like work-from-home, it wasn’t the pandemic. It was stuff that would’ve been true if everyone was in the same room, let alone the same office or whatever, right?

Paul Adams: Yeah. And you have to be very open-minded, especially Darragh and me, as leaders and as our direct team of senior leaders. Some of this cut deep. It hurt to read it, knowing that we’re in charge and accountable for how the product and engineering team work at Intercom. Things like people being afraid to make some decisions, afraid to fail. There’s an aversion to taking risks. People were doing things in a safer way, and there was some cultural component to that. And that’s not what we want at all. We also have a highly collaborative culture, people tend to be very thoughtful of one another and empathetic and kind, and that can lead to design by committee at the worst times. Everyone’s opinion needs to be included, and that’s not necessarily what anyone wants.

“I think we’ve managed to say to people, ‘Hey, it’s the principles that matter, but they’re guidelines, not rules’”

Other stuff where people were following our process kind of blindly and so they were reading the principles we have and understanding what they are, and some of our people mention cargo culting, this idea that you follow the process blindly without really thinking critically about whether or not it’s the best way to work or the fastest way to work. Things like road mapping were taking too long, and too much work. There was a desire for more top-down leadership – at Intercom, we kind of operate with a very autonomous model of teams and groups of teams, but they were looking for a bit more direction from some leaders like myself and yourself on high-level strategy.

Des Traynor: Obviously, I read the reports as well. For me, two thoughts occurred. Could we have noticed this earlier? Or to some degree, let’s say that some of these things like, for example, people blindly following a process, culturally don’t grow out of a vacuum. That was probably your reaction to a project that went wrong, and somebody came into the room, you or me, and said something along the lines of, “We didn’t follow the process. That’s why this didn’t work out.” And that got translated into, “If you don’t follow the process, that’ll be thought of as the reason why the project didn’t work or why things didn’t work well.” Has it made you more reflective? It certainly has for me. Has it made you more reflective on how or why you engage in things such that we don’t start new on-ramps onto new problems in the future?

Paul Adams: Yeah, it definitely did. One thing it brought into sharp focus for us was that we are a very principle-based company and we have principles in the product and engineering team. We’ve three principles (as an end result of this project, we added a fourth), and then below that, we have a process, and the process is basically a bunch of things to do to enact the principles. And principles, by definition, are guidelines. Principles are not rules. I think that, because of the way we’ve evolved the company – we’re growing fast, adding people, the principles are quite strong and people like them a lot–, it led to people assuming they were rules versus guidelines, and people didn’t want to skip steps in the process. As a result, I think we’ve managed to say to people, “Hey, it’s the principles that matter, but they’re guidelines, not rules. And hey, after that, it’s outcomes, you know, efficiently shipping a great, high-quality product and our customers valuing it. All that good stuff.”

Des Traynor: The other thing that I was, I guess I wanted to say proud of, is that one of our core beliefs, and a national Intercom-wide value, is that we are confident yet humble. And I think this podcast might be an example of it. On the one hand, we are saying, “Here’s something you should all do,” and on the other hand, we’re humble enough to say, “Here are a lot of absolute mistakes we made that were clarified to us.”

“We were hearing it from the people working directly on the projects at the front line, especially people who’ve been here a long time, ‘Hey, things are creeping in as we scale’”

The piece I was happy with was that we actually got the sharp end of the stick handed back to us from the team, which was really valuable. I think you have to have the right type of culture that lets people openly criticize a process or a person or a leadership style and say, “Hey, Paul, hey, Des, you need to take a stronger opinion here. You can’t just leave that up to us.” Or, “Hey, this process you’ve designed has turned into a box-checking TPS report that everyone does and no one understands,” or whatever. It was definitely bruising to hear pieces of this, but you’d much rather take those bruises and not have everyone either afraid to say it or saying it to each other but just not saying it to you.

Paul Adams: Yeah, very much so. One of the things that was not necessarily surprising, but definitely in a moment of reflection was that going into this, we shipped 150 customer-facing changes. It’s not like productivity has ground to a halt and it’s just decision-making, circular conversation after circular conversation. We’re actually good, I think. 150 things in a calendar year is obviously something to be proud of. But we were hearing it from the people on the teams themselves, the people working directly on the projects at the front line, especially people who’ve been here a long time, “Hey, things are creeping in as we scale.”

What was really good for me was that when we replayed this back to the org and said, “Hey, we’ve surveyed people. We’ve done interviews. Here’s what we’ve heard,” and the message was, “Look, momentum is really important. Momentum builds momentum, and we are simply less efficient than we used to be and we think we can improve here,” most of them loved that. They were like, “Yes, more of this.” It was like, “Oh, thank you. I shouldn’t have all these meetings that I think aren’t very useful anyway, I should skip all these steps that I thought I had to do.” People loved that message. I think the two-way vulnerability and the transparency led to symbiotic positivity and better ways of working.

Listen to the full episode here:

How do we feel about being called ‘women in tech’?

Liam Geraghty: In January, we were joined by Intercom brand editor Niamh O’Connor, who brought us a dissection of the term women in tech. The phrase has become a catchall label used to describe everything from the problem to the solution to the community, but Niamh asked, what does it mean for the women working in Intercom? Here, she asks Intercom product manager Nadine Mansour.

Nadine Mansour: I personally don’t like labels. When I think of my professional life, I would like to think of myself as a product manager or a product person, and that’s it. I don’t want to add any other variables or think of how my gender or background can affect it. And honestly, it just makes it simpler. The question for me is: Do I need to do anything differently if I’m a female product manager? And honestly, I don’t think I should, or this is what I would like to believe.

Niamh O’Connor: That makes a lot of sense, yeah. So you would feel that the term “women in tech would” almost put you in a box a little bit?

“I want to win an opportunity because I’m a skilled product manager, not because I’m a woman product manager”

Nadine Mansour: Yeah, exactly. And it’s just simpler to reduce the number of variables that I need to think about. I would like to focus on getting better at my job, becoming more impactful, connecting and learning from other product people, regardless of their gender, background, or anything else. I would like to isolate all the variables and focus on what really matters, which is we’re all technologists or product people.

Liam Geraghty: Has Nadine seen any benefit from the Women in Tech movement?

Niamh O’Connor: In some ways.

Nadine Mansour: Initially, it played a very important role, promoting the idea that women working in the tech industry is an option, and it made it obvious for young girls that this is something they can pursue. But I think it can quickly become overwhelming, as well. And that’s, I think, the balance I’m trying to find, which is it was really useful in the beginning, but I’m just trying to make sure it’s not pressuring, as well. And that it’s still promoting equality. I want to win an opportunity because I’m a skilled product manager, not because I’m a woman product manager.

But honestly, even from my personal experience, what really affected me the most was my upbringing because I had two older sisters and both are engineers. So it was pretty normal for me growing up and seeing my two older sisters working as engineers. It felt normal. And also, my parents were pushing us as much as possible to pursue a successful career and professional life. And from my personal experience, this had more impact than the idea of Women in Tech, if that makes sense. But I don’t think this could be generalized, this is my personal experience.

Listen to the full episode here:

Oracle’s Catherine Blackmore on the evolution of customer success

Liam Geraghty: In April, we were joined by the Global Vice President of Customer Success and Renewals at Oracle, Catherine Blackmore, who had this to say on the topic of allyship.

Catherine Blackmore: It goes back to how I got started. So many of my opportunities came through allyship, and I didn’t know it at the time. We didn’t really talk about it, but it really was. These individuals really unlocked doors for me. And it wasn’t just unlocking the doors – it was motivating me, seeing who I was, knowing what I was able to accomplish, seeing the future bigger than what I even thought of myself at that time, and really believing in myself.

“When I think about where I am now, the legacy that I now think about is: how many people have I done that for? How am I developing talent for the future?”

To me, that’s the definition of allyship. Giving me access to power, meetings, and assignments that helped me grow and get exposure really helped me advance my career. And when I think about coming into technology, it was allyship that got me in the door. The co-founder of Jigsaw saw something bigger in me than I saw in myself at the time. He designed a career around me. It’s amazing to have a leader see something in you and design a role around you and say, “I think you can help us here,” and design that role.

Finding leaders that will believe in you and help open up areas for new career growth has been central to my success. When I think about where I am now, the legacy that I now think about is: how many people have I done that for? How am I developing talent for the future? I am challenging myself and my team to build a diverse team and to think about equity and an inclusive culture. When we think about the profile and the makeup of our organization, we have to look like our customers, we have to look like the rest of the organization, and that is the future. And so, having strong programs that really push us to improve is central. Again, it’s allyship that’s going to help individuals have access to build that future of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive team.

Listen to the full episode here:

HubSpot’s CEO Yamini Rangan on ditching the funnel for the Flywheel

Liam Geraghty: Also in April, we sat down to chat with HubSpot’s CEO, Yamini Rangan, on ditching the funnel for the flywheel. Our chief marketing officer at the time, Anna Griffin, began with this question.

Anna Griffin: Okay. Flywheel sounds beautiful, but for our listeners who are intrigued, how would we get started with a flywheel approach in our business? What’s your advice?

“Think about the metrics from a customer perspective. You’ll move the needle because you’ve broken down the siloed functional thinking that creeps into an organization”

Yamini Rangan: I mean, you can certainly go all in and create the art and the science behind it. The easiest and simplest way to start is to get something like a customer council built. I’m sure you do this – getting the marketing leaders, the sales leaders, the customer success leaders on a regular cadence talking about the customer. The first step is to go from functional thinking to customer thinking. We say this is like customer in rather than function out.

In order for you to take that step of thinking through the lens of the customer, you have to create a customer council of some sort, bring the leaders across marketing, sales, and customer success, look at metrics that customers will be impacted by – not the number of leads, the ACV and CSAT, but how many customers visited this website, how many customers are engaging with our free product and how many customers are getting value out of it so that they look at upgrading. Think about the metrics from a customer perspective. You’ll move the needle because you’ve broken down the siloed functional thinking that creeps into an organization, and you’ve taken it to a place where it’s much more about the customer. That’s the first step.

“The voice of the customer cannot be one and done. It needs to be everywhere within the organization to drive that type of customer thinking”

Anna Griffin: Yeah. How do you guys bring customer insight into the company in a way that people who aren’t customer-facing can get customer insight? Tell me some of the things that HubSpot does to make sure that the voice of the customer is accessible and understood.

Yamini Rangan: The voice of the customer cannot be one and done. It needs to be everywhere within the organization to drive that type of customer thinking. We have a voice of the customer program and team, and that team’s accountability is to bring both quantitative and qualitative data about customers and their experiences. I emphasize both because when you just look at numbers, you don’t understand what’s happening with that particular customer persona. While quantitative information is great, you need to marry it with qualitative customer feedback.

Earlier, I mentioned our customer-first meeting. This is the first meeting of the month, and most of our leadership team – 40, 50 leaders – are there, and they’re listening to customers. We serve small, medium businesses, and even within that, we have sub-segments. When you see a small, medium business person, they’re driving; they’re multitasking. They have a kid behind that they’re helping. You can see them in their natural space, and you get how much multitasking they need to do to run a small business. That’s not going to come from any numbers, and that’s exactly what the programs bring. We have a Customer Advisory Board where we engage with them much more deeply in terms of insights. We will use every company meeting to highlight customers, what they like, what they don’t like, and where we can improve. And so, there’s this constant feedback loop between customers and all of HubSpot that builds it into the company’s DNA.

Listen to the full episode here:

Customer Experience author Elizabeth Dixon on the CX that makes an impact

Liam Geraghty: We all want to believe we’re working towards something meaningful and that our actions have a lasting impact, and while it’s easy to believe that only certain people are positioned to drive that change, everyone has that power in them. That’s what Elizabeth Dixon, author of the Power of Customer Experience, told us in June. Elizabeth shared this particular story, which illustrates the power we all have in CX.

Elizabeth Dixon: Yes, I would love to. My husband and I have a seven and an eight-year-old, and the four of us do a lot together. But on this particular Saturday, my husband and son were offered tickets to go to a college football game, and that left my daughter and me with a full day that we could do whatever we wanted to do. I decided it would be a fantastic idea, in a world where most of my shopping is done online, “I’m going to take her to the mall,” and underlying that, I had an ulterior motive that I really needed to get a new pair of pants. And so I was like, “You know what? We’ll have a good old time and I’m going to find those pants.”

“I started to verbally vomit on her like, ‘I’m just trying to find this pair of pants and I really wanted to have this special day with Ansley, and oh my goodness…’ And she was like, ‘Girl, I got you’”

I am telling you, it was impossible on this particular day. After we’d been to a number of stores, we ended up going into Nordstrom, and both of us were done. And I don’t know what this beautiful woman saw on both of our faces, but she came over, and she was like, “Hey, how can I help you?” I just started to verbally vomit on her like, “I’m just trying to find this pair of pants and I really wanted to have this special day with Ansley, and oh my goodness…” And she was like, “Girl, I got you.”

She ushered us into the biggest dressing room, and Ansley jumped up on what felt like a little stage in front of three different mirrors, and she starts singing “Let it go” at the top of her lungs which was creating its own moment. And Linda brings in all of these pairs of black pants, many of which I would’ve never picked out, and one that she picked out ended up being the one I bought. She walked us through this whole process. Redemption had occurred because Ansley was singing and performing, I found the pants I needed, and we were having a great time.

I went to check out and there was a cash register that was really close, but I was like, “No, I want to find Linda. She has helped make this moment and this whole day for us – I need to find Linda.” So I go across the department store, I find where she was at her cash register, and I tell her, “Thank you so much. I really love the pants.” And we started talking about accessories and belts and what’s in style, and all of a sudden, she pauses and goes, “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry.” I begin to freak out a little bit because that’s what you say when your customer’s credit card gets declined like there’s an embarrassing thing on my side. And I’m thinking, “No, I know this should be fine.” And she says again, “I am so sorry.” And I said, “What?” And she says, “I don’t have any tissue paper,” the fluffy paper they put in the bag to make it look all fancy. And I was thinking to myself, “Oh girl, I don’t care about tissue paper, I have a smiling child, I have my new pants – all is right with the world in my book.” And she goes, “But this is Nordstrom,” and you could hear the pride in her voice, like, “Elizabeth, it doesn’t mean that you would need it or even expect it, but I’m Linda, who takes pride in my work, and a part of our signature is to put this tissue paper in the bag.”

“Yes, it is a choice, but do we see it? Do we see that it’s right in front of us?”

It really caught my attention because those are the incredible employees working for these great brands who bring experiences to life that truly impact people. And what Linda did for me on that day, catching me when we were fumbling into the store and ushering us into the larger dressing room because it happened to be available at that moment and then all the way down to the littlest detail of wanting to have that signature tissue paper in the bag… I thought, wow. The power we have as individuals is massive, and I don’t know that we always recognize it, but Linda made a huge impact on our lives. And we all have the opportunity to do that for everyone.

Liam Geraghty: I love to use the word power there, that we all have the power to give this customer experience and that it’s a choice.

Elizabeth Dixon: Yes, it is a choice, but do we see it? Do we see that it’s right in front of us? Or are we wrapped up in all the things going on in our day and our minds and our worlds that we miss it? When we don’t miss it, and we take advantage of it in the little and sometimes big ways, we get to make a positive difference in our world and in the people right in front of us.

Listen to the episode here:

ProfitWell founder Patrick Campbell on life after acquisition

Liam Geraghty: In the last few weeks, we spoke to ProfitWell founder Patrick Campbell on life after acquisition. Patrick’s company was acquired by Paddle earlier this year. Patrick was really frank and open about the experience, which is refreshing as it’s not something we often get to hear about. Here, Patrick talks about what it was leading up to the decision to sell his company.

Patrick Campbell: For those who know me, I tend to be pretty analytical. So, I went out and talked to 30 or 32 people who had sold their companies. About half said they wouldn’t have done it if they had a chance to do it again. All of them had some sort of upside. It’s hard, and there’s always probably some regret. To be honest, even I have a little regret. I don’t regret the decision – I don’t think I would make a different one. But there are definitely things where I didn’t know that I would lose some part or I would have to deal with some other part. There are just things that happen because you can’t have full visibility. The other half said, “Of course, I would’ve sold.”

“Everyone fixates on the money, the focus, and all other stuff. But at the end of the day, we’re people, our teams are people, and those dynamics are a lot harder to manage”

Of the group that said they wouldn’t have sold if they did it again, half – about seven, eight people – just kind of handed over the keys and left. And that was the hardest thing because they thought it was fine. They would get this money in their bank account and everything, but it was like they lost all of their purpose. When you’re a founder, and even if you’re an executive or a hard-charging person early in your career, purpose is a really big thing for you. You might not think it, but it is. That’s why you’re choosing to do this versus digging ditches or being an office worker. The biggest thing they said was, “Make sure you have that purpose.” We had a couple of options, but this is what led me to choose to go to Paddle because I wanted to keep going. I wanted to be a part of a team, to help grow something in this space.

The dramatic note that I’ll leave you on: Of those seven or eight, three of them, and I don’t want to give causation here, but likely because of some of that loss of purpose, became drug addicts or alcoholics. They’re all safe now. They’re all good now. But all three of them, when I talked to them, basically said, “Yeah, it was really hard. I didn’t have that energy and I went and chased it in the wrong places.” So yeah, it’s tough. It’s the things you don’t think about. Everyone fixates on the money, the focus, and all other stuff. But at the end of the day, we’re people, our teams are people, and those dynamics are a lot harder to manage.

Listen to the podcast here:

Liam Geraghty: Patrick Campbell ending our show today. Those were just a handful of the amazing chats we’ve had on the show this year. In fact, this year alone, we put out over 16 hours of conversation. There is so much knowledge and insight in there, so I urge you to go and browse through our archives. You never know what you might find. Well, that’s it for today and this year. From all of us at Intercom, we want to wish you a very happy 2023, and we’ll see you right here on Inside Intercom in January. Thanks for listening.

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