Apps and integrations are a powerful way to tap into new audiences these days, especially if you're an up-and-coming business trying to grow your brand.
For instance, many teams build apps on Intercom so users can leverage their workflows and services within our live chat Messenger and messages. Just this week, we announced a new group of apps that users can add to the Intercom Inbox to provide faster and deeper customer interactions.
But how do you decide when to build an app for your product and what platforms to invest in? I invited Liam Boogar-Azoulay who heads up marketing at MadKudu to share his experience. A predictive lead scoring tool for B2B SaaS companies, MadKudu’s strategy is all about integrating with other platforms – including Intercom – to link customer intelligence and customer engagement. So I wanted to hear why that strategy makes sense for MadKudu and his advice for other teams thinking about building apps for their product.
Short on time? Here are a few quick takeaways.
- MadKudu invested in integrations in order to unlock real-time access to customer data, which is key to their product’s success. If a customer asks for a tool they haven’t integrated before, they consider whether it’s repeatable. But they’re proactive, too: identifying platforms on their own that could offer huge upside.
- Startups building an integration strategy should start by understanding where to add value and what tools people are using to get that value today. Can you augment those tools with integrations?
- You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to make your brand stand out. Find the thing that gets you excited about your brand and learn how to articulate it as a story.
- One sure sign of a key brand is if the vast majority of your lead generation is from inbound, organic results. That means more than nine out of ten leads, you’re not buying.
- People underestimate the power of word-of-mouth referrals. Recognize who your product’s champion is, who your buyer is, and how to consistently delight them.
If you enjoy our conversation, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the episode.
John: Liam, welcome to the show. We’ve known each other for a long time, so it’s great to finally have you on the podcast. Like myself, you’re a recovering journalist who has now made the jump to SaaS. You’re currently head of marketing at MadKudu. What prompted that change of career from journalism to SaaS?
Liam: Thanks, John. It’s great to finally be on the podcast. Yeah, I was a journalist for the first five years of my career. I stumbled into journalism by starting a blog, writing in English about the French tech scene. It was a pretty niche approach, but it ended up being right-time-right-place, and for about five years I was the leading journalist covering the French tech ecosystem and covering U.S. companies with French founders.
The big thing that made me jump was that journalism isn’t very profitable, so I bankrupted the company I had founded, and I realized that a lot of the stuff I enjoyed about journalism was brand-building, and I looked around and decided I’d really like to continue telling a narrative and building a story – but I wanted to do it in a place where the revenue is a bit more predictable.
John: Of course, the venture was Rude Baguette, which itself was quite a bit of a brand statement, wasn’t it?
Liam: Yeah, I mean, I couldn’t have done it more accidentally. I had an old moniker: I used to go by “The Rude Hitchhiker” when I was in high school, because I was a hitchhiker and I would tell my friends: “No, no, no. Take me all the way to the door. Don’t drop me off halfway.” And one of my friends said, “You’re a real rude hitchhiker,” and I said, “I think I’m gonna keep that.” Rude Baguette was my first venture in building a brand, and I think I really enjoyed that process. Even to this day people still know me predominantly for that, and I’m really proud of the relationship that people have with that brand.
The mission of MadKudu
John: Of course, now you’re over at MadKudu. We have a lot of fans of MadKudu on our sales team; I think it’s one of their favorite products. Give us a bit of background on what it is the philosophy behind the product.
Liam: Plainly stated, MadKudu is a predictive lead-scoring platform. We leverage customer data, and we look for the statistical outline data points that are the best predictors of whether someone will convert or not, how much money they’re going to pay, whether they’ll slide into a self-serve versus an enterprise plan – things like that.
Essentially we’re looking at past customer journeys to predict future customer journeys. If we can do that – deliver it in the form of an API or piped directly into products like Intercom – then we can actually build more relevant customer journeys, because we can tell you in a matter of milliseconds, at the very beginning of the customer journey, what kind of journey to give a person in order for them to convert.
“We’re looking at past customer journeys to predict future customer journeys”
John: So it’s based very much around the historical customer data and customer engagement. Does that make it a challenge? You don’t sell the product, presumably, to companies that are just starting out, because they have to have a certain amount of historical data for MadKudu to work.
Liam: Very early on, we were definitely working with bigger companies with sizable data just because the problem’s more interesting, and that’s where we saw the opportunity and our vision. Those are the companies that were hitting the wall the fastest. But the reality is everyone does lead scoring. If you’re just launching today on Product Hunt, you know that a director at Microsoft is worth more than a restaurant, right? That’s just an easy thing for you to say. It doesn’t matter what your product is or who you’re selling to; someone with money is better than someone without. Someone with the basic budget authority and things like that. As those companies evolve, the complexity changes. It goes from a really simple algebra formula to a polynomial equation to something a little more artificial and a little more complex that requires something like MadKudu.
Today, we’ve aligned that evolution with how we price. So for the most part, we proactively go after mid-market enterprise companies like Segment and Invision. These are great companies with high inbound volumes. But we also make our product available for free (or for very, very cheap) to small businesses. For example, we have a white-label version of our product on Zapier called Lead Score by Zapier, and many early-stage companies use Zapier to put together their business processes. You can actually leverage MadKudu without ever creating an account because, for the most part, you don’t have customer data, so you don’t need to connect to us and give it to us. And we actually have an out-of-the-box lead score that’s pretty good at differentiating a director at Microsoft from a restaurant owner. And you still get the advantage of building in that API experience, which allows you to start building a logic that’s going to scale with you.
“The thing that most excites me about marketing teams is how much they’re tending to look like engineering teams”
John: And of course, as a marketer, I’m sure the fact that MadKudu is API-based has its challenges. I mean, it’s harder to have a thing you’re trying to show to people or to actually demonstrate it.
Liam: Definitely. On the one hand, I would say that the thing that most excites me about marketing teams is how much they’re tending to look like engineering teams. We see the role of demand gen, growth operations and marketing operations taking a front seat, and so one of the things that ultimately drove me to join MadKudu is that I love the way they approach a team that isn’t necessarily a developer on paper.
But at the same time, it means that how people interact with us is very different. Some people know us just as a field name in their CRM or in their marketing automation tool, and they never really understand unless their sales ops or their marketing ops person says, “Oh, that’s actually something we’re paying for.”
MadKudu’s approach to integrations
John: One thing you’ve been really strong on is having an open platform and making sure you’ve build integrations with lots and lots of other products. Can you share some about how that strategy came about and how you’ve grown those integrations?
Liam: We knew that in order for our product to be successful, we needed customer data. And we wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to give us that customer data, and for us to continue to get it in real time, because the more often we can get it, the more we can update it, and that just makes life easier. Really early on, based on the first customers we were talking to – the early adopters who really understood what we were trying to do – we built integrations in a sort of must-have basis.
There are two ways that we approach integration building. One is reactive: we have a customer, and that customer needs to give us data from a tool we haven’t integrated before, and we have to make the decision of, “Is this something we think we’ll do on a repeatable basis or not?” And if we feel like it’s a product that we will have more and more customers using, we’re happy to build an integration. It might just start with us to get data and then it grows over time.
And then there are proactive integrations where we say, “That’s a platform where we see a huge value.” We might unlock access to an audience that we think really understands the value of MadKudu, but maybe isn’t really thinking about us right now because they can’t see us in their product because they live in that world.
“When we have people who are proactive about integration, we want to support them. Then, when we see platforms we really want to go after, we’re happy to go after them”
John: So somewhere there’s a whiteboard of targets of companies that you think will unlock a lot of value for you guys?
Liam: Oh, yeah. There’s an endless Google spreadsheet, Notion doc, Dropbox Paper, you name it.
John: Presumably, you want to get to a world, though, where people are building integrations around you as well, and it’s not just that you are building them.
Liam: And that’s largely already the case. As you know, integrations are a natural evolution of people internally building it first, using APIs and connecting you together. And because of the nature of who we’re selling to, a lot of people just build things together internally. Or they start to build something, and then we turn around and help them by supporting it. Or, for example, we ended up open-sourcing a Node.js Connector to Marketo or Pardot or whoever, because we had so many customers trying to manually pull data out of it that they were having trouble with it. We just built it together with them, and then it became open-source. That relationship is really fluid in the sense that when we have people who are proactive about it, we want to support them. Then, when we see platforms we really want to go after, we’re happy to go after them.
Example: MadKudu’s integration with Intercom
John: Obviously one of your most recent integrations was with Intercom. How did you focus the integration, and what are you hoping to get out of it?
Liam: Yeah, Intercom was a really obvious bet, right? Given what we’ve talked about just now about MadKudu, we sit at the intersection of customer data and customer engagement. We are a customer intelligence platform in some ways. We’re not an engagement tool, and we don’t, for the most part, hold on to customer data. We really use customer data to refine and make decisions about intelligence, and then we push that to the right engagement platform. That makes Intercom a great, obvious partner for us. Intercom sits across and has customer data from the beginning all the way down to the end of the life cycle. And they have engagement tactics along that, as well.
For us, it was very clear early on that there were a lot of use cases we could unlock, and that we could inspire people with just by sitting inside the Intercom platform. Things like, “How do you schedule a demo with qualified people while you’re asleep?” And that one’s a really tough one. We had some people doing that through scheduling demo forms, but as we know, forms aren’t really sexy right now. People don’t assume when they fill out a form, that they’re going to get call two hours from now, right? So, chat is a really great way to feel like you’re moving faster. It’s sort of the natural progression of DM’ing the airline account because you know that the community manager behind that account has infinitely more access and is much more responsive than trying to go through the customer support channels.
Intercom really unlocked the ability to showcase things. One of the things we love is the fast-lane experience, which is as people are trying to schedule a demo or learn more information, once we get the email, we can quickly qualify that person, and we can quickly figure out who they need to be talking to, and we can even push the calendar of the sales rep directly to the person. Live chat is a great use case, because it feels one-on-one, and you don’t have to think about, “Oh, give us your information and we’ll get back to you.” You can jump straight into: ”Okay, that’s awesome. Here’s Dave’s calendar and he’s available in 30 minutes.”
John: I suppose it also speaks to that concern that a lot of people have about putting live chat on their site, where it’s like, “I’m going to open the flood gates.” Like, you know who you’re exposing Dave’s calendar to.
Liam: Exactly. And people tend to have a reticence about going full-throttle with live chat which is, “Do I need dedicated resources, or is this just another way for me to have email and people are going to leave stuff? And we’ll say, “Okay, we’ll get back to you.” We see that the people who are most successful are the people who create the most relevant conversations using live chat. And MadKudu is really that glue in between the automation and the one-to-one experience. We’re translating the feeling you want to get out of a one-to-one conversation into a one-to-many conversation.
John: We’re very excited about tools that help scale that experience, and that really seems like what you guys are doing.
How startups can leverage integrations for growth
John: What is your advice for other product teams or startups that are trying to build integrations and trying to get this off the ground really quickly? When should you think about integration and who to choose to integrate with early on?
Liam: That’s a really good question. I think you have to think about a lot of things. Over the past nine moths or so, we’ve been building a lot of relationships with different platforms that we felt like had complementary aspects, and we felt like we could both benefit from working together.
“Where are you trying to add value, and what are the tools people are using to do that today? And are you augmenting, or are you replacing that tool?”
We learned that you have to think about a few different things. One, you have to think about the use cases you’re trying to solve for. And less is more, in this case. Where are you trying to add value, and what are the tools people are using to do that today? And are you augmenting, or are you replacing that tool? For the most part, you should be augmenting, because the foundations that work are our foundations for a reason, and instead of ripping up the foundation, it’s better to build something on top of it. Build a better roof, a better floor. Things like that.
And the other side of that is you have to think about, “Who is using that use case?” For us, we’re very mid-market and enterprise. We’re not a self-serve, go-to-market company. And so, for products that are solely self-serve (and solely SMB or very small business), it can make less sense for us to go after it, right? You have to weigh the pros and the cons of who is actually going after it and who that target audience is.
And the last thing is just thinking: “What is the vision that you are driving for? And in your vision of the future, where your product is ubiquitous, what are the roles of other platforms? And how can you demonstrate and create evidence of that vision through integration?”
“Where your product is ubiquitous, what are the roles of other platforms? And how can you demonstrate and create evidence of that vision through integration?”
For us, in the world of customer intelligence, Intercom plus MadKudu makes a lot of sense. We see very much how customer engagement and customer data is going to live somewhere together and customer intelligence is going to augment that value. We see how we can be pulling data from outside of Intercom, because we know people use multiple tools across their marketing and sales tech stack and the whole go-to-market stack. We see how we can take that customer data from your Redshift database, from Segment, from wherever – and we can bring that right back into where your marketing, your sales and your customer success teams are working. And you don’t have to bring it in the form of piping in the raw data and the raw fields; we can just pipe it in with a “thumbs up, thumbs down” or “very good, very bad.”
When you’re building integrations and thinking about the ecosystem you want to play with, you really want to ask, “How does this communicate the vision that we’re trying to bring to the world?”
How to stand out in a crowd
John: You mentioned already the common thread is that you like building brands or you like creating brands. It’s something that you’ve always been super passionate about during the time I’ve known you. In such a crowded and competitive landscape, how do you stand out? MadKudu seems to have done a good job of that in terms of a small company that has to build a big reputation.
Liam: On the one hand, I think I cheat a lot. Which is to say: I would tell you that I just go and work for really great brands. I would tell you that I’m an imposter. I’m just going and working for brands that are already great, and all I’m doing is articulating it. For the most part, if you’re trying to build a great brand, you should already believe you’re a great brand. The question should just be, “How do we tell other people about it?” And I think for the most part, that comes in a lot of forms. There are a lot of really fundamentals of 20th-century marketing that still apply today, and people try to reinvent the wheel when they really shouldn’t.
“That’s how brands stand out: you find the thing that already got you excited and you turn it into everything”
One of them is thinking about the category that you live in. Most people think that the categories converge and they don’t realize that, for the most part, categories divide. In that division, some of them fall away, and some of them get bigger. The reason the brands we like so much are thought of as category creators aren’t because they did something that didn’t exist, it’s because they redefined the way you look at the category. And they broke it up.
Apple changed the way people thought about personal computers, right? Slack changed the way we thought about communication in team messaging. Zoom has changed the way we think about video conferencing in a space that largely already existed.
John: Yeah, we all thought it was done.
Liam: Yes, we thought it had been done before. We had seen the billboards before. And yet, they came in and said, “No, no, no.” You have to ask, “What is the very obvious reality that just hasn’t been articulated yet?” And I think usually you feel that reality, and it’s usually why you get emotionally excited about a product. It’s why I get excited about products like Intercom or products like Algolia, where I used to work, or products like MadKudu.
Then, it just becomes a creative effort of trying to think about, “Why am I excited about it?” And, ”How can I articulate what makes me excited to other people?” That’s where having that background as a journalist, as you know, really comes in handy. Especially as a tech blogger in the early 2010s, a lot of your job was to explain a really geeky concept and get people to understand why should they care about a hosted search API.
Having that experience teaches you how to pull the story and stretch it and articulate it. That’s how brands stand out: you find the thing that already got you excited and you turn it into everything.
John: How do you measure the success of your brand efforts?
Liam: That’s a really good question. So SaaS is surprisingly “easy” to do. If you think about the brand as the top of the funnel, and then you think about measuring top of funnel success, the top of the funnel is very wide. It’s the widest you’re going to be measuring if you even try to measure it. And the bottom is the beginning of lead generation.
So when we look at the bottom of funnel metrics for brand, I intend to look at inbound, organic sign-ups or, for enterprise products, demo scheduling. If someone comes to your website through direct traffic, and then they create an account, and that’s all you have from an analytics perspective, what does that mean? That means they were already convinced of your product before they came to the website. That, in some way or another, is brand.
It might have to do with your paid acquisition and your demand gen team and a bunch of things, but at the end of the day, someone came because they were convinced. Generally I find that if you have a strong brand, 90% or 95% of your lead generation is going to come from inbound organic. That’s how you know you’re a strong brand. That means more than nine out of ten leads, you’re not buying. At the moment you’re getting them. At least at the last touch.
“If you have a strong brand, 90% or 95% of your lead generation is going to come from inbound organic. That’s how you know you’re a strong brand. That means more than nine out of ten leads, you’re not buying”
Another thing I like to do is run brand awareness surveys. Where you run what’s called an assisted or unassisted brand awareness survey and ask, “If you’re thinking about building lead scoring, what kind of products do you think of?” You want to look at what percentage of people – assuming that the the respondents are your target market – think of MadKudu and what percentage don’t? And then you ask: “If you think of MadKudu, what do you think of it? Do you know who MadKudu is? If you were changing lead scoring today, would you consider MadKudu?” And that’s the assisted side of it.
That gives you a good benchmark as a data point, and you can run that over regular intervals to see how – in different markets, in different geos, in different cities – your brand is evolving based on the activities you’re running.
John: As you said, MadKudu is marketing to mid-market and enterprise companies, like the InVisions and the IBMs and so forth. It’s definitely a bit easier if you’re a larger company with plenty of resources yourself, but you’re doing it out of a small company. How hard is it to market to those big behemoths when you’re a company of MadKudu’s size?
Liam: I can take very little credit for MadKudu working with companies like IBM. For the most part, that comes from the clarity of vision of our cofounders. They know exactly who they’re valuable for, and they know the problems that IBM is facing.
“I think people underestimate the power of word-of-mouth in referrals”
I think people underestimate the power of word-of-mouth in referrals. For the most part, people who use MadKudu heard about MadKudu from other customers using us. Some of them are vocal buyers. Some of them are not actually the buyers but are very vocal because they understand, and they’re bought into the vision. That drives awareness and that drives conviction. When it comes to enterprise sales, we’re probably one of the smaller companies to be SOC2 compliant, right? Because we know we’re selling to people for whom that matters. We know that we’re going to go through certain steps, and we’ve gone through them before the hard way, and we like going through them the easier way now.
There are some things you can do functionally to make that easier, but also you have to recognize the value of understanding who your champion is, who your buyer is, and what is driving them. In the space we’re in, Marketing Ops has a lot of autonomy and a lot of authority and a lot of clout inside the marketing organization, no matter how big or small the company is. We tap into that, and we really try to speak directly to them, because we know that if your Marketing Ops person today goes to your VP of Marketing and says, “I need MadKudu,” the VP of Marketing doesn’t even need to know what MadKudu is, they’re going to say “Yes.”
John: I think some people confuse word-of-mouth and almost leave to chance because they just assume it’s just reputation. But you’re saying that with word-of-mouth, you really have to thoughtful about the message that’s out there and try to define what people are going to be saying about you, right?
Liam: Yeah. Last year, when I first joined MadKudu, I spent a lot of time just talking to our customers and understanding: “What do we do for you? How do you describe us to someone else? Who would you consider talking to us about? Why do you not talk about us when you’re with other marketing op professionals? What’s missing in order for that to happen?”
There are platforms, like G2 Crowd, that allow you to tap into the power of word-of-mouth and almost quantify it. But for the most part, it’s about delivering great product and making your customers happy. We’re very customer-centered at MadKudu – almost to a fault in the sense that the first and foremost thing that we think about every single week is, “How are we going to delight our customers?” Because we know that that’s paid off for us historically, and we don’t see any reason why that doesn’t scale.
An outsider’s view
John: You came in to marketing from the non-traditional background. How much do you think that is a help when you think about these things?
Liam: That’s a great question. I think about that a lot. There are a lot of career opportunities and positions that are just not available to me. I will never be the best candidate for a lot of roles that I’m very interested in because of where I’m coming from. But at the same time, there are a lot of activities that I feel like I am uniquely placed to do.
With things like brand marketing, there isn’t really a career path to get there. I’ve met other people who do brand marketing and, for the most part, it’s people who didn’t know that’s what they were doing, and they were somehow doing it for a long time. I think it’s almost necessary for these horizontal positions like brand marketing, where you might be interacting with the product team or customer success. You might be directly managing comms, social media, content design. And you need to understand how all of those things work together.
I enjoy coming from outside, because when I think about what I do, I still feel I’m trying to build a media company inside a non-media company. It’s like I’m trying to find a benevolent benefactor to fund my journalism. I’m just doing journalism about the benefactor, right? And that helps.
John: It’s kind of going back to the very early days of journalism, isn’t it? When journals had rich benefactors, basically.
Liam: Yeah, except you at least tried not to write about them. Now I just directly write about them all the time.
John: Okay, Liam, look thanks for those great insights. That has been really helpful. How can listeners keep in touch or follow you?
Liam: Oh, I’m everywhere. I try to be as accessible as possible. I’m very responsive on Twitter @liamboogar. If you send me a message on Twitter right now, I will respond. Literally just send it right now. Open up your phone and say, “Liam, you told me to message you so I’m doing it.” And I will respond right now.
John: I can attest to that, definitely. He’s very responsive. Liam, thanks again.