Leave a comment
Get the GH Bookmarklet

AMAs

Hi Growth Hackers, I'm Alexandra Shapiro, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Intercom, the customer platform which helps internet businesses accelerate growth by building strong personal relationships with their customers and prospects.  

I was previously the CMO of Big Commerce, an e-commerce platform, and before that, I was the head of marketing for PayPal Small & Medium business in North America.

Most recently, our team published The Growth Handbook, a collection of invaluable lessons from industry leaders who have grown businesses from $0 to many billions in revenue.

  • DH

    Dani Hart

    12 months ago #

    Hi Alexandra,

    Very excited to have you on for this AMA! I'll limit myself to just a few questions. :)

    1. What are your top performing acquisition channels?
    2. What does the internal organization look like at Intercom? Is there a growth team? If so, where does it report? Do you have any other internal cross-functional teams that contribute to growth?
    3. How do the marketing, product, and sales teams work together at Intercom? Is this different than what you've seen at other companies?

    Looking forward to learning from you!

    Cheers,
    Dani

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      1. In the very early days of Intercom, we focused on getting people to talk about Intercom. One of our co-founders, Des, started writing the blog, meeting people at conferences, speaking on stage, etc., and these tactics became the foundation of our acquisition strategy. By telling our story, we were able to build connection with our target customers, other SaaS companies, like Intercom. This strategy led to strong word of mouth and ultimately contributed to the vast majority of Intercom’s growth in the early years. Fast forward to today, and we still see that our content strategy is the most powerful way to promote word of mouth and acquire new customers in a very cost effective way.

      As we broaden our reach into new segments of customers beyond our early adopters of other small SaaS companies, we need to first understand the needs of these new segments, their buying journeys, and then focus on delivering the right type of content to these segments through the right channels. Our other acquisition channels, like email nurture campaigns and paid advertising, also leverage our content to attract and convert leads through the funnel. So, content will continue to be a strong foundation of our acquisition marketing strategy, as it drives word of mouth among our target customers and enables the full gamut of marketing activities across the funnel.

      2. We did have a Growth team at Intercom for a number of years but they were a product team rather than a marketing one. They were focussed on all parts of the product that customers interacted with where there was an opportunity for them to use more of Intercom - so everything from creating data importing tools to our billing system.

      That team has now been subsumed into our broader R&D team in San Francisco. You could say we are big believers in growth being everybody’s business.

      In fact, we believe it so much that we wrote an entire book about it. https://www.intercom.com/books/growth-handbook

      3. The unique thing at Intercom that I haven’t seen at other companies is how closely sales, marketing, and product work together to bring new products to market. The key here is the reliance on the jobs to be done methodology that is used across the company to understand customer pain points and how our solution can solve these problems. For example, our sales and support teams use the jobs to be done framework to collect customer feedback and identify problems to be solved by the product team, providing direct input our product roadmap. Our product marketers use this framework, coupled with competitive insights, to articulate how the world will see our product and craft our story when the problem is defined rather than waiting until the solution is built.

      By having the jobs to be done research framework deeply embedded into how we work helps everyone understand our customers and focuses our efforts across the company. It also helps us get our messaging and positioning right and build the product with the customer in mind from the very beginning.

      If you want to know more about Jobs to be Done, we wrote a book about it. https://www.intercom.com/books/jobs-to-be-done

      6 Share
  • MA

    Mélanie Almeida

    12 months ago #

    Which were your biggest challenges as CMO of Intercom ?

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      I joined Intercom about 3 months ago, and some of the biggest challenges that I am trying to tackle represent some of the biggest opportunities for the company - I’m focusing my efforts on building a disruptive go-to-market strategy that would enable to cross the chasm from our early adopter segment of small SaaS businesses to new customer segments that include larger, more established SaaS businesses and other internet businesses.

      The exciting part of this challenge is that we are well positioned to expand into these new segments - over two-thirds of our new customer growth is already coming outside of our core early adopter segment, and a growing number of modern businesses are leveraging live chat to drive revenue growth by engaging with prospects in real-time, automating lead qualification, and turning leads into paying customers.

      So, my biggest and most immediate challenge is to identify and prioritize new customer segments, understand their pain points and buying journeys, and then develop go-to-market strategies that will allow us to fully capitalize on our early traction in these segments and develop our new messaging platform that clearly articulates how Intercom’s platform can help drive growth businesses in these new segments can accelerate their growth by using Intercom.

      4 Share
  • MA

    Mélanie Almeida

    12 months ago #

    What are your main struggles in your daily job ?

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      One of the struggles that we think through when we build out our marketing messaging framework is to focus on communicating key benefits of our offering and emphasize how our solution is superior and what value it delivers to our customers. In a product-first company, it is easy to start by focusing on amazing new technology that we are building, but as the marketing team, we need to hide some of the technological complexity and focus on communicating key benefits of our solution.

      3 Share
  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    12 months ago #

    Bonjour Alexandra,

    Thank you for doing this AMA.

    What has been your most unexpected learning in your marketing career so far?

    Merci!

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      I have been surprised by how rapidly and how much the marketing technology has evolved over the last few years, opening up new channels for communicating with customers and enabling marketing teams to deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time. With the latest innovation in technology, we can now leverage data enrichment tools and full data feedback loop to provide tailored and relevant messages across various customer touch points: on our site, our marketing emails, in-app messages, and in our live chat.

      3 Share
  • GY

    Guy Yalif

    12 months ago #

    How do personal relationships with customers/prospects impact company growth? What roll do you see tech playing in this function?

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      1. Intercom’s mission from the start has been to make internet business personal, and we believe that real-time messaging is substantially more personal than the alternatives like email and legacy communication systems. Over the past few years, we learned it was way more effective too – customers who use the Intercom Messenger to engage with visitors on their sites see an impressive lift in conversion rates.

      Going forward, we believe that building strong relationships with customers will help companies accelerate their business growth. Engaging with prospects during their buying journey by delivering timely and relevant messages helps convert them into paying customers; similarly, building personal relationships with customers drives deeper levels of engagement and customer loyalty.

      • AS

        Alexandra Shapiro

        12 months ago #

        2. Intercom’s live chat solution has proven that online chat software allows businesses to chat and engage with visitors on their site. Moreover, Intercom allows to qualify leads automatically, automate workflows, and route the highest quality leads to the sales team. Intercom’s Messenger also comes with over a hundred built-in apps and allow businesses to build a private app tailored to the needs of our customers. So, with our solution customers can capitalize on every lead opportunity and deliver personalized relationships with customers at scale. In the future, we 100% believe this is the way businesses will grow online in a personal way.

    • GY

      Guy Yalif

      12 months ago #

      Role*

  • MK

    Mariana Klober

    12 months ago #

    Hi Alexandra, thank you so much for being here!

    I was checking Intercom's website and noticed it has a lot of resources for visitors - from the blog to guides, webinars and even product tours. I see that all those resources work together to prevent content gaps in the customer's journey. We are now looking forward to also improve our resources for Contentools website, and I'd love to have a clearer path to follow when it comes to what we should focus on getting online second (after the blog). So here is my question:

    Considering your experience with online content and the variety and depth of content you've seen best perform online, what would you recommend a startup that already blogs to invest its lean content team's efforts into next? Thank you in advance! :)

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      Consider where your audience is and in what formats they are consuming information. For example, branded podcasts are huge now compared to even 2 years ago, and are a great way to reach people when they are commuting or have some down time. Compared to 2011, when Intercom was founded, it’s much harder to get attention and attract people to your own blog, even if it’s easier to convert visitors on your own site.

      1 Share
  • PH

    Pradyut Hande

    12 months ago #

    Great to have you here with us, Alexandra!

    Had a couple of questions for you:

    1. How do you go about tweaking your Go-to-Market strategy when venturing into new geographic target markets?
    2. What are some of the key growth hacks that have worked for you at Intercom during your tenure?

    Would love to hear your thoughts on the same! Thanks.

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      1. The key to any successful go-to-market strategy is to start by building deep understanding of your target customers, and venturing into new geographic markets is no different. This means that the first step requires you to understand if your current segmentation framework could be applied to the new markets and assessing key differences in the buying decision process across your target segments. For example, when I worked at PayPal, we found that although the core needs of having safe and secure payments were common across all markets, there were significant differences in the partner ecosystem and regulatory environments that impacted how our target customers evaluated their payment providers, and, thus, impacting our go-to-market strategy in these countries.

      2. At Intercom, we tend to focus on marketing strategies and tactics that will drive long-term impact on business results. Our content strategy is a good example of that, as we invest heavily in evergreen content that could be leveraged in many ways and across many marketing channels over time. However, we also found that one of our biggest growth hacks that has driven sustained improvements in performance in our own live chat solution. For example, new prospects who come to our site and engage with us via Intercom Messenger are 82% more likely to convert into paying customers. We also use Intercom to deliver relevant in-product messages to help convert trials into paying customers and to drive deeper engagement and retention with our platform.

      In a nutshell, Intercom allows us to engage with customers and prospects in real-time when they are visiting our site or interacting with our product, and this, in turn, allows us to build stronger relationships with our customers and accelerate revenue growth.

      3 Share
  • VB

    Vipul Bansal

    12 months ago #

    Thanks for the AMA, Alexandra.

    1. How do you set up goals for your team and marketing activities?
    2. What thoughts went into creating "…or you could use Intercom." video series? What was the objective and where did you use the videos?

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      1. In setting up goals for the marketing team, I always start with understanding our company’s business strategy. The marketing plan has to support and align with the business strategy, and our tier 1 priorities for the team align directly with our company’s business goals.

      In setting our tier 1 priorities for the team, I aim to have 3-5 goals that have clearly defined targets and well articulated desired outcomes. It’s ok to have other priorities, outside of tier 1 goals, but it’s equally important to communicate what tier 1 goals are and our expectations on where we allocate team resources and focus. For each of the goals, we use the SMART framework (https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm) with clearly defined outcomes, specific KPIs for each goal, and target delivery dates.

      1 Share
      • AS

        Alexandra Shapiro

        12 months ago #

        2. Earlier this year, Intercom decided to run an integrated marketing campaign that would speak to the value we can bring to sales and marketing teams. Our Demand Generation, Product Marketing and Brand Design teams collaborated to produce the messaging and our Brand Design team brought it to life. You might have seen our billboards on Route 101 in San Francisco, our digital signage at the airport in Austin, Texas or the display ads we ran on properties around the web.

        The most recent element of the campaign were our video ads. We didn’t run them as TV commercials but we took inspiration from TV’s 24-hour shopping networks. It was all produced in-house by our wonderful brand design team. The lead designer on the ads, Kyle, gives a glimpse into the process in this Twitter thread. https://twitter.com/kylewaynebenson/status/1007041577103921152

        2 Share
  • EF

    Ed Fry

    12 months ago #

    Thanks for taking the time to answer this.

    I'm curious who you see as the buyers of martech in future?

    Something like Intercom touches on so many different teams (sales/marketing/ops/product/support...), how do you see these deals and accounts maturing, and what do we as marketers of martech to multiple audiences need to do?

    Separately, I'm also curious how you see the future of Intercom in respect to the other 6000+ martech tools (and then every other team's tools; finance, ops, engineering etc.). How do you define friend from foe, particularly as more tools add chat tooling and other overlapping areas.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    12 months ago #

    Hi Alexandra, thanks for doing this AMA with us. Does Intercom have a company-wide North Star Metric? In other words, a metric that reflects both expanding customer reach and average engagement from customers. If so, what is the North Star Metric?

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      1. We have very well defined revenue growth metrics that we use as targets to align our go-to-market activities and deliver on the expectations that we have set with our investors and shareholders. However, we balance these near-term to medium-term growth targets with our long-term aspirations to establish Intercom as the industry leader and innovator. However, our true North Star that has been guiding our business decisions since we have been founded is our mission statement - to make internet business personal. We have further built on this mission recently by clearly articulating our brand promise - faster business growth through personal customers relationships, and this brand promise helps us articulate to our customers why we exist and acts as the North Star for our narratives and value propositions, providing a clear through-line from our mission to the wants/needs of our customers.

  • MK

    Mariana Klober

    12 months ago #

    I have another question about content. Like many other startups out there we started blogging in order to drive traffic to the website, educate the market and help our personas in their decision path. Right now, I see there is a huge range of options to choose from when it comes to content formats and social media channels. What advice would you give to a startup which has just started with its content strategy to start and focus its slim budget on? Thank you!

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      At Intercom we’re big believers in “evergreen content”, content that confers timeless advice (like this https://www.intercom.com/blog/email-101-opens-clicks-conversions/). Like a bank account, a blog demonstrates compounding returns. About half of pageviews to Intercom’s blog posts arrive after the day it was first published . So invest in blog posts whose relevance persists through time, rather than on temporal content that comments on recent events. It might give you a quick spike in traffic but that will quickly degrade over time.

      That post generated plenty of traffic when it was published. It still generated traffic six months later, and it continues to do so 18 months later because it’s timeless.

      2 Share
  • ZS

    Zahra Siddique

    12 months ago #

    What is your current process for creating landing pages optimized for conversion?

  • BP

    Bhavesh Patel

    12 months ago #

    Hello Alexandra,
    Hope you are doing well.
    1) what is difference between your previous companies and current SaaS company in terms of marketing? What problems are different in SaaS?

    2) what Marketing plan do you suggest to SaaS startups? How to generate more revenue while increasing userbase that too in budget of Startup?
    3) Which blogs do you /your team at intercom read on daily/weekly basis for improving marketing knowledge?

    Thanks in advance. Feel free to answer all or the one you like to answer.

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      1. The last two companies I worked at, BigCommerce and PayPal, have similar business models to Intercom, as both of them relied on a recurring revenue stream from customer subscriptions. BigCommerce is a leading SaaS e-commerce platform for fast growing and established businesses, and its business model in many ways is similar to other SaaS companies and to Intercom. At PayPal, I led our team focused on marketing to small and medium size businesses (SMBs), and our revenue growth was driven not only by acquiring customers but also by building strong relationships with and retaining our customers over time. So, if I were to pinpoint the big difference in SaaS businesses or subscription businesses in general, is that SaaS companies have to focus on building strong customer relationships over time, as a large portion of value is derived post customer acquisition.

      1 Share
      • AS

        Alexandra Shapiro

        12 months ago #

        The first thing you need to do is understand your target customers, their pain points, and how they make buying decisions. It’s only then that you can start thinking about your overall value proposition, your messaging platform, and the types of marketing tactics to use. I think that as a small startup, when you have very little bandwidth and resources to invest into marketing as a whole, you need to be extremely careful to invest into the channels that a) you’re good at b) where your audience and influencers are and c) where you can add unique value. Choosing one channel that hits all three is a good start. My colleague Brian Kotlyar sums this up well in his chapter in our book, Intercom on Marketing (Chapter 7) https://www.intercom.com/books/marketing

        2 Share
      • BP

        Bhavesh Patel

        12 months ago #

        Thank you for your answer. Thanks growth hacker for this opportunity given to us to ask questions.

  • AL

    Angie Li

    12 months ago #

    Hi Alexandra, thanks for doing an AMA! My questions are:

    1 - Are you using email marketing as primarily a channel for acquiring new contacts or nurturing current contacts? If both, which has email marketing been more effective at?

    2 - How does email marketing compare to your other acquisition channels in terms of contributing to overall marketing goals?

  • MC

    Matt Cooper

    12 months ago #

    Hi Alexandra! Thanks for taking the time to do an AMA. My question has to do with customer research. How do you and your team invest in research to inform your marketing decisions. More specifically where do you invest and are there any tools you feel it's important for marketing professionals to be thinking about.

    Thanks!
    Matt

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      At Intercom, everyone’s a researcher! We empower our customers to be researchers too. The platform we’re building enables Intercom’s product managers, for example, to ask people who’ve used a new feature for feedback directly. Likewise, Intercom’s customers can reach out to their own users any time. Intercom’s product lets you see exactly who your users are and how they’re using the product. This kind of constant exposure to your customer’s behavior makes research part of Intercom’s daily routine.

      Intercom is also very focused on building product for the jobs that we have hard evidence that people want to do, rather than designing features we’re not sure if people need or want. This focus on JTBD (Jobs To Be Done) was adopted by Intercom’s founders at the very start is woven deep into the fabric of the company.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    12 months ago #

    Hi Alexandra,

    Great to have you here.

    What do you think is Intercom's biggest growth challenge currently?
    How are you (thinking of) tackling it?

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      We have an amazing platform that has grown in scope and complexity over time and we have a challenge that faces all SAAS businesses. The product is constantly evolving in the value it creates, but most of your customers purchased the product in the past when it did fewer or different things.

      We have to make sure that our marketing and positioning continues to evolve as we develop capabilities for new audiences - like all the new features and integrations we're shipping for sales and marketing teams - and also make sure that the current customer base understands and adopts those as well. If we can do that we can tap into whole new markets that haven't previously looked at Intercom, and also further monetize the customers we have because we'll be creating more value for them.

      2 Share
  • CC

    Chris Castillo

    12 months ago #

    Hi Alexandra!

    How do you get a clear understanding of a new segment's buying journeys? Aside from speaking directly with buyers, are there effective ways of identifying steps along that journey, customer pain points, and what they value?

    What sort of research do you perform before putting together a marketing strategy?

    • AS

      Alexandra Shapiro

      12 months ago #

      The best way to understand customer buying journeys is to actually talk to customers and prospects and probe on what questions they ask and where they go to find information at the different stages of their decision making process. By talking to customers, you may find that the way businesses make decisions is different based on the size of company, their industry, segments that they serve (B2B or B2C or both), and channels they use to sell their products. Based on these insights, you can build a go-to-market strategy that delivers the right content to the right decision makers within a company at the right point in time.

      • AS

        Alexandra Shapiro

        12 months ago #

        Aside from conducting research, engaging with prospects and customers during their buying journey is one of the most effective ways to answer their questions and help them find the right solution for their business in real-time. We are able to do this well with the Intercom Messenger by connecting with customers and leads in a personal, targeted way that’s real-time.

  • JS

    Jake Stainer

    12 months ago #

    Hi Alexandra! Thanks for taking time out to do this. My questions is how is your demand generation team set up, and what leading metrics do they look at on a daily basis ? Thanks !

  • KB

    Katie Beaton

    12 months ago #

    Hi Alexandra? I love the downloads for Intercom, really feel like you are sharing valuable content. If you could choose only one channel and one type of content what would they be? Thank you 🤓

  • KB

    Katie Beaton

    12 months ago #

    Ooh and best team to manage user testing, marketing, product, design or collaboration? And what testing tool? I have so many questions 🙈

  • AW

    Alaura Weaver

    12 months ago #

    Hi Alexandra, I'm excited that you're doing this AMA because Intercom's mission is the same as mine: make business personal!
    What are some marketing funnel tools (other than Intercom, of course) that you or your team can't live without?

  • MD

    Matt Dunstan

    12 months ago #

    What are the differences in focus/activity in growth marketing from B2C to B2B?

Join over 70,000 growth pros from companies like Uber, Pinterest & Twitter

Get Weekly Top Posts
High five! You’re in.
SHARE
61
61