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Sometimes your customers really want to use your feature or product, but they also want something else that simply isn’t compatible with it. People really want to be slim and healthy, but they also really want soft drinks and fast food.

McDonalds and Weight Watchers are selling wildly different products, but they’re competing for the same customers. This is what we call indirect competition.

Your direct competitors are targeting the same job-to-be-done with the same solution as you. If you want a burger, McDonald’s and Burger King will both satisfy that job with the same outcome.

Unlike indirect competitors, secondary competitors compete on outcomes. For example, video conferencing and business class flights compete on outcomes as they’re both hired for the same job – business meetings – but solve the problem in a different way.

In indirect competition, there are two different jobs a customer wants to do, but the jobs themselves are competing with each other. Software products experience these types of conflicts all the time:

  • “I want to allow payments in my product, but I want to minimize the amount of third-party integrations we rely on.”
  • “I want to add this analytics tool, but I also want to optimize response times.”
  • “I want to know how my team spend their time, but also to show we’re a trusting work environment.”

It might go against logic, but humans are perfectly okay with maintaining multiple conflicting opinions and desires. We want to have our cake, and eat it...

As a startup scales, the importance of infrastructure engineers simply can’t be overstated. They’re the ones making sure your app is secure, that uptime looks good, and that the rest of your engineering org has the right tools to build features your users need and want.

Will Larson has managed infrastructure teams for some of the biggest names in software. Today he’s leading Foundation Engineering at Stripe. Partnering with the Infrastructure, Data and Developer Productivity teams, his group builds the tools that support every Stripe engineer and keep Stripe reliable and performant.

Previously, Will was an engineering leader at Digg and then at Uber, where he scaled infrastructure engineering from a small team to more than 70. All the while, he’s been sharing his latest thoughts on infrastructure, devtools, management and more, on his Irrational Exuberance blog.

I hosted Will on our podcast, where we talked about how he keeps his team innovating, hiring generalists vs. specialists, managing in a high growth environment and more. If you enjoy the conversation, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe to it on iTunes or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our chat.

Todd Royal: Will, welcome to Inside Intercom. Can you just give us a feel for what you’ve been doing in your career to date, as well as the work you’re doing today at Stripe?

Will Larson: When I graduated from college I was...

Prior to joining Intercom as a Product Manager, I had never run a structured beta. When it came to finally running my first one, I was surprised to find very little information online that could help me.

I’ve run a lot of successful betas now but I learned my craft through tribal Intercom knowledge, built up by other Product Managers over the years.

The content I did find online was overly prescriptive and too focused on the specifics that weren’t going to be relevant to a wider audience with different products. To address that deficit, I’ve put together a guide on how we run betas here at Intercom.

Short on time? Here are the key takeaways:

  • Understand the problem that you’re trying to solve
    This will pinpoint why you’re running a beta and help to define what you want to learn as early as possible. This should be done before you even create a build plan.
  • Paint a picture of what success looks like
    Decide how you will measure it so you can assess whether or not you are solving the problem adequately.
  • Consider who should get access
    Start small with early adopters who already experience the problem you’re trying to solve. Broaden the audience over time to include users who haven’t asked for the feature.
  • Decide how you’re going to pitch
    Work on how you’ll pitch and describe the solution in a way that makes the most sense for your users.
  • Get feedback direct from your customers
    Jump on customer calls and send targeted...

For all the time and money we spend attracting customers to our website, isn’t it odd how little we spend trying to convert them?

According to an eConsultancy report, for every $92 spent acquiring prospects only $1 is spent converting them. Sure, that dollar could give you returns in spades, but in reality the odds of that are no better than a craps table in Las Vegas. The average conversion rate for your typical marketing stack – things like forms, paid advertising or mass email – hovers around the 2% mark.

The report is a bit dated, but the underlying thinking persists: companies still spend disproportionately on acquisition and neglect conversion.

To paraphrase Tom Goodwin, isn’t it odd that we’ll spend billions of dollars trying to have a conversation with consumers, and in the rare moment we do, we consider it too expensive?

Perhaps that’s because the value of having these conversations isn’t clear. To establish that value, we analyzed an aggregate dataset of 20 million live chat messages sent through Intercom to demonstrate the potential for live chat as a channel for converting visitors and driving actual revenue for your business.

Here’s what we found (or scroll down for the full, embeddable infographic).

1. Live chat delights your visitors – and your finance team

Having conversations with your website visitors really does pay off. According to our data, website visitors are 82% more likely to convert to customers if they’ve chatted with you...

Change aversion is a concept well known to designers and product managers. It’s the negative reaction users have to changes in your product, whether that’s functional changes such as updates to product features, or interface changes such as visual redesigns.

History is littered with cautionary tales of introducing change. When Twitter changed its “faves” icon from stars to hearts, users threatened a mass exodus. Similarly, the same pitchforks are raised every time Facebook tweaks its design, with users threatening to delete their accounts unless the site reverts to its original design. (It never does, and people quickly forget.)

On the surface of it, the evidence looks clear: users hate change – even when it improves their experience with the product. How does anyone ever introduce anything new then? A recent visual redesign of our Inbox shows us that change aversion is actually a lot more complex than this.

Every change starts because of a problem

Why do a redesign at all? As the heart and soul of managing conversations, Inbox is a busy place where many hands need to work collaboratively to collectively resolve customer issues. As an essential tool in many of our customers’ work days, being able to work efficiently within it is something we actively think about and optimize for.

Our goal was to help our customers feel in control.

When we learned that our customers were sometimes struggling to quickly address incoming conversations in different inboxes due to inefficient workflows, we decided to restructure our product...

Sales has changed – messaging and live chat is the new medium for initial sales conversations, not the phone calls or leisurely lunches of old. So how do you pick up on the essential signals and tones needed to build a connection with potential customers?

Our job on the Sales Team is to establish meaningful sales relationships, and in an era where nearly every business is an internet business, building those relationships is all about messaging on live chat tools. That’s a reflection of communication habits, with everyone messaging all day long. Just as people prefer to message their friends than call them, customers just don’t want to get on the phone anymore.

On a sales call, you can hear and judge things like tone of voice and urgency. These moods are still present in messaging, but you’ve got to be attuned to spot the clues for picking up on them.

After our Operator bot takes the first qualification steps, we strive to learn as much as possible using context clues that organically arise from the conversation. Here are a few subtle clues we watch for that actually say an awful lot about a potential customer.

Assess the opening dialogue

Customers with questions should be your first priority. If your customer opens with a direct question and no introduction, it says a lot about the importance of the question to them. Best to get to these right away and save formality for later. Your lead is ultimately looking for more than...

In a time where buyer behavior has rendered cold calling nearly obsolete, successful sales prospecting begins with using tools like live chat and social media to build relationships.

Dan Swift, CEO of Empire Selling, has built his career around the latter. Back in 2012 Dan joined LinkedIn as a senior sales leader charged with launching its social selling business – training LinkedIn’s own global sales organization in the process. He’d go on to become the VP of Sales at Sprinklr, guiding the company through its own high growth period, before striking out on his own. Today with Empire Selling he’s helping B2B companies drive revenue and deepen customer relationships through digital and social selling training.

I hosted Dan on our podcast to break down the challenges and rewards of sales at high growth companies, the do’s and don’ts of social selling techniques, how salespeople can use content to play the role of trusted advisor, and more. If you enjoy the conversation, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe to it on iTunes or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our chat.

Adam: Dan, welcome to Inside Intercom. Can you give us a quick rundown of your career to date and the types of companies you’re now working with at Empire Selling?

Dan: I’ve been in enterprise sales now for 18 years. The last 12 of those have been in leadership positions. My first...

These days it seems like everyone wants their service to become the next big platform – every budding entrepreneur begins their pitch by stating their aspiration to become the next Uber, Airbnb or Facebook of their field.

But what do we know about building technological platforms? People know a platform when they see one, but in some important respects, we actually know very little about how they develop. They have not been around long enough to study in great detail and dissect their constituent parts in order to understand their anatomy. Instead, we need to find another specimen which shares some of the DNA of the species platformicus. We may have just such a genetic cousin in a “technology” that has been around for several thousand years and is continuing to evolve and grow – the city.

How the city relates to platforms

At first glance a city might seem very different from a technological platform. Cities are jungles of concrete and steel; they are towering, glittering examples of humanity’s imposition on the natural world. Cities allow us to defy nature, to live and grow in population sizes that would have been unsustainable in earlier periods of human history. It is not an exaggeration to say that they are one of the most important innovations in human history.

Cities are really transformative for the way they enable one thing: connections between people.

However, cities are not ultimately defined by the steel and the concrete, or the road networks or the...

One of the first things that struck me when I started working at Intercom was the culture of transparency and how every team is constantly striving for improvement.

One of Intercom’s core values is that we’re serious about wanting to be the very best. One of the things we can do to implement this value is to be open and honest with each other about our strengths and weaknesses, with a willingness to learn and always keeping in mind that we can do better next time.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

That’s why you’ll find us actively seeking feedback on our work every day. Intercomrades are generous with their time and ideas in a genuine effort to help others improve. We share feedback with each other all the time, not just for bi-annual or annual reviews. We want to keep getting better and our feedback loop is a really important part of this.

At the same time, we move fast at Intercom. We’re always focused on the next goal so it can sometimes happen that we don’t take enough time to reflect on the things we’ve done really well and what we haven’t done so well. Retrospectives (retros) are a tool we use to reflect on how we’ve worked together and how we can improve for the future.

There are a few different types of retros at Intercom at different levels of teams and they form an integral part...

In Sales, timing is everything. You can have the world’s most talented sales team and the greatest product but still lose to a competitor.

A recent HBR study analyzed 1.25 millions sales leads, and found you’re seven times more likely to win a deal if you respond to prospects in less than an hour versus responding in two hours.

The fastest way to respond to a prospect is through live chat on your site. Contact forms still have their place, but there’s a delay between when someone fills out a “request a demo” form to when an SDR follows up. This follow-up process can last days or weeks as SDRs battle to catch the prospect live or get an email response.

Live chat allows you to circumvent this process. But, many companies either fail to make the most of their messenger, or simply use it inefficiently. At Intercom, we’re always experimenting with new ways to deliver a better user experience through live chat and have learned a couple of lessons from more than 20,000 customers using our chat solutions. Here are three simple, tested, but often overlooked live chat time-savers we’ve uncovered:

1. Be selective

Do you email every single lead in your database when you fire off a nurture campaign? Then why would you make live chat available to every lead that visits your site? Doing so can prove to be very costly. Your SDRs should be focused on diagnosing the needs of qualified prospects and providing them with a personalized...

In the very early days of any SaaS business, you will employ numerous marketing tactics to acquire your first customers: blog posts, paid advertising, landing pages, hero videos, webinars, everything but the kitchen sink. If you’re lucky, the signups will start pouring in. Time to put your feet up and wait for the dollars to roll in, right?

If you don’t show your
new signups how to succeed, don’t be surprised when they simply walk away.

Not so fast. Most of those new signups will look at your product once and, for a multitude of reasons, never come back. You just embarked on a big marketing campaign and spent all that time and money getting them in the door, only for them to see no value in your product and walk right back out again.

And for the ones who decide to stick around a little longer? You’re on borrowed time with these folks too. Just like the old adage “If you build it, they will come” isn’t true for the large majority of startups (spoiler: they won’t), neither is “If they sign up, they will use it”. Many of your new signups are just kicking the tires, and if you don’t show them how to succeed, don’t be surprised when they simply walk away.

Bootstrapping “Product Education”

When I first joined Intercom, my role didn’t really have a name. I wore many hats. I wrote our docs, hosted our webinars, created our help videos...

A product designer at a growing company has two key constituents: their users and their business.

In his recent post “Subverted Design”, GitHub Senior Product Designer Joel Califa reminds us that if we gear too far to toward the latter, we can lose sight of our all-important users in the process.

Before linking up with GitHub, Joel was a product design manager at Digital Ocean. He’s also taught front-end web development at General Assembly and been a Design Mentor at Andreessen Horowitz.

I recently hosted Joel on our podcast to learn more about the root cause of subverted design, the shifting responsibilities of a designer, how to make a big impact with small design changes and much more. If you enjoy the conversation, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe to it on iTunes or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our chat. Short on time? Here are five quick takeaways:

  1. When designing for developers, who often build their own workarounds for less-than-ideal interfaces, be cognizant of and account for change aversion.
  2. Designers should regularly search for “tiny wins” – small, standalone changes they can introduce that are lower on effort but high in impact. Often these are shortcuts that eliminate or go around unnecessary workflow steps.
  3. In most cases, tiny wins aren’t features your customers are requesting, simply because they assume the steps you could eliminate are part of life. To find them,...

Six years ago, Intercom invented business messaging – helping internet businesses interact with their customers in a personal, scalable way that had never been done before.

Today we are proud that 500 million business conversations happen each month through Intercom, and that number is doubling year-over-year. A big part of why we are seeing this growth is that our customers have found that when they use Intercom to engage their website visitors, conversion rates and sales increase by more than 80%!

We are laser focused on driving breakthrough innovations which help our customers grow their businesses efficiently. Over the past year we have introduced new products, like our bot Operator and our live chat solution for sales and marketing teams, and new levels of automation and intelligence to help do this.

That is why we are so excited to announce we are doubling the size of the Product teams at Intercom over the next 18 months. Our teams across Intercom think and work holistically, so when we talk about Product, we mean engineering, design, product management, research and analytics. That means we’ll be hiring 350 people over the next 18 months across our offices in San Francisco, Dublin, London, Chicago and Sydney. The majority of our new team members will be focused on product, which is built in Dublin, San Francisco and London. Here’s a look at what’s happening in each of those offices:

San Francisco


In a relay race, the most exciting moments often come not at the finish line, but when the baton gets passed from one runner to the next.

There is an exhilarating tension because, while the best runners can make it look so effortless, barely breaking stride, it is fraught with risk. Those same runners, with all of their training and talent, can sometimes still fumble the pass, drop the baton and lose the race in a moment.

The risks of a fumbled handover aren’t just restricted to athletics. In a Sales, the process of handing over the relationship with your customers from one part of the Sales team to the next is a similarly vulnerable point of transition.

In SaaS, the race doesn’t finish when you make the sale

This is particularly true in a SaaS environment. In a traditional business, the race was all about making the sale. It was a sprint to the finish line, a surge to get ahead of your competitors. After bursting through the tape, there is no more running to do, it’s time to prepare for the next race, to win the next customer.

In SaaS, the race doesn’t finish when you make the sale but instead relies on maintaining the relationship for the long term. Instead of a single runner sprinting around the track, you need a team of runners.

Rather than a single point of contact throughout the relationship with a prospective customer, different members of the Sales team...

by Rich Archbold, Senior Director of Engineering at Intercom

It’s hard to win a battle you don’t realise you’re in. It’s even harder if you don’t know all of the armies on the field, their strategies and weapons, or even who’s a friend and who’s a foe.

The same is true in software. We are all in a battle, multiple battles in fact, with a lot at stake: whether it’s the fate of the company we work for or for the product that we build.

In this battle, I’ve found a secret weapon hidden within one of our core engineering strategies, an idea called Run Less Software. As well as being a critical philosophy behind how we build software, it also represents how I feel about the software industry and technology in general.

To understand why Run Less Software is so important, let’s map out the battlefield, the armies on it, their missions and their strategies.

Innovative startups

The first army are innovative startups. In simple terms, in order for a company to succeed they must have a good business idea and be able to consistently execute and evolve that idea better than anyone else.

When I say “execute”, I don’t simply mean the engineering challenges of building something. I’m referring to the full spectrum of business execution, from product management to...

It feels like we’re entering a golden age in relationships between customers and businesses. But really we’re just coming full circle.

For most of human history, businesses have been constrained by physical location. They could really only sell to the people within walking distance of their location. Business owners had a very finite market they could address so every customer and how they perceived the business really mattered. They did their best to build a relationship with new customers, treated good customers well, and endeavored to build an extremely loyal customer base.

Just over 200 years ago the first steam-powered train entered service on The Middleton Railway in northern England and began transporting coal between Middleton and Leeds. This short railway didn’t connect opposite sides of the planet, but still ushered in a new era in business. The Industrial Revolution’s innovations in transport allowed businesses to operate at a scale which just wasn’t feasible before. The downside of such scale was that business owners become separated from their customers in a way that made service an afterthought instead of a fundamental part of business.

They continued to force customers to send mail or pick up the phone in order to be heard and get help.

The internet was an even greater equalizer; it allowed anyone to run a business selling goods and services to anyone else in the connected world. They were no longer constrained by physical location or poor communications technology. But lacking proper tools to be human at scale...

If your product is to survive and your business is to grow, improving your user onboarding must always be top of mind.

There are two key reasons for this. First, onboarding is the one thing that every user of your product experiences. Secondly, just as Ruairí wrote recently, your onboarding strategy must adapt over time as your product and business evolve.

From converting trial users into customers, to helping those new customers find their ‘aha’ moment with your product, to keeping them coming back to experience it again and again, we’ve been fortunate to host some of the brightest minds in this space over our podcast’s 100-plus episode run. This week, we’re pulling together some of their sharpest insights to help you take stock of and improve your own onboarding. You’ll hear from:

To hear each of these conversations in full, check out episodes of our podcast linked in each subhed below. You can also subscribe to the show on iTunes or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice.

Samuel Hulick on making users successful

Geoffrey Keating: What do you actually define as user onboarding? I know your definition is slightly different than a lot of others.

Samuel Hulick: A lot of times...

In sales, we often talk about how to write great email subject lines or best times to cold call. This helps, but in the world of SaaS it’s more important to communicate with your prospects when the timing is right for them to engage.

Case in point: product announcement day. Great companies will spend a lot of time crafting sophisticated product announcements with gorgeous design and content, attracting a windfall of traffic to your marketing site. But building awareness is only the first step.

The real business value lies in converting this traffic into actual paying customers, ideally within the first 24-48 hours of an announcement when their interest in your product is at its peak. This is where live chat comes in.

At Intercom, our sales team (the SDR team, to be precise) uses live chat to capture and convert these high-intent website visitors. Despite common belief, arming your sales team with live chat doesn’t have to be a costly exercise; it just requires a more efficient way of working and some prep work ahead of time.

Here are three steps to prepare your sales team for success on an announcement day:

1. Capture intent at its peak

On announcement days we focus aggressively on a metric called “First-Response-Time”, or how quickly a website visitor gets a response. With a proactive sales motion, we’ve drastically increased the likelihood of a website visitor converting into a paying customer. In fact on average, visitors are 80% more likely to...


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A well considered and well maintained onboarding funnel will grow your business. A leaky one could kill it.

In software, when you think of “onboarding”, you might think of tooltip tours where customers are shown the various components on the UI via pop-ups, or you might think of empty states, where the UI is in a unique one-time only state, giving the customer guidance on how to get started. Another approach is progressive disclosure, where there’s a conscious decision to avoid overloading the user with too much complicated information all at once.

Unfortunately, while these patterns can be very helpful to new users, this is where many onboarding experiences begin and end.

All too often, onboarding is a finite project that’s owned by a single team (probably product or growth) and has a due date. It’s shipped, checked off the roadmap and everyone moves on to the next project. This is absolutely the wrong way to treat your onboarding.

Onboarding must be a continual process for your business.

That’s because onboarding is not a project or a feature – it needs to be an ongoing concern, a mission, a mindset, a strategy that needs to adapt over time as your product and business evolve. It must be a continual process for your business and your customers.

As your business grows and gets different types of customers, your onboarding will need to adapt. You’ll never be “finished” working on onboarding. And even your most loyal and active...