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2018-05-22T13:31:32.404Z
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In today’s data-driven world, the idea of using research to build great tech companies has gone from being buzz-worthy to expected.

User testing research is the backbone of the modern, lean, build-measure-learn mantra by which software is now made. At Intercom, exploratory research has also emerged as a key component in Intercom’s toolkit. Commonly known as strategic or formative research, exploratory research can play a pivotal role in helping your company save time in product development and keep its innovative heart beating

Role of exploratory research in product development

Tech companies typically use qualitative and quantitative research insights to inform decisions. Quantitative research for example, uses large sample sizes and analytics data to identify patterns within specific cohorts. It helps identify what problems might be present and how frequently that problem is happening. Qualitative research, on the other hand, often uses small sample sizes to look at a specific audience’s motivations, anxieties and thought processes to understand why something is a problem and how you might fix it.

But with qualitative research, product teams don’t always use it to their full advantage. There are 3 types of qualitative research and each form plays a specific role in the product development process.

  • Exploratory research should happen before the product development process even starts. This type of research helps you understand the motivations of a specific audience, why something is a problem for this audience, and how your team might embark on solving this problem.
  • Evaluative research...

Design management can be a strange beast. On the one hand, you work your butt off to stack your team with the most creative, curious and diverse individuals you can find. On the other hand, it’s your job to, well, manage them and keep everyone pointed in the right direction and behaving as one coherent unit.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably attempt to achieve this by inventing some form of process for everyone to follow. But as I’ll discuss below, this approach has its roots in archaic management methodologies that have more to offer the assembly line of yesterday than the open plan office of today.

The essence of design leadership is the inverse of what I had assumed

Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way. As our Product Design team at Intercom scaled through various stages of growth, I carefully put in place new processes that were just right for where we were at each stage. I thought that’s what my job was and I put a ton of time into it. So it was a bit of a shock and a bigger disappointment to find that without fail and often dramatically, those processes would break soon after.

I eventually came to realize that the essence of design leadership is the inverse of what I had assumed. More than adding new structure, it needs to be about subverting existing structures before they fail. Not to teach, but to listen.

To achieve that you need to monitor the...

There’s a key turning point for your hiring strategy in a rapidly scaling team or organization. The inflection point is when you go from only being comfortable hiring star candidates who pose very little risk to taking chances on candidates who don’t tick all the boxes but who have promise and potential. Making that transition smoothly is crucial for your longer-term growth.

The earliest hires are critical to a team’s future identity, as this is the time when the culture takes shape. One risky, mediocre or downright bad hire can disrupt the culture at this formative stage. It’s imperative that early hires are able to hit the ground running and are excited by a chaotic startup environment.

People who enjoy or require structure and process make great hires for a larger organisation, but they’re usually not the best people to take on board from the start. There are also candidates who check a lot of the boxes – they’re excited about the company, hungry for growth and eager for a challenge, but they don’t have a proven track record of rolling with the punches and thriving in ambiguous environments. They would need a lot of coaching, mentoring and time; something your tiny early stage team doesn’t have in abundance.

Hiring strategy for early stage startups

Those early hires not only need to thrive under pressure, they need to love it. They need to have both the ability to work as part of a scrappy team, but also be independent in...

Why does someone switch from one product to another? It’s rarely the first reason they’ll offer. You have to dig deeper to find out, and that’s where Jobs-to-be-Done comes in.

Bob Moesta pioneered the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework in the mid 90’s, alongside Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. In short, JTBD is a research process that helps uncover a customer’s motivation for buying your product – the “job” your product is“hired” to complete.

Today, Bob is President and CEO at The Re-Wired Group, a consultancy that’s helped develop more than 3,500 products and services. They helped us uncover the exact jobs our products were used for in Intercom’s early years, a process that resonated with us so much that we wrote a book about it.

Bob’s appeared on our podcast to talk JTBD previously, and I welcomed him back to talk about how we can continue getting better at unpacking customer motivations. If you enjoy the conversation check out more episodes. 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 conversation. Short on time? Here are five quick takeaways:

  1. Customers don’t randomly switch products. Either a better option comes along or something disrupts their routine, and understanding these forces not only helps you acquire users, but retain them as well.
  2. For larger companies to best utilize JTBD, you have to filter buyer behavior into quantitative...

Despite the mountain of evidence contradicting the mantra of “if you build it, they will come”, it’s still extremely prevalent among product-first companies. Why?

First, most founders don’t have a background in either sales or marketing, and even though they’re told to “start marketing the day you start coding”, they just don’t know where to begin, or they’re incredibly overconfident. Sure, they probably know enough to build a landing page for capturing email addresses, but do they know what to say on that page and how to say it? Do they know where to go to promote their product, and how to do it once they get there?

Getting through the first product launch requires more than a marketing Band-Aid; it requires instilling a company-wide philosophy that marketing and product aren’t two antithetical forces but two sides of the same coin.

In this article, you’ll learn how to:

  1. Understand the role of product marketing
  2. Start creating your product marketing plan
  3. Create alignment between product and marketing

Walk into any product-first company and you’ll notice the common misconception that “marketing” is a dirty word. Many startups build something for themselves only to discover that other people want it. Eventually they start selling it via word of mouth and little else before realizing that they need some sort of coherent marketing strategy if they want to accelerate growth.

At that point, they hire someone to run marketing, but leave that person to their own devices. Rather than truly invest in the department...

In a business climate where customer support is often considered a cost center, we’ve seen firsthand that investing in real-time support actually drives revenue and customer satisfaction. It does, however, come with its fair share of operational challenges.

As discussed in our original post on this subject, we’ve seen that new customers were 30% more likely to start a trial on the back of a swift first response from our support team. We witnessed consistent CSAT responses to real-time chat experiences we provided using Intercom’s Business Messenger and Articles. We sat in meetings with Intercom leaders whose intrigue in the experiment grew as we saw the revenue potential of real-time support, and we had the joy of supporting, along with a stellar Management and Operations Team, the great people that helped us scale this experiment from 50% of our new customers to 100% in less than 6 months.

Offering real-time support at scale and online to thousands of customers is hard. The pushback from a team concerned about the logistical challenges is real, the new operational requirements can be daunting, and traditional support tools will limit your ability to launch. The good news is, we did it and you can too – just keep the lessons that follow in mind and you’ll be able to jumpstart your process while (hopefully) avoiding our mistakes.

Getting real-time support off the ground

Ingredients for operational success: scheduling, tools, workflows, communication and feedback

With

There are few functions where the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same” rings truer than in marketing.

For instance, the fundamentals of good marketing haven’t changed: crisp writing, a compelling story, strong brand, and of course, a great product to market. At the end of the day, nothing you do as a marketer will land without those elements; as Copy Hacker’s Joanna Wiebe once told us, “People will not read anything, anywhere that is boring, ever.” Amen.

At the same time, consumers are complex creatures – we’re constantly evolving and tuning out marketing noise. The best marketers evolve alongside their audiences – experimenting with new tactics, revisiting assumptions about who their buyers are and how they buy. But there’s an overwhelming amount of literature out there on the “Hottest Marketing Trend You Can’t Ignore”. At Intercom, we pore over benchmarks and studies to try to keep our fingers on the pulse. In this article we’ll share some of the most influential marketing statistics we’ve seen in the past couple of years.

Table of Contents
    1. Messaging: Ignore at your peril
    2. Content Marketing: Quality matters, performance matters more
    3. Video Marketing: Sooner or later, everything old is new again
    4. Email: Still relevant
    5. Paid advertising: Still relevant?
    6. Social Media: Noisy and fragmented
    7. Future trends: Soon, none of this will matter

 

Messaging

As marketers we’re always yearning to understand how consumers want to engage, and increasingly, that’s through the personal, real-time, device-agnostic medium of messaging. You could say we’re biased,...

Adding live chat to your funnel is a great way of generating more sales and targeting specific leads in a more effective way, ensuring the best experience possible for all involved.

When it comes to conversing with leads over live chat, it is a very different experience compared to talking in person or even on the phone. No wonder many reps are daunted by the thought of putting live chat on their website.

On average, website visitors who use the messenger to chat are 82% more likely to convert.

You have to be careful not to leave anything open to misinterpretation, although it can easily happen. While remaining careful in what you type, you need to balance this with leaving leads waiting too long for a response or giving them vague answers that don’t address their concerns. In order to avoid confusion and delays, you should develop a live chat etiquette that sets the standard for your messaging.

At Intercom, we always aim to be friendly, prompt, personal and enthusiastic on live chat with leads and customers. In fact, we’ve looked at 20 million conversations in aggregate across Intercom and found on average, website visitors who use the messenger to chat, are 82% more likely to convert to customers. With that in mind here’s our top tips on developing your own company’s chat etiquette:

Be proactive
When using live chat for sales, you should always strive to be proactive with your communications. You never want to be over-selling or...

What do Dropbox, Uber, AngelList, Front, Gusto and Boba Guys have in common? All have benefited from the sage advice of growth expert and Andreessen Horowitz general partner Andrew Chen.

Andrew’s been an angel investor and advisor for a slew of name-brand startups; however, he’s most widely known for his invaluable essays on growth. He’s written more than 650 of them over the past decade and has been featured and quoted in The New York Times, Fortune, Wired and Wall Street Journal.

After wrapping up nearly three years as Head of Growth at Uber, he’s joined Andreessen Horowitz as a general partner to help build the next generation of great companies.

I hosted Andrew on our podcast to chat about the changing landscape of customer acquisition, how his “Law of Shitty Clickthroughs” manifests itself in today’s growth channels, and what the rest of us can learn from the likes of Dropbox and Uber. If you enjoy the conversation check out more episodes. 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 conversation. Short on time? Here are five quick takeaways:

  1. Collaborative tools like Dropbox and Slack benefit from built-in virality, where teams adopt them together – and they represent a tidal wave of software products that truly understand the relationships between people.
  2. When your users go through a high-consideration, high-intent signup funnel, like Uber drivers, the key...

Business Operations (Bizops for short) has inexorably become a thing at certain kinds of companies.

Some of you might come into regular contact with a Bizops team, others might have merely a vague awareness of Bizops, and still others might not have heard of Bizops at all. Regardless of which bucket you fall in, I suspect you don’t have the foggiest idea exactly what Bizops is or why it exists (unless you’re part of a Bizops team).

I don’t blame you at all. I believe our collective failure to articulate the essence of Bizops is a problem. It’s a problem because Bizops can provide so much value to companies, and because the lack of comprehension Bizops sometimes encounters can be a barrier to getting shit done. And because it pains me when a thing is done half-assedly, lacking in why, lacking in intention. So here’s my definition:

Business Operations is a function that is uniquely positioned to solve certain classes of problems for rapidly scaling organizations. It works within, alongside and sometimes outside of the established organizational structure of a company.

Going deeper, let me define Bizops from first principles to show how it can fit into a company and how it can be deployed to solve problems. The first principle is this: Business Operations shouldn’t exist. And yet it does, because of fundamental, intrinsically human limitations to the way we organize ourselves.

When do you need a Bizops team?

Very young companies don’t need Bizops. Anyone can have open-ended freewheeling conversations about anything...

With our redesigned Messenger, businesses can do so much more than chat. The next generation of messengers will be built to help businesses accelerate growth by actually helping teams do work, like process payments or schedule meetings.

From what was once an interface solely designed for conversation, the Messenger becomes a front desk for your website or app— surfacing a collection of apps that drive outcomes.

For marketers like me, this is an incredibly powerful concept. It means messengers are no longer just for customer facing teams. With apps on the home screen, we can use messengers to drive conversion rates throughout the customer journey, like targeting certain prospects on the website or nurturing customers within our app.

But knowing what apps to use and feature is also probably a bit daunting. We experienced this ourselves when considering which apps to use on our own Messenger Home screen on launch day. What if we got too many replies, wouldn’t that just create a lot of noise? How should we stack rank our apps? Which apps should we show website visitors versus in-app customers? With so many options, the considerations are similar to building an entire landing page!

To help you get started, here are a few tips on how we decided which apps to feature in our own Messenger Home:

1. Assign an owner for your Messenger

Having someone responsible ensures that there’s always someone looking after your Messenger and keeping it up to date. At Intercom,...

Breaking things and fixing them again is one of the best ways to learn. I learned this lesson early, thanks to my younger sister and her Japanese robotic toy dog. Somehow, I convinced her to let me take apart her robo-dog so I could see how it works.

“I’ll put it back together. Don’t be such a baby!”

How wrong was I? It would probably have been easier to put back together a Volkswagen Beetle than this toy dog. There I was, sitting clueless on the floor, surrounded with plastic parts and electronics. My sister was crying and I was sweating, trying to fix everything before our parents returned home. In the end, just in time, the dog was put back together (albeit with some mysterious spare parts hidden in the bin).

Fixing things and building things are very different to one other

Still, I learned a lot that day. I learned that engineering is hard. I learned that breaking things feels bad. I learned that trying to fix things can be stressful. I learned that fixing things and building things are very different to one other. But above all, I learned that trying to fix things is actually a great way to learn.

Introducing triage engineer rotations

I often think of that incident because I’ve found many of those lessons resonate with the way we do things at Intercom, particularly in the way we separate the different processes of building and fixing.

Recently, Brian Scanlan wrote about how we developed...

Imagine walking into the office one morning and having your star team member ask if you have a few minutes to talk. In person.

Your instincts tell you nothing good is going to come out of this conversation. And unfortunately, your suspicions are confirmed when they hand you their resignation and explain they’ve been offered “a new and exciting opportunity” that aligns with their career aspirations. You’re thinking, “How did this happen? What could I have done to prevent this?”

All managers deal with retention issues, but in my experience, those who deeply understand their team members’ long-term aspirations have a better chance of anticipating these changes – and influencing their team members’ decisions. Regular, open career conversations can be an effective strategy for this. These create more meaningful relationships with people on your team, uncover what motivates them and as a result increase their impact and engagement in their current role. After all, people who are highly engaged with their work are rarely thinking about leaving the company.

How to have effective career conversations

At Intercom, some of us use the following 3-step process for career conversations.

Step 1: Schedule recurring, timely discussions

We encourage managers to hold career conversations soon after performance reviews so they can look for ways to match development areas with long-term aspirations. These conversations can take place during 1:1s or as separate meetings. Once you’ve had the first conversation, it’s up to you and your team member to decide how frequent or formal these meetings should be. Just...

Product management is about solving problems. How can we help our users complete their job-to-be-done cheaper, faster or easier?

Finding those problems to solve, however, becomes increasingly difficult as you scale – where the volume of feedback, and noise level of the vocal minority, compounds by the day. Not to mention changes to workflows affecting an increasingly large amount of users.

Rohini Pondhi, product management lead for Square’s Invoices product, knows this challenge well. She’s worked in product from early-stage startups all the way up to publicly traded companies like Rackspace and Square, a company with the sensitive task of handling customers’ money.

I hosted Rohini on our podcast to talk about everything from prioritization and product roadmaps to the nitty-gritty techniques for parsing customer feedback. If you enjoy the conversation check out more episodes. You can subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice.

What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation. Short on time? Here are five quick takeaways:

  1. Instead of relying on word of mouth to permeate the team, write things down. It’s like rewriting your notes in school: the information sticks, and you can communicate it effectively to others.
  2. Iterate on process the same way you iterate on product. If a process doesn’t stick, don’t hesitate to move from it.
  3. If Rohini’s team is making changes to the UI or the front end, they can test quickly and easily, but because their core product...

Since IBM coined the term “Help Desk” in the 1970s, customer support has come a long way.

We’ve moved from call centers, to ticket-based helpdesks, to increasingly personal types of customer support. Over the past decade, one of the most popular (and personal) support channels has been live chat.

However, having live customer conversations doesn’t come without its challenges. “Live chat” implies an almost instant response, and many customer support teams are often concerned with managing the volume of messages that might come from adding live chat to their site or app. For online customer support teams who may support hundreds or thousands of people all over the world, providing individual help to each customer quickly becomes a daunting task (not to mention prohibitively expensive).

The new Intercom Messenger is built precisely to have personal communications with customers at scale, without opening the floodgates. Sure, you can have personal 1:1 communications like traditional live chat, but we’ve supercharged the Messenger with a host of self-service apps so that your customers can help themselves.

The new Messenger includes:

  • A customizable home screen: a whole new space that will help your customers help themselves and decrease the burden on your support team – with a tailored view for visitors (people who aren’t yet customers but are checking out your website) and another for users (those all important people who are paying you money).
  • Messenger apps: a library of intuitive apps that make getting things done in the Messenger seamless...
  • Convincing potential users to sign up for your product isn’t easy. But what happens next is far more important.

    The latest batch of billion-dollar companies are built on high customer retention. They help their users be successful, and that means providing great onboarding. At Traction Conference, an event all about how to keep and grow customers and revenue at scale, I explained how to build onboarding based on your customers’ goals, and why when your product improves, your onboarding must improve with it. You can check out the slides and video below.

    Would you prefer a written account? What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the presentation.

    I’ve been working with my co-founders since 2007-2008. The nature of traction itself has changed quite a bit in that period. Way back when we were trying to grow our first company, which was called Exceptional, a Ruby on Rails error tracker, all we ever stressed about was the funnel. The idea of getting more things into the funnel was all we cared about. If we did enough of that, we’d get rich, right?

    Through a constant series of failure and disappointment, we realized there is no one true way. There are actually a lot of ways and they all add up together to matter. We gave up chasing these mythical “grow your website with this one weird trick” things. There...

    When a visitor or lead gets in touch on your website, it’s important to get as much context as you can around the live chat conversation you have with them. Your aim should be to understand what they want, how you can help them and to judge how fast they need a solution.

    With lots of inbound leads, you’ll need to prioritize which ones need a response first, and it’s not always as easy as you might expect to make this judgment call.

    Instant gratification is a common expectation in today’s on-demand world so deciding whether or not your lead needs an immediate response in a live chat conversation or if they should be courted more leisurely is vital. You don’t want to turn away anyone who is in the buying mindset and likewise, you don’t want to scare off anyone who is still exploring their options.

    You wouldn’t walk over
    and tell them you’ll be in touch later on

    Think of your lead requiring urgency as someone who has done their research and walked into the store, cash in hand and ready to buy. If you were in a B2C scenario here, you wouldn’t walk over and tell them you’ll be in touch later on.

    Similarly, imagine your lead walked into the store with a list of questions in hand, looking a little meek. You would answer their concerns and give this person any assistance and space they need to make a considered...

    Intercom’s mission is to make internet business personal. But it’s impossible to be personal when your product is broken. Uptime is critical to the success of our business, and not just because our customers are paying us, but also because we heavily dogfood our own product. If our product is down, we acutely feel our customer’s pain.

    Being on call out of office hours is inherently disruptive to your life

    Uptime is influenced by many factors such as the software architecture and the quality of day to day operations. However, quite often it comes down to having a human on call, responding to an alert from PagerDuty. On call work like this can be a powerful customer orientated activity that connects engineers to the value customers get from your product. It can also be a great learning and growth opportunity – after all, outages and errors can be complex events to understand and remediate.

    But at the same time, being on call out of office hours is inherently disruptive to your life. You need to be ready to respond quickly and competently to an alert about something being broken. Even without being paged, being on call creates anxiety – I know from personal experience that it is very disruptive to sleep, even if nothing actually breaks. Being on call regularly can lead to burnout, apathy or a general desire to never see a computer again.

    The history...

    The most successful products aren’t always the ones that win. Often, it’s the products that are first to mind. The products that create habits.

    Some habits, however, are much healthier than others, so what’s the secret to designing healthy patterns of behavior? As author Nir Eyal has learned, it requires a rigorous commitment to ethics – and empathetically questioning even your best intentions.

    Nir’s studies sit at the intersection of technology, business and psychology. A veteran of the advertising and video gaming industries, he has started (and sold) two technology companies and has taught at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. His best-selling book Hooked explores how to design habit-forming products, and you can keep up with his writing and research at NirAndFar.com.

    I hosted Nir on our podcast to learn how to create healthy habits, how to avoid bad ones, what questions thoughtful product designers should be asking themselves, and much more. If you enjoy the 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 an edited transcript of our conversation. Short on time? Here are five quick takeaways:

    1. We have good habits and bad habits, which are very different from addictions. If we can help build healthy habits in people’s lives, we can help them live better.
    2. The best product doesn’t always win; the first product that comes...

    Yesterday marked one of our biggest releases yet – our all new messenger. One of the most exciting concepts is the customizable home screen, the start screen you see when you open the Intercom Messenger on an app or website.

    Think of it as the perfect front desk for your company. Using apps, you can create tailored experiences for leads and customers when they open the Messenger. Because these interactions can happen outside of a conversation, it fundamentally changes what a business messenger is all about.

    This is one of the biggest bets we’re making for our new Messenger, but the reality is that it came from quite modest beginnings.

    How we gave our Messenger a home

    So where did the idea for a Messenger home come from? Before this, we’d invested a lot of time in features like article suggestions. Powered by our knowledge base product, it suggested articles to people after they typed a message. It worked well, but we started to ask ourselves: what if we could get people to check out the knowledge base before typing a message? And when we introduced a modest little link just above the conversation area, we actually saw great traction.

    This made sense for first-time use, but it conceptually broke the next time the user came back to use that link. They had to click “Start a conversation” to find this link to self-service – it was almost...