SaaS Intercom | 8 min read

How Intercom helps a bootstrapped SaaS business punch above its weight class 🥊

We’ve been pretty vocal about our love for Intercom as we’ve grown our profitable, bootstrapped SaaS business over the last year (Ad Reform). We run our entire business through the platform. It helps us compete at a higher level while providing a better customer experience. However, when I talk to other entrepreneurs or startup folks, most of them ask:

“Isn’t Intercom just a chat app. Aren’t there lots of those out there?”

I’ve been asked this so often that I figured I’d share exactly how we use Intercom, the benefits it provides our business, and more importantly, the benefits it provides our customers. I’ll break it down into standard use cases, and some of our more unique use cases.

Standard: Support, sales, marketing, and on-boarding

Unique: Feature flipping, user feedback, development platform

Standard Use Cases

Support

This is one of the most common use cases people think of when using Intercom, but giving your users the ability to chat directly with your team is incredibly impactful. Not only does it enable your team the ability to solve support issues faster, but allows your users to engage with your company in more human way.

Nobody wants to go write up an email or fill out a form. We’re in the age of messaging, so it’s important to connect with users in their preferred channels. Conversations like this just don’t happen when a user fills out a form:

When a customer has an issue I want to do 3 things:

  • Chat with them quickly to understand the problem
  • Replicate the issue
  • Track the issue so we can address it quickly and share updates with the customer as we go

I can chat with the user immediately in Intercom, replicate the issue by watching the last Fullstory session (via Fullstory’s Intercom integration), and track the issue in our “Bugs 🐛 feed” via Userfeed (which will associate the user with this issue and link the conversation in Intercom so whoever is fixing the issue has context).

Fullstory user session inside Intercom
Conversation and user linked to a post in Userfeed (automatic note is posted in the Intercom convo)

In addition to talking to customers directly, you can empower them to find answers using Intercom’s knowledge base (KB):

User view

We’ve built out our KB to allow users to search on their own and make it easy for our team to send KB articles directly within Intercom messenger.

Admin view

Sales

Making it simple for website visitors to engage with you at the beginning of the sales process is key to conversion rates. You did all this work and spent all this money to drive someone to your website. Don’t blow it by making it hard for them to engage with you.

We have Intercom’s messenger on our website, enabling visitors to ask us questions, provide us their email for content or trials, and schedule demos at a time that works best for them (via Calendly). We also use Intercom’s Operator (messenger bot) to automate lead flows for situations when we’re not around our computer (e.g. when we’re sleeping 😴).

Getting a sign up while we’re asleep

Intercom has just been starting to do more for the sales use cases, and I’m excited to see what’s next here.

Marketing

The value Intercom brings to your marketing team is the ability to segment users on tons of attributes, send targeted in-app or email messages to those segments, and market to both leads and users.

User attributes

With Intercom, you can capture valuable data about your users and how they’re using your product. This enables you to create segments of users based on things like location, revenue, industry, or certain behaviors within the product. Once you have some segments set up, you can email users with more targeted, relevant content that they might be interested in (like an update to a feature they requested), or that could help them achieve better results within your product.

Most companies spend all their marketing efforts on leads and trying to generate more leads. Marketing shouldn’t stop after you bring on a customer. Losing customers (churn) is so painful to growth in a SaaS business, so keeping (and upgrading) current customers is hugely important to growth (land & expand). Marketing to current customers enables you to improve in these two areas, and Intercom enables you to reach out to the right people, at the right time, within the right channels (email/in-app).

On-boarding

When we started, I was reaching out to leads manually upon signup and during trials (we do a 7-day trial). Our whole sales team used to do this at my previous company as well, all manually. To improve upon this, we implemented Intercom, which has a pretty awesome startup plan for just $49/m. We built out a fairly simple on-boarding flow, which includes:

  • An email upon sign up
  • An in-app message for a first-time user (linking them to helpful articles in the KB)
  • An email reminding the user they have 3 days left on the trial
  • An email notifying the user that the trial has ended, offering a link to the upgrade page, and or asking for any feedback
  • A knowledge base (complete with Loom videos)

No pop-ups on every marketing page asking if you need help. We aren’t big fans of that experience so we didn’t want to force it on our users. Here’s a link to awesome examples of SaaS on-boarding that we used for inspiration.

Unique Use Cases

Feature Flipping

If you’re building a SaaS product, you’re probably rolling out features and improvements all the time. Moving fast is key, but it can be helpful to test a new feature with a certain segment of users before you roll it out to everyone. We utilize Intercom’s data platform and tagging function to do this.

When we want to toggle a feature for certain companies, we simply search for the companies in Intercom and tag them with the corresponding feature tag we created. Boom: The feature is live in their account.

Turning on our new ad landing page feature for a company

I can then gather product usage data on all companies that have this feature turned on and send them a relevant message (within Intercom) if necessary!

User Feedback

Intercom is the best source of user feedback that I’ve experienced in my career. In the past, I’ve seen people try everything to gather valuable feedback from customers:

  • On site meetings
  • PM ask sales or customer success for an intro to a client so they can jump on the phone
  • Surveys with incentives for users who fill them out
  • A link to an ideas forum the user has to create a separate login for
  • Post-churn call or email
  • Asking sales people to put it in Salesforce

All of these channels are flawed, and anyone that’s done them knows that a very small percentage of users will actually offer feedback through these avenues (maybe 5%). Nobody has time. It takes effort on their part to respond to a survey, spend time on a phone call, or go login to some other product and write up a feature request. Even when you do get feedback, the silos between customer facing reps and your product team, plus the multitude of places people put feedback (Trello, Slack, email, GChat, Salesforce, etc.), makes it incredibly easy to let that valuable feedback slip through the cracks.

Intercom, on the other hand, offers users the unique capability to chat with the team behind the product, in the context of the app. It’s seamless, so you are far more likely to get questions from users that turn into feedback or feature requests:

Starts as a question
Turns into a feature request and the conversation continues to develop

You’ll notice this conversation in Intercom started as a question and evolved into a valuable feature request, with our CTO chiming in via notes (which the user can’t see). We added the feature request to our user feedback product that we built (Userfeed) and linked the conversation to that feature to add context for our product team. Plus, if that request ever comes up again in Intercom or elsewhere, all I have to do is tag the interested user to tie them to the post in Userfeed (e.g. tag them with custom-scheduling-for-ads-txt-monitoring:userfeed).

Intercom and Userfeed make it dead simple for users to offer feedback freely, within our app, without being prompted. Plus, it provides a clear channel for customer success folks to relay that feedback to our product team. This process allows us to get more feedback where users already offer it, decreases the chance that feedback slips through the cracks, maintains context for your product teams, and shows your users that they’re partners in the growth of the product.

Product teams can now view all the users in Intercom that care about the feature, see what companies they come from (account-based), segment users from leads, and send them a message (ask a question when planning the feature, close the loop on a feature update, etc.)

Development Platform

When we first started using Intercom, I remember Kyle and I looking at each other and saying, “Man, you could build a bunch of interesting products on top of the Intercom platform.” The biggest reason for that being the powerful API they expose to developers. If you’ve read this far, then you already know we’ve built a user feedback product on the Intercom platform (Userfeed).

Intercom has been really focused on being a platform for developers, doubling down on that recently with the release of their new Business Messenger:

Now, companies can build apps for Messenger to enable an even more personalized experience for users. We actually have one on the way for Userfeed, making it easier for customer success reps to submit feedback on behalf of a user, and giving users a simple way to submit, browse, and vote on feedback without ever leaving your app. 😎

Userfeed’s Intercom messenger app to let users view your roadmap and submit feedback requests

Check out Intercom

If you’re a smaller SaaS business, do yourself a favor and give Intercom a try. There are a few other tools out there like it (we’ve tried out Drift and Crisp which are both great products too), but nothing has given us a better overall value. The product has been a huge reason for our early success, and the possibilities for improving user engagement are endless!

I can’t give enough ❤️👍❤️👍❤️👍❤️👍❤️👍

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