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In the world of recurring revenue, SaaS companies realize they need engaged customers if they are to grow a healthy, sustainable business. This is where having a solid customer engagement strategy comes in.

Remember those halcyon days when software was sold through licenses and you only had to win over each customer once to stay profitable? Those days are over. Nowadays, you have to win over your customers month after month just to keep the lights on. This means crafting a message strategy that truly engages its recipients on a regular basis.

Below, we share key best practices for customer engagement, the anatomy of a good message, and a few examples to get your juices flowing.

Table of Contents First, what is customer engagement?

We define customer engagement as: communicating with your customers over the course of their lifecycle to help them get to the outcome that they want. Or to put it even more simply, sending the right messages, to the right people, at the right time and place, to help them get to a desired outcome. The channels can vary, but at Intercom we focus on a mix of email, in-app messages and bots since this is what our product offers.

It sounds straightforward, but the nuance is that there is no consistent quantifiable definition of engagement across different products. For a productivity app an engaged user should be logging in every day to add and complete items, whereas for tax software, an engaged user might only log in a couple times a year.

Five best practices for customer engagement 1. Get to the point

When you get to the point quickly, your messaging becomes instantly clearer. Clarity makes your writing easier to understand, easier to retain, and more enjoyable to read, and all of that makes your readers happy.

Keep your business communications action-oriented, and quickly explain what you want the reader to do. Here are some examples of clear, lard-free language:

  • What improvements you’ve made to your product, e.g. “It’s now 20% faster.”
  • Piquing their interest by telling them about their account, e.g. “Since you last logged in 5 of your friends have signed up.”
  • Offering them an incentive to come back, e.g. “Give us another try and we’ll knock 25% off your bill for the next 3 months.”
2. Adopt a personal tone

We’ve all become experts at ignoring messages that aren’t meant specifically for us. Adopting a personal tone can make all the difference. At minimum, address people by their name. Replace company logos with individual people’s pictures.

At Intercom, when we’re selecting the style of message to send to our customers, we most often use an in-app chat style message or a simple plain text email, because they feel handwritten and direct. We know they are likely to get better engagement than something that looks like it was sent to the masses.

A word of warning: it’s possible to be too personal when you don’t know the customer. No one likes over-familiarity from folks they’ve never met. The tone you should aim for is akin to leaving a voicemail for an aunt you only ever meet at family celebrations. Warm and friendly, but respectful about what you don’t yet know.

3. Make it relevant

One of the basic tenets of communication is that the more you try to appeal to everybody, the more you end up connecting with nobody.

To land effectively, your message has to be specific and appropriate to the user.

Let’s say you’ve just launched your photography app and have acquired those all-important first 100 customers. All of these signups share an interest in your business, but they’re not necessarily interested in the same thing. Some will want to know about your shutter speed and focus settings, some will be interested in your dancing hotdog filters. Your job is to tailor your message to both types of user.

A powerful feature for creating personalized messages is to include custom attributes in each message, specific to each user. For example, you could contact everyone who has nearly reached storage capacity in your photo sharing app, and let them know exactly how much space they have left. Or why not message users who have incorrect integrations?

Maybe you could mail your customers about their incomplete orders? Or, you could message your customers about their unfinished projects to encourage them to complete them.

4. Consider cultural differences

You wouldn’t send a message to business customers in the US on the Fourth of July, so be aware of major holidays in other parts of the world where you might have lots of customers. What might be an oversight to you might display a lack of insight to your loyal customers.

Your users have given you permission to email them but don’t abuse their inbox. Depending on the nature of your app they are there to enjoy themselves, complete a job, or save time, not to hear about what they can do to make your life easier.

5. Speak consistently

The more people there are in your company, the harder it is to maintain a consistent voice and tone. A company style guide helps ensure a consistent voice in your messaging. We love published examples from Mailchimp and Slack. At Intercom we’ve also shared why we think a style guide is so important.

Tone is more subtle and depends on the context of the message. As you’re writing, consider the reader’s state of mind. Are they relieved to be finished setting up your product? Are they confused and seeking help through customer support? Are they disappointed to have reached the limits of your free plan? Once you have an idea of their emotional state, you can adjust your tone accordingly.

Anatomy of an effective message

1. Subject line

You have a limited amount of words to play with so be clear and direct. When viewed on a desktop the average inbox will show about 60 characters of the subject line. But increasingly, email is read on mobile devices – more than 50% according to estimates. In that scenario, you can’t be sure that any more than 30–40 characters will be visible, which means you have less than 6–8 words to get to the point. Our own research has found that, on average, messages that are opened have shorter subject lines.

Of course, it can’t just be any 5 words; you have to make sure they’re interesting too. Hillary Clinton’s campaign team achieved excellent results with simple and personal subject lines such as “I’d love to meet you”, “You and me, {name}?”, and our personal favorite, “Dinner?”.

2. Call to action

The majority of messages we send aim to get recipients to perform a task. Yes, sometimes you just want to start a conversation, but most of the time we want readers to to act. It follows that you need to give message recipients a clear next step.

A good call to action should be persuasive and compelling. It should also be more descriptive than “click here.” Use command verbs to make it clear what clicking a link or button will lead to:

  • Read More on The Blog
  • Download the App
  • Upgrade Now
  • Order Yours

It’s also necessary to give readers a reason why they should complete your call to action. Make sure the content directly related to the button or link is sufficiently explanatory and clearly shows the benefit of taking the action.

Giving a call to action a sense of urgency can also help (“Give ExampleApp a try – free for 60 days”), though there’s a fine line between a sense of urgency and coming off as pushy.

Six example messages to facilitate customer engagement

Now that we’ve covered the characteristics of a good message, let’s apply these principles to a few different types of messages you might want to send. We’ve used messages like these to help grow and scale Intercom – we hope a few of them will help you do the same.

1. Welcome messages

Just as a maître d’ can set the tone for your whole experience at a high-end restaurant, a welcome message sets the tone for your product. Welcome messages should focus on things that will actually help the recipient get value from your product. Things like:

  • The most impactful next steps for them to take, e.g. send a message or add 5 teammates.
  • The three most common questions customers have on the first day. Address them right up front so they don’t have to hunt around for the answers.
  • A warm welcome from somebody behind the product, e.g. “I’m the Product Manager of ExampleApp. I’d love to hear about what you’re trying to achieve with our product.”
2. Activation messages

Many users who sign up for a product only use it once. This is especially true for products with a free trial. That’s why you can’t rest on your laurels and assume someone has committed to your product just because they signed up – they could easily just be curious to check it out.

There will be times when a user signs up, but fails to take the first step, like completing registration, or adding their teammates. If two days after signup they haven’t carried out that next step, you should automatically trigger a message. Make it an email, or possibly a push notification, rather than an in-product message as you are trying to get them back into your app. The message needs to clearly outline what the next step is that they need to take, and the value to them of taking that step.

3. Milestone messages

Your product should (hopefully) improve people’s lives in its own particular way. The next step is to define the bare bones milestones users must complete to begin experiencing that better life. If I bought a grill, it could be cooking up my first steak. In Slack’s case it could be inviting five teammates to the product.

A good customer engagement strategy recognizes how your users are becoming that better version of themselves. A timely in-app message or email is a positive feedback mechanism that lets people know “Congrats! You’ve done X, Y, and Z. Now you’re three steps closer to why you signed up in the first place.” When customers feel like they’re making progress, they’re much more likely to become recurring users of your product, and subsequently much more valuable for your business.

4. Feature announcements

The value of a new feature isn’t a product of the time and resources you put into building it. It’s about whether or not it solves a customer’s problem and it’s up to you to show them how.

Focus the copy in your message on how this new feature will make their lives better. Put yourself in the shoes of the recipient who is probably hearing about the product or feature for the first time. What is the key thing that is going to convince them to give it a try. Is it going to improve their social life, save them time at work, make them more money?

Avoid saying things like, “We’ve spent the last month restructuring how our export functionality works.” Instead, focus your message on what your users can now achieve. Saying something like, “Exporting reports is now automated which will save you heaps of time. Here’s how…” is a much better start.

5. Feedback messages

Writing emails or in-app messages to gather feedback isn’t easy. You’re asking a favor of the recipient, in exchange for making the product better for them. It doesn’t help that people are most inspired to give feedback when they have an extreme experience. There’s a very good reason why you see Yelp restaurant reviews clustered around the “amazing” and “appalling” end of the spectrum.

A few tips on asking for feedback the right way:

  • Be specific. Instead of vague questions such as “Have you got any feedback about our app?”, ask things like “Was everything clear during signup?”
  • Tell them what you’ll do with their feedback. Feedback is only useful if it’s acted on.
  • Instead of benign platitudes such as “Your feedback makes us better,” let recipients know what you’re planning to use their feedback for, e.g. “Customer feedback is reviewed weekly by our product managers and helps inform our future roadmap.”
  • Don’t ask for too much. We’ve all been asked to fill out a 20-minute survey by a business we don’t even remember dealing with. You can do better than that. Give your users one simple task to accomplish, and they’ll be much more likely to do it.
6. Promotions and upsells

In his book Marketing Metrics, Paul Farris shares a fascinating finding: “The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5–20%. The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60–70%.”

Promotions and upsells can provide the low-hanging fruit of customer engagement, but only if you leave the snake-oil tactics at the door.

Making these messages successful depends on making the customer aware of the increased value they could be getting. The first thing they’ll ask is: “What’s in it for me?”. Make it clear what the offer is, how it compares to your current offering, and how they can take advantage of it.

But remember, making customers successful with your product is your long-term goal, so don’t offer a promotion or upsell unless it makes sense for your customer’s business.

There’s always room for a unique, actionable message

The average person receives over 122 emails a day. When you include in-app messages and push notifications, the number is greater still.

Even when you’re competing against the distractions of daily life, there will always be room for messages that are interesting, unique, useful and actionable. And the difference between producing good message content and producing great content isn’t that huge; but the difference in the results you’ll see is.

The post Customer engagement guide: the what, why and how of effective messages appeared first on Inside Intercom.

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The number of tools used by sales and marketing teams only continues to grow, and with that expansion of options, it is more crucial than ever that you ensure your budget and time is being spent on the right tools.

At Intercom, we want to make it easy for our customers to see the value of building real relationships with leads and customers. That’s why we recently released our new revenue and sales team performance reports, which gives marketing and sales teams instant visibility into how using Intercom has a positive impact on their business.

Combined with a simple Salesforce integration, these reports will give you deep, actionable insights into exactly how Intercom is helping your marketing and sales teams create real revenue. They surface the most useful analytics and data to help you maximize Intercom’s impact on your business.

See Intercom’s influence on your business

The new Revenue Reports show your marketing and sales team the figures that matter. You can instantly filter by date range and tag to see how many opportunities and how much revenue Intercom has influenced, as well as the total leads and emails captured.

Here’s how these report work:

  • ‘Influenced by Intercom’ means the lead had a conversation in Intercom less than 30 days before an opportunity was created and closed in Salesforce.
  • ‘Pipeline’ refers to the dollar value of those opportunities.
  • ‘Closed won’ shows the number of opportunities who have been assigned the ‘Closed won’ state in Salesforce.
See the value from individual pages and messages

You can see which pages and messages on your website generate the most opportunities, pipeline and revenue, along with total conversations and your average response time. This allows you to identify which messages are actually working and creating value for your business, but also allows you to focus on using Intercom in the right places on your website.

For example, you might discover that your homepage creates a lot of conversations, but those conversations generate less opportunities.

Conversely, you might find out that your pricing page has fewer conversations, but creates many more opportunities. Armed with this knowledge, you could focus on reducing response time for conversations that come from your pricing page.

See the impact of different teams and teammates

Want to compare performance of different sales teams or teammates? Now it’s easy. Compare opportunities, pipeline, deals won, meetings booked and the median time to close opportunities across a specific date range.

See the largest deals closed and what it took to do so

Sales leaderboards are great for seeing who’s closed the biggest deals and beyond that, Intercom shows you how many conversations teammates had to have in order to close those deals, their response time and the time it took to close.

See team metrics like conversations, response times and more

When looking at the performance of an entire team, you can see at a high level who is having the most conversations, their response times, opportunities, pipeline and deals won. Then you can dive into their individual stats.

Advanced insights to fuel your business growth

If you’re considering trying Intercom on your sales and marketing team, there’s never been a better time to do so. Our library of powerful apps in the Intercom App Store and automated Custom Bots and Video Bots will help you stand out from competitors, and with these reports you’ll have more insights than ever before into how Intercom is helping you grow your business faster.

Revenue and Sales Team Performance Reports are available on our new Inbox Premium plan. If you’re interested in trying them out, head over to our pricing page and click “Chat with us”!

The post Revenue reporting: fresh insights for your sales and marketing teams appeared first on Inside Intercom.

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Today we’re publishing a brand new, four-part series on sales – The Sales Handbook.

Sales is the lifeblood of every business. Without it, you have no way of acquiring new customers, upselling existing ones or of driving predictable, scalable revenue. But sales is also one of the hardest functions to get right, especially today.

Modern buyers have hundreds, if not thousands, of choices, and selling to them is far more complex than scheduling a generic email cadence or relying on a few differentiated product features. Long gone is the time where a “volume is victory” mindset will get you to your first or next hundred million in revenue.

Plain and simple, it’s time to trade in your old playbook for fresh strategies, tactics and motions.

The Sales Handbook is here to help. Each part is a self-contained collection of stories and advice from industry leaders who’ve scaled sales to breakout growth and beyond. They include:

  • LB Harvey, VP of Sales at Intercom
  • Jason Lemkin, CEO at SaaStr
  • Jill Konrath, Sales Strategist
  • Karen Peacock, COO at Intercom
  • John Barrows, Sales Trainer
  • Alyssa Merwin, VP of Sales Solutions Americas at LinkedIn
  • Mark Roberge, former CRO at HubSpot

All together, The Sales Handbook provides a fresh take on four themes that are critical for every high-growth business to master: developing a sales strategy, growing your sales team, modern sales techniques and real-time sales.

Part one, Developing a Sales Strategy, is available for download right now. Within its pages, you’ll find actionable frameworks to hit and exceed your revenue goals. You’ll learn:

  • Simple steps to identify your target market and customer.
  • Why you can never invest in sales ops early enough.
  • When and how to move upmarket and sell up the value chain.
  • Do’s and don’ts of engaging with resellers and channel partners.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing the rest of The Sales Handbook. Grab your free copy of part one now, and be among the first to receive part two, Growing Your Sales Team.

Head on over this way and start winning more deals today.

The post Announcing our new four-part series on sales – The Sales Handbook appeared first on Inside Intercom.

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When customers visit your website or use your app, there’s an opportunity to engage and connect with them to increase their likelihood of taking a desired action.

Video is one of the best ways to capture someone’s attention, and when paired with our Custom Bots and apps, you can turn that attention into action, automatically.

Whether it’s to help convert a key account, to promote your latest product, ask for feedback, or just prompt them to start a chat, video can help. Unfortunately, most businesses are behind the curve in utilizing video to its full potential. Part of this is because the right solution to have an impactful connection with customers at scale simply hasn’t been available.

That’s why we’re happy to release Video Bots, helping businesses leverage video to create personal and and engaging experiences that drive action. For our customers already using our bots, they’ve seen 4x the typical engagement rates of email.

Picture this, your outbound sales reps reach out to a customer and direct them to your website to learn more. Once on your website, they receive a personalized video from one of your sales reps:

Or maybe you’re an e-commerce business who wants to grow your subscriber list. Banners and in-page call-outs are easy to miss, the best way to engage your audience and grow subscribers is with video.

Personalization and practices like account-based marketing have provided great benefits to the businesses that have adopted them. And video is the best way to personalize an experience for each and every customer.

With our recently released Custom Bots, you can automate next steps by making it easy for leads and customers to take the right action next, all without losing context. Whether that’s registering for a webinar, subscribing to a newsletter, filling out a survey, requesting a demo, scheduling a meeting, upgrading, purchasing, it’s all possible with our apps ecosystem. We’re the only company enabling businesses to couple video and bots to create even more personal and engaging experiences for their customers.

If you want to be one of the first to use Video Bots on your website, you can request early access here.

The post Video Bots: The future of sales automation appeared first on Inside Intercom.

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Marketing and sales may employ different tactics, but their goal should be singular: help the company sell its product.

Sometimes, however, blocks can develop in the pipeline. They can be difficult to diagnose, and if sales and marketing don’t have a healthy relationship, things can devolve into pointing fingers instead of working together to find solutions.

As we’ve discovered, it all comes down to alignment and communication.

We recorded a free-flowing conversation for the podcast, where we flipped the script and interviewed each other about everything from how to stay relevant in marketing to strategies for digging into tricky metrics.

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 a lightly edited transcript of the conversation. Short on time? Here are 4 quick takeaways:

  1. Many early-stage companies fail because they scale sales too quickly. If you can’t easily answer questions like: “What’s my opportunity-to-close rate? What pipeline am I expecting for each of these reps and so on?” you’re not ready to build out sales.
  2. A successful sales and marketing partnership is based on a mutual understanding that we’re all manufacturing the same thing — revenue for the business.
  3. Sales and marketing tactics can vary, but to succeed, the teams need to be aligned around one plan: a revenue plan, not a sales plan and a marketing plan. If the ownership isn’t shared, finger-pointing creeps in.
  4. Marketing needs to be a revenue oriented culture and marketing leaders have a responsibility to create this culture. It doesn’t matter that we shipped a new website or ran 30 webinars if we missed our number.
Brian Kotlyar: Before we get started, Jeff, why don’t you give me a run down of your career and how you got into this chair across from me?

Jeff Serlin: Thanks Brian; it’s good to be here. I’m almost embarrassed to say I’ve been doing sales operations for about 15 years. When I started, there was no such thing. People weren’t recruiting for it. It wasn’t its own specific position. I actually had a marketing role where I helped build out lead scoring and lead nurturing processes before there were many automation tools for these jobs. But I was the guy in the back who was always suggesting that we should look at our pipeline. How many leads should we create this month? How are we moving them through? Where are we going to track these metrcis? I would run around trying to get forecasts from everybody, even though it wasn’t my primary position.

When I first started using Salesforce in the early 2000s, no one knew what to do with the tool. So I sat down and created a couple of basic processes and workflows. I just migrated toward the role of sales operations until it started to become something real. About 10 or 11 years ago, I was approached by a head of sales who knew my background and wanted someone who was very well rounded to run operations full time. So I took the plunge, and that’s when I started thinking about it as a career, as a function, as something strategic. Since that time, I’ve set up and run sales operations teams, done a little bit of marketing ops, and even a little bit of finance at times at about four different companies. And I joined Intercom about a year ago to build sales operations out here as well.

Your turn, Brian: how did you get into demand generation and marketing operations?

Brian: Similarly to you, actually. My mother always remarks that these jobs didn’t exist when she went to college and wonders how I ended up in this weird job she can’t explain to her friends. Basically, I got my start because it was what companies needed. My training was as an industry analyst, where I did a lot of writing. My entry into startups was timed really well for the emergence of inbound and content marketing as marketing tactics. Because that became the primary way that businesses were driving demand, it really enabled me to get a really good, holistic view of the relationship between what we want to sell, what we need to say, and how we are going generate leads. From there, I was able to experiment with tactics like email, advertising, and website optimization.

The natural question that follows is whether these tactics are making us any money. That’s generally where marketing operation steps in. In my case, I was at a small company, and there were no marketing operations, so it was my role to build out the team that would solve those questions in a scalable way. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since: devising the programs that will cause activity in the market, measuring them, making promises to the business about the revenue those programs will create, then holding ourselves accountable to those promises.

How to scale marketing teams

Jeff: You mentioned you led marketing at a few early-stage companies. What advice do you have for startups that are thinking about building and scaling their sales and marketing functions?

Brian: Because I was a part of some early stage businesses that maybe scaled a bit too quickly, I’m naturally a little conservative. Some might say that this advice is too conservative, but my general guidance is that I’ve seen so many companies fail because they scaled sales too quickly. It’s very easy for a very enthusiastic founder group – at the advice of a bunch of venture capitalists – to say, “We’ve sold $100,000 worth of stuff. We’re ready to scale. Let’s go hire a hot-shot director, a bunch of account executives, 10 sales development reps (SDRs), and so on.” In my experience, that’s rarely what you need in the first initial push. It’s a pattern I see time and again. Just because you’re making some money doesn’t mean you’re ready to build out a complex, full-board sales organization. If you can’t easily answer questions like “What’s my opportunity-to-close rate? What pipeline am I expecting for each of these reps?” you’re not ready.

So many companies fail because they scaled sales too quickly

On the marketing side, the thing that’s on the mind of many marketers these days is that we’re all paying Google and Facebook “rent”. We pay rent to show up in people’s news feeds, and that’s just how it has to be to be visible and relevant. To some degree, it’s a necessary thing to do so we can be effective. But for an early-stage company, it’s easy to burn a lot of your cash really fast on things you’re not really set up to do effectively. You have to ask yourself: do you have a sales team in place to monetize those leads, or can your product do it for you?

I believe strongly you need to come up with a portfolio of tactics, and those tactics have to range from the very expensive to the very, very cheap. You pay your rent where you have to, and you mooch off the land for free where you don’t – and the combination of those things is what gives you the right portfolio to help you grow.

Brian: Jeff, you’ve done sales operations in businesses across the whole spectrum of scale. As companies mature, how do you see the relationship between sales, marketing, and operations changing as they grow and become more complex?

Jeff: When you start off as a company, you first have to validate that people are willing to give you money for your product. You do this before you even come up with the strategy about what size and what type of companies you want to sell to. In the early days, you’re just trying to acquire customers, figure out why they’re buying, and go get more of them. I don’t know that you need much sales operations or even a big sales team, as you mentioned. You just need enough bodies to handle the leads and people with a optimistic mindset to find customers.

As you start expanding to multiple offices and customer segments and you hire a sales manager or two – that’s when you need to start thinking about putting operations in place. When marketing and sales teams start to get bigger, that’s when they start to diverge. They sit at different places of the building and go through different processes of figuring out what they need to do. The role of both of our operations teams is to pull them tighter.

As a company matures, both of those organizations are going to mature, and without that operations glue that tells you what my team does and what yours does and make our work into one continuous supply chain, you’ll start to see things like marketing targeting the wrong customer segment and sales using sales motions that are not compatible with the leads coming in. That’s when bad things happen. You’re either spending money on pipeline that isn’t getting converted, or sales is converting pipeline that you otherwise would not want to convert. So operations needs to get more sophisticated. You need to start documenting things. You need to start aligning your processes. You need to start having more structure and governance in how you do everything. If you have these things and you’re staying on the same page with the same KPIs and constant communication, then you can typically grow your sales and marketing team together in the right sort of way as the company scales.

Brian: It seems like you get that alignment and that sense of being one team for free when you’re small. And as the company gets bigger and more complicated, the role of operations is to preserve that oneness and single team mentality in how we work.

Jeff: One hundred percent. Let’s take hiring a dedicated events person as an example: we know how challenging it is to manage logistics of setting up and executing a great event, and that’s a core skillset that not a ton of people have. And you’re going to hire someone who’s optimizing that, but they might not be fully aware of the full process – how you gather leads, how you nurture them, and how you pass them over to sales. And that’s okay, because the role of that person is to put together really great events. That’s where the marketing ops team can work with the sales ops team to help that specific tactic you’re investing in and pull it into the overall process. The events person might not even ever think of sales other than who’s going to staff the booth to do what they do best.

Sales and marketing partnership

Jeff: You and I believe sales and marketing need to be closely connected. What does a successful partnership look like?

Brian: I would echo something you mentioned a little while ago, which is that it’s really helpful when both parties think of the partnership as a supply chain. We’re all manufacturing the same thing on behalf our employer, which is revenue for the business. The foundation of a successful partnership is understanding that.

It’s really helpful when both parties think of the partnership as a supply chain

It might sound routine or boring, but not everyone gets it. Some sales organizations are just in the business of acquiring logos rather than actually trying to make money for their business, because that’s the way their comp has been set up or what their leadership has set as a goal. Or more commonly, the marketing team might think, “Our job is building brand.” Being the revenue and operations person, my question is always, “To what end? We don’t sell our brand. We sell stuff, and the brand is supposed to help us sell that stuff.” Even if your job is actually to build a brand, you always have to ask that follow-up question, “To what end?”

Once you understand the end outcome marketing and sale are driving at together, then you get to the fun part of the partnership, which is what you and I get to do together. Yeah, we may give each other a hard time about our respective contributions to the supply chain, but we can help each other figure out: How are we going to get to the revenue outcome we want? What’s the efficient way for our business to get to that goal? Are we staffed correctly? Do we have the right capacity? Can I actually drive the leads you need in the timeline that you need them?

That’s where the art comes into our roles. Because there’s not a playbook you can just execute. I wish there were. There’s rarely an obvious answer like, “Hire 10 reps, buy some Facebook ads, and the problem goes away.” That playbook has never worked for me. I don’t know anyone who it’s ever worked for. I don’t expect it ever will. So that’s why it’s key to get aligned in how we work, forecast, and shape the future.

Because of that mentality, my experience working with sales generally has been good. At times when it has been very very bad, it’s because there’s a misalignment of expectations of what the supply chain’s trying to make and of the plan that we should have co-developed but often did not. Lastly, sometimes there can be a lack of understanding that both our jobs are hard. You can both know you’re supposed to be making money. You can both agree on a plan. But I’ll be a little folksy for a minute: my uncle has a saying that you should “never take out the trash when no one’s looking.” No one appreciates how hard everyone else’s job is if they don’t see it or feel it. You have to have empathy for the party on the other side.

Driving leads of quality is super hard. It’s super expensive, and it takes time. Closing those leads – of any quality, at any scale, on a timeline, and in a predictable way – is super hard. You start to see the fissures between departments when people forget that.

One revenue plan

Brian: If you could just draw on a whiteboard the perfect planning process for a sales and marketing organization to go through, what would it look like?

There has to be a revenue plan, not a sales plan and a marketing plan

Jeff: It has to be done together. There’s only one plan. There has to be a revenue plan, not a sales plan and a marketing plan. Certainly the tactics beneath the plan can vary, but I want to make sure we’re aligned around the idea that we’re going to generate X amount. And we’re probably going to spend X amount to do it. You have to have a shared objective, which is to get to our number and generate revenue.

You have to build the plan together so that every inflection point – every point that we measure, every definition we use, every way that our systems are set up to capture and display those metrics – and the hand-offs between our teams are 100% aligned. It should get into the details. For example if we are given a customer acquisition cost target, by planning together I can choose to have fewer SDRs if I know that you can use the money I save to generate lower-cost leads. By putting the plan together, sales and marketing can answer, “What are we trying to achieve? What are our boundaries and barriers?” We can then construct the plan to maximize our output and help us accomplish more than what we could have done separately.

So, it’s one plan, one spreadsheet, one set of metrics, one approval process. But we also need to be aligned on the incentives against that plan. You and I should, in a sense, be measured against the same thing, so that anything we decide to work on (or not work on) is meeting both of our goals.

I think the planning just has to be together. And having the financial planning and analysis team facilitate that process of revenue planning is a very good way of doing it. It creates a natural tension where you’re asking, “Is this going to be impactful? How are we going to manage this?” If it’s not our plan, then we can easily point a finger at each other. That’s when you get into the dangerous territory of pointing at each other instead of at the challenge or the problem you’re trying to solve.

How to avoid finger-pointing

Brian: I think we’ve both been in that situation where things have gone awry. Because it’s inevitable that a number will be missed, and while we all like to think we’re altruists who will take on the burden alone, that’s not realistic. Is there a good way to avoid that situation?

Jeff: To your point, you have to start with the premise that numbers will be missed. A plan is trying to predict the future, and if we can predict the future we might as well be in Vegas instead of in a room talking to each other about sales and marketing. You have to be aware that the plan is based on assumptions, and we’re putting together tactics, timing, and objectives against them. Some months we’re going to out-perform, and some months we’re going to underperform. And some months, it’s going to be the complete opposite of what we saw the month before. When that happens, if we have joint KPIs that we can explain together, we keep the organizational lines out of the situation. We can get down to talking about what’s working and what’s not working. We’re going to tackle the problem together.

I believe you can attribute almost every issue in the revenue cycle to marketing in terms of the quality of the leads and to sales execution. You have to step back and take a hard, critical view of the world we’re in — a world where we constantly run the risk of dropping leads, of systems not working. We have to constantly work on driving more consistency and better top-of-the-funnel marketing tactics so that we get the right leads in and nurture them in the right way.

The truth always lies in both sales and marketing. And if you have the culture, governance, and relationships that encourage working together to solve problems, you avoid the finger-pointing. The finger-pointing often happens when it’s not just the two of us in a room, but a CEO, COO, or CFO comes in and thinks, “I need to knock heads and assign blame.” When that happens, it puts both of us in a tough spot. But if we’re truly partners, we’ll figure out a way around it and get back to the business of accelerating our growth.

Sales and marketing incentives

Jeff: Sales is constantly working on our tactics and tools to stay relevant. What are are some of the things marketing should do to stay relevant?

Brian: Going back to basics and reinventing the game are both constantly happening right next to each other. I often say B2B marketing is boring. For any given campaign we’re going to run, I could probably jot down every channel we’re going to use seven months prior to the campaign. There will probably be an event. There will probably be some ads. Those ads will probably run in a certain number of places. We’ll probably send some emails. They’ll probably go out over an established period of time, with a pretty standard cadence. They will probably have similar CTAs. None of this is where marketing innovation lies, in my experience.

But the really interesting stuff happens when you start to mix those tactics in different orders and different sequences to reach different audiences and get different outcomes. Here’s an example: If I’m trying to get a CEO, I know that CEOs often have administrative assistants. I have two people that I have to influence: the admin and the CEO. My toolkit is the boring one I just shared. But I can now apply it to two different people and hopefully cause them to interact in a way that’s favorable to me and my rep, who’s going to be doing the outreach. Maybe I send a gift to the admin and then two weeks later, I send a package addressed to the CEO, referencing the gift. And I’ve made follow-up calls in between. All I’ve done is make phone calls and send packages, but I’ve gotten the outcome we need.

Meanwhile, maybe I’m trying to affect a director at a small company, and they don’t have a listed number. They also don’t have an admin. The phone tactic is out. In this case, I can swing through the office and drop something off. I might get walked right up to that director’s desk and hand them the gift. Again, we didn’t invent a whole new way of marketing or reaching people, but we’re applying it in the right way to the right person.

Jeff: You guys are taking old tactics, making them modern and seeing which ones work, which is really impactful for us to see in sales.

Jeff: One of the areas of tension that exists between sales and marketing teams, is around comp. A high percentage of the compensation for sales reps and managers is tied to an annual result, in terms of deals closed and revenue generated. That’s not really the case for marketing, so what are some good incentives for teams you manage?

Brian: I agree with you that we’re trying to achieve a marketing organization that’s focused on driving revenue for the business (and feeding the sales organization in the right way). Initially, you might have the impulse to create a performance plan tied to revenue – or the closest metric that can affect it, which is probably lead generation. But that’s hard to do because marketing is like a zoo with tons of different animals in it. All those different animals have different attributes: the content team makes such a different contribution to the pipeline than the email team or the operations team. So it gets really challenging to come up with a fair plan to generically apply to all of marketing.

I fall back on two things. First, everyone in my team should have some degree of variable compensation that should either be tied to closest metric they can affect that drives revenue or to some kind of equity that’s effectively tied to company attainment overall. The second thing, which actually trumps the first in a lot of cases, is culture. You can have marketing departments that are revenue-oriented in their culture and you can have marketing departments that are not revenue-oriented in their culture. As a leader, regardless of incentive plan, it’s your responsibility to set expectations for the team that it doesn’t matter that we shipped a new website if we missed our number. It doesn’t matter that we did 30 webinars if we missed our number. Now, those tactics have some long-term benefits that we can’t fully compute at the moment, but the fact is that if the business is failing, marketing is not succeeding. That’s a cultural thing that you need to establish first, and from there you can align incentive comp appropriately.

Keep in mind: you still have to be fair. It’s hard for a designer to affect revenue the way a sales person can, and if you just apply a blanket comp plan tied to revenue, you can sometimes put folks who don’t have a lot of control in very difficult positions because they feel helpless. That’s a really bad outcome because they’re making less money in a given month and coming to me asking, “What should I have done differently to change that number?”

Jeff: You’re right. The people who generate the pipeline for leads are the ones you can most closely align with those metrics. I even question whether parts of the operations team should be on variable comp that’s tied to sales and delivery. The more dots you have to connect, the harder it is to do that. But I think..

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In many ways, how we do business today is a model of efficiency and convenience – people come to our websites and we sell to them.

That interaction is increasingly being conducted over live chat, and at Intercom, we strive to make those interactions as personal as possible. As this mode of business has evolved, however, there are two unavoidable facts that we sometimes prefer to ignore.

  • First, customers and prospects don’t visit your website for a chat, they come to get something done – they want to buy something, or solve a problem, or get an answer. They want, in short, to complete some action, and yet all too often they spend their time providing information about themselves and their situation without getting a satisfactory resolution.
  • Second, sales teams spend a lot of time doing laborious, repetitive tasks that don’t always result in much value. We chase after potential leads trying to qualify them, we spend a lot of time trying to book meetings and give demos, we spend an awful lot of time simply trying to make a value driven discussion happen at a later date.
Enabling the best interactions

At Intercom, we see making internet business personal as so much more than just bringing our personality into our interactions online. It’s about making sure both sides, customers and sales teams, are able to get the best outcomes from any interaction as fast as possible, so they can spend their time doing things of real value.

That’s why we recently unveiled Custom Bots, our highly customizable chatbot that you can have up and running on your website in minutes.

Solving chatbots’ last-mile problem

For a few years now, bots have been the promised enabler of better business interactions, but while some came close, none have delivered truly meaningful results without requiring a human’s input at some stage.

Effectively, most bots are just a dressed-up form

The truth is, chatbots have suffered from what I like to call the “last-mile problem” for sales: most bots have been good at collecting information, but not necessarily any good at doing something with it. Effectively, most bots are just a dressed-up form.

Once that information had been gathered, it usually requires a human to ensure the appropriate action is taken, beyond the most basic of outcomes. It requires a human to analyze, to take action, to take it that final step and complete the customer or lead’s desired outcome.

Inevitably, the salesperson is doing this after the prospect has left your website, and after the moment of highest intent has subsided.

With Custom Bots, we have taken a big step towards solving this issue. Rather than just collecting information and leaving real resolution to a human at a later date, these next generation chatbots gather information in a productive, human, conversational way, and then use it to deliver real, actionable outcomes in that moment.

More than ever, a bot can be customer focused and workflow oriented by leveraging the growing library of apps in our Intercom App Store. Every interaction can be concluded with the most appropriate workflow to enable your lead or customer reach their desired outcome, whether that’s booking a meeting, paying a subscription, resetting a password, requesting an invoice, all done
immediately when interest and intent is highest.

Redefining the sales cycle

This is more than a step-change in the way businesses interact with customers – this is a new baseline of productivity. Businesses that don’t adopt bots, and that don’t find better ways to use their employees’ time, will be left behind.

Ultimately, the combination of Custom Bots with Messenger apps will not just accelerate the sales cycle but reshape the entire sales process.

  • For customers, they’ll get more of what they need, immediately – not merely offering up information, but getting something done.
  • And for sales teams, we will be applying our time and resources to areas of the sales cycle that only a human can manage, that only a human can create value within.

This is a new baseline of productivity

We’ve all accepted, for far too long I think, that the sales cycle involves trying to get the attention of a prospect, gathering simple information, performing basic tasks that slowly take you closer to high impact work.

But what if a bot could do that for you? What if you can start with the high-impact work?

From the sales team’s perspective, Custom Bots are supporting you with upper funnel management and allowing reps to apply themselves in more human ways.
Pricing Page Bot

Just as modern machinery transformed agricultural work, chatbots will revolutionize administrative work for sales teams. As salespeople, we want the largest possible return on our time and energy. That return has the potential to be dramatically increased, thanks to the time you get back by leveraging a bot.

You can focus your attention and your effort on doing stuff that’s truly interesting, rewarding and high value.

Do your best work for your customers

Our Messenger is fast becoming a place to get work done. It’s not simply a place to chat. It’s not simply a way to offer up information of fill out a form. Instead, it’s fast becoming a way for customers to understand the problem they have, get meaningful guidance, and then achieve a desired outcome, take a next step, complete a workflow.

Chatbots really are the interface that help make that happen. Quite simply, bots are enabling a better way of working.

Our job at Intercom is not to create interactions for their own sake, but to create what interactions enable – meaningful results and value for both customers and businesses.

Give Custom Bots a try, see how they can drive your company to new growth, and free yourself to do the job that only you can do.

The post How Custom Bots can reshape your entire sales cycle appeared first on Inside Intercom.

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For a long time, many companies had only one way to capture visitors to their website: contact forms. Lengthy lead forms became the lifeblood of modern customer acquisition.

But more and more businesses are starting to ask, why do we make people fill out forms just to talk to us? Why aren’t we trying to connect and speak with them when we have their attention? That’s what live chat tools for sales teams make possible.

When a person comes to your site, engages with your content and says, “Hey, I want to talk,” you can use live chat to speak with them right then and there. Combine that with the fact that you are 10x less likely to ever connect with a lead if you wait just five minutes to reach out, and the evidence is clear: live chat can help sales teams turn impersonal funnels into personal, real-time connections – the kind of connections that grow your pipeline and your revenue.

So how do you prepare your sales team to sell in live chat? On the surface, the live chat sales funnel works in much the same way as the traditional funnel. You execute demand generation programs to drive visitors to your website, qualify them, nurture them into sales opportunities and convert them into paying customers. The big difference is with the live chat funnel, you do this in real-time, which requires sales teams to exercise a few new muscles.

Here are 3 critical skills that sales managers need to help frontline reps build in order to maximize the benefits of live chat.

1. When qualifying, treat chats like phone calls or in-person meetings

There’s a common misconception that implementing live chat means your reps talk to everyone who raises their hand.

That’s not the case. We still qualify to determine if the lead is a good fit for our products. You can keep qualification efficient by enriching leads through a third-party or pulling in data you already have in your CRM. Chatbots like Intercom’s Operator can also collect data and ask additional qualification questions on your reps’ behalf to determine which leads should route to your sales team.

Once reps have connected with a lead on live chat, it’s important for them to remember they’re having a conversation with the person on the other end. That means a warm introduction, being personal and answering the prospect’s questions before earning the right to ask their own – just like what you would do if you were talking face to face. By doing this, reps will be able to give helpful context for the qualification questions they need to ask and build trust with the lead. Reps shouldn’t be afraid to show some personality either – they’re human and their lead is too!

Here’s an example of how that might be done:

Sales managers, be sure to adjust your dashboards and KPIs to account for real-time metrics, such as first response time.

2. Be prepared to tackle a wider range of tough questions in real-time

Live chat makes sales teams more efficient, not less, because your reps can handle at least 20% more live chat leads per person than they can traditional web form leads. But to excel, they need to know how to handle the different questions prospects will throw at them and do it in real-time.

Live chat can help sales teams turn impersonal funnels into personal, real-time connections

We know that prospects do their homework in advance and research solutions on websites before reaching out. So first-time conversations with your reps will run the gamut, from detailed pricing inquiries, to technical product questions, to tough questions about how you stack up against your competitors.

Since the conversations are live, reps need to give prompt replies that have just the right level of depth to build credibility while moving the conversation forward. That means more than ever they need to practice and prepare by leveraging battle cards, tailoring sales scripts to real-time conversations, and role playing. At Intercom, reps go through chat-specific training and certification programs to verify that they have successfully gained these skills.

3. Accelerate the sales cycle and close the deal

When the rep has qualified a lead and addressed their top concerns, it’s time to move leads onto the next step — schedule a meeting, follow up over email, close a deal, or drop leads into a nurture track until they’re ready to buy. Many of these steps are similar to the steps reps take with leads who filled out a form.

But only in live chat can reps accelerate the sales cycle with sales-ready prospects by doing the following:

  • Loop in teammates for real-time discovery: If reps realize their lead is qualified and eager to go deeper, they can instantly pass the chat to an available account executive and have the lead move on to discovery. Share case studies and other content that’s relevant to their prospect’s use case directly in the chat. No more email back-and-forth or phone tag.
  • Close deals in real-time: Your team can even help the prospect complete a purchase in the same conversation. With Intercom’s Messenger apps, they can start a video call or screenshare in the live chat to give an instant product demo. Moreover, reps can convert or upgrade leads as they chat using the Stripe Subscription app.
  • The power of live chat for sales

    With live chat, as with any other sales channel, your sales team needs to flawlessly execute selling fundamentals — prospect, qualify, and convert leads. But the real-time nature of live chat requires reps to develop a few more skills to effectively engage with people who are on your website and ready to move forward in the buying funnel. Help your team develop these skills and you’ll be on your way to capture more ROI for your marketing spend and build a stronger pipeline.

    Want to hear more lessons I’ve learned implementing and managing a live chat sales funnel? Check out my talk at this year’s Revenue Summit.

    Form vs Chatbots - The Process of Routing, Timing and Conversion Rate Optimization - YouTube

    The post The 3 core skills to master real-time selling appeared first on Inside Intercom.

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