Interview with Alexandra Shapiro, Chief Marketing Officer, Intercom

Alexandra Shapiro
Alexandra Shapiro

” Every business that wants to grow and scale needs to build better relationships with customers from the first time they visit their website.”

Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What made you join Intercom?

I am the CMO at Intercom and oversee all of Intercom’s marketing efforts including brand, external comms, demand generation, and product marketing. Prior to Intercom, I was CMO at BigCommerce, where I grew top of funnel demand and revenue by 45% YoY and optimized marketing across major digital and partner channels.

Before that, I was PayPal’s Head of Merchant Marketing and Partner Development, managing all marketing functions for PayPal North America Small and Medium Business. I was also a Senior VP at JP Morgan-Chase and started my career at McKinsey & Company.

My career started as a small business owner running a software and computer store after my family came to the United States as refugees from Ukraine. This is where I really learned about business and technology. It also gave me a passion for helping small businesses grow and thrive, which was a huge contributing factor in my decision to join Intercom. Intercom has developed the complete growth platform that powers communications across the customer lifecycle, opening up new, real-time channels for communicating and engaging with customers. Intercom’s business messenger will unlock massive growth opportunities for businesses, enabling businesses to grow faster by building stronger relationships with their customers.

From a refugee to becoming a successful business leader, what made you grow stronger in your skin and mind?

My family and I came to the US as refugees in search of freedom from Ukraine when I was 18. We were full of hope and ready to go after our dreams in the land of opportunity, but we also only had $650 when we arrived and my parents didn’t speak English well. It was a really rough start, but the experience taught me the value of perseverance and how to make my way despite the compounding obstacles.

My parents were highly educated and placed a really high value on education, so I knew when I came here that I wanted to go to college and make something of myself. I also had to work full time to help support my family. I learned how to adapt and how to dream big while staying grounded. I went to colleges I could afford and took classes at night so that I could work during the day and help my dad start a small computer business. I learned how to make the most of my opportunities and got a lot of hands-on experience as a young entrepreneur with our family’s business. We built the business using marketing techniques that became very useful to me as I was building my career; we had strategies to increase revenue like offering network support and courses on programs, including Microsoft Office. We learned how to listen to customers and provide the kind of services they wanted. All of these experiences were a foundation for my leadership style and made me a much stronger person and marketer.

What lessons would you give to dreamers in the US tech industry?

I think the biggest lesson is believe in yourself and invest in your education. Fortunately, there are affordable education options that offer flexible schedules for working adults. I also found that my willingness to work hard and passion to learn has helped me grow professionally and opened up new career opportunities for me. So, my advice is that you have a long runway ahead of you, and your hard work, education, and passion will help propel your long-term success and open up new career opportunities

As a woman CMO in tech, how do you stay on top of your marketing and sales strategies?

I think that both women and men CMOs are most successful when they build their Marketing and Sales strategies around a deep understanding of their target customers — their needs and pain points. Intercom is focused on solving customers’ problems — we are helping the business grow and build deeper relationships with their customers. To do that, we need to understand what our customers are doing day to day, their problems and how they’re currently solving for those problems. We need to understand how they’re using our product — not just how they say they’re using our product — and how our solution can help them achieve their business goals.

Define the Context of “Right Marketing” in 2018. How does it impact marketing programs?

Ultimately, marketing should drive profitable growth for the company. “Right” marketing is marketing that does just that by understanding target customers, the pain points your solutions address, and the value you deliver to customers. By understanding these, marketing teams can develop profitable go-to-market strategies that achieve tangible business results. Marketing strategy and business strategy must be aligned really tightly in order for marketing to drive business growth. It comes down to three fundamental things:

Understanding customer needs and pain points. It starts with a deep understanding of customer needs, their buying journey. The next step is to understand the full business context, the stage in their lifecycle, and the relative importance of other technology solutions

Making sure that you have the right data infrastructure in place. When you have more insights about your buyers, it’s easier to target the right audience, with the right message, at the right time.  At Intercom, we use data enrichment tools and real-time interactions to build rich prospect profiles, develop our rules for routing and qualifying leads to make sure that we are sending them relevant and actionable messages.

Optimizing and measuring the performance of your work through the vigorous test and learning strategy. At Intercom, we always start by building a “cupcake” —  a small version of a tool or idea, testing, and iterating quickly. This approach applies to everything we do: messaging, targeting, and pricing.

Tell us about Messaging as a marketing channel? Which technologies are you keen to invest into in 2018-2020?

Messengers and live chat allow businesses to be personal online and connect with customers and leads in a personal, targeted way that’s real-time. Messengers will be the de-facto channel for businesses to connect with their customers and messengers will serve as a business’ digital front door, connecting businesses with everyone that “walks by.”

Messengers allow sales, marketing, and support teams to leverage multi-channel customer communication so they can reach customers wherever they are. Every business will need to invest in live chat technologies to stay competitive in a climate where customers demand personal, immediate, and direct engagement with companies at every stage of the customer journey.

Messengers help businesses grow because they allow sales and marketing teams to acquire customers in a way that reflects the modern buying process. Messengers allow a frictionless sales process where sales teams don’t need to switch tools and customers don’t have to change context and can get real-time and personal interactions.

With our Messenger, businesses can leverage live chat and automation to prioritize website visitors and connect the highest value visitors with the right team, resulting in higher conversion rates, deeper engagement with the most valuable prospects and customers. We’ve found that website visitors that engage with businesses via a live chat are 82% more likely to convert and spend 13% more than those who don’t.

We’re focused on investing in automation and we’ve spent most of this year building new bots that help businesses grow. This summer, we launched Custom Bots, a bot builder designed to accelerate sales. With Custom Bots, marketing and sales team can connect the bots to messenger apps — letting the entire sales process happen inside the messenger. We’re the only messaging platform with this capability.

Intercom has a different approach to automation than a lot of the other offerings on the market.

We’re betting that humans + bots beat bots or humans working in isolation and believe that combining the brilliance of humans with the scale of bots will unlock massive growth opportunities and bring personalization at scale.

What are the core tenets of your business development model?  How does Intercom add value to search technology journeys for businesses?

Every business that wants to grow and scale needs to build better relationships with customers from the first time they visit their website. We spend all this money getting prospects and leads to our websites, but ignore or spam them once they are there. Intercom is changing the old approach with technology that combines automation, bots, and workflow apps to optimize marketing and sales funnels. The products we are building at Intercom are changing the game for marketers like myself, making it possible to deliver completely personalized interactions across the entire customer lifecycle, leading to much deeper cross-sell and stronger retention.

Our products help businesses grow by identifying, qualifying, and converting leads faster and we will continue to build on that. We’re investing heavily in machine learning, bots and automation, and looking at new ways to use apps and automation together to help our customers convert leads faster.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

We admire companies that focus on delivering value to customers, not businesses that are following overhyped trends. Slack is a company we admire. Like Intercom, they believe that messaging is the future and they’ve been able to let teams work and talk to each other the way consumers talk to each other.

Others on my radar include Coda, Airtable, Aircall, Atlassian, and Zapier.

What marketing and sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

We use our own products of course!  We use Intercom Custom Bots to qualify and capture leads on our website. We also use the Marketo and Salesforce Intercom apps often to automatically sync lead qualification and conversation data across our tech stack.

We use data enrichment tools and real-time interactions to build rich prospect profiles, develop our rules for routing and qualifying leads, and to deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time.

Other marketing automation tools we use include:

  • Collaboration tools such as Coda, and its accompanying Intercom app.
  • User enrichment tools such as Clearbit, and its accompanying Intercom app.
  • Optimizely, to test and optimize the performance of our website.

How do you see Intercom and other customer engagement platforms better leveraging AI and machine learning?

Automation is inevitable for every business. But the fastest growing businesses in the future will be those that understand and implement the right automation technology — businesses who make automation work for them and their customers.

We think that by pairing the brilliance of humans with the efficiency of AI and automation, teams can really unlock the growth potential of AI and use it to build better relationships.

One big technology we’ll see continue to grow is chatbots. In years past, poor bot experiences lead to a bot backlash and an industry-wide disillusionment. We think we’re finally on the other side of that, and businesses, for the first time, can derive real value from bots. We now know how to use bots in the right ways, better understanding the contexts where they work and where they don’t. And the tech has also evolved. We now know how to build them and have the right product guidelines.

Now is the time for customer engagement platforms and business to leverage chatbots to bring personalization to users at scale.

How often do you measure the performance of your marketing analytics and sales reporting?

We are constantly measuring our performance in marketing and sales reporting. Our measurement tools are always-on, so we can detect any discrepancies or patterns very early on and can see the impact of our actions immediately. This allows us to tweak and optimize our messages for individual channels as we go and fix any issues before they escalate.

Our team has a bi-weekly meeting to discuss the performance results and strategize accordingly moving forward. During these meetings, we are regularly measuring our day-to-day performance against our quarterly goals. We want to measure continuously so that we can improve continuously.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in Messaging Automation technologies? What do you have to say about video and live streaming content?

Good chatbots will have a huge impact on messaging technologies. Now that teams can realize the value of bots and better understand the contexts where they work best, they can use bots to drive growth and capture and convert more leads. Chatbots will continue to become more advanced and more customized to a team’s specific needs and result in real, actionable outcomes. It’s an area where Intercom is heavily innovating and focusing our efforts. Other companies, such as Salesforce with their Einstein bot, Facebook and Slack, are also seeing lots of innovation in this space.

Video is a really personal and engaging medium to communicate with customers and one that has a really important place in internet businesses. At Intercom, we’ve found that personalized videos sent to customers and leads are a great way to boost relationships, build connections, and convert more customers. Sales and marketing teams will increasingly rely on video throughout the sales process.

In August, Intercom released video messages within the Messenger as well as the ability for chatbots to send personal videos automatically to website visitors via messenger. Video captures website visitors’ attention because it is both personal and interactive, making it easier for marketing and sales teams to make a big first impression. Video Bots brings video and bots together for the first time. Now sales and marketing teams can have driven conversations that feature customizable and personal videos. With chatbots and video working together, sales and marketing teams can connect with customers and leads personally at bot scale, putting a human face behind a chatbot. This is how businesses can stay personal in the age of the internet and online growth.

We also integrate with apps such as Google Meet, Aircall and Daily.co that let customers connect to a video call right inside the Messenger, bringing a whole new level of personal connection to the online sales and marketing process.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success?)

Earlier this year, the Intercom marketing team launched an integrated digital campaign focused specifically on a sales and marketing audience. With the campaign, we wanted to increase momentum over a period of days surrounding the announcement of our new Messenger. Rather than seeing a single day increase in traffic on the day of these announcements, which we’ve had success with in the past, we wanted to execute a campaign that would create rolling momentum before, during and after key moments in time.

Our main campaign goals were to increase brand awareness, traffic to Intercom’s website, and the volume of leads from our target sales and marketing audience. We saw a 10% increase in traffic over the weeks leading up to the announcement and over 25% increase the week of launch. In the weeks after, we saw a sustained 5% increase in traffic week-over-week, all of which translated to more leads, more activity across the customer funnel, and ultimately more customer conversions.

We achieved this through multiple tactics that all fed into the overall integrated sales and marketing push. Our History of Messaging teaser site, for example, brought in 3,000+ additional leads and gave us a robust list of contacts to nurture throughout the campaign, increasing our conversion rates and brand awareness. Similarly, Intercom’s “Or You Could Use Intercom” content push increased awareness of Intercom as a sales and marketing tool and led to increased website traffic from the sales and marketing audience.

Following the success we saw from this integrated campaign, we’ve started thinking long-term about what other audiences we can and should target moving forward, and have built out an ongoing campaign calendar for the fiscal year.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

There is so much innovation in marketing technology, and we are now at a new frontier where we can use technology to develop full end-to-end data feedback loop and provide personalized communications across devices and marketing channels. Ultimately, we can increase the effectiveness of our campaigns and deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time.

One word that best describes how you work.

Learning – I’m always trying to work toward constant learning and improvement.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Intercom, of course! It allows me to see what’s top of mind for our customers.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

I do my most impactful work when I block off time in my calendar to work uninterrupted. At Intercom, we have something called “focus time” for an entire afternoon once a week for uninterrupted work time. We don’t schedule team meetings or anything during that time. It gives me and everyone in our organization an opportunity to be productive and focus on the impact-driven work we’re doing.

What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)

Currently, I’m reading David Sedaris’ Calypso. I’m in a book club and we vote on and discuss a new book every month– it ranges from fiction to nonfiction, history to business, novels to books of essays.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

If you don’t always have a test in the market, then you aren’t taking enough risks. You should always be experimenting and trying new tactics to engage your customers. You can spend hours in a room debating on what will resonate with customers, but sometimes, you just need to put it in front of them and let them decide.

Something you do better than others — the secret of your success?

Strategic thinking — once I have a good understanding of my target customers and their needs, I can quickly develop go-to-market strategies to successfully grow our presence among these target segments.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Thank you, Alexandra! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Alexandra Shapiro is the Chief Marketing Officer at Intercom, customer platform that helps businesses grow. As CMO, Alexandra oversees all marketing efforts including brand, external communications, demand generation, and product marketing to drive awareness and adoption of Intercom’s customer platform. Alexandra is passionate about driving business growth and believes in the power of SaaS as an enabler of growth and innovation.

Intercom Logo

The world’s first customer platform helping internet businesses accelerate growth. Thanks to the internet, the way people communicate is drastically different than it was 10, even 5 years ago. Messengers like WhatsApp have become the preferred mode of communication in every aspect of consumers’ lives, and now that switch is happening with businesses too.

Intercom builds a suite of messaging-first products that all modern internet businesses can use to accelerate growth across the customer lifecycle, from acquisition, to engagement, and support.

Today more than 25,000 businesses, including New Relic, Sotheby’s, and Shopify, use Intercom to connect with a billion unique people worldwide.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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