The R&D and Go-to-Market Flywheel: An Interview with Catherine Brodigan of Intercom

Intercom has experienced incredible growth in the last five years, and they now have over 250 apps in their integration marketplace.

Catherine Brodigan heads the EMEA partnerships team at Intercom. Catherine shared the benefits of a data-driven approach to partnerships, how to best implement feedback loops with other internal departments, her approach to partnership KPIs and goals, and where she sees the partnership landscape evolving.

How did you get into partnerships? 

I joined the partnerships team at Intercom at the beginning of this year, after 4 years on the existing business team here. When I joined we were 200 people globally and we’re now at over 600.

Before joining Intercom, I spent 2 years at Twitter’s EMEA HQ in Dublin, and prior to that I’d spent 10 years working in media operations and sales.

Thinking back to when I joined Intercom in 2016, we already had a well- established set of APIs at that point and were starting to grow our developer community. By the time we launched our public app store and developer hub in 2018 we had over a hundred apps in there, and we’ve grown that to over 250 today.

As a relationship manager on our existing business team, I could really see the value of growing a healthy ecosystem around our core solutions - helping the customers that I worked with enrich how they used Intercom, being able to extend out to new use cases through our partners, and deliver improved experiences for their customers.

Catherine Brodigan

Our mission at Intercom is to make internet business personal, and our ideal partners really complement that mission.

Seeing how important these partnerships were, early this year, I moved over to lead the EMEA partnerships team.

Currently, I’m working with both our partner communities - our app partners, who’ve built integrations with Intercom, and our service partners - agencies, BPOs and consultancies who offer or run Intercom as part of their client services. I jumped at the chance to found a new team, and to scale out the go-to-market side of our partnerships as I knew we already had a great platform team in place.

Who does your team report to and what is your relationship with other departments?

I report to our Senior Director of Partnerships, and we report into Sales. As part of the partnerships team, we work closely with the sales team, marketing, and our developer platform team on the R&D side.  

Across both partner communities our main areas of focus are sales collaboration and enablement - including referrals and co-selling - working with our marketing team on co-marketing initiatives, as well as sourcing new partners.

Technology partnerships involve product and go-to-market teams. Do you have any advice for working well with other internal departments and ensuring you are getting enough internal resources to meet your goals?

At Intercom, we believe go-to-market and product teams should work very closely together. That cultural alignment is key to facilitating tech partnerships. You also need processes in place to ensure that working together delivers the right results.

Data and visibility are key. Make sure you stay top of mind and are able to demonstrate value to other departments. You want them to understand how partnerships can help them meet their goals. 

For example, explain to sales how integrations can help close deals, and show marketing how promoting partnerships and co-marketing can drive more net new qualified leads. With product, we communicate how our R&D teams can leverage partners to bridge product gaps, or collaborate when we're building something new. 

We are very data driven at Intercom, and we put systems in place to ensure that sales, partnerships, customer teams, and product exist in a feedback loop where relevant data is being communicated and leveraged.

Our leadership team talks a lot about the importance of having our R&D and go-to-market teams working really closely together and that absolutely extends out to partnerships as well.

We get a lot of customer feedback - after all we are a company that is all about conversations and building customer relationships really - and a lot of this is surfaced through our sales team in their conversations with customers and prospects as well as through our support team.

Both customer support and sales do an excellent job of tagging data so our organization is getting feedback for each area of our product, including apps and integrations. 

We’ll typically work with our research teams to analyse this data and make recommendations to our R&D teams on where they should be focusing on next in terms of the integrations we’re building ourselves. And for those integrations that are built by our partners, making sure that we’ve got solid feedback loops in place with them too.

This helps us to make decisions on product and go-to-market questions. It helps us decide, for example, whether to build an integration, or reach out to partners with data on what they might want to build. 

How developed is your tech partnership ecosystem?

We have over 250 apps in our public app store today, including HubSpot, Marketo, Slack, Salesforce and Stripe. When I joined the company in 2016, we already had a very established set of APIs. Our developer community had grown very organically.

In 2018, we launched our public app store and at that stage we had over a hundred apps in there. At the same time, we launched a developer hub that included developer tools, including a Canvas Kit that makes it easy for partners to build right in the Intercom UI. 

Today 76 percent of our customers use partner apps every week to bring unprecedented efficiency to sales, marketing and support workflows. Our more than 30,000 customers, including Amazon, Facebook, Lyft, and Atlassian, also installed apps from the Intercom App Store more than 100,000 times in 2019 alone. 

Our developer platform team - which is part of our R&D org - continues to manage our developer tooling, and work with our developer community on the technical side. 

How do you structure the go-to-market side of the relationship with your tech partners?

We’re spending a lot of time this year with our sales team - getting them fired up about the value of partnerships and where our partners can really help add value for our customers. Typically we’ll run larger format focused training sessions for our global teams 2x per quarter and have these backed up by smaller group sessions.

We’re also experimenting with some creative ways to connect our own sales team with our partners’ sales teams this year and foster those relationships too, even in these remote times!

We’ve set up shared Slack channels with some of our premier partners, which are invaluable for those quick ‘shoulder tap’ moments on referral opportunities, but they’ve also become a great place to celebrate wins too and keep the teams energized.

We’ve also run ‘speed dating’ sessions for two of our teams where we’ll power through as many account introductions as we can within the time, but also get the reps connected and talking. Building that rapport is so important once you’ve got a good enablement foundation in place.

What are your KPIs for tech partnerships and how do you track them?

We’re still experimenting and scaling up our partnerships org, so there’s been some testing and iteration this year on that front - and learning more about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to lead generation, community building, and managing those co-selling and co-marketing processes.

We'll typically track net new leads and net new revenue generated through partner engagement, as well as integration adoption and usage, and how this impacts customer growth and retention rates.

When our customers integrate Intercom with other tools, we do see this having a positive impact on their LTV.

What is your approach to partners who decide to build integrations to Intercom? How do you set the bar for who can be in your app store?

I think at a foundational level, we’ll always want our customers to be confident that any app they’ll connect to their Intercom account is going to work well and add value - and that it’s built in a way that’ll leverage their user data responsibly too.

We encourage developers who are building on Intercom to consider how they’ll add to our ecosystem. Making sure the app they’re building complements one or more of our solutions rather than looking to reinvent or rebuild core Intercom features, and thinking about how they’ll differentiate from other apps that might already exist in their space.

As well as making the value of their app clear by providing really clear listing text, screenshots and videos, we’ll always ask that app developers make it clear how they’ll be using Intercom data and requesting only the OAuth scopes they need and why these are important. 

How do you see partnerships evolving for SaaS companies in the next 5 years?

Scale! Building for the future and starting to become a lot more data driven both in terms of inputs to and outputs from our partner relationships. 

Continuing that strength in collaboration between R&D and GTM - I think companies that will truly succeed in this space will have a flywheel that works really well. 

Knowing what their core focus will be, and knowing where the ecosystem has a role to play, having the tools in place to make those integrations possible, and the go-to-market folks in place to make those new integrations as successful as they can be.

And the output of this is only going to be net positive for SaaS buyers. Customer expectations are rising and the bar is incredibly high. And with the pandemic there’s an increasing focus on tool consolidation, so everything in a business’s stack is going to have to work really well together. 

And I think we’re really well positioned in this regard at Intercom - we’ve spent the past 6 years investing in our APIs and consistently adding new capabilities like our Canvas Kit so that we can continue on this mission towards becoming a centralized place for internet businesses to communicate with their customers. 

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