Threading Siloes is More Effective than Breaking Them Down

“We need to make connections not only in how we communicate but also how we also action insights — actually take action and turn it into something that either becomes revenue producing or customer saving.”

A conversation with Anna Griffin, CMO at Intercom

I had the privilege several months ago to speak with a group called Code for America which does phenomenal work – and I invite you to read the article we published about them on TheCustomer. One of the most remarkable things about them, aside from how they’re even pulling off what they’re doing, is that the technology that underpins everything is run by Intercom. And the more they keep talking about what they do, and how they do it, the more impressed I became with what I didn’t really know about Intercom to that point. So today, I’m lucky enough to talk with Anna Griffin who is Chief Marketing Officer at Intercom to hear it from the source. So, Anna, thanks for joining me.


Anna Griffin - Intercom
Anna Griffin is CMO at Intercom

Anna Griffin

I really appreciate it – thank you! And yeah, you’re 1000% correct – they are an incredibly impressive organization and I’ve followed them for many years because the impact of what they can do in creating step-change or in creating equality in business or access to technology.


I find it fascinating, on top of everything else, I was really impressed with the people there because they are hardworking, driven people, the ones I spoke with, and take it as a matter of fact that this is a mission that somebody needs to accomplish, so we’re gonna do it. And so, I’m interested in hearing in your words, if you would, what is Intercom’s mission? Because I think there are a lot of ways to draw that story. But in your words, as the chief architect of the brand “Intercom”, what is it, what’s the mission there?  And then maybe you can talk a little bit about how you’re out there accomplishing that?

Anna Griffin

I love that! Thank you! Our mission has been the same since we started and that is, we make internet business personal. Now think about that – you know the way that we are used to interacting with businesses until the rise of the internet was you’d go into a store, you’d be greeted by a sales rep who would start to know, you know, your preferences, make suggestions. You’d have a relationship. There would be suggestive selling, There would be close selling, like all the things that would naturally happen in what I call the good old days of the general store. And with the rise of the internet business, you lose that ability for that personal connection – but you don’t have to!

And, you know, for internet businesses to continue to play an incredibly important role in our life, their success is going to continue to be driven by their ability to make it personal. How do you create those human interactions? You know people are still humans, they still value and think about things in a very human way. So how can you meet them with humanity? That honestly drives real success for those who are able to do just that.


So, Intercom has a huge tool belt.  You have a lot of mechanics that you can deploy to support those kinds of interactions. Can you talk a little bit about that – without going into too much detail, but maybe the larger categories of how you go about supporting human communications in the world of the internet?

Anna Griffin

Well, if you think about it, there are lots of different modalities for communications, and in the rise of internet business, a lot of different age groups and generations are interfacing with these businesses, and they all have different preferences. Some people only want to talk to a human being. Some people do not want to talk to a human being at all. Some people do not want to feel like they are being sold anything. Some people want to self-select and find their own information. Some people want to be curated-to. So, you know, we make a technology we call the Messenger. The business messenger interface that’s in our product, can allow this two-way, real-time communication. Now, sometimes that is with a human being, sometimes that could be a chatbot interaction, sometimes, you know, that can be a self-serve motion where you’re able to request, and find, and suggest, and go find your own information. And so the messenger becomes the window into a two-way communication but it also becomes the arbiter of omni-channel – connecting you to the modalities that you’re most wanting to interact with.


So, understanding how customers want to be communicated with has always been the biggest challenge. I think we’ve understood – a lot of people understood – for a long time that customer preferences really needed to drive that, but achieving it’s been difficult. We’ve heard terms like omnichannel for a lot of years and 360-degree views of the customer, and yet the technology couldn’t quite get us there up until, I think, pretty recently. So, we’re talking about lots of different modalities and customer preferences that drive those things. How does Intercom adapt to those customer demands? I mean, what’s behind them?

Anna Griffin

So, number one, I think the reason you had such a disconnect is that there’s always been preference of channels but it was really the rise of AI that started to allow that real level of understanding of who you are. And compounding AI, and this is what’s special about Intercom, is it’s a single customer record. No matter if you are in an acquisition mode and you’re on the front end of a website and you start to interact with a website, but then you maybe you get into a trial, or you get into the product, you want to be onboarded. It takes that same customer record from the acquisition phase of the lifecycle and it builds on it because now it knows exactly how to customize your onboarding. It knows exactly the type of trial it should serve you because it already knew that you were, say, a CMO looking for a marketing solution. So now you’re in a trial, I bet you’re going to want to know these five things because most marketers want to know these five things. So, it takes you to this, and then from the second you transact, that same customer record continues over. It knows exactly what you are sold, what you are promised in a sales relationship. It knows what you need to get started in a customer success relationship. It knows how you need to be supported. It knows what you’ve been sold, what you’ve added on, etc. So, it’s constantly growing and growing and suggesting and feeding and adapting to you.

And when you said a “disconnected world” we’ve always known about modalities and preferences, but until you can put that into a single customer record, and you can get it unified across all the silos of a company – think about it, all companies have silos. This is the support team. This is the customer success team. This is the sales team. This is the marketing team, and they may all have different platforms and they’re worried about their job in their part of the customer funnel or the customer life cycle. But nobody is stitching that all the way across, and you really can’t do that unless you have a system to connect into your existing systems. That single customer record is what makes that seamless experience possible.

One of the most interesting things about this is you take the technical capability of being able to do that, but then you take the rise of what’s happening in business, in the marketplace – whose job is it to sell today? Is it sales teams? Sure, but it’s also that marketing has to sell the product. Support has to sell. Whose job is it to market today? Sure marketing has to market, but can a support rep help at the right moment in the right time? “I happen to know a new feature that’s being released that it wants to share with you.” So, it’s that crossover functionality between sales,marketing, and support, because it’s everybody’s job to sell and service a customer. And so, the importance of being able to do that – having those seamless handoffs is now possible. It’s what makes those remarkable customer experiences possible.

The rise of the “net revenue retention” internet subscription-based businesses, direct to consumer, all of a sudden, net revenue retention is the holy grail of growth. I mean, it is what people are looking to as the number one indicator of enterprise value or shareholder value. So, you have to think about how you get that type of loyalty.  Well, you get that type of loyalty through ongoing, constant engagement throughout the customer life cycle. And that creates challenges.


One of the things you’ve talked about was the issue with silos. That they exist is a natural byproduct of a growing company. Disciplines just focus on their discipline, and so what you end up with is groups that don’t talk to other groups. Interestingly though, from my perspective, is that I’ve spoken to so many people especially in the CX world who understand intuitively that silos in and of themselves, just slow things down. They stop communication. Things don’t happen across silos like they should. If you could only break those things down, you’d have something that felt like a more holistic operation. But what you’re saying, I think, is that with a system like Intercom, if you start with a thread that you can tie all those things together, it’s not so much about breaking down walls, it’s just about offering communications that can be threaded throughout a customer life cycle, that can be grown organically. And that the nature of that engagement changes, and everybody who has a touch point or a stakeholder that wants to know what’s happening can be a part of that same thread. That’s my interpretation by the way. I think that’s a really interesting approach because breaking down silos is difficult. There’s territorialism, there are just misunderstandings, there arepeople whose bonuses depend on their silos. And yet, what you seem to be saying is, maybe we just start communicating effectively and here’s one little thread then that can start happening organically on its own.

Anna Griffin

Exactly! And you can take it even further, and that’s where I get the most geeked out and excited about these technologies or this technology in general. You know we’ve been living in a workflow, workflow, workflow world you know – it’s all about automating the workflows, and so it’s not just taking the insight but being able to take that insight, passing it to an organization in real time, changing a workflow, or automating a workflow to ultimately respond on the customer’s behalf. And so yes, silos are always going to exist – we’re never going to collapse into one big seamless company. We’re always going to have the points and silos and remits and responsibilities.  We need to make connections not only in how we communicate but also how we also action insights — actually take action and turn it into something that either becomes revenue producing or customer saving.


I could keep this conversation going for another hour anyway just because it’s fascinating and because I’m a huge fan of what you guys at Intercom are doing. But I’ll be more kind than that to our schedules.  Anna, thanks for your time and insight.  I hope we can continue this dialogue – fascinating stuff.

Anna Griffin

Thanks Mike – looking forward to it.

Photo by Bogdan Karlenko on Unsplash

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