Customer Support | 5 min read

How we scaled product demos at Intercom

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If you want customers to stick around, you need to show them how to get the most from your product.

Product demos make the world of difference to how customers use your product. Done right, they teach them to kick ass at the jobs they hired your product for. But as your company, product and customer base grows, scaling quality customer demos for every single new signup is damn hard.

At Intercom, we’ve invented something called the “hybrid demo” – a mix of pre-recorded video and live Q&A. They’ve been so successful that even our friends at Slack are using a similar process for their demos.

But our demo process didn’t always run this smoothly. Success only came about through lots of testing and iteration as we scaled. In fact, we’re still iterating today. But here’s how we scaled our customer demos to over 9,000 customers.

What doesn’t scale

When Intercom had just one product, we held one live product walkthrough per week, to anything from 1 to 50 potential new customers. Even if that meant getting up at 6am in Dublin to demo to customers in the Southern Hemisphere, we never missed a Wednesday demo. The benefits were clear – customers who attended a demo were less likely to churn.

But demos were also a resource sink. Even with one product and a small user base, we still required someone to update the website, send reminder emails, host the demos, field questions, and report on attendee numbers. This overhead grew dramatically as we began to tailor our demos to each new product, and our customer base grew.

Presenting live also came with technical challenges. Your product won’t always look or behave the way you want it to. Your mic won’t connect. The tool you’re using to screenshare may not operate correctly. And you’re at the mercy of internet connection issues; even a brief delay in loading a page can knock the wind out of your sails mid-demo.

It was clear we wouldn’t be able to scale personal demos for every product. One approach we experimented with was screensharing a slide deck of annotated product screenshots. It was simple for any of the team to create engaging slides, which could be quickly edited as our product grew. It wasn’t the most polished process, but moving from a live product walkthrough to slide deck meant our demos were richer, snappier and easier to deliver.

But we were still required to deliver the same live demo every time. We needed something even easier, and something repeatable so other team members could deliver it. We needed an approach that required less overhead, without impacting the quality of the demo.

Enter the hybrid approach

As Intercom has grown, we’ve produced all sorts video content; help videos, best practice guides, and promotional material for new product releases. This back catalogue of video inspired us to rethink how we demoed our product. What if we could pre-record part of the demo, but have a live Q&A and discussion too? So we decided to try it out.

 

Pre-recorded video lets us explain core concepts quickly. Like this overview of Intercom’s user list.

We would chat with attendees at the beginning of the session, briefly again halfway through the video demo, and then once more at the end for the live Q&A and discussion.

But would attendees feel cheated when shown a pre-recorded video, rather than a live walkthrough of the product? It turns out we had little to worry about – the feedback on the hybrid demos has been mostly excellent.

Firstly, hybrid demos still feel “live”; attendees know an Intercom expert is still there to answer their questions. And thanks to tight editing and some basic animations, these demos were faster and richer too. It meant we could deliver consistent quality to attendees every time.

 

Our demos are tailored to the jobs people use Intercom for. Like this demo on reducing churn.

It also afforded us more time to run a solid Q&A session. We never like keeping attendees more than an hour, so our old process meant we often had to cut sessions short without getting to all their questions. Now that our pre-recorded gives us a concise 20 minutes of quality content, we have 40 minutes to do a live Q&A and discussion. Customers feel far more involved and satisfied that their concerns have been addressed.

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Our hybrid approach has allowed us to distribute responsibilities across the sales, customer support, and marketing teams. It is by no means anyone’s full time job; everyone has a small part to play in our demo’s success.

With our hybrid demos, we saw technical overhead drop significantly, while demo quality, and time for Q&A all improved. Very early on we decided we would continue with it full time.

Now, since both our team and our product offering have grown significantly, we deliver a demo like this almost every day (that’s around 1 demo per week for each Intercom product).

Live demos still have their place

Bigger companies will want to discuss very specific use cases – they’ll have more challenging questions, and more barriers to success (like security, legacy systems, etc). We still offer hand-held walkthroughs of our products to our bigger customers every day. But if you’re sending lots of customers down a self-serve onboarding path, and you want to provide a broad overview of what your product enables, the hybrid approach is ideal. You’ll get that personal touch, while being able to deliver demos at scale.

We’ve found the hybrid demo approach to be the ideal balance between automation and keeping things personal. Whether you have the resources to create videos or not, at the very least you should make time to live demo your product to all your new sign ups. Do them regularly and tell all your new signups about them. Work hard at them to make sure customers get value out of them. And make sure your approach adapts and grows as you scale.