How video tutorials became the main sales agents of our B2B software, and what lessons we learnt along the way.
At BSC Designer, we do strategy execution software, a tool that helps businesses to map their goals and track their KPIs. We have clients from Latin America, US, Europe, Asia. From 2011, we have been experimenting with video tutorials starting from professional, narrated videos that sounded nice but had no tangible impact and ending up with some amateur but surprisingly effective tutorials. This article is a summary of the lessons we learnt.
The Challenges We Wanted to Address
People who typically prototyped their business scorecard in spreadsheet software sooner or later ended up searching for some professional tool, and that’s where our software was shortlisted.
Customers needed local support
One of the typical pre-sales questions was about product training and local support, and that’s where we were losing to our competitors. We work as a distributed team and do all sales and customer support online. This approach is less typical in the domain of business software and was often a reason why larger companies preferred local alternatives.
Scale live demo experience
Another observation was that our prospect clients were reacting very well to the live demo calls. The conversion rate for such calls was high, and there were many “aha” moments. My challenge was to deliver the experience of such fruitful conversations to more users.
These were two starting points that made us think about video tutorials seriously.
First Attempt: Professional Narration
Our first approach to these challenges was a classical one. We had prepared some scripts and did professional narration for them. The result was a typical, perfect video tutorial that you can find for any product online.
Soon (actually after about three years), we realized that there were some problems with that approach:
- Those videos were hard to maintain. When we updated some feature in the software, we had to update narration with the same voice talent and do the video synchronization once again. We released on average three improvements weekly, so if we wanted to maintain videos up to date, we had to update them regularly as well.
- We faced difficulties localizing those videos into other languages. The videos were based on scripts that were supposed to be easy to translate. In reality, the translated scripts narrated by local voice talent did not work that well.
- Most important: those perfectly polished videos resulted in being too perfect. People commented that those tutorials were not natural, and it was hard to follow the idea. The perfect English of the narrator did not work well for non-US users.
Bottom line: videos with professional narrations did their job. At least we were able to tell our prospective clients that there is product training in a form of video tutorials. Still, most clients were not really enthusiastic about those videos and the way we delivered them.
Second Attempt That Proved to Be Effective
We decided to give the video tutorials idea another try that worked much better. I’m sharing my findings below. Keep in mind that I’m not a professional video marketer, and I have no idea if the same approach will work for you, so do what we did — try and see if it resonates with the challenges of your business.
Don’t use professional narration
It goes against logic, but that’s true. Users are more comfortable with amateur video than video with professional narration.
You still need to do your best in terms of sound quality and avoid background noise, but the best narrator is one who knows the product, not just a voice talent. Customers will even forgive you a strange accent and minor mistakes if you sound like a person who is talking with them.
Today, the only video with professional narration that we have is one 30-second long video on the main webpage of BSC Designer Online. I have no rational explanation why we keep it as, probably, because it is a front page.
Shorter tutorials are easier to maintain
It sounds like an obvious thing now, but I wish we knew this in the very beginning. It is easier to keep shorter (around 5–10 minutes) tutorials up to date. Still, we have some longer tutorials (around 20–60 minutes), but they are exceptions.
One of the most complex features in BSC Designer tool is related to KPIs. Instead of having one long tutorial, we have one overview video (the latest update is about 11 minutes long) + 9 supporting tutorials. For example, in the overview tutorial, we show how to deal with the performance formula for indicators, but the detailed explanation of this topic is in a separate video. This approach helps us to be really agile in terms of video tutorials.
Keep tutorials up to date
Imagine a person who is following your tutorial. Sometimes, he or she pauses the video to reproduce your steps. Any difference between the video and the real interface is confusing.
We experienced this when we removed the “Business Goals” tab (actually merged its functionality with “KPIs” tab) from the software. Every second email that we were getting was asking about the disappeared tab. Good to know people cared.
Keep product tutorials free and public
I’m not sure why, but many users are surprised to have access to our video tutorials, even before they pay for a product. Probably, they have had some bad experience with some vendors of corporate software that show the product on screenshots only. In our case, we provide 30-day trial for the software, and all tutorials and manuals are available for free, indexed by Google and are actually accumulating some good traffic. I don’t see any reason why we should hide them.
Talk to your audience — don’t use scripts
It’s like public speaking — the best speakers don’t read the text; they just know what they are talking about. You know your product, so just explain it in a natural way to your audience.
When I record some video, I have an iPad in front of me with a bullet list of the topics that I need to talk about. Plus, some examples that proved to be good in the previous versions of the same video.
When your product is user-friendly, talking about it without a script is easy. If it is hard to do a tutorial without scripts, then consider revising the interface of your product (see the story about fixing UI below).
Silence is the best background
Don’t use background music. English speakers will probably like it, but if you sell globally, it will make your tutorial harder to understand.
In terms of technical setup, a professional studio is always a better choice. In our case, it was a compromise between agility and quality of tutorials.
Use a USB microphone
They say that the quality of the video is perceived as the quality of its sound, so make sure you do your best. A good USB microphone is a must — my personal choice is the Blue Yeti for regular recordings and Samson Meteor for travel. The last one has its official store on AliExpress, so it’s easy to equip new local partners with it.
Use a silent mouse
Avoid using touch bar as well. Users should hear the clicks, but they should be somewhere in the background. I know you can do many things with video editing software, but I prefer to reduce the time needed for editing.
Make sure your laptop doesn’t make any noise
Your laptop should pass a load test: start processing previously recorded video and record a new one at the same time. If the CPU fan is not going crazy, then you can survive with that device.
For example, my previous laptop was not ready for these loads. It was far away from being silent, and sometimes I even had to put a barrier between it and the microphone to avoid background noises. With the Mac Pro, there are no such problems.
Use lightweight video recording software
I’m a happy user of Screencastify and Screencast-o-Matic (no affiliation with either of them).
- Screencastify — a lightweight plugin for Chrome. There is only basic video editing functionality, but it is really lightweight and uploads the results in no time.
- Screencast-o-Matic — has a better video editor and some other cool features, but processing takes longer.
The subscription cost is similar. For some technical reason, I had to switch to Screencast-o-Matic, but I miss the speed and simplicity of Screencastify, so I guess I’ll be using both for a time.
Now, let’s talk about how the whole idea of video tutorials was connected to business automation, SEO, and other business systems.
Make tutorials SEO-friendly
Initially, we used YouTube just as a hosting platform without any specific expectations of SEO effect, but it proved to generate valuable traffic by itself. Our minimum requirement for the video tutorial is an SEO-friendly title + link in the description + some short description text. Cross-linking to some relevant articles and videos is a good idea.
Automate video embedding
In our first attempt, we were showing videos in a lightbox and later embedding them in separate posts (we run our website on WordPress). The idea looked good, but it appeared hard to maintain. The next approach was using shortcodes which was much better, but finally, we ended up merging video tutorials with text manuals.
One of the reasons is that those manuals are automatically released htm files, and we have much better control over them. For example, we can now generate a manual in Portuguese and check if there is a video tutorial for the “Alerts” function in that language. If not, we can automatically insert the English tutorial. This sounds like a small thing, but when there are manuals in five languages, this approach helps to avoid mistakes.
Users need to find relevant videos quickly
Uploading video tutorial to YouTube is not enough. Building a web page with all tutorials is a good starting point, but still, it is not enough. The idea is to provide the user with a video tutorial at the exact moment he or she needs it.
In our case, the interface of the software is divided into the tabs and some dialogs, so we decided to put links to the relevant video tutorials on those tabs and dialogs. Now, if a user needs, for example, to share a scorecard, he clicks the “Share” button. The user can go ahead exploring software by trying all the options or can click on the camera icon that is linked to the appropriate video tutorial.
Use tutorials to low support costs
With the implementation of video tutorials, our approach to customer support has changed.
- Now users ask fewer questions — not because they are less engaged (we checked other metrics as well), but because they can find answers on their own.
- The customer support team uses those tutorials. A perfect case is when we answer the question (immediate solution) and also provide a link to a relevant video tutorial (in this way, we teach our customers to find the right materials themselves).
The tutorials won’t replace live calls
At least not 100%. In our case, something has changed. Before, most of the calls were about showcasing product; now most of the calls are about establishing trust. Today, most customers watch tutorials before the demo call and have some good understanding of the product.
The tutorials won’t replace excellent content
YouTube is now a significant source of traffic for BSC Designer, but still, our main lead magnet is our content. Even more, in some video tutorials, we cannot explain all the details. For example, when talking about calculations of the goal performance that takes into account indicators’ weight, normalization, leading, and lagging performance, we do a reference to the relevant article on our website.
I absolutely agree with the idea that video strategy should be a part of content strategy.
Making tutorials help to fix UI
We’ve found many UI problems when recording video tutorials. My hypothesis is that doing a recording is a stressful situation, and we (temporarily) get rid of a developer’s hat and behave like a normal customer.
I use these examples on my workshops: in BSC Designer, there was a function (a quite complicated one) that allowed importing data from spreadsheets into the KPIs. The function was not really user-friendly, and our clients were constantly asking for assistance.
Making a video tutorial for this function was also a challenge — even an experienced person was not able to record video from the first attempt. As a result, we prepared a script and recorded a temporary tutorial, and we have also planned to update the interface. In a few months, the function was completely reworked, and now it works like a charm. Our clients can use it intuitively now and recording tutorials for this feature is no longer a nightmare for the team.
I contribute the initial impetus to update this feature to the frustrating experience that we had when trying to make a good video tutorial.
Tutorials are not just about features
The scope of video tutorials should not be limited to product features only. One of our most popular tutorials shows how to build a Balanced Scorecard step by step. It is basically a screencast of the scorecard design process using our tool. The video is more than 1-hour long, and people (reasonably) complain about this, but this tutorial also converted many prospective clients into paying ones.
Were the Initial Challenges Solved?
In the beginning, I mentioned the challenges that we had. Were they solved successfully? I believe the answer is positive, and some engagement metrics confirm my guess.
- We started seeing much more corporate clients who now feel comfortable about the way we provide product training and customer support.
- The experience for new users seems to have changed in a positive way as well. We still do live demo calls, and people still ask many questions, but these questions now indicate a much better understanding of the software.
To Be Solved
Some aspects of video tutorials are not solved yet.
We don’t have subtitles for the videos, and as there are no scripts, we cannot generate them automatically. I guess (we have just a few comments on the topic) the absence of subtitles are a challenge for those who watch videos without sound or don’t understand English well. We hope to find some scalable solution for this. For now, Fiverr freelancers + YouTube subtitle synch function looks like the only viable option.
Solution for outdated videos
The 1 hour+ long video tutorial mentioned above is a good one in terms of engagement. It has good karma on YouTube, but the problem is that it is outdated (the interface of the software that we used in the video has changed significantly).
The dilemma is whether we should keep it and take advantage of its good karma or remove it and hope that its newer version will become as popular as the old one. YouTube doesn’t allow replacing old videos with new ones or do a kind of 301 redirect, so for now, a temporary solution is to let viewers know that the video is outdated and give them a link to a new version.
Experiments Go On
I saw some videos on YouTube where our tool is explained in Arabic or Portuguese. Those are not “official” videos, but we like to see that our users and partners are so engaged. We continue with our own experiments, and I hope to share some new insights soon.