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11 min read

Slack’s demo deconstructed

Product Marketing | Sales Enablement | Core | Intermediate

Want to learn how the world’s best product marketers think? First step: look around.

Unlike the inner workings of a finance team’s models or an executive meeting, product marketing is an art ultimately practiced out in the open. Messaging, pricing, collateral, and product demos built by leading product marketing managers (PMMs) are easy to find and reflect both the reality of a company’s current state and its strategy for the future. By breaking product marketing assets down into their components we can reverse engineer a company’s go-to-market motion, understand how its leadership thinks, learn key lessons on how to explain products to the world.

“We can’t limit ourselves to tweaking the product; we need to tweak the market too.”

— Stewart Butterfield, Founder & CEO, Slack (We Don’t Sell Saddles Here)

Few assets highlight the close ties between product marketing, corporate strategy, and executive thinking as well as Slack’s primary product demo. Not only is Slack’s demo is a gold mine of key product marketing lessons, it also reveals a goal much larger than selling a product: Slack’s effort to fundamentally change the way we think about enterprise software and work itself.

What lessons can we learn from Slack’s demo? Scroll down and let’s get to work.

(Each screenshot below represents one panel in Slack’s latest scrolling product demo. Click here to see the demo live.)

Key Lessons

Lesson 1: Nail the Lead-In

Lesson 2: Pick An Enemy

Lesson 3: Product Usage > Demo Views

Lesson 4: Frame Your Product Early

Lesson 5: Build a Pillar Product Benefit Framework

Lesson 6: Turn Objections Into Strengths

Lesson 7: Match Feature Spotlights with Pillar Product Benefits

Lesson 8: Write a Multi-level Demo Story

Lesson 9: Challenge Prospects to Imagine More

Lesson 1: Nail the Lead-In

The lead-in to Slack’s demo takes prospects either through the company’s main landing page or via direct link to slackdemo.com (notice: no demo request forms or prompts to schedule a meeting with sales). While it’s tempting to assume that a demo will speak for itself no matter how much a prospect knows about your product, the pathway and touch points prospects encounter before they experience your demo are critically important. The copy and links on Slack.com, for example, prime prospects with a highly-specific way of thinking about the product (as a replacement for email) and provide differentiated CTAs that effectively filter site visitors by their intent.

Lesson 2: Pick An Enemy

Slack’s landing page hooks prospects with a clear, provocative headline: “Slack replaces email inside your company.” This is an example of what former Drift VP of Marketing Dave Gerhardt calls “picking an enemy.” Whether Slack truly replaces email may be up for debate, but the provocative claim grounds prospects in a clear way of thinking about the product and piques their curiosity.

Lesson 3: Product Usage > Demo Views

The two CTAs below the headline provide a critical clue to Slack’s go-to-market strategy: product led growth (PLG). By highlighting “Try Slack” rather than “See The Demo” and nudging prospects to sign up and onboard immediately, Slack emphasizes the product (rather than a traditional sales meeting) as its primary customer acquisition channel. Want to contact Slack’s sales team? You’ll have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to find out how. Even as it targets the world’s largest enterprise accounts, Slack’s customer acquisition strategy rests on getting prospects to use its product.

Lesson 4: Frame Your Product Early

After clicking “See the Demo” prospects are met with a scrolling interactive demo broken into five sections: 1) Where Work Happens 2) With Your Team 3) Across Departments 4) With Other Companies 5) Get Started.

The demo’s length and segment titles indicate that it’s targeted at high-level economic buyers (team managers, department heads, business unit leads etc.) rather than base level users. In a product led growth environment where most prospects are nudged to start using the product immediately, a demo’s goal is to convert those who need additional convincing and build credibility with senior economic buyers who want to understand how a product will impact their organization at large. Slack built its demo to have high impact on a comparatively small, high-value group of prospects.

The demo’s first two panels play a critical role in its narrative: framing the way executives should think about Slack’s product, then expanding that frame.

Most of us think of Slack as an enterprise communication platform– “Where work happens”– and simply one component part of a larger enterprise productivity stack. As the product has added functionality and rolled out integrations with thousands of enterprise apps, Slack has shifted its positioning. More than just a business chat app, Slack aspires to be the single integrated user-facing software layer knitting together multiple enterprise productivity apps and functions. In other words, “How work happens.” The demo makes this distinction clear from the outset.

Lesson 5: Build a Pillar Product Benefit Framework

Like most strong narratives, Slack’s demo follows the classic “Claim > Show > Explain” model. Slack reinforces the claim that its platform is “How work happens” by defining three pillar product benefits early on: easy integration with enterprise software tools, centralized information organization and knowledge management, and enhanced collaboration and productivity.

These three pillar product benefits form the structural core of Slack’s overall value proposition and run through the company’s messaging and positioning. The benefits are modular and non-contradictory, allowing a marketer or sales rep to emphasize the right one depending on the audience. Any additional sub-benefits the company references “Ex. Slack increases employee job satisfaction…” ultimately tie back to one or more of the three pillar benefits “Ex. …because it makes collaboration and knowledge access easier.”

Lesson 6: Turn Objections Into Strengths

[Pillar Product Benefit #1 — Software Integration]

The fact that Slack promotes its ability to integrate across enterprise tools from Atlassian, Google etc. isn’t surprising. Ease of integration has become a table stakes requirement across modern enterprise SaaS.

It’s worth asking however why Slack’s demo leads with its ability to integrate enterprise tools into one communication platform first and foremost? Part of the answer can be found in the S-1 filed ahead of Slack’s 2019 IPO.

As Slack wrote in its filing:

“We believe Slack is positioned extremely well to benefit from the explosive proliferation of software into every aspect of business and the increased pace of disruption driven by technological change.
"According to Netskope, a typical enterprise uses more than 1,000 cloud services. Many of the largest IT departments maintain thousands of enterprise applications. All of this software either automates the repetitive and often error-prone work that humans used to do or augments human effort with entirely new capabilities.”

In other words, Slack must position itself to sell in a world where companies have more software and more complex technology stacks than ever before.

Beyond educating prospects on the value provided by a piece of software, pillar product benefits serve another, more subtle role: anticipating and responding to objections.

Slack’s decision to position its product as an antidote to the proliferation of software systems across enterprises comes in response to a key objection that the company likely hears from executive buyers: “Do we really need another communication tool?”

As many companies already rely on email, Yammer, and chat applications it’s easy for executives to be skeptical about layering on yet another communication tool. Slack recognizes this objection, highlights it, and turns it into a strength with a key message: implementing Slack isn’t simply adding another tool, it makes your existing tools more valuable.

Objection: “Do we really need another communication tool?”

Response: “By integrating your current tools into one easy to use communication layer, Slack makes your existing software more valuable.”

[Pillar Product Benefit #2 — Information Organization & Knowledge Management]

“Knowledge management” or the ability of organizations to collect, catalog, store and access their institutional knowledge has long been a buzz phrase in management consulting and enterprise software circles. Concern about knowledge management is real, as the Society for Human Resource Management estimates that the Fortune 500 alone loses over $31 billion annually because employees can’t easily access internal knowledge.

Selling to executives who are familiar with the chronological, chain-based structure of traditional email requires Slack to sell the benefits of its own organizational system. Through its messaging and content Slack emphasizes the idea that topic-based channels make it easier to find and act on information than chain-based emails.

Objection: “Won’t key business information be scattered and hard to find across different channels?”

Response: “Slack allows you to effectively organize messages and documents by topic and team, allowing employees to find and act on information more easily.”

[Pillar Product Benefit #3 — Collaboration & Productivity]

Slack’s final pillar product benefit is in many ways its most important, that it, more than any other platform, makes peer-to-peer collaboration easier and more productive. This argument is a critical point for the company to highlight as organizations increasingly question the impact of new collaboration and productivity tools.

The chosen wording — “Slack is your hub for collaboration” — is simple, but carries an important nuance. Slack isn’t trying to each your employees radically new behaviors, instead it’s making the type of collaboration they already want to do easier.

Objection: “We have so many collaboration tools, how do I know this actually improves productivity?”

Response: “Your employees naturally want to collaborate, Slack removes unnecessary friction and gives them a single dedicated platform to work together more productively.”

Lesson 7: Match Feature Spotlights with Pillar Product Benefits

After giving a high-level overview of pillar product benefits Slack’s demo backs up its claims with specific features and functionality. Product demos often get lost at this point as teams feel pressure to show every possible feature in excruciating detail (after all, you put in the effort to build them).

Slack resists the urge to splash each and every feature and instead makes sure that the features it shows map directly to one of its pillar product benefits. This ensures that prospects don’t get lost in the weeds (why should I care about this feature?) and boosts the credibility of any benefit claims already made.

Feature: Customizable topic and team-based channels

Pillar Product Benefit: Information Organization & Knowledge Management

Feature: Rapid file sharing

Pillar Product Benefit: Collaboration & Productivity

Feature: Easy third-party app integration

Pillar Product Benefit: Software Integration

Feature: Mark conversations as action items

Pillar Product Benefit: Collaboration & Productivity

Feature: Third-party app task creation

Pillar Product Benefit: Software Integration + Collaboration & Productivity

Feature: Searchable conversations and archived assets

Pillar Product Benefit: Information Organization & Knowledge Management

Feature: Filter search by channel

Pillar Product Benefit: Information Organization & Knowledge Management

Lesson 8: Write a Multi-level Demo Story

The best demos tell a story that helps prospects understand your product from multiple perspectives: that of an individual user, a team, and an organization. A demo’s narrative is like a camera lens, zooming out to capture the full context of your product, zooming in to show specific features and functionality, then focusing on a final audience message or CTA.

Slack’s demo accomplishes this zoom effect in its third section by focusing on a single conversation between user personas to illustrate how the product enables collaboration across business units.

Narrative Action: Customer Support team receives a customer question, creates Zendesk ticket, surfaces to larger team for an answer

Narrative Perspective: Team

Pillar Product Benefit: Information Organization & Knowledge Management + Software Integration

Narrative Action: Engineering responds to question, shares update via GitHub

Narrative Perspective: Team

Pillar Product Benefit: Information Organization & Knowledge Management + Software Integration

Narrative Action: Team member suggests keeping Sales account owner in the loop

Narrative Perspective: Individual

Pillar Product Benefit: Collaboration & Productivity

Narrative Action: Team member finds Sales account owner via Salesforce and provides update on customer question

Narrative Perspective: Individual

Pillar Product Benefit: Collaboration & Productivity + Software Integration

Note that the integrations Slack highlights in this section — Zendesk (customer support), GitHub (engineering), Salesforce (sales) — are chosen specifically to show its ability to facilitate collaboration between key teams.

Lesson 9: Challenge Prospects to Imagine More

Every marketer faces a fundamental tension. Is it our role to listen to what customers say they want and give them exactly what they ask for, or to challenge them to adopt new solutions that solve their problems more effectively than they could have imagined? The answer, of course, is somewhere in between and the best marketing assets walk the line between understanding what customers are asking for and introducing them to new solutions.

By highlighting the platform’s ability to support conversations between separate companies, Slack’s demo challenges prospects to imagine a truly new use for the product and a new way of working. While emails flow between companies daily, many think of enterprise chat apps as existing entirely within the walls of one entity. Not only does Slack need to facilitate company-to-company communication to become a true email replacement, but the more an organization’s external communications flow through Slack the stickier the platform becomes. As Slack highlights in its S-1, “we believe shared channels between organizations will increase the value of the overall Slack network for each new organization that joins as well as for all existing network members.”

This brings up a key question: how can messaging challenge customers to imagine a fundamentally new way of using a product without seeming too radical or introducing unacceptable risk?

One way to manage this tension when describing a new functionality or use case is the Push-Pull framework.

Push: Push the customer’s thinking forward to introduce a new idea or functionality.

Pull: Pull back to an idea that the customer already understands to reduce their perception of risk.

The Slack demo uses the Push-Pull framework effectively when describing the product’s ability to link teams across company boundaries.

Push: Slack channels can be used for external communication between companies.

Pull: Similar to a conference bridge, company data and Slack instances remain separate and secure.

Push: Company-to-company communication is better organized in Slack than in traditional email threads.

Pull: Always know when someone on either side is talking about you or a topic you care about.

Push: Add people from outside your company into internal Slack channels when needed.

Pull: Control who gets invited and mark them a guest with limited access.

Push: Use Slack as a central platform for all external communication, including voice and video calls.

Pull: Why use email to send a call dial-in when you can start a voice conversation right when you need it?

Most marketers would say that a prospect who has taken the trouble to scroll through an entire demo is a prime candidate for a call with sales. While it offers that option, Slack ends the demo by highlighting one CTA above all else: try the product.

Written by:

Alexander Becker

Alexander Becker

Alexander Becker is a Marketing Partner at Dorm Room Fund, former Product Marketing Strategist at Catalant, and MBA Candidate at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

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Slack’s demo deconstructed