Calls are exhausting. Even the shortest calls take at least 5 minutes of prep, 20 minutes of worrying about, and 10 minutes more to recover from. As an introvert like me they can ruin a productive day and limit my creativity.

The trouble is limiting calls is a skill they don’t teach you at school. They don’t tell you that you’ll spend most of your day on useless meetings when you apply for a job. After your 3rd or 4th calls of the day you’re tired, stressed, and worst of all—you have nothing to show for it.

At HelpDocs we try to avoid demo calls at all costs. Can it be written down instead? How about an email? What about a Loom? There are loads of different ways to get the information across without jumping on a live call.

In this article I’ll explain a little bit about how we got here and how we struggled to find the right approach for us.

Creating a Limited Call Culture

How did we get to a limited call culture? Unsurprisingly we did a lot of calls and hated it. And we’re not the only ones.

There's a camera watching you constantly and it's stressful. Listening to audio can be draining for long periods of time.

"Being on so many video conferences is exhausting. That’s because many of the nonverbal cues that we typically rely upon during in-person conversations—eye contact, subtle shifts that indicate someone is about to speak—are out the window."

Laura Dudley, a behavior analyst at Northeastern University

But it wasn’t the pandemic that caused us to limit calls. We actually started limiting calls way before that. When HelpDocs was barely a year old I found myself constantly on sales calls, vendor calls, and customer calls. I felt like I was living for the next video chat and getting nothing useful done.

Maybe I was a terrible salesperson but nobody ended up converting 🤷‍♂️

Don’t get me wrong—some calls are helpful. Getting on the phone with customers to learn about their company and experience with HelpDocs is insightful & exciting. Having a catch up with team members to understand what they’re working on and catching up on a personal level is worth the time.

This limiting call culture extends to our team as well. We don’t want our team to spend time on the phone unnecessarily. To burn out just by sitting in front of the webcam all day. We don’t do daily standups and we work asynchronously.

Learning to Say No to Demo Calls

The hardest part of starting to limit calls is to say no. I understand this can be tough if you’re part of a big organization that relies heavily on calls and meetings. I’m afraid I’m no help with advice there.

For us the challenging part was saying no to demo calls. It’s reasonable enough for someone to expect to get on the phone with someone at HelpDocs and ask questions.

Two things were wrong with this.

We found people had a list of questions we just weren’t prepared for. If a potential customer had 10 queries, we’d quickly forget them, not have a concrete answer for them, or ask them to send them over email at the end of the call. This quickly defeated the purpose of a 1-on-1 call.

The second was that we didn’t know what to show them. What was the customer interested in? HelpDocs is an extensive product and it seemed a little pointless to go through the entire app without direction. It quickly turned out that potential customers didn’t really know what they wanted to see.

I can’t say it was a total waste of time but it certainly wasn’t the best use of time for our team. We had to learn to say no which was the most challenging part.

When we started to say no to demo calls we were quite apologetic. This was a mistake. We’d be sorry we couldn’t do a call or we’d understand it wasn’t what they were expecting.

After a few months we found people to be pretty angry with us. They’d demand to know why we were blocking them from speaking to a team member. How did they know we were legitimate if they couldn’t even talk to us?

It was crushing to hear the feedback. Were we in the wrong? We didn’t have the time anymore to jump on these calls but everyone else in the industry does it. Should we just get on the phone?

A Treacherous Middle Ground

In the end we thought we found a middle ground. We’d have group calls with multiple people at a time which meant people could book into sessions and we’d show them around in groups. They could ask questions together and we’d ask them what they wanted to see in a pre-demo questionnaire.

These went a lot better in terms of time but people still had many questions that had to be answered over email after the live demo. It seemed pointless to have a live demo, a 14-day free trial, and answer questions by email about the product. It was too much as a small team.

One great thing to come out of these calls was a sense of community between different customers. They had totally different questions and found one another’s questions to be super interesting.

This was a much better scenario than doing 1-on-1 demo calls but it still took a significant amount of time.

Finding a Solution that Worked

After we tried the group demo route we found ourselves in limbo. We didn’t want to resume these group demo calls for the time being but we didn’t have an alternative. That’s when we decided to record a pre-recorded demo video instead.

We decided to record a demo video with all the features we’d usually cover like multilingual, content organization, and settings. This meant we could showcase our platform without spending too much time going over the same parts with different people.

And it worked! We could cut down the time we spent on individual demo calls without offending anyone and provide a great experience all around.

And what if a customer insists on a call? We ask them to send over a list of questions by email instead. This gives us time and space to think about the best answers we can provide and it allows us to send over links to our knowledge base.

Being Happier by Protecting Time

Finding the right approach was super tough. It took us a while to get used to saying no rather than apologizing profusely. In the end it was well worth it because we got to spend way more time talking to current customers and working on the product.

If you’re a small team swamped in demo calls here are a few tips:

  • Find a better way to “batch” calls so you have more time free. You don’t need to do individual calls. We used a piece of software called Livestorm to book people into groups.
  • Instead of hopping on calls to answer questions do it over email instead. Just ask them to send over a list instead.
  • Learn to say no. Don’t let prospective customers take your time when you don’t want to give it.

In a perfect world we’d spend time with each customer and give them the ideal answers over a call.

We’re not living in a perfect world—especially right now. We’ve found giving ourselves permission to say no to calls gives us the mental space to breathe and provide exceptional support by email instead.