LavaCon 2015: Salesforce Walks Through Content Transformation

Doc is Dead! How Walkthroughs Changed Salesforce’s Content Strategy

Session-Summary-DocisDeadSpeakers: Gavin Austin and Lila Giuili, Salesforce


Gavin asked a pretty classic question when he opened this presentation on Salesforce: “Why do we we write content? Why are we being paid?” The usual responses rolled in:

  • Increase customer satisfaction
  • Reduce support costs
  • Audit reasons
  • Check a box on a release spreadsheet  (I think most of us have been there!)

It’s actually good question and served its purpose, to get us thinking about how many of us are creating content that isn’t providing our customers with what they want, or possibly not serving any useful purpose at all! Hence, “Doc is Dead!” — ‘Doc’ being traditional help and guides (e.g., ye olde PDF guide or online help loaded with more content than anyone can digest in one sitting)! The presentation chronicled and Gavin and Lila’s journey to increase customer adoption and reduce customer support cases by charting a course into the previously uncharted waters of interactive content.

Interactive walkthroughs

Salesforce Walkthrough tweetInteractive walkthroughs enable customers to click a button on an application’s user interface that provides them with additional content to help them finish a task. The walkthrough guides the customer through the task and the application and explains the business value behind what they’re doing. It’s not just a process to surface help content, but an interactive experience where the customer inputs data and uses the features.


Salesforce-Trailhead tweetTrailhead is Salesforce’s own interactive, learn at your own pace website, similar to Khan Academy or Udemy. It has a fun and humorous tone, lots of visuals and graphics, and minimal text. It provides a way for customers to learn the application at their own pace when they have the time. Each learning module is about 10-20 minutes and includes videos, walkthroughs, and some gamification. When you complete a module, you get points and those points lead to a badge — the badges became more popular than expected. In fact, within six months of the roll-out, Trailhead’s usage increased by 700%!


Salesforce-video-tweet Salesforce customers still see the value in traditional online help and guide content, but they want video content. The videos are interactive, including resources inlaid on-screen that guide customers to other areas of the application or help them discover information to solve other business problems.


How Salesforce changed their content strategy

In fact, the Salesforce team hasn’t changed the model of classic technical writing. They’re still using concept, task, and reference topics (DITA/XML), but in an interactive format. They’ve greatly increased the use of graphics and videos and have hired specialists in those fields.

They started to think in terms of discover, learn and do, where:

  • Discover (release notes, user interface text) — Increase customer adoption by strengthening content and making it more memorable — adding more graphics, a different tone and making it more minimal).
  • Learn (help, Trailhead, videos) — Help customers become less reliant on the help by putting more reference material into interactive walkthroughs or on-screen through user interface text.
  • Do (walkthroughs, implementation guides, developer guides) — Walkthroughs are the primary delivery method, but traditional guides are still available for customers who want them for the more complex and time consuming tasks.

How has the new content strategy improved traditional online help? The big difference is that they usually start by delivering interactive content first: they start with video, then walkthroughs, then online help. The traditional online help is still there, but by emphasizing the interactive content they’ve found they’re getting a much higher customer satisfaction.

So ‘Doc is Dead’ in that they’re not relying solely on traditional help and guides anymore. Instead, the content strategy is focused on content that’s interactive, graphic heavy, streamlined with a more casual and fun way to get things done.


If you’re not creating interactive content beyond traditional documentation (online help and guides) you risk losing your customers. Don’t be afraid to sail your content ship into uncharted waters — you’ve got nothing to lose and possibly, everything to gain.

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