You could write a book about your SaaS product’s cutting-edge features and value. But should you?
To actually engage the right target audience, you have to distill what your product does down to a punchy headline and a few bullet points. That’s not easy. And you’re not done.
You also have to explain how your product does what it does. And that’s another thing altogether.
You wouldn’t be the first person to seek out a better way to get your product’s message and value across. And if you decide to go down this rabbit hole (you should), you’ll end up where many before you have landed (and subsequently thrived): the SaaS demo.
Sometimes, the best way to highlight both the whats and hows of your product is to let prospects use it before buying. Many SaaS companies rely on product demos to let prospects visualize how their apps work, see valuable features in action, and imagine themselves in the driver’s seat.
Product demos emphasize the value of your product in ways that static images and text never could. That makes them a critical tool in converting would-be prospects into paid subscribers.
But there are dozens of wrong ways to do SaaS demos. We’re going to help you land on the right way. Keep reading.
What is a SaaS product demo?
A product demo (often called a sales demo) is a crash course in your product’s most valuable features. It demonstrates to prospective customers what your product does and how it works.
Most importantly, it shows the value of your offering to your prospects.
A product demo serves 3 main purposes:
- It proves how your product solves the problem. Your prospects have pain points to address. And they’ve heard your product might do the trick. A product demo proves that your product actually does what you claim it will. It also empowers prospects to visualize how they would use the tool themselves.
- It showcases ease of use. Prospects don’t want to add confusing tools to their tech stack. A well-designed product demo shows that prospects can accomplish their goals without adding more work to their plates.
- It establishes credibility. Demos are powerful marketing tools that engage audiences with audio and visuals. A high-caliber demo that showcases the very best features of your polished product shows prospects that your company cares about presentation and performance.
Why use a SaaS product/sales demo?
Why not just use a free trial? We’re not knocking free trials. But product demonstrations are a crazy-effective alternative.
That’s because they allow prospects to explore your tool without getting lost inside it.
Product-led companies typically rely on getting customers hooked during free trials before upgrading to a paying subscription. But free trials aren’t always optimal for every SaaS tool. Free trials for complicated software risk overburdening users instead of impressing them.
You’re unlikely to find success with free trials if your software:
- Is extremely complex
- Has multiple use cases
- Requires intensive setup before use
Enter product demos. A product demo creates structure around a prospect’s first experience with your product, preventing them from getting lost or even frustrated by your product’s many features and complexities.
Some product demos are comprehensive and give prospects everything they need to know upfront. More expansive products often have a different demo for every unique use case so users can find the exact instruction they’re looking for.
There are 3 types of product demos (each designed for different use cases):
- Live demos
- Pre-recorded demos
- Self-service demos (aka interactive demos)
Live demos require prospects to schedule an appointment with a representative at your company. Your sales rep would then provide a virtual walkthrough of the software for the prospect and demonstrate the value of your product to them directly.
Companies often perform live demos via webinars so they can address many interested parties simultaneously.
These demos allow subject matter experts (SMEs) to show off your product’s capabilities and field questions in a live environment.
- Create human connections between prospects and sales reps
- Allow you to demo your product for many people at once (via webinar)
- Can be customized and adjusted on the fly, thanks to the human sales rep element
- Require sales team resources to facilitate
- Do not immediately provide value because they must be scheduled ahead of time
- Rely on abilities of individual sales reps rather than a pre-approved and consistent demo experience
Pre-recorded demos are essentially video recordings of scripted live demos.
The on-demand nature of pre-recorded demos gives them an advantage over live demos that require advanced scheduling.
However, pre-recordings that are readily available on a website lack a dedicated SME to field product questions pertaining to the prospect’s unique needs. That’s why pre-recorded demos are often used as part of a larger presentation with a designated sales representative.
- No delay between prospect inquiry and demo availability
- Always the same, removing the element of potential human error
- No sales team resources required after the initial recording is complete
- Cannot be customized to individual prospects
- Can feel impersonal and distant
- Often require additional sales resources to “round out” the demo offering
Finally, self-service demos—also called interactive demos—allow prospects to experience a limited version of your product firsthand.
Self-service replicates the product experience in a new environment pre-filled with dummy data, demonstrating the product’s value without any upfront investment from prospects.
This allows users to sample and use it as they would if they were to purchase it outright.
- Allows prospects to experience the product in a real-world scenario
- No sales resources necessary
- Do not require an upfront investment from prospects
- Require extremely clear instructions for use in order for users to derive immediate value
- No personal connection created between the prospect and a salesperson
Why use a self-service product demo?
Self-service product demos are ideal for manu SaaS companies. Why? Because they appeal directly to prospects in ways live and pre-recorded demos can’t.
Self-service demos are more flexible than live demos. They allow prospects to jump right into a pre-set version of the product itself. This allows them to grasp how the product might work for their own purposes—without needing to spend time setting your product up and integrating it with their own tech stack.
Self-service product demos have also grown in popularity as the limitations of free trials become more apparent.
Free trials remain a popular and useful tool for SaaS products (we use them at Appcues!), but they don’t work perfectly for all products and companies. Products that involve a great time investment just for setup ask a lot of users before they really realize the value of the product.
The self-service product demo, on the other hand, gives users the chance to see what the product does without jumping through the hurdles of uploading their own data or installing your software.
Growth and sales teams may even use self-service product demos as the main “free trial” offer on the company website.
Trialers who play around with the product demo have a better understanding of whether the product is a good fit. And they can come to sales with more pointed questions. This helps well-prepared teams sell and activate customers more efficiently than they would with a traditional free trial.
The self-service product demo free trial provides a flexible and powerful way for prospects to get up and running. It allows prospects to reach an aha moment with as little upfront investment as possible.
And it makes for more informed first-time users who are already ready to engage deeper with the product.
4 tips for designing a strong SaaS demo
Every SaaS product is different. That means there’s no “one-size-fits-all” demo template that every company should follow.
But there are a few strategies that all successful demos share—strategies you should keep in mind while building your own product demo.
1. Design for a quick aha moment
Your app’s most valuable feature is called your aha moment. It’s the event where a user realizes the true value of your app and understands how your product will alleviate their pain points.
Apps that shorten the time between sign-up and reaching this aha moment make a better case for having users stick around for the long term.
The same is true for your product demo. Prospects won’t stick around to watch a 2-hour video of someone from your company talking about secondary features. Instead, front-load your product demo with the most valuable information upfront—and impress your users from the get-go.
Read more: 4 aha moment examples that remove friction from user onboarding
2. Let the prospect choose their trial experience
Don’t force customers to take a single journey to eliminate friction in their buying process. Instead, present your prospects with different demo and trial options.
Not every prospect who comes to your site will require a product demo. Some will, but some may have already talked with a sales rep or explored your product in your self-service demo.
A “one-size-fits-all” demo or trial solution is needlessly limiting. Whereas a slew of options allows prospects to explore and consider your product at their own pace (just how they like it).
3. Greet new prospects with a warm welcome
Robots may run the world in the future, but they haven’t overtaken humanity yet. Many people still prefer working with people—and adding a human touch to the sales cycle is never a bad call.
Your demo is a great opportunity to show the human side of your brand to prospects. The designated demonstrator should take care of greetings and introductions in a live demo.
Even pre-recorded demos can leverage video introductions or voiceovers to add a human element to the proceedings.
Self-service demos lack a host, sure. But that doesn’t mean they have to lack a pleasant introduction to your product.
Include in-app messages, like tooltips and modal windows, in your demo’s initial product tour to welcome prospects to the demo. Additionally, a basic product tour can guide them through the initial steps of the setup process without a hitch.
Read more: How to use in-app messaging to boost user retention
4. Direct users toward key actions
Once you’ve guided prospects to their aha moment, it’s time to show off the rest of your product’s features.
Hosts in guided demos should prioritize the most important secondary features based on their importance in retaining users. And ensure that participants understand each one before moving on.
In-app messages can also serve as a surrogate host in self-service demos.
Use hotspot beacons to highlight important features within your UI. Does the specific feature require a bit of explanation? Set up a slideout or modal to trigger when a user first activates the feature. And give them a brief tutorial to acquaint them with it.
Read more: How to drive feature adoption with in-app messaging
What NOT to do with your product demos
The SaaS space produces a pretty shocking number of product demos. And the vast majority of them are not as strong as they could be.
In fact, many of them are downright bad.
That’s in spite of a ton of information about how to create a great SaaS demo being available on the ‘net.
So, what’s going wrong here? Maybe we need to get more explicit about what not to do with your product demos:
Do not focus on the product at the expense of the buyer
Yes, lead with the product. But remember that the product and it’s pricing aren’t the best part—it’s how the product can help the person using it.
Do not ‘wing it’ in live demos
No matter how experienced your team is, do not let them wing it based on prospect input in live demos. Make it a part of the process to get an idea of what the prospect may want to see well before the live demo happens.
Do not do demos on autopilot
If you’re using a word-for-word script in live demos, you’re doing it wrong. Demos are meant to be as customized to the prospect as possible given the environment. That means going on autopilot in live demos is a no-go.
Do not completely remove humans from the equation
Yes, pre-recorded and interactive demos will save you a ton of human resources, but that’s no excuse to remove people from the picture completely. Follow-up after demos is key, and it should be human-driven.
Do not forget that this is a sales and growth interaction
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the benefits of SaaS product demos done right to the point that you forget your business and sales basics. Don’t let that happen to you—keep your sales, growth, and marketing teams involved in the demo conversation with your product teams.
2 examples of effective product demos
The tech world is filled with examples of companies doing right by their prospects with engaging, user-focused product demos—many of which use Appcues to enhance the user’s experience.
Amplitude relaunches with a self-service demo and more free trial options
Digital analytics tool Amplitude created a new self-service product demo as part of their epic Amplitude 2.0 launch.
The user response to the self-service product demo has been great: 18% of prospective customers who enter the demo have contacted sales to explore Amplitude further.
Amplitude provides rich insights into user behaviors. But the platform offers a limited view of the product’s full capabilities until a customer has done a good deal of work. Installation requires help from a developer. And while Amplitude starts collecting data immediately, it can take a few days or even weeks for the data to be meaningful.
Amplitude’s self-service product demo addresses these challenges head-on. The company includes the demo as the primary call to action (CTA) on their homepage. To gain access, users fill out a form to create an account and then get an option to tour the product (enter the self-service product demo) or to set up.
This allows the user to choose their own path based on which stage of the buyer journey they’re in.
If users choose to explore the tool, Amplitude provides prompts that explain key features and gives helpful tips as they navigate.
Regardless of what option the user originally chose, Amplitude shows a persistent banner with the option to go back and try the other choice (product tour vs. installation) or contact sales.
Bynder increases speed of sales with a self-service demo
Bynder is a market leader in digital asset management. Customers use the product for several different use cases—something that often made it harder for sales teams to convey the right value to prospects without burying them in complexity.
Bynder’s creative solution? A self-service demo app pre-populated with dummy data, coupled with a new free-trial offer.
Jack Saville, Bynder’s SEO specialist, describes the challenges his sales and growth teams faced:
“Because of Bynder’s immense number of different features, it can be quite complicated. Prospective customers might get confused as to how the software works and can get lost in the number of different options.”
Bynder gently eases users into the free trial with a very short welcome video from Bynder’s CEO, Chris Hall.
Users are then left in the product to explore a pre-setup Bynder account for an imaginary coffee company. A flashing help beacon (or hotspot) on the navigation bar gives guidance. After the video, users are mostly left to explore on their own.
As users arrive at certain pages, informational modal windows explain the feature and share tips on how to use it. Users then explore the feature on their own, with only a few unobtrusive hotspots to give additional context.
Jack describes how Bynder uses Appcues to build these in-product experiences:
“The user is free to explore the software themselves, and Appcues is there to help the user along the way. [T]he customer is able to quickly understand how our digital asset management software can benefit them, which means they are more likely to buy! Appcues acts as our ‘in demo’ sales team!”
Bynder sales reps follow up with trial users at the end of the trial to discuss opportunities for extending the trial or moving to the full Bynder experience. Bynder also aims to build a paywall with Appcues to further expedite the sales process.
SaaS demo FAQs
What is a SaaS demo?
A SaaS demo is a live demonstration of a cloud-based software-as-a-service application. If you’re a SaaS company, you use demos to showcase your product’s features, functionality, and benefits—and grow your revenue by helping prospects understand how the solution can address their specific needs and requirements.
SaaS demos typically walk the potential customer through the software's user interface, key features, and functionality. That can happen via a live human demo, a pre-recorded demo, or an interactive product demo.
To illustrate your product and what it offers, you’ll often need to use real-world scenarios or sample data. This allows the customer to see the product in action, which can help them ask better questions and move them closer to purchasing.
How long should a SaaS demo be?
The length of your product demo is going to depend on the complexity of your product, the specific needs of your typical prospect, and the demo format you choose. But if you’re looking for a general guideline, keep the first section of your demo as short as possible, limit the whole thing to fewer than 20 steps, and keep it all to 30 minutes or less for completion time.
Consider these factors when you’re thinking about the ideal length for your SaaS demo:
- Complexity of the product. You may need a longer demo to provide a truly helpful and complete overview of a complex SaaS product. But if the product is relatively simple, a shorter demo is probably just fine (and preferable).
- Prospect's familiarity with the product. If the prospect has already done some research on your product or used similar software, a shorter demo focusing on unique features or specific use cases may be more effective than a longer one. But for customers who are completely new to the software, you may need a longer demo to cover the basics.
- Personalization. If you’re going hard on personalization, you may need more time to cover the basics of your product and the stuff that’s specific to the prospect..
- Demo format. In-person demos may involve questions and answers at the end, so they’re almost inherently going to take longer than pre-recorded demos. Build in some extra time for questions at the end of your live demos.
Don’t forget—the goal of a SaaS demo is to engage the prospect and convince them your product is going to help them.
That means striking a balance between providing enough detail and being respectful of the prospect’s time. Devote some mental energy to refining your product demos to get the timing right.
What are the different types of SaaS demos?
We generally recognize three main types of SaaS demos:
- Live demos. A live, personalized demo conducted in real-time, usually via Zoom or another web conferencing app. Prospects often ask questions and receive immediate answers.
- Pre-recorded demos. This is a video presentation showcasing your product’s key features and benefits. Prospects can watch these demos on demand whenever they want. You can make pre-recorded demos pretty broad, so they cater to basically any prospect in a general way, or produce several to reach people in different industries or people with different use cases.
- Self-service demos. A self-service demo (also known as an interactive demo) gives your prospects access to a fully functional or limited version of your product. They can explore and test the features on their own. This hands-on customer experience gives prospects a better understanding of how the product works and whether and how it meets their needs.
Each type of SaaS demo has its pros and cons, but self-service demos are often the most effective—especially when they’re combined with some human follow-up from your sales or growth team.
And don’t feel limited to a single product demo format. The most successful SaaS companies offer prospects several ways to experience the product. Try them all out and see what sticks.
What makes a SaaS demo successful?
A successful SaaS demo lands you a new paying user. That’s the most basic way to measure demo effectiveness. But it’s not the only way.
If you manage to communicate your product’s value proposition, demonstrate its key features and benefits, and align it with the needs and requirements of the prospect, you’ve done it right. And additional users will likely result.
Here are some ways to make your SaaS demo more likely to be successful:
- Preparation. Thorough preparation is key for live demos. Understand the potential prospect’s business, pain points, and goals to tailor the demo to their specific needs. Research their industry and get familiar with their terminology and workflows.
- Personalization. Customize the demo to address the prospect’s unique needs and requirements. Focus on the features and use cases that are most relevant to their business and demonstrate how your product can solve their specific challenges.
- Clarity and simplicity. Be clear and concise. Avoid jargon and technical language that prospects may not know. And use simple, real-world examples to illustrate how your product can help the prospect.
- Pacing. Strike a balance between providing enough information to showcase your product's benefits and avoiding going into too much detail. Keep the demo focused and moving forward, but allow time for questions and interaction (in live demos).
- Interactivity. Encourage prospect engagement by asking questions and allowing them to ask questions, too. If you’re doing a non-live demo, provide a way for prospects to reach you directly with their questions.
- Follow-up. After the demo, follow up with the prospect to address any lingering questions or concerns and give them any extra resources or information that could help them make a decision.
Do product demos actually improve close rates?
Absolutely. B2B SaaS companies average close rates between 20% and 50% after doing product demos. That close rate is pretty hard to argue with in the SaaS space.
Set users up for onboarding success with product demos
Product demos not only make the argument for why prospects should use your product. They also set them up for a more efficient onboarding process once they convert to users.
User onboarding is the most critical stage of the user journey. Fail to show new users value in short order, and they’ll churn from your app sooner or later.
Overload users with too much information all at once, and they’ll never develop healthy usage habits to transform them into long-term power users.
New users who demo your product see it in action ahead of time and have a general idea of what to expect as they dive in. This minimizes the inherent confusion and unwanted friction from the onboarding process that many users experience.
Of course, even users who participated in your product demo could use a helping hand. A couple of hours of experimenting in a demo setting won’t make anyone a seasoned expert. The same in-app messages that helped guide users within your demo should be used to create product tours that drive users straight to the aha moment and beyond.
Appcues’ no-code UI patterns are the perfect in-app messaging solution for creating product demos and user onboarding experiences that dazzle. Take cues from the likes of Amplitude and Bynder and use Appcues to impress and engage prospects and new customers alike.
Learn how Appcues can take your product demos to the next level—by scheduling a demo!