How a Self-Service Product Demo Can Save Your SaaS Free Trial


These days, everyone’s technical.

My sister’s elementary school students run a Wix site complete with animated pop-up lead capture forms and more CTAs than a HubSpot blog post. Software marketers swear they can code. Software sales reps can debug javascript. And software users...

B2B software users are no different. They don’t want to talk to software startups. If they do, it’s typically not until they’ve viewed feature pages, public pricing, product videos, G2Crowd reviews, and gathered feedback from an industry Slack channel.

And after that… they want to try the product.

Knowing this, many software startups offer an easily accessible free trial. In just a few seconds, users are up and running with an account that they can play around with as much as they want for 14 or 30 days.

Despite the popularity of free trials, they often don’t work. In fact, of companies that have free trials or freemium offerings, less than half derive more than 25% of new business through these programs.

Robust, feature-rich SaaS products have found a new alternative to the traditional free trial: the self-service product demo.

Access to the self-service product demo, which replicates the product experience in a new environment pre-filled with dummy data, can act as the new free trial offering. Since the demo demonstrates the product’s value without any upfront investment from prospects, this can be an effective approach to activating customers and increasing the speed of sales.

Benefits of the product demo over the traditional SaaS free trial

The self-service product demo is like a model home laid out meticulously to help a potential home buyer imagine what it would feel to live there full time. 

Growth and sales teams can use the self-service product demo in a few different ways. It may become the main, or only, free trial offer, presented directly on the homepage. Sales can also act as gatekeepers to the free trial, using their own discretion to guide certain types of prospects towards the demo for a lower-touch sales process.

Trialers who play around with the product demo have a better understanding of whether or not the product is a good fit, or they can come to sales with more pointed questions. It can help teams sell and activate customers more efficiently over a traditional free trial, especially if your product has one or more of the following attributes:

  • Extensive set-up required
  • Key and differentiating features are hard to find
  • Zero-state provides limited understanding of product capabilities

Here are two companies that faced a combination of these challenges and went to market with a self-service product demo.

Amplitude relaunches with more free trial options

Amplitude is a powerful web and analytics tool that provides rich insights into user behaviors. It can be used to measure any part of the user journey that needs improvement, including user onboarding. While Amplitude is very easy to install and use, the platform’s zero state offers a limited view of the product’s full capabilities.

Installation requires help from a developer, while Amplitude’s core users are growth and product teams. And while Amplitude starts collecting data immediately, it can take a few days, or weeks even depending on the size of the user base, for the data to be meaningful.

Let the user choose their trial experience

Amplitude has a self-service product demo as the primary call to action on their homepage. To gain access, users fill out a form creating an account and then get an option to tour the product (enter the self-service product demo) or to set up.

amplitude welcome modal product demo
Built with Appcues

This allows the user to choose their own path based on which stage of the buyer journey they are in.

Provide Constant Support as Users Explore

If users choose to explore the tool,  Amplitude provides prompts that explain key features and gives helpful tips as they navigate.

amplitude tooltip welcome onboarding product demo
amplitude engagement product demo saas free trial

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.

Amplitude created this 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.

Bynder increases speed of sales with self-service demo

Bynder is a market leader in digital asset management. They offer a robust solution, and customers use the product for several different use cases. Sales teams often struggled to convey the right value to prospective customers without overwhelming them. Sales demos took 2 hours on average, and it was still difficult for prospects to quickly and effectively realize Bynder’s differentiating features.

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.”

Knowing that this process wasn’t scalable, the growth team at Bynder built a self-service demo app pre-populated with dummy data and created a new free trial offer. Knowing that users could still get overwhelmed with the product demo, Bynder’s growth team used Appcues to build guided tours in-app.

Greet new users with a warm welcome

To gain access to Bynder’s product demo, prospects have to create an account with a work email.

Once users enter the free trial, they are immediately met with a very short welcome video from Bynder's CEO, Chris Hall. Onboarding for a self-service product demo is still as important as onboarding for your real product.

bynder user onboarding welcome message modal free trial

Users are then left in the product to explore a pre-setup Bynder account for an imaginary coffee company. There’s a small help beacon flashing, or hotspot, on the navigation bar to give some guidance; however after the video, users are, for the most part, left to explore on their own.

Users always have the option to reach out to sales, and many of Bynder’s leads still come from the traditional sales process. Users who go through the new demo process though are more informed about Bynder and can ask more meaningful and specific questions.

Direct Users Towards Key Actions

As users arrive at certain pages, they are met with informational modal windows that explain what this part of the product does and share tips on how to use it. Users are then left to use the feature on their own, with a few unobtrusive hotspots to give additional context.

bynder free trial hotspot

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. This all means that the 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!”

At the end of the trial, Bynder sales reps follow up with trial users to discuss opportunities for extending the trial or moving into the full Bynder experience. To expedite the sales process even more, Bynder is also looking to build a paywall with Appcues.

The SaaS free trial isn’t one-size-fits-all

The free trial remains a popular and useful tool for SaaS products—we use it at Appcues— but it doesn’t work perfectly for all products and companies.

Products that have a high set-up cost ask a lot of users before they really realize the value of the product. The self-service product demo gives users the chance to see what the product does without jumping through hurdles of uploading their own data, installing your software, and waiting for meaningful results to populate.

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.

John loves sales, tech, product and people. So he sells tech to product-people.

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