Trials and Tribulations
OK, I know what you’re thinking – how can “no demos” help any software company scale its demo process? Stay with me, and all will be revealed!
If you’ve been following my current blog series, you ‘ll know that I’m exploring the current state of software demos and pre-sales engineering. A software buyer’s early product experience (in most cases a product demo) is arguably the most critical part of any software sales cycle. Which is a major headache for most software companies: every buyer expects to experience the product as part of their initial evaluation and education, but pre-sales resources are at a premium. Go to any pre-sales engineer meetup or get-together and chances are that every pre-sales manager there will mention that they’re hiring. Our research shows that while demand for tailored, in-person demos is up, the ratio of pre-sales to sales has halved, going from an average of one pre-sales engineer for two sales reps to one pre-sales engineer for four sales reps or more.
Since it’s not possible for pre-sales to give every demo, software companies are looking for ways to scale their pre-sales resources and demo process, that satisfy buyer needs for more and earlier product experiences. So far, we’ve explored the following demo options (click on the links if you’d like to read my previous blogs on each topic):
- Explainer demo videos
- Sales demos (demos given by salespeople)
- Scheduled group demos
- In-person demos with discovery
The Free Trial – the “other” demo?
The product trial, sometimes positioned as a “Free Trial”, is not a new concept. What is new is using trials as the way to offer an early product experience. In most cases, the software company offers no demo options. The demo is replaced by the Product Trial. Buyers get an immersive product experience by using the product, versus someone showing it to them.
I think product trials are great - if you’re selling a product that is relatively easy and uncomplicated, to a very knowledgeable buyer, and your organization is built around servicing a trial customer.
The idea of using a buyer’s product usage to sell your product has led to the term “product-led growth”, first coined by OpenView Partners. Their research points to the impressive conversion rates of companies that have adopted this approach.
However, as OpenView points out, trials are not for everyone. This research from Tomasz Tunguz highlights the low conversion rates of most trials.
Why do most B2B software trials fail?
First, every software buyer wants to see and experience the product before they buy. If there’s no demo option, buyers are forced to start a trial, simply to see the product. The trial becomes a poor substitute for the demo.
Second, most B2B software companies don’t have a product that is so simple that a buyer can quickly figure it out by themselves. A trial can require a significant investment of time to understand how the product works. Versus understanding what it can do, – which is what buyers look for in early stage demos.
Third, most companies are organized around customer acquisition and selling, not customer success which is required for successful trial conversions.
As I discussed with Wes Bush, the founder of the Product-Led Institute and author of “Product-Led Growth”, not all software companies are ready for, nor should be offering product trials. As with any paradigm shift in technology (think on premise to SaaS), it takes time.
- If you’re already offering product trials, consider providing buyers with a high-quality, professional demo that buyers can access autonomously - before and/or during their trial. This still allows you to use your product to acquire customers. But provides a creative way of delivering buyer-enabled information that helps buyers learn faster and better self-qualify themselves for a trial.
- Every buyer has their own “can your software do…?” questions they want answered before they’ll consider buying your product. A demo provides answers to those questions, and lets the buyer understand the breadth of value your product offers. Trials are somewhat limiting in helping buyers quickly understand the breadth of value they will gain. As one of our customers told me about a recent software trial experience: “we were able to go an inch wide and a mile deep, instead of a mile wide and an inch deep”. Most B2B software buyers are looking for solutions that provide multiple benefits. Which may explain why most trial conversion rates are so low.
- If your organization is not ready to move to a trial model, or seeing lackluster conversion rates, think about where and how you’re delivering demos. While there’s no replacement for a great high-quality professional demo, there are now advanced technical options for how you can make them available to buyers.
Your next steps:
If you’d like to chat with me about your demo challenges or the conversion rates you’re seeing with product trials, let me know.
If you’re interested in ways to scale your demo process, check out how some of our customers are leveraging Omedym’s on-demand demo technology.