Perspective: Optimizing software sales with product demo platforms

With remote sales becoming the go-to-market norm for much of the SaaS industry, product demos are in desperate need of a reboot, making way for a new category that’ll help sales teams close new deals faster.

The rapid ascent of SaaS has been accompanied by an analogous rise in remote sales as a complementary go-to-market (GTM) strategy to field sales. And with a rapidly changing market amid the pandemic, including customers that no longer expect or want a face-to-face meeting, SaaS vendors across the gamut have made remote sales their core GTM strategy. As efficient and effective as the remote sales model is for SaaS vendors, its growing prevalence has exposed operational challenges and weaknesses that impede and frustrate revenue leaders from achieving their goals.

The cornerstone of remote sales — the ubiquitous “product demo” — is in need of a fundamental reboot as customer prospects grow weary and impatient of cumbersome and uninspiring product pitches.

Why product demos need to change

Every SaaS vendor employing a remote sales strategy understands the crucial role that the product demo plays in the sales process. A demo date with a prospective buyer is the pivotal moment of any remote sales process, a chance to move beyond colorful descriptions and slide decks and showcase the product in its full glory. A well-executed demo can make a strong impression and move the account forward, while a poor product demo experience can squander an opportunity. As customers’ attention spans decrease and expectations rise, the rigid old-school product demo has become a source of pain and anxiety for remote sales reps.

A poor product demo experience can squander an opportunity.

Depending on their level of remote sales maturity, SaaS vendors fall into one of two categories. Inexperienced vendors might be doing the unthinkable: demoing the production environment version of their product, risking sensitive customer data and inviting unwanted product surprises, like bugs from a new release. More experienced SaaS vendors have created a dedicated demo environment, but this once best-practice approach is obsolescent.

For example, dedicated demo environments rely on a separate product instance that needs to be supported and maintained, with mock customer data that needs to be continually updated, taking up precious R&D resources. Only as good as the latest product release, demo environments must be updated at the same rate of new launches, otherwise sales reps are pitching outdated tech.

This gap in functionality matters because often exciting new product features and modules are confined to slide decks until the product is released. In short, the state-of-the-art solutions many teams want to show off can’t be previewed in a demo environment until it’s officially to market. It also means that the same product demo employed to win over a fast-growing Silicon Valley startup is also used to pitch a large European industrial company, with no way to adjust the settings, menus, data or features to simulate the authentic product the customer will ultimately experience.

Afterall, being able to personalize a demo leaves a prospective buyer with a full understanding of the product’s impact on their specific use case. Why should prospects have to use their imagination when a demo could act as a test drive?

A new type of product demo experience

Rarely have we seen such a compelling case for a new category staring us in the face—the product demo platform. The product demo is the most important part of the deal cycle, but also the most bulky. It's either been a time consuming R&D responsibility that takes away resources from developing your actual product, or it's a lightweight simulation that doesn't do your product justice.

Phone call after phone call to SaaS startups in the Bessemer portfolio and beyond confirmed our assumptions. If sales organizations were able to minimize the time and resources required to effectively showcase their product’s value to a prospect, the deal cycle could be accelerated significantly. In analyzing the new demo experience, vendors required a proverbial “look under the hood” to separate the marketing message from the underlying product, which is what we felt will determine the market winner.

Although all product demo platforms we evaluated work by detaching a product’s frontend from its cumbersome backend, they differ greatly in how they replicate the frontend.

We recognized two types of product demo vendors; those best suited to provide product tours for top-of-funnel lead generation, and those that create high fidelity copies of the actual product for bottom-of-funnel qualification and conversion—a true replacement of your bulky demo environment.

The technology powering product tour vendors seamlessly creates a synthetic screenshot that can be easily stitched together and edited to simulate any combination of product flows. The resulting product tour demo is easily embedded in a website for curious prospects to test and easily shared with a simple link. These companies are seeing the most traction in top-of-the-funnel marketing use cases, but also in some light product demo use cases. The drawback with the screenshot method is that it’s ill-suited for creating high-fidelity demos of more complex SaaS products that have hundreds of pages and menus, and rich visuals, graphs, and interactions. The recording method is too labor intensive for high end software products, and ensuring consistently high fidelity is uncertain in a rapidly changing product. Considering these two distinctions in the space, at Bessemer we saw an opportunity to make an investment in this emerging enterprise SaaS market. In March of 2021, we made a Series A investment in Demostack.

Case study: Helping software companies create, deliver, and analyze great demos

Of the two types of product demo platforms, I was interested in learning about the more technically challenging opportunity around creating high-fidelity product replicas. Afterall, SaaS products are only becoming more comprehensive and engaging and these are typically the most lucrative demo pitches taking place.

Demostack is the only solution that creates an exact replica of the most complex SaaS products, and we know because we had it tested on some of the most demanding product companies in our portfolio, including those selling into mid-market and enterprise customers.

Demostack’s method allows a SaaS vendor to essentially “import” their entire product into a new demo environment, rather than pulling in individual screenshots and manually linking them together in an attempt to recreate the product experience. Unlike the screenshot method, the Demostack recording method is automated and completed within a matter of minutes, which means customers can continuously update their product demos at the same rapid pace SaaS products innovate. The resulting demo powered by Demostack is virtually indistinguishable from the real product, including all of the most engaging features of a product such as animations, iframes, and popups. Non-technical teams can also easily edit the data in the demo to make it relevant and tailored to each and every conversation. Plus, it’s shareable, which means SaaS vendors can get the product into the customer’s hands faster without the need for a trial.

“The trial is where the deal goes to die,” is a sales saying Demostack is on a mission to bust. As a result, they’re helping software platforms turn demonstrations and free trials into tangible dealmakers versus dealbreakers. By sharing a tailored sandbox full of relevant content—and relevant data—a prospect can quickly grasp the immediate impact a new solution could have on their organization.

Evolution of the go-to-market learning curve

More so than ever before, software sales is increasingly complex and competitive, and go-to-market teams are looking for the edge they need to outperform their competitors. Just as lithium batteries have revolutionized the electronics industry, we expect to see advancements in the demo experience to have an outsized impact on sales teams for software organizations around the globe.

When go-to-market teams are able to communicate a products’ value faster and dig into specific features or elements outside the bounds of a linear tour, they’re able to present the full magic of a product. By crafting a product demo story that resonates with buyers at scale, businesses will see massive changes in the sales and marketing learning curve, resulting in faster ramp time for reps, increased win rates, and scaling revenue at accelerated rates. The software sales cycle is about to completely change as we know it.