TLDR: Think twice before you do and three times about how you do it. While it’s a very common practice, I think it’s often a lazy one, done by default, and without regard for either the buyer or seller downstream.
When I visit enterprise SaaS websites these days, I see two primary calls-to-action (CTAs) in widespread use:
- Try it: used by the product-led growth (PLG) crowd, and a great CTA — provided the company is actually executing a PLG strategy . While we won’t drill into this large topic today, know that I am working on a PLG post to go up soon.
- Get a demo: in use by most others and typically promising a personal demo, but sometimes offering to watch a video or join a weekly live webinar.
See below for three clipped examples of both demo and trial CTAs from enterprise SaaS websites (read across) .
The question: while it’s certainly a common practice, is it a good one?
My answer: often, not. Using a demo as your primary CTA, whether weasel-worded (e.g., “request demo”) or not (e.g., “get demo”), can frequently lead to problems:
- Double qualification. Typically, the prospect first speaks to an SDR who does preliminary qualification (e.g., BANT) and then passes the prospect to a seller to deliver the demo. The buyer thinks: I didn’t click a button labeled, “speak to two people,” I clicked one labeled, “get demo” .
- Raising expectations. The SDR often justifies their call by saying, “I’m here to gather some information to ensure we personalize the demo to your needs.” That’s great if the ensuing demo is actually tailored in some way; it’s criminally bad expectation-setting if it’s not.
- Horrific second-calls, reminding me of a quote from Fail Safe: “what you’re telling me, I’ve been specifically ordered not to do.” We tell sellers to do qualification and discovery, understand and solve business problems, and under any circumstances never to spew features — then we walk them in front of a largely unqualified prospect with whom we have set an expectation that they’re going to see a feature demo . It’s a wonder they don’t revolt.
- Hampering sellers from doing their jobs, which at this point in the sales cycle should be discovery and qualification — i.e., asking a series of open-ended questions to determine if this is a real sales opportunity with a qualified buyer who has a business problem that our product can solve.
- Super-awkward situations, where the seller thinks they’re having a basic 1-1 demo and the entire buying committee shows up for “the demo” of your product, which will be delivered unprepared and without context. I’ve seen that happen; it’s cringeworthy.
- Wasting sellers’ time. Doing a standardized demo is arguably not selling, but marketing — and your marketing team can likely do it as well as your sellers . If sellers are doing lots of 1-1 demos for lots of semi-qualified prospects, marketing might be generating a lot of activity for sales, but don’t forget the old saying about processionary caterpillars confusing activity with progress.
The root problem here is not that get-demo is somehow inherently an evil CTA , but that this may reveal a deeper problem in sales and marketing alignment. In a siloed company, where sales and marketing are not working together, the above problems can and do develop because marketing is trying to maximize clicks on get-demo without thinking enough about either the seller or the buyer downstream after they do. Think: we passed 47 get-demo oppties this month, we’re not the problem. Buzz off.
There’s an easy way to determine if this is a problem at your company:
- Listen to Gong recordings of the first-calls with sellers (where they are notionally delivering this demo) and do so from the perspective of both the buyer (e.g., are they getting a demo? is it good one?) and the seller (e.g., are they doing qualification and discovery? are they spewing features?)
- Talk to sales leadership. Bring your knowledge of the generic problems along with your learnings from the Gong recordings and have a discussion about how you can work together to improve the early sales cycle process for both seller and buyer.
Note that win/loss reporting will likely not catch these problems because this activity typically occurs upstream of opportunity creation, so there are definitionally no lost opportunities due to a bad initial demo .
Improvement Ideas for Get-Demo Calls To Action
Here are some ideas on how to mitigate these problems, all offered in the spirit reducing friction in the buyer journey while maximizing efficiency for the seller:
- Always have an ungated 30-60 second explainer video that explains what your product does so curious people can quickly understand what it is.
- Publish a 2-3 minute ungated short demo video of what your product does for those who want more information.
- Publish an as-long-as-necessary deep demo video both on your website (possibly gated) and on your YouTube channel . Remember David Ogilvy: “long copy sells!” If you solve an important problem to which I’m seeking a solution, I’ll have plenty of time for a long, well-executed demo. Just make sure it’s well-executed.
- Hold a weekly live demo which (1) gets the buyer block time on their calendar to see the solution, (2) gets us the buyer’s contact information, (3) offers the buyer the opportunity to ask live questions during the event, (4) gives us the chance to spot target accounts expressing interest and the chance to engage with them about that, (5) provides SDRs with an alternative CTA to “do you want to speak to a seller?”, (6) provides a broad indicator of interest over time (i.e., weekly demo attendance), and (7) gives us a platform we can easily build upon — think: on Tuesdays, it’s the product overview; on Wednesdays, it’s the demo for retailers; and on Thursdays it’s the demo for use-case X.
Basically, I’m trying to let the buyer decide what they mean by get demo, potentially let them get that right away, and provide a way to drive interested prospects who don’t want to speak to a seller to a periodic live event where I can deliver a high-quality, in-depth demo while driving scale economies in so doing.
After the weekly live demo, the SDR calls and says, “how did you like the demo?” and “did you see anything relevant to the challenges you’re facing?” If those answers are positive, then they can pass it to a seller for discovery and qualification.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge believer in also having a clear call to action that says, “have a seller contact me.” I understand that it won’t get pressed very often, but oh, when it does — it’s likely to be a pretty interested prospect .
My Three-Point CTA
I’m aware that many marketers today don’t want to paralyze buyers with choice, so there is a general preference for the fewest possible options in a CTA, but that notwithstanding, if I had to solve the problem myself, I’d use this as my default CTA :
When is Get-Demo a Great CTA?
The first revision of this post prompted some questions along the lines of, “I understand you don’t like get-demo as a CTA, but when is it appropriate?” to which my answer is:
- I’m not against get-demo as a CTA. I just think we need to put more thought into what it means, the options we offer, and what happens to both the buyer and the seller when someone presses it.
- For most companies, the vast majority of people who press get-demo are not worth investing in a personalized demo. If you want them to self-demo, adopt a PLG strategy and let them use the product. If that’s not possible, then they’ll need to see a demo somehow and my ideas above provide numerous options for doing that. I like the weekly live demo because it’s cost-effective way to let everyone see the demo while allowing sales to focus on the handful of attendees who are most interesting.
- If, somehow, you’re in a model where you think it is worth doing a live, personalized demo for everyone who wants one, I’d first remind you about processionary caterpillars, and second say to set up a call center and drive people live into that call center. The key to velocity sales is friction elimination, so if someone wants a live demo, and you’re willing to give them one without any real qualification, then get ‘er done — don’t let any time lapse in scheduling.
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 And if it’s not, marketing trying to do PLG on their own (because they want to, the investors want to, or the company would like to be PLG but isn’t), with a product that’s not designed to be easily adopted and sell itself, is a bad idea. In this “PLG is the new black” era, the only thing worse than not doing PLG is trying PLG tactics when you don’t have a PLG company or PLG product. To mix metaphors, you could likely end up putting your best foot forward into your mouth.
 Note the wasted space by having login in this zone of the page. I’d put login buttons or icons somewhere else completely (e.g., top right, page footer) so as to make room to have 3 calls to action as presented below.
 Sometimes, it’s actually triple qualification: the SDR does worth-passing qualification, the seller does worth-accepting qualification, and then the seller and a sales engineer do a deeper discovery call — all before the buyer gets their demo.
 The results in sellers spinning plates — doing qualification with one hand, demoing with the other, and doing a bad job at both.
 I’d argue generally that doing standardized things is definitionally marketing while doing personalized things is sales. Think: given what you’ve told me about your unique situation, here is how our product can help you meet your goals. That’s selling. If you just want the White House Tour, then that’s marketing.
 To which many website types were quick to object in my first revision of the post — but it gets clicked all the time. Well, perhaps that’s because people actually do want demos and also because we give them no real alternative CTA!
 That is, the bad initial demo resulted in no opportunity being created. That said, you might get wind of it in your win/loss reporting from opportunities that made it into the pipeline if you ask customers about their high-funnel experience through both ratings (e.g., “what was your impression after the initial demo”) and qualitative questioning (e.g., “how was your experience from when you first contacted us until you were put in touch with your seller?” or “how did your first meeting with your seller go?”)
 Which I know makes it semi-gated, but it also enables people to find and watch it directly via Google/YouTube search. Have some faith that if they like what they see, they’re not going to forget to find our contact-us form and fill it in. (And you’re going to remind them to do so at the end of the video, of course!)
 When you’ve truly internalized that marketing is about generating sales via the creation of valid sales opportunities you stop caring only about how often something gets clicked (or how many leads we got) and start caring about how fast we can get qualified hand-raisers through the process and off to sales.
 Perhaps more interestingly, if you forced me to drop one, it would be stay-in-touch, not contact-us. I’d make stay-in-touch a backup offer on the get-demo page.
Nice post, Dave. I totally agree with your position on demos. What are your thoughts on proofs-of-concept or worse, trials in the enterprise space?
My feeling on the former is that they should be paid for, with clear success criteria and timelines, and with a structured plan to prove the concept that includes the responsibilities of all parties. The latter are just disasters waiting to happen, unless they are structured like PoCs above.
Lastly, love this”…doing standardized things is definitionally marketing while doing personalized things is sales…”. I’ve never seen it framed this way, and it totally makes sense in the enterprise space.
Dave, I was surprised that all your improvement ideas involved the media of video. I usually feel quite disappointed whenever that is my only option to get questions answered or preview a software solution. It’s too slow and can’t be searched with ctrl-f. I can’t scan for the specific questions I have. I like videos when it comes to communicating something emotional or something that is very hands on like how to properly create a table leg using an electric powered lathe, things that are hard to “get,” without using live action video.
What are the reasons for avoiding a product walk through that’s a mixture of text and still images?
The primary idea was one weekly live demo instead of scores of bad 1-1 ones, but that notwithstanding yes I am trying to give the prospect as many ways as possible — while not paralyzing them with options — to get what they want / consider “a demo” as easily as possible. Any “video” walk-through that accomplishes that goal is fine with me. The only thing I’d avoid is lots of slides embedded in that media because the promise we are trying to deliver on is “demo” not “presentation” – if you have an example of what you like please share. The pitfall I’ve seen is people starting a demo with “just a few slides” and literally having the C-level buyer leave the meeting for the vendor’s failure to deliver on the promise.
Excellent post. Got me thinking a lot about our own process. We get too many demo requests from companies we know aren’t going to pass BANT qualification, and I’ve wanted to implement a video demo track with the chance for a live or simulated-live bi-weekly or monthly mass demo. Good to know I’m not too far off base in my assessment.
Maybe something to consider—it seems to me that if you can use some reliable indicator to identify higher-value leads and offer them a 1-on-1 demo, while others go down the video/mass demo webinar path you described, you may be able to accelerate the process for bigger deals. <–I'm not sure this works yet.
Also, if your audience has consistently predictable challenges they're trying to solve, I wonder if an FAQ-style resource (video or otherwise) would be relevant within the video-demo process to 'tailor' it a little more to the audience's needs.