Why a free trial does not replace your need for interactive demos

Andy Binkley
November 7, 2022

First, this is not an article advocating against the self-service model.

The opposite actually. I love product-led growth (PLG). In fact, we’re in the process of rolling out a free trial here at Tourial.

But here’s the thing. Free trials and freemium models have evolved.

When OpenView started evangelizing for this movement, it was focused around bottom-up, user-led growth. This meant that acquiring new customers should start by focusing on reducing friction in the buying process and letting as many people use the app as possible so they’d adopt it and become a customer (ideally without talking to sales).

It’s been a very successful model, and it still is. But we’ve learned a few things as the PLG space has develop over the years.

The overall learning is that the PLG model is not a silver bullet to growth. We’ve listened to a lot of customers, prospects, and industry experts talk about their buyers, their experience, and give their overall 2 cents on it.

Here’s what we learned.

Not everyone wants a free trial

Nothing is free, and buyers know this. They know what a “free trial” or “sign up” CTA really means.

It still means some friction — just a different type of friction.

It means rather than letting you walk me through how the software works and answer my questions (aka Requesting a Demo), I have to figure things out myself.

And while you may think your product is easy to use, what about a brand new user?

In a recent SaaS Website Report that we conducted, we found 62% of buyers expect free trials to require substantial time and effort.

We know self-serve is typically the preferred process for buyers, but figuring out how a tool works and getting familiar with it can be quite the process. Especially if you’re evaluating multiple tools.

What may take you a few hours, days, even weeks to fully grasp the capabilities may have been solved in a 30-minute demo…or a few interactive demos :)

Buyers tend to have a bit of resentment towards sales these days, which is why interactive demos are the perfect medium for giving them all the info they want in a very short period of time.

Buyers know Free Trials don’t show future-state

I call it “Empty Data” or “Blank Slate” syndrome.

When signing up for a product, users are typically given zero data.

And they know this.

This creates a major roadblock for self-onboarding because now the user controls their destiny for seeing quick time to value.

“But, Andy, we have in-app product tours to help drive adoption”

In-app tours almost exclusively support the first time user experience. They get the wheels in motion for the user, but they don’t get them to the point where they are experiencing the true value of the product.

How are you getting users and DMs to see the perceived, future value of the product?

How are you showing what the product looks like after 3-6 months of usage? After a year?

These are all things you can accomplish with interactive demos.

Buyers do most of their research before they trial

In our SaaS Website Report, we also found that 76% spend 3-6 minutes researching a website before deciding to sign up. Additionally, 44% spend even more time checking review sites and doing other research.

Knowing that information, your website has to be your #1 asset for getting people to want to sign up.

“Free trials are great, but interactive demos allow me to show buyers what they are signing up FOR” – Pete Kazanjy, Atrium 

Check out Atrium’s website which has a Free Trial, Interactive Demo, and Live Demo options.

Buyers actually prefer to learn via Interactive Demos

We also asked buyers how they prefer to learn about software in our SaaS Website Report. An overwhelming amount (87%) found interactive demos as the most favorable form of education. Free trials were 66% and live demos were 70%.

Remember: Almost all your marketing happens outside your product

Whether you’re launching, thinking about launching, or have already launched your self-serve model, let me ask you this:

When you add a free trial to your go-to-market mix, are you getting rid of your website? Are you cutting out all your paid media spend? Are you ceasing to market your product all together?


Most marketing and buyer research is done outside your product.

Email, paid search, paid social, events, and of course, the website — all places where interactive demos can be used.

Adding a self-service (PLG) motion to your go-to-market strategy does not mean your audience can no longer benefit from interactive demos.

Interactive demos are not meant to be a “replacement” of your PLG motion.

They are meant to elevate.

Creating self-guided demos and product videos is something you should be doing even more of if you’re invested in or exploring self-serve.