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Discover how self-service demos can drive user adoption in SaaS businesses. Overcome challenges, improve training and support, and learn best practices for creating engaging demos that empower users. Boost your product's adoption rates with these actionable strategies.

How do you know your product works? The simple answer: you have customers.

How do you know your product is still at the top of the pile? The simple answer: you still have customers (especially after renewal dates roll around). 

There was a time when we were naive enough to think that making the sale was the biggest, baddest, toughest part of our jobs. Nope. 

In the PLG era, that's pretty much the starting point. We now have a customer whose needs we need to anticipate and serve, without creating unnecessary friction, and without too many interactions with sales, support and training. 

But before we do all of that, we need to ensure that users are actually using our tools. Poor user adoption is a quiet killer for SaaS companies. While growth teams are focused on gaining new leads and resolving user issues, users who never fully take advantage of a product are quietly leaving us for competitors. 

There are some great strategies out there that help SaaS businesses drive greater adoption - some of these revolve around product strategy, some around messaging and still others around onboarding. The secret sauce in all of them is the part where they 'show and tell'. This is also often the most expensive part of the strategy (people dependent), and the most breakage prone (people dependent).

At SmartCue, we're suggesting an alternative: self service demos that never tire, never miss an appointment, reliably answer questions and 'show' instead of 'tell'. They're also available round the clock, and the best ones work across all devices, and are relevant to the users' questions/immediate needs. In short, they make it easy for users to find their mojo with your sometimes complicated tool. 

Challenges and Roadblocks to User Adoption in SaaS

User adoption isn't as straightforward as it may initially seem. There are several roadblocks that can hinder user adoption, and understanding these is the first step towards tackling them effectively.

Complex Interfaces and Functionality

Let's face it, no matter how much we try to simplify the interface, there will always be some functionality that will feel complicated - especially at first. For many users, navigating a new system can be daunting, particularly if they have limited technical skills. 

an exhausted worker

Resistance to Change

Many moons ago, when I first started out as a sales engineer, we used email to ensure that all the right parties had approved the latest version of our deal documents. It was fallible. It was error prone. It created enormous confusion. We all hated it. 

Then, the bosses introduced a workflow tool that streamlined the process. It was completely online, and it relied on queues for each of us. At any point in time, we could log in and see where a document was stuck. To say we were relieved was an understatement. 

But we didn't use it. All our documents were on email. We figured we'd use it from the next deal on. And then we didn't, because someone forgot to enter some key piece of information or parameter that wasn't part of the tool's design. And then we didn't use it because something else didn't work *exactly* as we wanted it to. The funny thing is, email had ALL those issues too! In hindsight, I can't think of a good reason why we resisted. 

But that, unfortunately, is how tool adoption works. People get used to doing things a certain way, and change takes time. And effort. And training. Which brings me to… 

Inadequate Training and Support

While the PLG holy grail is to create tools that are so obvious as to need no training, most of us aren't there yet. Also, let me just say this: for some of us, that will never be the case. Business processes are complex, for a reason. Sometimes our processes involve doing things that aren't intuitive. Tools can only be as simple as the process that underlie them. 

However, that does translate into user woes. Most users, especially when they see the demos, recognise that it is an easier/faster/more streamlined way of working. But, if you've ever struggled to do something on a new tool that you can "easily" do offline, you've taken the latter way out. 

This is where training and support need to be ever present and easily accessible. Classroom training just doesn't cut it. 

Overcoming Low Adoption with Self-Service Demos 

Let's look at the key problems that training and support have: 

  1. Training teams can't cover every scenario and question. 

  2. Support teams can be 24x7, but are prohibitively expensive when so. 

  3. Even when support teams are 24x7, they don't have the necessary context to help users do what they need to, quickly. 

  4. Neither training nor support teams know when people aren't using tools. 

From a business standpoint, that boils down to a cost and value tradeoff - on the one hand you can have 24x7 support and regular training to help fill in the gaps, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg. On the other hand, you can let users muddle through, and pay the price in productivity. It's a lose lose. 

For SaaS teams, this is a huge opportunity. Especially for those of us who use self-service demos. 

Here's what makes self-service demos so effective: 

  • They offer users hands-on experience: For new users, self-service demos let users 'test drive' the software in a real-time environment. They get to explore the software's features and functionality in-depth; they get to make mistakes, retry, and learn from their errors without any consequences. Essentially, they automate huge swathes of product training. 

  • They help users learn in-context: Ask any trainer how impossible it is to prepare users for non-standard scenarios. By the time users encounter these scenarios, they've forgotten what they learnt in training. By placing links to self-service demos in the tool itself, we enable users to get help when they need it, where they need it. Users don't have to waste time futzing about, and you get points for intuiting their needs! 

  • They let users learn at their own pace: Everyone learns differently - some people need to see something just once, while others may need more repetition. Self-service demos are tireless. Moreover, they're available whenever the user has the time (and the headspace) to absorb them. 

  • They're easier to pay attention to: We're all distracted. We've all got too much going on, and too little time to do it in. If I'm reading a manual, I'm skimming it. If I'm watching a video, I'm likely listening to it, while I quickly respond to a text or email on my phone. When I'm playing with an interactive demo though… I'm present. I'm the one taking each action that moves the story forward. I'm paying attention (and hopefully, learning!). :) 

Now, self-service demos also open up a whole spectrum of proactive actions that we can take to drive usage, over and above effective onboarding. Think about it. We already have usage analytics. We know where users are getting stuck, and which parts of the tool users aren't being used altogether. 

What's stopping us from seeking feedback about what's not working? If we know what's not working, what's stopping us from fixing it? If we have fixed it, what better way to communicate the fix than a targeted email campaign containing a self-service demo? If we didn't need to fix it, what's stopping us from putting in a link to a self-service demo that shows how, right there in the tool? 

I'm a huge fan of creating a library of specific, bite sized self-service demos that can then be packaged into learning materials, support, in-app guidance, marketing collateral, and even as a more effective FAQs section. If you're thinking that's a lot of work, you've never used SmartCue, which lets you create super custom interactive demos, at scale, and fast. No more spending days poring over one super custom demo - you'll have what you need in minutes. Yes, that is the sound of your SEs cheering. 

Best Practices: Making Self-Service Demos That Are Just Right For Your Audience 

At SmartCue, we have a ringside seat to some of the best interactive demos our clients are making. We get to learn from our own experience, and that of our clients. When it comes to demo effectiveness, particularly when using them to drive adoption, these are our go-to best practices. 

Make it Intuitive

Design your demo with the end-user in mind. It has to be obvious and self-explanatory: super clean menus, uncluttered interfaces, intuitive flows, and just a touch of animation around click zones to keep the user on track. If your product is complex, make sure you add enough on-screen guidance to keep guesswork out of the equation. 

Keep it Short 

If it takes me 5 minutes to go back to doing things the old way, and 15 minutes to go through the demo which shows me the 'easy' way to do it, guess which one I'll go for? 

Keep it Bespoke 

This is the opposite of spray and pray. The user found themselves at this demo because they asked your chatbot a question, or followed a link in your tool. They're trying to figure out how to do something specific, so stick to the use case at hand. Walk the user through what they need to know, and then give them options to delve deeper into this or that. 

Deliver Additional Value 

Throw in a tip or two. You know the use case, you know the problem they're trying to solve. You know how to use the tool in a way that optimizes the solution. Share it! Everyone likes an edge. 

Ask for Feedback 

Even if it's a simple rating scale. It gives you insight into what's working for users, and lets you identify potential areas for improvement faster than you would otherwise. 


Driving user adoption needs much more than just self-service demos, of course. But this is a great place to start. It's also a really low hanging fruit you can pick off with minimal effort and it'll give you an outsized ROI. I've written before about my love for the way Hubspot, Duolingo, Evernote and Slack are making it easy for users to adopt their fantastic tools. There's a lot of learning to be had here. 

Users who swear by our tools, who are invested in them, make for great internal champions when renewal rolls around. They also make inertia work against any challengers to your position - if the client organization already has a large number of users who are settled in with your tool, chances are, they won't rock the boat for a teeny tiny improvement in this or that parameter. If you aren't as well entrenched though, it's a different matter. 

User grumblings serve as the canary in the coal mine for SaaS. Don't be afraid of a little feedback - feedback makes us grow, it makes us better and more competitive. Even the best tools out there have their grumblers. It's when things get silent that you should worry.