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Discover how to optimize user experience in self-service software demos. Learn key UX principles, the role of personalization, and best practices to create engaging, effective demos that convert prospects into customers.

Think about how you shop for cars - on paper, your final choices feel like they are on par. In fact, there's always this little fact or that little feature that gives one of the choices that extra edge. You read all the reviews you can find, you know how to drive a car, and yet… you don't make the decision until you've actually driven it around. 

Why is that? 

Well, it's an experiential thing. It's why Baskin Robbins lets you taste all you want. Why Apple stores let you fidget with new devices to your heart's content and why we all love free trials. 

This is why, in a PLG world, you need self-service demos. This is the demo that is on-point and on location. It doesn't go into too much detail, nor does it actually sell. But what it does, very effectively, is give your prospect the joy of finding a cool solution to their problem, all on their own (even if it did involve opening a very targeted marketing email 😜). 

Yes, there is a place for the sales-led supercalifragilisticexpialidocious demo. But paving the way to that supercalifragilisticexpialidocious demo, is the self-serve demo that immediately answers the question in your prospects' minds and gives them enough of a taste to want (or at least want to know) more. Once they've glimpsed what your product can do, they're far more willing to do detailed discovery and wait for that super custom, knock-your-socks-off demo! 

Since the self-service demo is the first time that prospects interact with your product, and do so without a helpful salesperson around, the UX on these self-service demos has to be absolutely spot on. 

Optimizing User Experience in Self-Service Demos: Key Principles

At SmartCue we swear by three fundamental UX principles: 

Intuitive Design

It has to be obvious and self-explanatory. Your prospect shouldn't have to work out how to make their way through your demo. Nope. That way lies the danger of abandoned self-service demos. What you want instead are 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. 

designers should always keep their users in mind

Pro Tip: Test it on friendly audiences. When we know our products as well as we do, our definition of "obvious" and "intuitive" tends to vary greatly from our target audiences! 


Brand recall is a powerful thing. In the SaaS space, each of us is in a competition, often with products that look or work similarly to our own. This is where you want to make sure that your 'look' is distinct enough that prospects and users recognise demos as yours. Of course, it's always a good idea to have your logo on. But in case of space constraints, you may need to use common sense tactics like echoing your brand colors. You also want consistency in the design of your product itself - follow design conventions wherever possible. Don't go rogue and do a 'form over function' thing for novelty's sake. There's a reason that no one puts the comments box right next to the blog title, no? 😄

Pro Tip: Most of us don't have a branding team in-house (one dreams of the day we will!) but we do have friends and/or vendors who can help assess whether our demo branding is on point. You'd be surprised at how easily people respond to a request for feedback. 


This goes without saying. You aren't going to get a second shot if the first demo doesn't work. This means that you need to test across a plethora of devices, and ensure that you're following all the guidelines for mobile first design - because, let's face it, that's where a lot of your prospects will view the demo anyway. It also means that you need to ensure that the platform you're hosting these demos on is a highly reliable one with enough stretch built in to manage extra workloads coming from a successful email marketing campaign. 

Pro Tip: Design for mobile. If it works on mobile, it'll do just fine on desktops. Also, always keep your platform advised on your traffic predictions. Better safe than sorry. 

The Power of Personalization in Self-Service Demos

The world is your oyster today, when it comes to leveraging tech innovation to add that extra pizzazz to your demos - just look at IKEA (this, by the way, is how I shop on IKEA!). Canva is doing fantastic things too, as are many of my SaaS peers. 


All the glitter in the world won't matter if your message isn't targeted enough. Our prospects are time poor, just like us. Their attention is divided amongst a number of tasks, just like us. And they always have something better to do than watch a demo (or interact with one) if it isn't relevant to their everyday ups and downs. 

So, dedicate time to creating super custom self-service demos that speak to a specific use case in the life of a specific ICP in a certain industry and company size. Then do the same for the rest. If you're wondering how you're supposed to make all these demos in time, you need to check out SmartCue

You can take my word for it - I used to be an overworked SE myself, toiling away at custom demo after custom demo after custom demo. SmartCue takes the grunt work out of it. It automates a whole lot. It lets you replicate things. It lets you edit them on the fly. It lets you manage a whole dang library of demos. It lets you scale. And it does so with an interface so simple that no one has ever asked me for a training module. Okay, end of plug. 

But seriously, this is the age of SaaS. Research demo automation and self-service demos and find a solution that's right for you. You can't let a tiny thing demo creation bandwidth hold you back from delivering a strong, personalized experience to prospects. That's where the gold is! 

Design a super targeted email campaign. Show prospects you know them. Show them you understand their problem. And show them how easy the solution is, with your super custom self-service demo. Bam. MQLs. 

Train your website chatbot to engage with visitors and route them to the right self-service demo. Or have a little pop-up survey that lets you refine self-serve demos to the visitor. Or, just let the visitor filter your self-serve demo library for use case, industry and company size. 

The more custom/personalized your self-service demos are, the more MQLs you unlock. 

SmartCue's UX Best Practices for Self-Service Demos

As SmartCue, we learn from our own experiences, and that of our customers. If I could distill all of that learning into three key best practices, they'd be: 

Design for the user journey

Everything I've just said about personalization applies here. You have enough data analytics and intelligence to tell you where your prospect is, within the customer journey. Personalize some more. The best sales teams use self-service demos as POCs and responses to specific questions asked by various user groups in large deals. Don't limit self-service demos to marketing alone. Many of SmartCue's customers leverage self-service demos and demo environments for providing hands-on training for new hires on complex tools and functions.

Ensure accessibility to all users

Test across devices, OS, and any combination of the two. 


Gather feedback from users. Do A/B testing. Run pilots. Now use all of that data to iterate. Repeat. The best self-service demos got that way because someone A/B tested and refined the hell out of it. 

Conclusion: Driving Conversions with High-Quality Self-Service Demos 

In essence, enhancing user experience in interactive SaaS product demos is not just about flashy designs or trendy features. It's about creating a seamless, intuitive, and engaging journey that showcases the value of your software to the user. It's about designing with empathy, placing the user at the heart of every decision.

In today's highly competitive SaaS landscape, especially in a PLG model, the user experience is the holy grail. And it deserves the same kind of respect and devotion. 

When you adhere to fundamental user experience principles, personalize the experience and follow UX best practices, you craft self-service product demos that let customers experience firsthand how incredibly suitable your product is to their particular situation. 

And that is how customer champions, conversions, launch buzz and all other good things are made.