Uncover the best practices for designing an intuitive and engaging self-service demo experience that converts prospects into customers.

I'm a very annoying customer. Honestly. I tend to 'peruse'. I usually have a general idea of what I want, but I like 'letting the product speak to me'. I like walking into a store, holding the product, comparing it with the competition and so on. I like having someone around to ask questions to, but I genuinely don't like being aggressively sold to (I doubt anyone does!).

Of course, that's not how it goes. A customer like me is like catnip to salespeople. I'm usually surrounded within minutes, overwhelmed in seconds, and on my way out the store before any of them can convince me of anything.

If you've ever walked out of a store because of pesky salespeople, you know firsthand how important it is to let customers engage with your product at their own pace, without pressure. Not surprisingly, all good salespeople and sales leaders realize this too. The trouble is, they don't trust the product to communicate all it does, by itself.

That's reasonable of course. There are buyers like me who like to read and compare and obsess, and then there are those who need to be 'grabbed'. A good product, without any embellishments, will appeal to the former only. We'll lose the rest. So how do we sell the product by letting the product shine, without involving salespeople and the perceived pressure they bring?

That's what self-serve demos are for. At SmartCue, we LOVE self-serve demos. So much so, that it's our core business model: we help our customers make exceptionally effective self-serve demos, with minimal effort and time. So, of course, we know a thing or two about what good self-serve demos look like.

In this blog post, we're going to cover SmartCue's 4 Golden Rules for designing self-serve demo experiences.

Golden Rule #1: Prioritize User-Friendly Design in Your Self-Serve Demo

When it comes to design, the thumb rule we follow is this: less is more. Create a clean, simple, intuitive interface that guides users through the demo, without cluttering it with too many intrusions and pop ups and options.

Use clear and simple language

No technical jargon or complex terms that may confuse users. If you need to use jargon, explain it at the first use, and make it easy for customers to look it up. By and large, try to use simple, effective language that gets the point across and minimizes confusion.

Narrow your focus

While the temptation is to show the customer every single thing, try to resist. Customers need time to digest information, and while the self-serve demo is a great way to impress customers, it's not suited to communicating every advantage. What we recommend you do instead is pick the customers' top 2-3 pain points, and show them how your product solves those.

Use interactive elements

Using spotlights, zooms, click zones, and hotspots can make your self-serve demos more engaging. They can also help to reinforce key messages and concepts.

  • Spotlights can be used to create a hyper-focused view of a screen, which helps when you want to remove distractions and highlight specific sections in your demo. Add a short delay before the zoom effect, so it doesn't feel abrupt. Also ensure that the zoom effect is smooth, and neither too fast, nor too slow.
  • Click Zones give visitors the sense of actually clicking and experiencing your application. Avoid overusing them however, excessive click zones can lead to click fatigue and lower completion rates.
  • Hotspots and Hover Effects can help display information without the need to click - they can help break up information dense screens. But be mindful that these don't work very well on mobile, so rely on these sparingly.

Make it mobile-friendly

Honestly, that's where they'll most likely view it from. Ensure that your demo is optimized for mobile use, and uses design that translates well to different screen resolutions.

Golden Rule #2: Smooth Navigation for an Effortless Self-Service Demo Experience

Navigation is critical to the success of a self-service demo. If your users can't move effortlessly through the demo, find the information they need when they need it, and backtrack to see something again without getting lost or confused, you're doing it wrong.

Here are a few best practices we swear by.

Add Intro pop-ups

An intro pop-up helps set context: a little storytelling, a little instruction, and the customer is ready to jump in. Some of the best intro pop-ups even add a little ICP flavor and humor to better connect with the audience.

Provide clear instructions

Spell out what users need to do at each stage of the demo. Use simple, step-by-step instructions, so users can focus on experiencing the solution, rather than fighting demo navigation.

Use a clear and simple menu

A clear and simple menu with clear labels for each section, placed exactly where a user would expect a menu to be. Don't reinvent the wheel here, or try to be creative for the sake of it. A customer may never call you to gush about how lovely your menu design is, but boy will they notice if it confuses or frustrates them!

Use breadcrumbs

Make it foolproof for users to go back to previous sections if they need to.

Provide a search function

Again, place it where they'd expect it, and keep an eye on what they're searching for: this is feedback gold. This is information they couldn't find on the demo. This is food for thought and demo greatness.

Be generous with tooltips

Visual cohesion goes a long way. Tooltips are a great way to ensure users are getting the information they need, without cluttering your interface. If you're using any jargon, or any abbreviations, always, always, always use tooltips.

Add exit pop-ups

Just like every story needs an ending, every good demo needs a CTA. Make it easy for customers to follow through to the next step - be that a quick session with your chatbot, or your lead gen form, or a meeting invite, or even a URL that allows them to explore other aspects of your product.

Golden Rule #3: Create Engaging Content Tailored to User Needs

Of course, design can only take you so far if your content, or the meat of your communication, is lacking. When communicating through self-serve demos, we can't recommend personalisation enough.

One effective approach is to identify customers' Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD) and use them as a basis for creating tailored demos. You already know what customers hope to achieve with your tool, so work backwards, and create demos that help them realize how your product helps them meet their primary objectives and motivations. Once you have them there, they're ready for a conversation with sales.

How you tell the story also matters tremendously. We've all sat through presentations where we're fighting off sleep, even when the content should be interesting to us! Just because you're making a self-serve demo, don't skip the story. Take your cue from game designers on this one - storytelling evolves to fit the medium!

Each story flow has its place.

Linear flows: where you take your users on a step-by-step journey through your product is perfect for new users, users new to the category, techies, and power users to be.

Choose Your Adventure flows: where you let your users choose what they want to see through menus and submenu options works best for business decision-makers and experienced users.

Free-Flow: where you let users explore at their own pace, but provide clear guidance is a good approach to fall back on. It usually works with everyone!

Single Feature Hero flows: highlight a standout feature or benefit and are just perfect for targeted marketing campaigns.

Multiple Feature flows: break up your demo into separate sections or chapters. This approach works best for your website landing page where you haven't used any targeting. This allows business decision-makers and experienced users to explore your product in detail in one place, without having to view several demos.

Golden Rule #4: Gather Feedback to Continuously Improve Your Self-Serve Demo

Feedback is how you identify issues or areas for improvement and refine and improve the demo over time. There are many ways you can gather feedback.


Analytics have the advantage of being effortless for the user, and can help you to track behavior and identify any areas where users are getting stuck or abandoning the demo. Once you identify and fix a problem, analytics are a great way to assess whether the fix is working.


Surveys can help you to gather direct feedback from users. This is the gold standard, but unfortunately, tends to be biased towards the negative - users are far more likely to complain than compliment. However, if users are taking the time to complain, take it seriously.

User testing

User testing can help you to identify any issues quickly. It's best to gather a group of friendly users and ask them to complete specific tasks or scenarios. Then use both analytics and direct capture to grab all the feedback possible!


Design your self-serve demo with the same care and attention you put into your live demos. You already know how to design your communication. The learning curve lies in adapting that communication to this new medium: becoming fluent in the language of navigation and menus and breadcrumbs, interactivity and hotspots and click zones. That's all there is to it!

As with all the other changes you've coped with these past years, you've got this!