Learnings When Building a Screen-Linked Live Demo Product

10 minute read

Over the last three years, we’ve consistently heard the following ask from prospective customers:

We want to customize data, text and images in our demo environment so AEs can show personalized demos, earlier in the sales process.

Our demo request channel was lighting up with requests for a solution to solve their live demo customization problems.

5,000 person company:

We have trouble maintaining a demo environment that looks like our production environment. The data is always changing and its a lot of effort to maintain that in multiple spots.

500 person company:

We are looking for a solution for our organization to enable live demos our Solutions Consultants and Sales Reps can deliver on prospect meetings.

Most commonly, it was sales engineering leaders or product marketing managers who bore the brunt of the responsibility for maintaining the demo environment. Sales engineers often felt this burden when shouldering the 50+ hour weeks caused by an influx of requests from AEs that wanted help delivering personalized demos. As Sales Engineers at Oracle, Randy & I felt this pain firsthand, and we deeply empathized with the SE teams that shared similar challenges.

After hearing this request day in-and-out, we decided to act on it. In April 2022, we saw the 12/10 pain that prospects had in this domain and the clear willingness to pay for such a solution. We aligned as a team and started building a screen-linked live demo product.

Launching a new product offering: Live Demo

Specifically, a new product offering to enable sales engineers to build out a high-level click-anywhere sandbox that could be used by their front-line sellers. Our product team put their heads down and got to work.

With new product offerings, our guiding principle is to ship fast and partner with early customers to address their pain points. Within three weeks, we had an initial product in the hands of early customers who had expressed pain points around the Live Demo use case.

At Navattic, we maintain a high standard of building easy-to-use product features that “just work” with any web application. We worked closely with these early customers to build out robust support, identify feature needs, and smooth out the user experience.

After three months of continuous shipping & iteration, we had a robust, screen-linked live demo offering grounded in customer feedback. Below is a video recording captured in August 2022 sharing this new offering:

Identifying user experience bottlenecks: building and maintaining

One early user experience bottleneck that our product team focused on was around a core mechanic for building Live Demos: linking screens together. Recreating an entire sandbox application into a Live Demo required you to establish a many-to-many mapping between anchored elements and linked screens.

To reduce the linking-screens bottleneck, our product team developed features like “Global Screen Links” to automatically match anchored elements across the application and reduce the number of required manual connections.

Another identified bottleneck was around maintaining your Live Demo to keep it up to date with frontend changes. We introduced “Global Replace” to streamline this experience by removing the need to re-link updated screens.

Feedback received from early users

We consider ourselves fortunate to have amazing customers who partnered with us when developing new product offerings. We onboarded 20+ customers onto our new Live Demo offering. We were optimistic this new offering would drive new business and expedite growth from per-user pricing.

After onboarding customers, we received the following feedback:

  • “This took a lot longer to build than we thought” - It required a vast amount of screen-linking to get to a point that was close to serviceable for usage by reps.
  • “Okay, we built out this environment but our product changes every few weeks. Do we really have to update all these screens every time the environment changes?”- Unlike an 8-15 step marketing demo, there oftentimes were upwards of 50+ captures used to create even a simple high-level demo environment for reps. Even with features like Global Replace of screens, customers shared that the maintenance effort was a fundamental challenge to this approach.

After using the screen-linking approach, SE teams quickly realized that this solution that they thought would solve their live demo problems, in fact, just created another set of challenges for them.

Narrowing in on high-level overviews to reduce scope and encourage best practices

One reason that building Live Demos was time-consuming was that SEs were reproducing their entire sandbox environments 1x1, screen by screen. What if we could encourage our customers to create only a high-level demo for AEs to deliver to prospects?

We invested in this approach to test its viability. We asked our Customer Success team to coach new customers on this high-level overview approach. We added an alert in the Live Demo Builder to warn users when their demo exceeded 20 screens.

Even after taking these steps, SEs and PMMs repeatedly were asked the following question:

“Can we add X feature to our Navattic demo environment please?”

Reps faced awkward situations mid-demo when prospects asked to see other areas of the platform and they had to explain that they weren’t using a real demo environment. This led our customers to add more and more screens to their high-level overview, even in light of these scoping efforts.

We had sales reps who had such a bad experience with the screen-linked environment that they would rather not demo their product at all than use this scoped-down environment.

Even when we asked our reps at Navattic to use this on initial demo calls, they pushed back due to the above limitations.

We quickly found ourselves in a scenario where we as a demo vendor were not using this product ourselves. How can we sell a solution that our own sales team refused to use?

Evaluating other demo vendor solutions

After receiving mixed feedback from our new offering, we took a step back and did a deeper evaluation of current offerings from other vendors. Was there something left on the table that we didn’t initially see?

We conducted a broader set of customer interviews to learn about other product offerings. We spoke with SEs that deployed competing solutions to see if anyone had successfully deployed a screen-linked Live Demo product.

Because the challenges around customizing live demos are pervasive across software sales, vendors in the demo space offering a screen-linked demo solution wanted to provide an offering for the live demo use case. However, each vendor we evaluated encountered the same problems we did. To compensate, they would either:

  1. Encourage customers into the guided demo use case for marketing teams and sales teams as a post-demo leave-behind
  2. Utilize a high-touch customer success process to build the initial screen-linked live demo. While this worked initially, the fundamental challenges around maintenance and the limited scope of the demo environment eventually came to fruition. Frequently, this meant customers churned from the product.

Stepping away from Live Demo screen-linking

We were surprised to learn that some competitors promoting this use case instead pushed customers to deploy guided demos as soon as the deal closed. This confirmed our suspicions that there wasn’t any viable solution in the market to address Live Demos with screen-linking.

We made the difficult, but necessary decision to step away from our Live Demo screen-linking product. Although we set out to address a critical pain point for our customers, we recognized that the screen-linked solution couldn’t adequately solve the core live demo problems expressed by prospects and customers.

Warren Buffet famously said “Show me an incentive, I’ll show you the outcome” and this rings true in this instance. Demotech companies have a strong financial incentive to inspire the belief that this pressing problem can be solved by the software solution they have today (screen-linking), even though they are aware of the critically unaddressed pain points.

Sharing our learnings and moving forward

Why share these learnings? Ultimately, we at Navattic are deeply invested in promoting the long-term viability of interactive demos in the market. Randy & I co-founded Navattic based on the problems we saw firsthand as Sales Engineers at Oracle. We’re still committed to this mission.

Today, we’re honored to work with 300+ customers who successfully deploy interactive demos in the sales cycle. These successful sales deployments are ones where SEs/PMMs create a repository of guided demos that SEs/AEs can share as a post-demo leave behind, enabling prospects to get instantly hands-on in the platform with the areas that matter the most to them.

In closing, we hope this set of learnings propels both prospective buyers and other vendors in the demo space forward. The surface area around delivering demos is vast and there are still many inefficiencies yet to be solved. In the three years since founding Navattic, we’ve been blown away by the impact of reducing friction for all software companies to share their product and drive growth. We are incredibly optimistic about our ability to continue to expand our offerings and address more pain points around delivering exceptional demos.


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