Wouldn't it make more sense to let potential users try out the product, as is the norm in B2C, leading to more client engagement and potentially more traction? And what's all the secrecy about?
Because the startup costs to get a lot of their customers actually set up on their platform are too high, so free trials for say, 14 days, are out of the question.
For example, take a look at http://www.curalate.com/ which uses some really amazing technology to track a customer's brand imagery across (almost) the entire web. Naturally, most of these types of services are usually $300++/month, so again, it's all just about mitigating setup costs for the provider.
Hope this helps :)
I don't think it's secrecy. I believe it's bad selling.
"Look at this awesome thing I developed! Surely if you look at it, and I can control the demonstration, I can explain everything about it. Then you'll really want it!"
Sometimes a product or service creator can be fearful someone will "steal" their idea. They have not realized ideas are a dime a dozen: it's execution that is difficult to match! This could lead to the perception of secrecy. But I believe poor understanding of selling is a much more common issue in the SaaS world.
Many products are developed because the creator had an idea. Not because the market told them they needed it, note. This is why so many SaaS startups fail. No need. Then they make up some sort of pricing structure which has no basis in reality and certainly isn't profitable...and then must go out into the marketplace and try to convert people into becoming users. Tough road!
What most salespeople (and people who shouldn't really be in sales, but accidentally fell into the role) fail to understand is that customers rarely buy because of ALL the features your product or service has. They tend to buy because of ONE of these.
Example: a network security product I sold had four main features. But buyers would only be interested in one of them--a different one each time. Only months later, when they came back and asked the now-perceived-as-expert (me), "Gee, we need X...do you know anything that does that?" I could then happily inform them, "What you have now does that already."
Sell first, educate later. Often, putting too many choices or things to think about in front of a prospect will result in overwhelming them. Another example: I'm a producer for a TV network. When we first meet with a prospect, I don't go into everything we can do. I stick to one big idea, and that's what we sell. When I first started in the field, I tried upselling, cross selling, what have you. Nope. All that did was confuse the prospects. Now I sell them on the one big idea...and then come back a little later, now that they're used to working with us, and pick up the other orders I knew would be a good fit following the first discussion.
The standard belief is: "If I can just get in front of enough people and tell them about every single feature of my SaaS, I will get lots of customers." And to a degree this is true. If you see enough prospects, you'll accidentally make some sales. But you probably won't truly know why they bought.
The demo is an outdated mode of selling. These salespeople don't know any other way, though. They want you on the call. Live. Then, they believe, they can convert you into a paying user. On your own, as a consumer, you're not to be trusted to come to your own correct conclusions.
THIS IS SO GOD DAMN STUPID. (Thanks for bringing up this topic. We have been steaming over here for days...)
Over here at the EDGY EMPIRE we have been trialing marketing automation platforms for the past few weeks. Almost every single one that we have looked at seriously (including Infusionsoft, SharpSpring, Ontraport, Marketo, Eloqua, and a few others...) all do "demos" and refuse to let you use the tool yourself.
Of course the sales person says to any question you have "Sure, we can do that..." until you ask them about 45x and force them to admit that what you want to do isn't possible. It's like a ridiculous game of cat-and-mouse -- except with my money.
They also ask for you to pay upfront and then give you 15-30 days to cancel and demand your money back. Which only adds to the decision-making madness.
This is such SHITTY business behavior. Some asshat in the front office actually thinks that he is super brilliant for engineering an inside sales process that "controls the conversation" and forces people like us through a pipeline.
FUCK YOUR PIPELINE (and all the stupid email open tracking that comes with it...)
Why not build a tool that people want to use? Why not develop a culture and nurturing environment where your target customer automatically wants to work with your product and your team?
I agree with folks. It's annoying. It also doesn't give you a real good idea of how their service will work for YOU. It gives them a chance to showcase something that has worked well for someone else.
That said, sometimes it comes down to overhead and all those lovely acronyms: MRR, CAC, LTV, and so on.
There's some really, REALLY poorly designed software out there. Businesses favor speed over quality. So they built a SaaS that is expensive to host but they recover it in the costs. This puts live trials out of reach for them (sometimes). They likely do it for very select prospects.
If they gave you a month or 3 month trial, they could be spending a couple hundred dollars...Eh call it $100/mo. in hosting the server and database. That's $300 now just to give you a trial. What's the % of people using trials who convert to paying customers? Can't be high in this case, right?
This all goes into the cost to acquire the customer (along with ads, etc.) and it must be below the life time value of the customer.
However. If you provide someone with a demo that can be hosted on cheaper hardware and/or can be re-used among multiple people... Now your cost to acquire drops way way down.
I don't think it's always about secrecy. I honestly don't think there's anything in the services you mentioned that couldn't be copied.
I can't speak for all companies, but many SaaS companies know that its hard for customers to see value from their product until you have some meaningful content in their system - data, users, etc. They could put you into an empty state product, but their own data may very well show that there's a much higher bounce/churn rate or lower conversion rate because its hard for customers to see value vs. when they provide the demo first and then provision access.
With the hope that the product will be so addictive to its users, most B2B SaaS companies will allow you to test ride the product before starting to charge you.
However, the answer to your question might depend on some factors and the first one that comes to my mind is the training needed to use the service.
At OneMove Technologies, for instance, the complexity of the program required a 30 min demo to really appreciate what the program might do for its prospective customers.
This can be easily be replaced by a good old video but then the sales reps, who are remunerated with commissions, might get a bit territorial. For them, the easiest way to claim a client is by demoing it.
Even in these cases, smart companies will let you test drive it for a 2 or 3 uses (if billing per use) or for a period of a month (if billing with subscription) before charging customers and adapt their incentive plans accordingly.