Ungated Product Experiences in 2023: Why You Should, And How to Do It
You’re happily scrolling through some SaaS company’s website, looking at a product you think might help you with your work. And there’s a very tempting product tour on the website. “Great,” you think, “I can get a taste of what this product is like with just a few clicks.”
And then… the dreaded pop-up appears. 🙄
“Want to see what we offer/what our product looks like? It’s free—just give us your email address!"
It’s not the effort of typing in your email address that makes you groan. (Let’s be real, you have autofill set up anyways.)
It’s the knowledge that this simple act will lead to an inbox full of sales emails for the next year or more for a product you don’t even know if you want, insistent Linkedin messages, or even (ugh) a cold call.
And so that free taste isn’t so free—it comes with a lot of irritation and incoming bids for their attention. That tiny bit of friction makes many of your website visitors stop dead in their tracks and abandon their buyer’s journey right there.
Couple that with the fact that for most SaaS companies, only around 3-5% of website visitors sign up. And of those, maybe around 20% of them activate (activation is when a new user receives value inside your product for the first time).
With quick back-of-the-napkin math, for every 10k people who visit your site, only 60 - 100 prospects experience the value of your product.
So if you want to engage a larger percentage of your visitors and create a more buyer-friendly way of selling your product, consider adding more ungated product experiences in 2023.
Ungating parts of your product can help you:
✅ Engage a larger percentage of your website visitors.
✅ Provide value upfront for potential buyers.
✅ Allow them to direct their own buying journey.
✅ Get your sales team more qualified leads.
✅ Remove the friction from your product experiences.
(Want the TL;DR with some creative vocals? Watch the “Ungate Yourself” music video by the incredible Jorge Soto!)
Here’s everything you need to know about why you should ungate your SaaS product and how to do it effectively.
Gates Add Friction for the Prospect
Consider that website you bought a novelty t-shirt from as a gift for your brother-in-law in 2018. It was definitely a one-time purchase (you’re just not a novelty t-shirt person), but the company forced you to create an account just to make a purchase, and they still send you regular marketing emails.
The added friction in the buying process almost made you abandon the purchase (except your brother-in-law loves these shirts), and you’re not more likely to make an additional purchase later because you send all those emails to your spam folder.
“Sure,” you say, “but I do make purchases again from other brands that email me—email marketing works!” Yep, it absolutely does, with an important caveat—when the prospect willingly signs up for your email list.
There’s the occasional exception to that rule, but is that handful of sales worth annoying and potentially losing dozens of great customers who couldn’t get the info they needed without giving up a piece of their inbox? We’re all already drowning in emails, and we don’t tend to have a strong affinity for the brands that make that problem worse against our will.
For a one-off e-commerce purchase, maybe this strategy works just fine. But SaaS businesses are built on customer relationships and retention. And with an increased focus on profitability over growth in these uncertain economic times, we’ve gotta think of a better way to get qualified leads and close business as an industry.
The gate is going out of style—you heard it here first.
Why Marketers Gate Their SaaS Products
Of course, those product or content gates don’t exist only to annoy prospects. Gates came into being because it was solving a previously huge problem. Marketers put up gates to get leads and have some sort of attribution for the content they produce. (Trust me, I’m a marketer, and I understand exactly how challenging the attribution piece is!)
The gate isn’t a perfect system, but it exists for a clear reason—you want to get those email addresses from leads so your sales team can contact them, walk them through the sales process, and close the deal.
🚫 But it’s not 2012 anymore—that’s not how today’s buyers want to buy SaaS.
There’s no singular buyer’s journey, and most buyers want to explore on their own and only interact with sales once they’ve made a purchase decision or at least conducted most of their own research.
60% of buyers visit a company’s website before accepting an in-person or remote sales meeting. If they’re landing on your website only to find barriers to getting the information and experience they need to move forward, that’s not a great way to start off your relationship with a customer.
You must give users value from the start to make your product-led motion a success. After all, that’s what product-led growth is—giving customers value upfront and finding ways to monetize a certain portion of those people and organizations later.
Pros of gating your product
✔ Opportunity for marketing automation integration to combine lead gen sources.
✔ Increase # of leads and potential to improve lead quality.
✔ More opportunities to send prospects strategic pieces of content.
Cons of gating your product
✔ Reduced number of people engaging with your product
✔ Little to no SEO value because gated content isn’t accessible to search bots
✔ The leads you get may be of poorer quality (quantity v quality)
Best Practice: Ideally, product demo experiences should be as easily accessible as possible, but there are benefits to gating your demo that may outweigh the downsides for your use case.
Why Companies Ungate Their Products
1. It Lets Buyers Direct Their Own Journey
Sales and marketers often struggle with the rise of product-led growth because doing it successfully means giving up some measure of control to your customers and users. Gone are the days where you can play gatekeeper and assume prospects will be willing to go along with your playbook to get acces to your products.
SaaS customers are increasingly unwilling to play that game, and they’re the ones in control these days. You can fight it, but it’s clear the world isn’t going back to the old way—or you can get out in front of it and win more market share because you’re providing the experience buyers love.
According to Gartner:
💡 60% of a buyer's time is spent independently evaluating a product before engaging with a vendor.
💡 50% of B2B buyers cite demos as one of the most valuable materials during the buying cycle.
The bottom line is that buyers want to experience your product on their own terms and want to see demos!
Forward-thinking SaaS companies use their product as a go-to-market asset throughout the buyer’s journey — not just a solution that solves customers’ problems. They’re making their products more user-friendly and accessible for prospects to self-serve and self-educate, even for early-stage adopters who aren’t yet customers. Gating your product is counter to that effort.
Why would you want to make it harder for prospects to explore what you’ve spent so much time, thought, and effort to create? Is getting an email address enough of a trade-off to balance out that negative experience and greater site abandonment?
Gathering email addresses is helpful to your marketing and sales efforts. I’m not arguing otherwise. But is gating your product the right way to get them? Or is it just how you’ve always done it without exploring other options?
And much of the buyer information you get from those pop-up forms can be found elsewhere—we’re all collecting a ton of information on our website visitors these days. Ungating might mean you need to get a little more creative to access that info, but the trade-off in an improved buyer experience is well worth it.
And since more than 70% of businesses say they will happily consider other vendors if their core “must haves” are not met during their buying journey, or if the experience is poor, you must keep the buyer experience at the forefront.
2. It Can Produce Better-Quality Leads
A confession here: many times as I’m doing research while writing posts, I have to fill in my contact info to access info on some SaaS website or other. And my info gets passed to a hapless sales rep who pings me multiple times with no response, or an overeager email nurture campaign, when I’m not even a prospect at all—just doing my research over here, thanks!
But that’s a real problem when you use a gate. Sure, you’re getting information on potential leads, but are most of those high-quality, or are they just tire-kickers and content marketers?
A new user ≠ a good user.
In fact, OpenView has found that while ungating product experiences do lead to a decline in the number of signups your product will get, you’ll also get a significantly higher number of activated accounts. The users who signed up have already seen value and are much more likely to be active and paid customers.
Plus, ungated product experiences mean more people will get to experience your product. Every website visitor will now have access to your product via a guided demo or tour, instead of only those willing to hand over their email address.
More people seeing how your product provides value will motivate more of them to take action (like signing up for a free trial) instead of just lurking and leaving. And you’re allowing prospects to qualify or disqualify themselves, making sales calls more efficient.
3. It gives your buyers what they want: product experiences
In many ways, the SaaS industry hasn’t moved on from the old view of the sales playbook where prospects have to Give To Get: they give you information to access your products.
Buyers don’t want to buy like that anymore. The new Give To Get flips this playbook on its head: you give prospects a great experience with your product, and your company will get them as customers.
If you’re gating some portion of access to your product in the early stages when buyers are doing their independent research, especially access to the product itself, you’re cutting off a potential source of success.
How to Ungate Your Product Effectively
So how can you eliminate the gates (or reduce them significantly) without sacrificing your best source of leads? We’ve got ideas.
You can still collect email addresses from prospects, but first, let them explore more of your product or content without that friction point.
Prospects that are genuinely interested will happily give you info at some point so they can continue the buying journey. And if your product experience is ungated, they’ll have done plenty of self-educating before joining a sales call, accelerating the sales cycle.
1. Use a hybrid approach
Reprise customer Pendo cleverly captures leads while still having an ungated interactive product experience. How? You ask. While they don’t gate the first self-guided tour users take, which allows users to jump in and get a taste of their product, they gate the second tour.
After a user completes their first tour, a popup appears asking if they'd like to continue to part 2 of the tour or get a custom demo.
If the prospect chooses to continue, they must enter their information.
This hybrid strategy of gating their product is a great way to be value-led while also capturing qualified leads (anyone who wants to take another tour).
Takeaway: Provide value upfront before gating your product for lead capture.
2. Fully ungate your website product tours
Another way to consider reducing the gates in your buyer’s journey is by completely ungating every one of your product tours. You can add these self-guided tours to your website (without requiring visitors to enter an email address or create an account, of course!) so your site visitors can experience and interact with your product in depth without any strings attached. We do this at Reprise — all of our tours are ungated. 😎
Then if you want, hit them with the option to sign up for your next PLG motion—like a free trial or a freemium plan. You still get the email and account info you need, but your prospects who give that to you have given it because they’ve already seen the value in your product with those ungated tours and experiences. Reprise also does this by gating Starter — our freemium offering.
Thus, you're not trying to convert them from scratch—they’re already engaged because they got a product deep-dive and loved it. Think of it as an extra onboarding step to set up your prospects for success.
3. Use ungated product tours on review sites
Thanks to review sites adding new interactive demo features, we’ve started seeing more companies use ungated tours on their TrustRadius and G2 pages. Reprise customer like Unbabel is an example of a company leading the charge.
Embedding an ungated tour on review sites is a great way to let prospective buyers experience your product beyond just your website. According to G2’s 2022 Buyer Behavior Report, 85% of buyers use third-party review sites to help influence their purchase decisions. Therefore, it only makes sense to put your best-selling asset (your product) in more places your buyers hang out.
And based on the data we’ve seen thus far, engagement on interactive product demos is typically 2-3x higher than on more traditional forms of media like video and print content.
Test and learn by selectively ungating
If you have a lot of gated product experiences, you can experiment with ungating only some of them to start. Test what ungating a product experience related to one use case does and measure it against another gated use case—are you seeing a difference in user growth and lead quality?
Try it out and see what’s working for you. PLG is all about experimentation because it’s individual to each company—there’s no one right way to do it.
Looking for a way to create beautiful, interactive product experiences for your website and beyond? Reprise is here to help!