In the not so distant future, I will be launching a site that is mostly for businesses and is largely Software as a Service. I am wondering what you think about the pros and cons of having a pretty in-depth product tour available through a link on the homepage vs. requiring a user to "sign up for a free demo".
The only reason why I think it might not be such a good idea to give unqualified access to the tour, is that it will completely expose what I am doing to competitors, not just prospective customers.
On the other hand, if I don't provide it immediately, I am not sure the real value proposition will come through without the tour, therefore leading many possible prospects to just move on.
Does you opinion change any if I were to tell you that the price point will begin at $ 500 per month and then up?
How do you suggest I handle this issue? Thank you, in advance.
I think the part where you said not wanting to expose your site features to your competitor, is invalid - your competitor can easily pretend to be a customer, wolf hiding in sheep's clothing.
I think as a startup, you should not be afraid of your competitor, and don't go eye an eye with them - price, feature. It doesn't mean they are cheap then you should go cheaper, it doesn't mean they have 20 features, you should pump in 30 features. Read Getting Real by 37signals. Don't be afraid of your competitor, but instead, learn from them. They have done so much to earn their badge as "Your Competitor". They must have something good to show on the table, which you don't.
To answer your question, you should summarize your site features on the front page. In another words, treat your home page as your elevator pitch. As concise as possible. Then, have an option for a full site tour, that is not too lengthy too.
As a Saas, it's always good to give a free account, for one user, to try out your service. Again, look at 37signal's product on Basecamp. Don't limit the features, but limit the user.
Well I'd say it's all "con".
Provide your demo / tour freely is my opinion ... if people are interested by it, then they'll sign up. At any sign up or provide details step you'll lose some - it's always that way. If you require registration to view what it's all about I suspect a much larger percentage simple won't bother.
And if it's competitors you're concerned about, what's to stop them simply registering via a gmail account or unknown (to you) domain?
I think it's much more likely your competition wont be that interested until you become noticeable.
Once you get going, you'll have A-B tests for these things. You'll try it both ways, and which ever way gets you the most sales, you'll do.
In the meantime, you have to go by your gut. You said it's a $500+ product. This is approved at the department level--in most companies pretty much any manager will be approving it. That means you can make sales without a salesforce. That means that you need to have ALL the information on the web, so that people can evaluate your product. The more information you provide, the better.
In other words... let your customers self-qualify by giving them tons and tons of information.
A site I just finished working on (can't name it here though) is about to do the same. Basically you can use the entire application for free without having to join, to test out if you like the interface or features. Don't go the screenshots route, screenshot tours on homepages are like marquee text on a website. Videos are inaccessible, and annoying for users with slow internet connections.
Just create a version of your site that visitors can use.