Customer Success, SaaS, Startups

40 Articles on SaaS Free Trials Distilled Down ft. @LincolnMurphy

40-articles-on-saas-free-trials

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (‏@yazsedky).

Like samples at Costco, Free Trials are meant to make buyers’ mouths water. But, unlike mini-quiche, your SaaS product probably doesn’t appeal to 95% of the population, which means you have to do a little work to make people want a nibble.

SaaS Free Trial conversion rates are strongly correlated with revenue and well-worth optimizing, as Lincoln Murphy pointed out in his SaaS Free Trial Conversion Rate Optimization Resource Guide. But while his list of 40 articles on Free Trial Best Practices is comprehensive, it may also be a little overwhelming! So let’s distill it down to its main concepts.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

You can’t optimize what you don’t measure, so make sure every decision in your Free Trial process is metrics-driven. Only measure metrics that are actionable, and be sure to identify things most customers did during the Free Trial that ultimately lead to sales. Hint: Number of Free Trial users (i.e. those who have only created an account but haven’t engaged with it) is a vanity metric.

Think a 5% conversion rate is okay? Think again. The argument that low conversion rates are normal is total bupkis, a load of hooey. What it really means is that A) Your sales process or product is driving away customers., or B) You’re marketing to the wrong people. If you make a 25% conversion rate your goal, then you’re shooting for average – and who wants to be average?

Offering Free Trials automatically increases conversions, right? Um, no. Not all Free Trials are created equal. To see if your Free Trial is increasing conversions, you’ll have to A/B test it against not having a Free Trial. Try something as simple as “Buy Now” versus “Try Now.” From there, the challenge is to design your Free Trial around proving your product/service’s ROI to the prospect (rather than wait for them to do something vague like “see how much it helps their business.”)

Philosophical Quandaries

Freemium or Free Trial? Freemium is when you give “Level 3” access to everyone for free, but reserve Levels 2 and 1 for paying Premium customers (or however you want to break it down). Free trials are limited in time, after which customers have to pay to continue using the service. Which is better? Freemium works well when you have a wide market and when having more users add value (via content, data, shares, etc.). If you don’t have those two factors in place, well, you aren’t running a charity (unless you are, in which case, never mind).

Stop thinking that your customers are there to “evaluate” your product (aka kicking tires), and shift your mindset into getting the prospect to use your product. Your Free Trial strategy should be aimed at helping them really use it and get comfortable with it as quickly as possible. Keep refining the process to shorten the distance between Free Trial sign-up and actual use.

Best question ever: If your ideal customer looks at your site for 5 seconds, will they know they’re your ideal customer? And this goes double for your Free Trial content.

Nitty-Gritty Details of the How-To Variety

How detailed or simplified should Free Trial signup forms be? Ask for the bare minimum – an e-mail address. Then later you can ask for more information so you can help improve their Free Trial experience. Never let them feel like you just want their information so you can sell to them.

Free trial content/e-mail marketing: Once a prospect signs up for your free trial, what happens? He or she receives a welcome e-mail. Onboarding this customer begins with that e-mail, which means you have to nail it. Make sure the prospect knows to expect an e-mail after sign-up; compose a compelling subject line; send it from a real person’s e-mail address; and write it with one goal in mind: To encourage the prospect to take the next baby-step down the sales funnel. Clean, simple, useful, personal, non-salesy copy wins the day.

Front-load your Free Trial sales process with automation. This way, you will liberate your sales person’s time while making each prospect feel cared for and valued. Throughout the trial, prospects will qualify themselves or drop out, allowing your sales team to close the strongest prospects by the trial’s end. Think you should call every prospect when they sign up for a Free Trial? Not your best move – Free Trials are a self-service sales model and your prospects likely won’t appreciate your “personal touch” before they’re ready to make the decision.

Should you ask for a credit card up front? No. Free Trials are about building trust, and asking for their CC before they can even try you on for size is a non-starter.

Trying to decide on Free Trial length? First, stop associating its length with your sales cycle, and start focusing on how long it would realistically take someone to evaluate your product/service. To find that out, ask customers about their product evaluation process, then A/B test two trial lengths until you have it down to a science. Keep in mind that the goal of SaaS Free Trial length is to get the prospect to sign-up (it’s what you do after the sign-up that determines whether prospects convert). Oh, and always offer a way to “Buy Now.”

Is the first page your new Free Trial customer sees upon login engaging? The Number One reason free trials fail to convert is that they don’t engage customers quickly enough. That first page should be friendly, simple, and lead the user to successfully use the tools provided.

Free trials, like all of SaaS marketing, are a science. The good news is: You can master it! Measure everything, see what your best customers did and are doing during their Free Trials, and fine-tune your process until you’re reaching conversion percentages of which your competitors only dream. It’s all possible.


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

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