Customer Success, SaaS

The Natural, Logical, Inescapable Way to Make Sales with Free Trials by @NikkiElizDeMere


Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

One of my freelancer friends has a problem with billing on time. It drives her nuts; it drives her clients nuts; it’s a recurring problem for which she prays for a solution every 30 days. How cool would it be if she signed up for a Free Trial of new accounting software, hopped on the phone with a Customer Success agent, explained why billing is so darn difficult for her, and had the Customer Success agent walk her through the process of solving her problem?

Would she convert into a paying customer?

Try and stop her.

Now, step back and think for a minute because this is a very different way of running a Free Trial. Let’s look at how most Free Trials operate:

  1. Customer signs up for the free trial and signs in to use the product.
  2. Customer glances over the instructions, but doesn’t really pay attention since he or she expects your product to be more intuitive than a toaster.
  3. Customer doesn’t make the connection between what your product does and the problem they need to solve.
  4. Customer leaves and never comes back.
  5. Your CEO wonders why.

The first major drop-off for app users, including Free Trial users, is after their first or second login, which makes this beginning stage crucial. Yet most SaaS companies use the self-serve model for their Free Trials, which means users are on their own – unless they reach out to customer service. Most don’t. Most quit.

The SaaS Onboarding lesson that applies to Free Trials

There was a fascinating article recently about how Groove addressed this issue in their onboarding process. Their churn rate was uncomfortably high, so they began tracking user behavior to find patterns that predicted churn. Then, as soon as a user entered into one of those patterns, a Customer Success representative would reach out and offer help. For example, one predictive action was taking too much time to complete a task (indicating the user was having trouble).

Groove created an automated email that triggered after a set number of minutes saying “Hey Bill, I got an alert that you might be having some trouble integrating your Twitter account with Groove. If so, I’d love to help. Just reply to this email and let me know. Thanks, Adam.” These emails generated a 26% response rate, and of the users who completed the process, 40% were still customers after 30 days.

Whether you’re optimizing your onboarding process or developing your Free Trial, tracking user behavior and looking for predictive actions is vital to catching users before they fall.

Tracking, milestones, and redefining the Demo

Three Customer Success tactics are usually missing from Free Trials (and make all the difference).

  1. Getting to know what success means to the customer.
  2. Setting milestones marking progress towards success.
  3. Tracking progress proactively.

By setting up users to take meaningful actions towards their individual goals during their Free Trials, you’re ensuring that the next logical step after the trial ends is to become a paying customer.

Some of this you can automate, like asking Free Trial subscribers to answer a short open-ended question survey about their desired outcomes for using your product. But from there, you’ll want a real human to help users define a goal and plot milestone markers to show how much progress is being made. By including interactive milestones, you’re providing a constant reminder of just how much value the user receives from your product.

This is where a Demo comes in – but not your grandfather’s Demo. Often, a Demo is seen as an alternative to a Free Trial, an “either/or” option. But if a product Demo is used not to introduce a product in a general way, but to forge the link between how the product works and what the individual user specifically needs to accomplish, it can be a highly effective customer success tool. During the Demo, you can ask questions of the user, define goals, set markers, and walk them through how to successfully use your product and track their own progress.

But wait – there’s more. Not only should you build into your Free Trial system a way for users to mark their progress, you’ll also need to track their progress on the sales/customer success side. Once again, you’re looking for behaviors predictive of churn. By monitoring user actions, your success agents can step in and help when needed.

Support your Free Trial with content

Content works well to support every stage of the buyer’s journey, but is especially useful in strengthening your Free Trial. With a robust educational content strategy, visitors will come into your trial already having a very good idea of what your product can do for them, making them much warmer leads. Try drafting a content strategy around blogs, newsletters, videos, downloadable guides, Ask Me Anything sessions and webinars that show how customers are using your product to achieve great things. Sometimes all a prospect needs to sign up is an idea of what is possible.

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

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