Why free trials don’t always work

There's a reason lots of SaaS companies offer free trials.  Done well, they work.  They can attract paying customers to software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. 

But it doesn’t happen automatically.

There’s nothing about a free trial that magically converts a free trialer into a paying customer.  Getting prospects through that journey isn’t easy… meaning there are lot of ways that free trials can go wrong.

Your prospects are busy

One of the biggest obstacles to converting free trialers into paying customers is that your prospects are busy people.  While they’re juggling lots of priorities, carving out time to work with a trial solution is a challenge.  (See “Your prospect has a day job.”)

Even if you don’t charge to use the solution, working with the free trial will still cost the prospect precious time.  And if there are multiple trialers within the organization, even more time is needed.  (See “A free trial isn’t really free.”

Make free trials easier

A few tactics could help.

  • Focus on key tasks:  When a prospective customer signs up for a free trial, guide them to complete 2 or 3 key tasks.  This should be enough to give them an idea of what the solution does and how to use it. 

For most customers, that’s sufficient.  They don’t need, or have time, to go through every single feature in the product.   

  • Quickly show value:  Guide free trialers quickly to features that will “wow” them.  Don’t force them to jump through hoops before they can see how the solution can be helpful to them.

  • Don’t require too much set-up work:  Give the prospective customer a head-start.  For example, include sample data if possible so there’s no need to enter lots of data just to get started.  Starting them off with a blank page can be very intimidating.

  • Show it’s easy to use:  In talking with many free trialers, I’ve learned that most of them just want to see if the solution is easy to learn and use.  They don’t need to see all the features.  They just want to know that it’s something they’ll be comfortable and productive using.

 Free trials are not required

 Besides a free trial, keep in mind that there are other ways to let prospects see your solution.  Sometimes it’s better to offer something different or alongside the free trial.

An effective demo can show key features of the solution.  And for prospects that aren’t yet ready for a direct interaction with the vendor, a short video of highlights can be enough to give an overview and entice them to see more.  (See “Most demos are useless.”)

 A no-obligation/no commitment subscription lets the customer pays for the solution, but they can cancel at any time.  If they’re not using it, they stop paying.

 A money-back guarantee goes even further.  If the customer is unhappy after a month or some other designated time period, you send them their money back.

Both of these approaches give the customer the peace of mind to know they won’t be stuck with something they don’t use.

I’m not opposed to free trials.  I’ve seen them work very well at attracting prospects and paying customers, but only when they’re done well.  Otherwise, you’ll find you’re wasting your time and losing business.