Should You Offer Free Trials to Your Customers? | by Mohamed Aboelez | The Startup | Jun, 2021

If you offer a SaaS product that relies on user payment for revenue, there are two ways to make this decision.

1. Make some assumptions about your users and take a good guess at what will work for you and what won’t

This approach is flawed for all kinds of reasons, least of all because your competitors are probably testing and optimizing their onboarding process, and will eventually beat you at this game with the sheer power of basic math. It’s 2015. You’re only limiting your potential if you go this route.

2. Test it and see

Launch a free trial and watch your metrics closely. If you’re not increasing the number of paid users you’re bringing on board, review the points I listed above and fine-tune your free trial offer.

Measure, run tests, critically evaluate, repeat. If you’re considering a different approach (like a freemium plan), A/B test the two systems on a set of prospective users and see which one converts better. Running tests like this is so simple and affordable that there’s really no good reason not to. Why make uninformed guesses when you can make educated, data-driven decisions about your business?

If I set up a free trial for my software product and my competitor doesn’t, all we know at this point is that I’ll probably have an easier time getting people to try my product than he will. In some ways, this is a good enough argument for a free trial program in and of itself.

One of the golden rules of marketing is Get More People Flowing Into Your Sales Funnel.

If you’re able to increase the number of people who are exposed to your product by offering a free trial, you’re already moving in the right direction. Even if your conversion process sucks, you’ll probably still get more paid users simply by moving more people through your funnel. There’s more to it, though. Free trials are incredibly optimize-able. Consider testing things like:

1- Trial duration

Your goal should be to figure out exactly how long it takes for users to have an ‘aha!’ moment with your product, and optimize your free trial to take advantage of that. You’re looking for the critical turning point after which most users go from casually interested to hooked.

Twitter is the famous example — when new users follow a critical mass of people, they are much more likely to become regular Twitter users. (Imagine how boring Twitter would be if you weren’t following anyone?) This is why Twitter incorporated this into their onboarding process, with great success. For more complex products, it might take a little bit longer.

A project management tool like Basecamp requires more time to get an entire team to change its work habits and see the value in a new tool. Look for both qualitative and quantitative feedback from your users in order to clearly define the ‘aha!’ moment for your product, and make sure the free trial gives them just enough room to reach that point. And if your product doesn’t have an ‘aha!’ moment? You’ve got bigger fish to fry.

2- Extensions

What if a prospective user signs up for your free trial, gets a little busy and forgets to test your product, and then comes back only to find their time is up? It seems like a waste to turn away a good lead who’s genuinely interested in what you’re selling. A free trial extension is a good way to overcome this.

3- Support

It’s always difficult to look at your own product with fresh eyes. But it’s crucial that you make your user experience as simple and easy to figure out as possible, so that you never waste an opportunity to get a user hooked. Solicit feedback constantly from new people who have never tried your product before. Consider forcing users to take a few key steps (like Twitter’s requirement that you follow 5 other people) before granting access to the rest of the features.

Test various tool tips and tutorials, and make sure your support system is as robust and accessible as possible. This is especially important in the complex world of enterprise/B2B software, where UX and simplicity often suck the most. Don’t lose good users because of bad support!

4- Payment collection

Your finance department will probably argue you should get your trial users’ credit card info right off the bat and just start billing them when the trial expires. But remember, requiring that information up front just adds another point of friction to your initial onboarding process. It may be that you secure higher quality leads this way. It may also be the case that a frictionless, credit-card-free signup process brings way more potential users into your funnel. It’s worth testing to find out.

5- First-time signup offers

Consider easing trial users into paying for your product by giving them a discount on their first month/year/whatever once their trial expires. To get all marketing-ninja about it, send them an email when their trial expires and offer them another free month if they refer x number of friends to sign up.

In short, if you test thoroughly and put some real effort into optimizing your user onboarding process, you should be able to truly maximize every interaction with your prospective users. A free trial is just one thing you can experiment with!


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