The Free Trial Jumps: A Comment by Michael Dunham


Following the post  regarding the Free Trial 3 stages process and as part of the discussion in LinkedIn I would like to share with you the following comment from Michael DunhamVP of Services Engineering, Principal Consultant at the SCIO a web application software consultancy vendor. I found it interesting and giving some more points of view when planning the free trials funnel.

As far as the discussion about confirmation emails goes – I think it is a perfectly valid way to capture emails for follow-up (a good practice, especially with new B2B products) and to weed out the pretenders. Most serious buyers will use their business emails and be straightforward about their interaction. In some cases I think some market information (segment, region, company size, etc) is useful also. I know it raises the friction of a trial, but if it is worded right – it tells the user the vendor is interested in knowing something about their market and why people do or don’t convert to buying the service. 

Frankly, in all the years I have been in software development, enterprise solutions and consulting I have never seen an enterprise sale that didn’t require a trial. A demo just doesn’t cut it for enterprise buyers. They are buying for value and they want to ensure they get it. And – on the side of the vendor – while I might have trial data to test features – I want testers to use the service and input data. Doing that increases “stickyness” because they can see their data working and they can test the business process in their context. that means you want a button to clear demo data and start fresh. If the service works for them, they are going to want to just buy and move on (not lose their input data) 

In many B2B apps – the vendor will want multiple users from the same client to sign on for the trial. In a Intellectual Property solution (for example) you need the entire product legal team to try the app to understand the process implementation and know if it will fit or can be modified to fit their constraints. One of the things I see a lot is B2B apps that are for complex processes but assume one person can evalute the app and buy. You need to be able to invite other company members to the trial to get a concensus in most B2B situations. 

Free trials have an operational cost and can provide a lot of information for the ISP if – the trial users are actually the target market and not “lookyloos” that have no intention of buying. It isn’t unusual to have a requirement for a credit card in SMB markets even though the card won’t be charged unless the prospect converts. This creates some friction but we need to understand that free trials are NOT a substitute for value marketing. If the prospect doesn’t already understand the value proposition when they start the trial, the conversion potential is going to be much lower. Too many people think of the trial as a marketing tool. It must be the last step – the setting of the hook after they have already taken the bait. 

With a good trial system, part of what you can find out is – is the service intuitive? can user become productive with little or no training or effort? Can they validate solution value immediately? Is the service extensible? Can adjacent markets adopt the application with a few changes to the configuration? If you have embedded meeting into the application and the trial, you should be able to answer these questions. 

When the prospect is ready to buy, it needs to be a clean and fast process that gives them the assurance that the ISP is ready to engage. If I have to jump through hoops, if I can’t easily decide if I want to clear out trial data or simple transition. If I can’t buy it the way I need to (credit card, bank transfer, various periods, etc) it becomes a barrier to someone who is already sold. 

The trial process is a critical part of the sales process to understand in SaaS. I’m glad you’re addressing it.

Join my LinkedIn discussion to read more.

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