Free trial strategy in SaaS products

by Filip Załęski in Growth & Strategy
February 25, 2019

mountain road

When you want to sell your product, but potential customers are uncertain, there’s no better way than letting them test it. It’s an old-as-a-world tactic, which you know from supermarkets - they all give you samples to try. Same in business.

If you’re familiar with SaaS (Software as a Service) products, you probably noticed that most of them have something that’s called a free trial. In this article, I will write about free trials in freemium and premium products.

From the following article, you will learn:

  1. what’s a free trial,
  2. what’s a difference between a trial in freemium and premium products,
  3. how you should build a trial strategy,
  4. which trial type fits your business model the most.

Even though there are a lot of different kinds of trials, demo versions, and freemium models all of them have the same goal. They were designed to bring the product closer to a user. When the trial strategy is well optimized, it supports a decision-making process. As much as a trial can help in the growth of your company, but on the other hand, when it is built in a wrong way it might affect negatively your other metrics e.g. product sale. In this article I’ll walk you through the whole process of building and optimizing a free trial strategy.

What you should take care of when building a trial strategy

The whole sense of free trial is letting uncertain users test your product before they are ready to buy. Depending on the maturity of the market, your users might have different doubts.

When you work with users from an early market, they probably want to check the overview of technology or features your product has.

If you sell to a mainstream market, they are probably aware of potential bugs, messy user interface or lack of support. No matter what doubts they have, the necessity of payment can successfully stop them from testing the product. Every time people see something new, they experience a mixture of excitements and concerns. Before they don’t deal with things that worry them, it’s really hard to build trust. It’s obvious that trust is necessary to make decisions we are not 100% sure of.

From another perspective, the goal of the free trial process is to walk users through the first moments of working with the product. I said moments but it can be even weeks or months. Even though trials are usually limited to some specific number of days it doesn’t have to be like that. Actually, it shouldn’t. The trial should take as long as the user needs, to find a value (aha! moment) of a product. Sometimes it’s after an hour, a few days, and sometimes it never happens. So if you think about a trial strategy seriously, you should start with setting goals.

Show the value of your product

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If you ask me what describes the good trial process, and what it should achieve, I always say: a good trial shows value as fast as possible!

So I recommend you to start working on a free trial strategy with a question: “what is the most desired outcome of my potential customers?”.

When you find some ideas and you check them in some interviews with customers you can start working on the next question, “Do my product help them achieve it?”. If you answered “yes” to the last question, you already did the hardest part of the work.

Right now, you have to find the best way to show that your product addresses their needs. You can do it by showing the most appropriate features, hide inadequate ones, write some tutorials or make open webinars.

There are hundreds of ideas on how you can grab users attention. When you find the best action that lets them understand (or better achieve) the first value, it’s your job to maximize the number of users who did it.

In the previous paragraph, I wrote that it is really important to show value as fast as possible. Users who don’t invest money or enough work into your product, they are really sensitive to lose momentum. If they leave your product before they notice a value, the chances they come back are pretty low. That’s why you should refer a length of a trial period to a time they need to find a value. It doesn’t make sense to give 30 days of a trial if your customers are ready to buy after 7 days. If a user has a lot of time to check your product, the chances that he or she will lose a momentum are pretty big. Then they simply forget about your product and you will lose your precious leads. In the other hand have really painful consequences if your trial period is shorter than your customers need to see the value of your product.

A trial in freemium and premium product

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I call a product premium when the only one way to get access to it is to pay. For that kind of products, the most common free trial strategy is to give free access to a product, for a limited period of time, just after a user created account. Sometimes companies ask for credit card details, so they can for using the product when a trial is finished. But it’s not a market standard. Actually, I see a necessity to add credit card details as a huge decision-making barrier. That’s why I recommend you to start without it. Then carefully look at a conversion rate to paid users after a trial. If you are not satisfied with the results, you can always ask for a credit card detail to improve this metric. It might have a negative impact on your other metrics, especially a number of trial signups. That being said, you should consider both possibilities and decide which one works better for you.

But if your product is freemium, it means that users can use (at least) a part of your product for free. If they want full access, they have to pay. In this case, you can set up a free trial differently. Your users have access to the product continuously, so a trial is not necessary to let them start using it. That’s why you can let them decide when they want to test a premium version, but more important when they are ready for it. In a freemium model asking for credit card make much more sense. Users already know your product, so they want to find out if it’s worth the price.

The biggest free trial threats

You should always show your company from the best perspective, especially in contact with new users. A really bad, (but unfortunately pretty common) practice is to show a limited version of a product, for example without some features. In a moment when you are trying to convince your users that your product is worth buying, you should demonstrate the best sides of your product.

Sometimes people might use a trial period to overuse your product and actually avoid payments. It’s a common case when the product is used from time to time by its nature. A good example of that kind of products can be a platform to create SEO reports like moz.com. If you see that some people create more and more new accounts you can limit some aspect of your features like a range of data, or a number of found results, but always remember that your goal is to show best sides of your product. Anyway, you have to show the best sides of your product, but don’t let people overuse it.

Conclusion

In a real world, most of the users before entered your website, they have usually heard about your product, learned about its features and sometimes even know how much it’s worth (that’s a power of word of mouth!). In many cases, the trial period works like a trust test, where a user has some fears about your product (doesn’t it’s too hard? What if it’s too buggy? What if it’s a scam and I lose my boss’s money?). The free trial lets them test a product without obligations. If you do good work you can assure your users, that the product is worth its price.