I believe in the saying “high-tech allows for high-touch” and that we can use the self-service nature of the web – including your SaaS Free Trial – to not eliminate the human-powered sales force, but to scale it efficiently to let each salesperson work better leads and close more sales.
In my experience, SaaS Free Trials are not used strategically – or even effectively – by most SaaS providers… with or without a sales force.
As you know, I’ve worked with 100’s of SaaS and Web App vendors of all shapes and sizes and from around the world on Accelerating Customer Acquisition through Free Trial Optimization… so I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t.
Progressive Profiling: The Secret Reason for Free Trials
In Marketing Automation circles this concept is called Progressive Profiling, and by starting with and extending this process over the course of the Free Trial, I’ve seen extraordinarily results for SaaS companies that have a human sales force. Think of the Free Trial process itself as a Customer Qualification Machine.
This strategy leverages the Free Trial process (and often the pre-trial “indoctrination” process) to build a customer profile over time and, once a certain threshold in that customer profile is met, the sales person becomes active in the process, but not before.
Essentially, this is done by front-loading the sales process with automation and self-service to cover the general, repeatable things a sales person would have to do with every prospect and only engage the sales team when the prospect has identified themselves – through their actions and information – as someone worth reaching out to.
Done correctly, from the prospect’s standpoint, they may have had multiple interactions with the sales person before the sales person actually becomes involved!
High-Tech allows for High Touch
…remember that. It’s not one or the other, but one enables the other at scale.
Now, I said most SaaS vendors don’t use their Free Trials strategically or even correctly… and I stand by that.
I’ve had more than a few SaaS vendors tell me they (want to) call every prospect that signs-up for their Free Trial…. this is not scalable nor practical.
In fact, it is counter to why you offer a self-service sales process and Free Trial in the first place and many times the prospect won’t appreciate being called because that is counter to their expectations.
This is a symptom of the SaaS vendor not really understanding how to use a Free Trial effectively and a sales organization that is very likely threatened by the Free Trial or sees it as a “lead generation” process (akin to signing up for a webinar or to download a whitepaper) and not what it really is… a Customer Qualification Machine!
Here’s how to do it
Engineer a Free Trial process that takes the prospect from the marketing site, though the sign-up process, and into your App in a way that engages them and moves them through certain milestones.
As the prospect does things – downloads a whitepaper, signs-up for the Free Trial, etc. – a customer profile is built and updated based on their actions and 3rd party data from InsideView, Data.com, or even LinkedIn.
Then, once they are in the Free Trial they are moved through milestones (I call them CCAs: Common Conversion Activities) and when certain milestones are met, the sales person is notified that the customer is ready to be contacted.
Boom… the Free Trial process just delivered to the salesperson a prospect that has self-qualified through their own actions and inputs AND (if you designed your Free Trial correctly) has become Engaged and Invested in your app in such a way that conversion to a paying customer is a no-brainer!
Look… the reality is, some industries or SaaS types still require human interaction to close the sale and this might not change anytime soon… but this doesn’t mean self-service sales processes or Free Trials are irrelevant in these markets.
It also means self-service Free Trials are not a way to eliminate the sales person from the equation, but can be used to scale the sales force efficiently by having them focus their attention on appropriate prospects.
Imagine if your sales people could work 5x the number of leads (because they don’t have to do so much of the mundane, repeatable work) and if those leads had already self-qualified as real prospects!