Customer-centric Growth by Lincoln Murphy

Free Trial Frustrations from a SaaS CEO

Have you ever wondered why people who sign-up for your Free Trial don’t turn into customers?

Well, I got an email from the CEO of a SaaS document management company the other day and she was at her wits’ end wondering the same thing!

She wrote me to vent her frustrations about her Free Trial process and to get some guidance on how to fix it.

Below is part of my response to her – I put my answers after excerpts from her initial email – because I want you to see my answers in context.

I changed her name and took out her company info because this isn’t about her anymore… it’s about you… I want to wake you up and snap you out of your Free Trial Frustration, too!

Here we go…


Sarah, here are some thoughts, and I might be a little too honest here, but it seems like you’re having some big issues so I want to help:

> We have web leads that come in but go nowhere i.e. trial signups,
> whitepaper downloads, demo signups, newsletter signups etc. They may engage
> initially but most of the leads from the web do not close.

I think you probably need to redefine “engage” as filling out a form and going away is hardly “engagement.” And most of the time this is your fault as the vendor, not theirs! So we need to figure out what is causing them to not become more engaged.

From what I saw after looking at your site, signing up for a free trial, and downloading a White Paper, there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive strategy to move someone from a visitor, to a lead, to a customer.

Obviously I haven’t seen all of the emails in whatever sequences I was added to, but the initial emails I got do not really pull me in.

The Free Trial process is also likely quite off-putting because of the mis-managed expectations for the person signing-up and a lack of understanding about the psychology involved in getting them engaged on your part.

> We stopped the auto set up of their trial signups until they engage
> with us to qualify

Was this a reaction to the fact that most who started the Free Trial didn’t convert? How has this helped? I’d guess it probably hasn’t helped much and if that’s the case, it points to a lack of an overall strategy.

SaaS & Web App vendors routinely put up “qualification barriers” – like what you did, requiring a Credit Card to get started, etc. – because they think that makes up for lacking a cohesive strategy to convert prospects.

It rarely does.

> We changed from a 30 day to a 14 day Free Trial

Why? From the customer prospective it would seem that with a product that is more complex and “enterprise” than Dropbox or that they’d need longer to properly evaluate it (regardless of whether they do or not).

Length of a trial is just a marketing tool and the length should be based on customer expectations and how you want to position your product. A 14 day trial might turn people off who think they need more time.

BTW, did this do anything positive? [it didn’t]

> Regarding our application; as you know we have an application that
> can be a simple or a complex solution depending on the prospects needs. As
> it stands if the prospect is in a trial situation the app does not reach out
> and grab them telling them what to do.

It should reach out and grab them, telling them what to do. If it is complex, look for ways to simplify the process of becoming engaged in the product.


There were some pretty valuable points in there that I hope she – and you – picked up on.

My goal in my response to her was to very clearly point out that she made decisions that weren’t based on anything except her current mindset and that if she didn’t snap out of that, nothing was going to get better; in fact, it could get much worse!

Her mindset was getting in the way of creating – and executing on – a real and effective Free Trial strategy.

I want Sarah – and you – to be as successful as possible and that is going to take getting out of this mindset that causes Free Trial Frustration.

Just offering a Free Trial isn’t enough; you need to know how they work, why they work when they do, how to take advantage of the opportunity a Free Trial offers you, how to incorporate the Free Trial into your overall marketing and sales strategy, what tactics to use and when, what metrics to measure and what metrics don’t matter, etc…

… in other words, you need to take your Free Trial as seriously as you do the rest of your SaaS business.

If you’ve been in-market at least 6 months and are curious how we could Accelerate your Profitable Growth – perhaps by optimizing your Free Trial – contact me and we’ll setup a time to discuss your options for improving and accelerating customer acquisition.

(972) 200-9317

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