Customer-centric Growth by Lincoln Murphy

SaaS Free Trials: The Shorter the Better?

Most people don’t realize that the length of a SaaS Free Trial is just a marketing gimmick designed to get prospects into the trial.

Sure, 30-day Free Trials are the de facto standard for SaaS apps, but whether it’s 7, 14, 15, or 30-days, few providers can say WHY they came up with that length.

So, those who can say how they come up with their Free Trial length, often cite the wrong driver for that decision (i.e. something other than the customer or market).

What’s the Perfect SaaS Free Trial Length?

The answer is the one that gets the most people to sign-up for your SaaS free trial in the first place!

There are tons of questions on Quora, LinkedIn, and Hacker News where people ask what the perfect Free Trial length is as if there’s a number of days – 60, 30, 14, 15, 7 – that will magically increase conversions.

The reality is that Free Trial length is nothing more than a Marketing Gimmick designed to get prospects to sign-up for the trial by making them think that the time offered is adequate to fully evaluate the product without being rushed.

However, it’s the way you as the vendor approach the Free Trial length internally – as part of the sales process – that will dictate your success converting customers, not the number of days in the trial period.

Unfortunately, too many vendors don’t understand this and believe that a 30-day SaaS Free Trial means they have to wait until the whole 30 days is up to convert customers.

Will You Shorten Your Sales Cycle with a Shorter SaaS Free Trial?

This belief drives many SaaS vendors who want to decrease the sales cycle to shorten their trial period – like Kasfhlow just did – because they feel the customer has no sense of urgency to convert.

They believe the SaaS free trial length actually means something beyond just getting them into the trial.

But they’re wrong!

The length of the SaaS Free Trial only serves to get the prospect to sign-up in the first place!

It’s what you do after the prospect signs-up for your SaaS Free Trial that determines whether they convert quickly, wait until the end of the trial (however long it is), or don’t convert at all (the most common outcome and something I’m on a mission to change!).

Do Shorter SaaS Free Trials Increase Conversion Rates?

Okay, so what happens when a provider shortens their SaaS Free Trial length?

Very often, the conversion RATE (the percentage of Free Trial sign-ups that become customers) goes up.

So we should conclude that short Free Trial lengths must mean more conversions, right? Not so fast.

This is how Causation vs. Correlation in Free Trials can cause all sorts of confusion and ultimately hurt you.

Recently I was talking to a new client about how having a 30-Day trial might attract more signups than the 14-day trial that they currently had.

But they said that they actually used to have a 30-Day trial and it didn’t work at all, so they shortened it to 14-days and guess what… they had more success!

Clearly to them, a 14-Day Free Trial was better than a 30-Day trial, from a conversion RATE standpoint.

And this is where Causation vs. Correlation starts to muddy the water.

It turns out that when they shortened the trial to 14 days, they realized THEY had less time to convert customers so THEY worked harder to get the sale!

From Reactive to Proactive: The Key to More Customers!

They moved from Reactive to Proactive, which is awesome.

They worked to engage the prospect quickly and became less hesitant to ask for the sale!

My homework for them was to consider these two things….

1. How many prospects simply aren’t signing-up because they don’t feel 14 days is “enough” to evaluate the product? This change might have resulted in a higher conversion rate, but could cause lower-than-possible conversion totals and – most importantly – lower revenue? It makes sense, right? The fewer people in the top of the funnel, the less that will become customers.

2. What if you went back with a customer-facing 30-Day trial – so the perception by the customer is that they have longer to evaluate the solution – which might cause more people to signup – but internally you still work to convert in 14 days or less?

So Longer Free Trials are better, right?

Remember, the length of the free trial must be long-enough for the prospect to feel like they’ll be able to adequately evaluate the product and not feel rushed.

If you have a simple product and you want to position it that way, a short trial might make sense.

If you have complex product and you want to position it that way, a longer trial might make sense.

Or, if you know your prospective customer really well, you can use free trial length to lower barriers to entry.

An example of longer SaaS free trials is the 60-day trial Constant Contact offers.

They know the prospect is “busy” and they realize their offering is a nice-to-have or even a required-but-reluctantly-used service, like email marketing for super-small businesses.

They know that the extra-long 60-day trial really does reduce the barrier to entry for that type of customer – the single-person shop, the side-business entrepreneur – who needs what the SaaS provider offers but everyone knows they’ll take forever to get started.

They know that their prospective customer is going to find it difficult to carve out time to get started with their service, so giving them 60-days to try it takes the pressure off of them.

They know these prospects aren’t really evaluating their offering, let alone other offerings, but are likely choosing a solution they’ll be with for many years… so they “give them plenty of time” to get to know the service and become comfortable with it.

But Constant Contact knows that once they get ’em in the trial that they need to get that prospect on-board and engaged as quickly as possible if they want to convert ’em to a paying customer.

The time-crunch isn’t on the prospect… it’s on the SaaS provider in this case!

It should be whether it’s a 7-day trial or a 60-day trial, by the way.

I don’t know of any empirical evidence to support this, but my experience is that 30-days is a good trial length most of the time, unless you have specific intel that indicates otherwise.

It’s easy to understand since we tend to work in month timeframes (14 days would be good if we still thought in terms of a “fortnight”… but we don’t), 30 days seems like long enough, etc.

So if I’m saying 30-day trials are the way to go, why didn’t I just post that and move on? Because I want you to understand what all needs to go into this thinking and that – sometimes – 30 days isn’t right.

I will say again – in my experience, your mileage may vary – that shorter trials are almost always used by companies that don’t fully understand the way Free Trials work and want to “rush” the process, not realizing they’re keeping people from signing-up.

That said, if you do decide to go with a super-long trial, just remember that you’ll take the pressure off of them from a time-scarcity standpoint and when you do, you should move away from loss-aversion (“I have to hurry or I’ll miss out…” to gain-oriented messaging that get’s them to take action based on what they’ll get from doing so.

Only toward the end of the trial will the loss-aversion messaging need to kick in.

But whether it’s a 7-day trial or a 60-day trial, like I said above, it is your job as the provider to orchestrate the entire process and pull the prospect through the trial in such a way that conversion to a paying customer is the high-percentage result.

Even on a 60-day Free Trial, I’d work diligently to figure out how to convert ’em to a paying customer in the first 7-14 days.

How about an Unlimited Free Trial?

Now, I know someone is going to think “well, if a 60-day trial is good… what about an unlimited trial?”

Well, that’s where you get into  the Freemium vs. Free Trial discussion, and you need to know that the biggest difference, psychologically-speaking, between those is that Free Trials have a time-limit and Freemium does not.

In fact, I’ve identified seven types of Freemium and one of those amounts to an “unlimited free trial” but it’s still Freemium.

As a SaaS provider, don’t forget what the Free Trial length really is, and don’t let it dictate how quickly you convert your prospects to paying customers!

Let’s Grow Your SaaS Business Together

For immediate consultation and advice on optimizing your SaaS Free Trial or otherwise growing your SaaS business, schedule a 60-minute meeting with me via Clarity. If you feel a more involved engagement is required for me to help you, email me with the specifics of your situation (as much detail as you’re comfortable giving) and we’ll setup a meeting to work through the particulars.

– Lincoln

Exit mobile version