Why A Free Trial Should Be Part of Your Business Strategy Today

Why A Free Trial Should Be Part Of Your Business Strategy TodayWhat do Netflix, DropBox, Salesforce.com, HubSpot, Hulu, and Spotify all have in common?

They all offer up their services for free either as a free trial or as a free service alternative to their premium paid service; they rely heavily on their free services to drive revenue for their organizations. Most of these organizations even used a free version of their services as a launching pad for the business.  Case in point, there was a time when you could not buy a DVD player without getting a free 30 day trial Netflix coupon inside the box. At this point, Netflix did not have the name recognition they currently have, and it was their free trial that truly helped them become the household name they are today.

If you run either a software or a services based organization, it is in your best interest to establish a free trial or a free version of your service. Not too long ago, I made this recommendation to an organization. Their CEO’s instant reaction was, “No, offering free trials will give people the ability to sign up for the trial and download our entire library. As a result, they will have all our content for free, and no one will pay for our service”. Sure, that was a valid statement as some people will sign up for a trial, use it for all its worth, and never become a paying customer. However, the first thing we say to that is when it comes to free trials, there will be some people that will take advantage of the free trial and never become a paid customer. At the end of the day, these people will never become a paying customer, regardless of the free trial’s availability. A free trial of a software or service must have a delicate balance between showcasing enough of your solution to allow a buyer “to want” to become a paying customer, and not giving away too much for free. When it comes to free trials, there are a few stopgaps that should be put into place to ensure you’re providing enough value, but not letting people take advantage of your service. In this article, I’ll review some of the basic steps your organization can put into place to launch a successful free version of your solution.


  • Time Limits: Most services offer a 7 or 30-day trial. Choose what is best for your organization; 7 days may not be enough, but 30 could be too much.
  • Qualification: Some free trials do not need much qualification beyond an e-mail address. However, if you believe your service is valuable enough, set up a qualification process where a prospect must be qualified by an actual person on your team before being allowed into the trial.
  • Limits & Gates: Do not offer up everything for free. Allow a prospect enough access to your solution to see the value, but limit access to premium items. This gives them more of a reason to purchase a solution. However, do not limit the trial to an extent that no value can be extracted.
  • Cut-offs: Repeat offenders should be cut off when trying to sign up for another trial.
  • Training & Communication: Many organizations fall short on training and communication. Assuming that the prospect knows exactly how to use your service is a surefire way to have an unsuccessful trial. Ensure that you offer training, guidance, and other communications with your prospects throughout the process as many prospects will abandon a trial when they are lost or not seeing the value they were expecting.

A free trial, although simple in nature and can generate customers on its own, must also have some structure in order to generate the highest numbers of conversions to paying customers. Here are a few things that you should look at when deploying a free trial.

  • Trial Tracking: Whether it’s a piece of software or a service, it’s important to understand exactly how prospects are utilizing a free trial. Tracking trial usage can provide valuable insights to where prospects are getting hung up, tools that are used most often, and other actions that will help you understand the overall experience prospects are having. Armed with this information, your sales team can build a tighter bond with your prospects giving them actionable insight to progress successfully through the trial. Also, the data collected can be invaluable for improving your solution in future revisions.
  • Training & Consulting: As mentioned above, do not assume that your prospect has the best understanding of your solution, or even the best use case. There should be several methods of communication, training, and assistance throughout the trial process. This will allow your prospect to extract the maximum value from a trial increasing the likelihood they will purchase.
  • Customer Contact: Ensure that there is always an easy path for your prospects to reach technical support, sales, or any other relevant department whenever they have troubles, questions, or just want to learn more. Responsiveness is key in this situation, as your prospect can be evaluating other solutions at the same time.
  • Ease of use: You would not believe how many free trials are out on the market today where you need a Doctorate in Astrophysics in order to figure them out. Prospects have extremely short attention spans and if they cannot figure out how to use your service in a few short minutes, they will most likely abandon your trial.
  • Marketing: Many originations will hide their trial or make it extremely difficult to sign up. Instead, like the organizations mentioned earlier, put it front and center. Again, trials convert to paid customers at an exponentially higher rate than most lead generation sources.

Adding a free trial to a portfolio is not enough; take the time to think about how your trial is set up and executed for maximum benefit. Properly executed trials will increase an organization’s lead to customer ratio, shorten sales cycles, and ultimately lead to increased revenue. In conclusion, do not be afraid of the prospects that use your trial and never purchase—they were never going to buy in the first place. Instead, focus on the prospects that show genuine interest in your solution!

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