The free trial is all too often misunderstood by software companies. How it is utilized, offered and supported is a continual subject of debate. This confusion causes one of the most important processes in the sales cycle to become the least efficient, and with this post we hope to change that for many of you.

An Accountability-Focused Strategy

The free trial. An outstanding strategy for lead capture in software organizations. Providing an anonymous prospect on your website with the opportunity to use your product for free as long as they provide their name, email address and company name. Seems like a no-brainer to get data on the lead so that your superstar salesperson can close them, right? Well, actually maybe not. If not properly managed with a well-communicated refined process, you could be risking an administrative and technical disaster. I’ll explain.
First, let’s look at the concept of the free trial from the User side. Some vendors provide a limited use version of their full blown software application as the free trial. You can somewhat quickly and easily utilize functionality to get a feel for what the tool is all about. That’s fine but it is not equal to exploring the nuts and bolts of an entire application and really getting dirty in it. In marketing automation getting dirty involves setting up segments, importing lists or maybe a CRM integration and sync, implementing some basic lead scoring elements and launching a multi-touch, behavior-driven email campaign with full reporting. Truly getting into benefit-driven functionality. Something you really aren’t going to spend a lot of time doing unless you are: a) truly serious about buying a marketing automation solution AND b) truly serious about this company as your potential vendor. So how useful would a limited use trial be to an interested prospect?
Now look at this same scenario from the MAP Vendor side. Setting up a free trial for a prospective buyer is far more than just providing an instance for them with a username and password.Tweet This! You want to spend time walking them through each area and limit as much confusion and potential frustration as possible. Do you want to do that with a prospect who is not ready and willing to buy? Time is valuable. It just makes sense that the free trial happens at the end of the sales process instead of the beginning, when you know the prospect will engage with your salesperson in a valuable way and come away more confident about your product and more likely to buy (or not). But at least there will be an answer one way or the other.

Connections Create Conversions

The web is littered with free trial signups that never went anywhere. And by not going anywhere I don’t mean a sale wasn’t made. I mean a connection wasn’t even made. If you have ever been a software vendor that had an online free trial signup you know exactly what I mean, especially for a more complex platform such as marketing automation.
In our 4 years as a marketing automation platform vendor, we have tried a number of free trial offers. What we (generally) found with 30-day trials is that the Prospect did not implement the code nor get engaged with the product until very late in the trial period (if at all), and then asked for an extension. All that had occurred in that time was a waste of energy, either with content sent to them or non-responsive voicemails. And why wouldn’t you expect that? We hadn’t vetted the Prospect, provided them a proposal, understood who the Buyer was or how close they were to making a decision. Yes, a lot of mistakes on our part. But hey, we get smarter every day!

6 Tips for a Successful Free Trial Strategy

So, you ask, how should you implement a free trial process then? Here are 6 tips to implement this strategy Tweet This! that will bring you an exponential level of customer conversion success:

  • Offer the free trial after the prospect has participated in a demo to ensure they understand your product.
  • Determine the Prospect’s budget and create and present a proposal to Prospect prior to the free trial.
  • Define the free trial process clearly and have a set end-date with milestones from each organization before it begins.
  • Engage with the Prospect throughout the trial with items such as Shortcuts, Tips and Tricks, and the like.
  • Include homework and onboarding sessions.
  • Stick to the plan. If the Prospect is not engaged during the trial process, you’re better off shutting it down and re-connecting when they’re truly ready to buy.

By using an accountability-focused free trial strategy you will find better quality leads who are  informed about your product and more likely to buy. Don’t waste their time and they won’t waste yours.
We’d love to hear what kind of free trial processes you’ve implemented and their impact as well. Let us know!

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