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How to maximize the free product trial

Try before you buy: how sales can maximize the free product trial

Account Executive, Intercom

Patrick O'Neill

@Intercom

Main illustration: Justyna Stasik

The fact that SaaS products are so easy to evaluate and buy is a double edged sword.

Yes, on one hand it’s easier for people to sign up and try your product, but on the other hand, a lack of commitment means that switching costs between products are lower. People can leave as fast as they joined up. Therefore it’s necessary for your prospects to get the most out of their free product trial, and thus the main challenges of customer acquisition lie in:

  1. Getting as many people as possible to sign up for a trial, and
  2. Ensuring that they are successful in that trial.

Fast, smart and collaborative communication is crucial to delivering a high trial conversion rate

The easier your software is to try, the less value a prospect might attribute to it. Without the commitment of buying a product, the prospect loses some of the intent to buy. This means that the urgency to deep dive into the product doesn’t exist, and that lack of urgency means that for many companies, trial-to-paid conversion is not where it should be. Typical trial conversions for opt-in trials are around 25%, opt-out trials being higher at 60% or so.

Maximize the value of a product trial

Free product trials typically manifest themselves as leads for your sales team. Sales reps will typically love to work a trial lead because someone who has entered their email, selected a product and perhaps even put a credit card on file represents a much higher intent prospect than that list of cold calls you need to make.

At Intercom, we strive to maximize the value our prospects see in their free trials and achieve trial-to-paid conversions that are higher than the industry average. We’ve found that focusing on three main pillars helps us convert higher and faster:

  • Understand the prospects use case, fast. We don’t want to waste our prospects time (or ours). We try to find out why they’ve started a trial as soon as possible.
  • Drive frequent and smart usage. Trials represent a great opportunity to quickly demonstrate value. This can only be done if the prospect is using the product frequently, and in the right ways.
  • Reduce any in-trial friction. No one wants a trial to feel like an ordeal. Friendly, seamless support, onboarding and enablement is crucial.

We always start with messaging. As a rep at Intercom, we try to engage new trial customers as soon as possible. For example, we might send a message to dig into the specific needs of the customer, so that we can help them get the most out of their trial:

Welcome message from a sales rep

Remember, new prospects may have started a trial, but as time goes on, especially if they are not setup to trial successfully, their intent to buy decreases. When engaging, either via an in-app message or email, we try to find out the prospects reasons for trying Intercom. Following that, we work with them to set the right expectations and goals for the next 2 weeks.

Make the most of your messages

Throughout the trial, you want to stay away from just checking in and get smarter about the messages we send. These messages are very easy to ignore as there’s no direct call to action or even a specific open question. The more in-app messages and emails sent to a prospect throughout the trial period, the less of a chance that your actual message will get through. Message fatigue will set in, especially if within a limited trial period.

You should ensure that every touch point is a meaningful one. By using Intercom to track prospect usage during their trial, we send messages based on what they have and have not done. For example, if someone has signed up to trial our Inbox product, they might receive a message like this:
Targetted message based on an action during trial

A first step to increasing this conversion rate is mapping out all of your trial touch points. Start with a whiteboard. Ask yourself how and where are you going to communicate with a trialist. If you’re looking for a great tool to manage product trial communication, try Intercom.

The medium you use to message is important. Even since the GDPR deadline, email inboxes can still be a warzone. That’s why we find messaging in our app to be more effective. When someone is in your product, getting their hands dirty and trying to figure out if this is a viable long term solution for them, the last thing you want to do is bring them out of that zone and back into their email inbox. In-app messaging means you can have a real time conversation with a user, driving them to take the right action now.

Don’t waste time when you don’t need to

Product trials are limited by their very nature. You are asking a lot of the prospect in that time – to understand their goals, to install, to setup their account, to learn the tool, to see results and to optimize. You do not want to waste this time in support requests and conversations. We seen giving both real time support, and working closely with our Customer Support team will reduce the amount of time your trialists spend not doing what they need to.

For example, in Intercom, we use internal notes to loop teammates into a conversation. We give context to our support team to enable them to help solve the prospect’s query quickly:
Internal handover note from Sales to Support

We’ve learnt that fast, smart and collaborative communication is crucial not only in delivering a high trial conversion rate, but also setting up customers for longer term success. Sales and support working hand in hand is central to how we convert trialling customers.

Take the first step

From a customer’s perspective trialling is not only an opportunity to see if the product is a fit, but also if the company is a fit. When a company communicates with you in timely fashion, sends you the right messages at the right time and can quickly solve your issues should they arise, you’re going to be more receptive to paying them money moving forward.


For inspiration in mapping out your product trial, check out the Nurture Starter Kit, our guide for getting new signups beyond the free trial:
The Nurture Starter Kit