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Jul 16, 2020    Burn Book

Startup Land: The Land of the Free Trials (Credit Card Required)


We’re going to talk about something ANNOYING. This story starts in Startup Land, SaaS district.

If I’m your brand’s targeted user, whoever that may be, and I’m signed up for a free trial of your product/service (software, remember?), you have already won the battle(s). You targeted me. You got me to click through. You got me to spend TIME reading and learning about what you’re selling. In fact, I’m so bought in to your brand purpose and product naming cleverness that I’m giving you my information for a free trial. Maybe even my email AND my credit card info.

But then let’s say you lose me, in one way or another:

You know better than to charge me for something I didn’t sign up for — that’s just fraud. And charging me for the end of a trial you don’t remind me is ending? Ugh, I guess that’s my fault, but also I have a little bitter taste in my mouth whenever I think about you now. That’s not great for a brand. Or, just maybe, I did the trial, liked it, let it end, and just don’t feel strongly enough to try it out for real. Either way, you lost me. You won lots of battles only to lose the war.

Maybe in the end this method of win-some lose-some is worth it for your SaaS. Maybe after allllll that work of converting me from cold to hot, enough trial-takers like me stay for all the trial-takers that drop off. Maybe you settle for that ROI, whatever the percentage might be.

But have you ever thought that, maybe, you picked not only the wrong battle, but the wrong war all together?

Have you contemplated the possibility that you shouldn’t be offering a free trial to begin with?

Yes– even if you do get my email on your list for future drip campaigns. Yes– even if you charge me for a month because I don’t cancel in time. Yes– even if the conversion rate of people that stay is high enough for your budget to keep getting approved.

That’s called settling, and we’re not here for it. Because settling is often a slow, murky slide down to failure. (Our CEO even wrote about this in Forbes if you want more on that.) Here are a few signs you shouldn’t be offering a free trial of your SaaS at all.

— The benefit can’t be seen by the user without a whole lot of integration/adoption work that they’re not willing to do.

Simple as that, people aren’t going to want to do it. No one wants to put hours in integrating their info into your software only to show their manager a month later that even though they spent all that time, it just wasn’t standing out. So they don’t bother.

— Your software’s real selling points are long-term and impossible to see in a week- or month-long free trial.

If this is the case, never assume your prospects will see the potential and put money where their optimism is. If this is the case, you should instead be focusing your efforts on free demos, sending engaging case study materials, or the handy dandy money-back guarantee. This mitigates their perceived risk while not actually giving anything of yours away for free (have you seen the numbers on people that go through the hassle of utilizing that guarantee? I don’t even return things to Target and I go there once a week).

Standard is Subpar

Basically, industry standards (giving free trials, buying Google ads instead of content syndication, any traditional methods honestly) should be your absolute starting point, not your compass. Free trials might not be the right marketing strategy for your SaaS product.

Lucky for you, you don’t have to take my word for it (even though Rock Candy Media in Austin has been living in Startup Land for over a decade and advancing integrated marketing strategies the whole time ). You can still test it. You can test trial length, terms, combinations with demos/alternatives. Test it all.

That’s what conversion rate optimization is. Just don’t settle for standard; that’s where you’ll lose us.

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