5 Steps to Boost SaaS Free Trial Conversion Rates

Natalie Marcotullio
March 21, 2022

In the PLG world, free trials are ubiquitous一for good reason.

Free trials allow prospects to get their feet wet with a product, seeing its value rather than just believing it. Putting prospects in the driver’s seat inspires new use case ideas and conveys a product’s ROI to decision-makers without adding extra sales meetings to their calendars.

But that doesn’t mean free trials are free of challenges.

Free trials can be difficult to set up, requiring data imports or integrations with other apps. And because free trials are meant to be self-service, no one is there to walk users through that setup process, let alone the product’s most relevant use cases.

Some prospects may have data privacy concerns with free trials as well. For instance, healthcare companies won’t want to test a product with actual patient data.

So, how do you reap the benefits of a free trial while minimizing friction? In this piece, we outline five ways to improve the success of your free trial with the ultimate goal of greater conversions.

Free Trial Benchmarks

Before diving into methods for upping free trial conversions, it’s important to examine “typical” conversion rates.

First, let’s distinguish between opt-in and opt-out free trials.

Opt-in free trials enable users to get started immediately, without entering their credit card information.

Opt-out free trials require users to provide their payment information upfront, with the understanding that they’ll be charged as soon as the free trial is over.

For opt-in trials, conversion rates are lower, and that’s to be expected.

Opt-in free trials are meant to spread awareness, letting anyone experience the product, no matter their level of interest. And as a result, you get less committed leads.

In the B2B space, opt-in free trial conversion rates range from 14 - 25%, but some can go up as high as 30% (take Slack, for example).

When you add a credit card into the mix, signups are likely more serious about buying, which is reflected in the free trial conversion rate. The average opt-out free trial conversion rate hovers around 60%.

5 Steps to Boost Free Trial Conversions

Now that you understand typical conversion rates, let’s breakdown the five steps it takes to improve your free trial conversion rate.

Step #1: Evaluate if your product is right for a free trial

Sometimes to move forward, you have to take a step back.

If you’ve had a free trial for a while but aren’t seeing high conversion rates, we recommend asking yourself whether your product is truly a good fit for a free trial. Here are a few questions to get you started:

1. Do most users see value within a few days? Counting on users to continue using something that doesn’t generate value right away isn’t realistic. Wowing prospects from the start tends to yield more success.

2. Is it difficult to set up the free trial? As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, free trials can come with tricky imports or other complicated setup tasks. Without a seamless setup process, you’re asking for free trial activity dropoff or worse, abandonment.

3. Does it rely on private data? These days companies are getting more and more protective of their data and their customers’ data. Requiring leads to upload potentially compromising information will limit who will even sign up for a free trial.

Free trials aren’t always the best option, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel.

Freemium models or interactive product demos generate many of the same benefits of free trials without incurring as much risk.

Step #2: Conduct user research

It’s tough to design an exceptional free trial without knowing what your prospects want. The good news is that you can do some research without even turning off your free trial.

Qualitative data

First, you’ll want to watch the user journey end-to-end. But in order to do that, you’ll need to garner some volunteers.

Good candidates for user research are existing free trialers and current customers, since they already fit your ideal customer profile. But you could also try using high-quality testing services like Userfeel.

Getting people to agree to user testing can be tough, so make the process as efficient as possible and consider doling out incentives like product discounts or gift card for those who participate.

Once you’ve gotten some testers to sign up, it’s time to observe their behavior.

Pay close attention to what happens when they enter the free trial. What features do they use first? Maybe they are getting stuck somewhere or are particularly drawn to certain parts of your product.

Consider asking every new employee to sign up for a free trial and study their behavior to get even more data points. Your observations can inform modifications to the free trial itself or updates to user guides that come with it.

Quantitative data

While qualitative data is undoubtedly helpful, quantitative data can help you uncover trends and measure the impact of changes you make over time.

Product analytics software like Pendo and Mixpanel can reveal subtle differences between the users who do convert and those who don’t一behaviors you might not perceive just by watching.

mixpanel

Mixpanel

You might find that users that convert begin using their free trial instantly or complete specific tasks within the first few days. With that in mind, you can brainstorm new ways to encourage free trial users to perform those actions faster.

Free trial data can also surface product qualified leads, otherwise known as PQLs.

Users who are particularly active in your free trial are usually considered PQLs. They will probably be more receptive to a sales conversation because they’ve spent so much time with your product and can attest to its value.

Tools like Correlated, Pocus, and Breadcrumbs can help you identify and reach out to highly engaged PQLs, ultimately driving conversions.

Pocus

Pocus

Step #3: Decide on your a-ha moments

The user research you do in step 2 should expose points in the free trial cycle where your product delights your users and proves your product’s value. That is what we call an “a-ha moment”.

You might’ve heard of Facebook’s famous “7 friends in 10 days” a-ha moment, which they turned into the company’s sole aim for several years.

That’s because a-ha moments often have a high correlation between feature adoption and retention; when customers know your product works and has value, they’ll keep using it.

But figuring out your a-ha moment doesn’t happen overnight. It takes talking to users, looking for patterns, and conducting extensive testing.

To find your a-ha moment, you have to survey both power users and churned users. Power users will have insight into which features are most useful and what about your product made them convert.

Churned users can bring value gaps, friction, or missing features to light and reveal what competitors might be doing better.

Eventually, you’ll start to see patterns in converted customers’ behavior. For example, they might leverage the same features, use the product multiple times in the first week, or complete the exact same onboarding steps.

Make a shortlist of those behaviors and continue to pressure-test them. Are those trends consistent across your entire free trial data pool? If so, try modifying aspects of your free trial to encourage certain behaviors and track what happens.

The goal is to figure out (1) what your a-ha moments are and (2) how users can reach those a-ha moments faster.

So review your onboarding flow with that lens. Instead of telling your customers about every feature, drive them towards a core a-ha moment. Over time, you can layer in more detail.

Don’t be afraid to get creative. Pinpointing your a-ha moment and devising a plan to get users there takes experimentation and iteration. But once you’ve found it, you’ll see it in the numbers.

Step #4: Drive users towards a-ha moments and unblock friction points

So, how can you adjust your free trial to guarantee that users hit those a-ha moments?

One way to nudge users in the right direction is to create a step-by-step playbook with pictures or gifs to clarify what users should do when they log into your free trial environment.

You could also try setting up email sequences to remind users to log into your free trial and link them straight to where you know they will have that a-ha moment.

But many users are accustomed to a generic 7-day email sequence can tend to tune them out. To ensure your users are fully engaged, consider generating emails or other in-app experiences based on their specific product behavior.

That way you’re not confining users to a prescribed, sequential flow, but rather motivating them to continue exploring your product in a way that’s interactive and responsive.

Helpdesk software or support platforms like Helpscout, Intercom, and Zendesk can also help you get users to where you want them to be faster with chatbots, helpful pop-ups, and more.

Helpscout

Helpscout

Although it may be more work, you can always work with the product team to update the UI in a way that removes any blockers to accessing your core a-ha moment.

Intuit is one company that does an outstanding job of putting their a-ha moment front and center. No one likes doing their taxes, and Intuit’s free TurboTax software walks users through how to fill out their tax forms question by question.

In this free trial, the a-ha moment happens as soon as people finish the first few questions. They are finishing their taxes quickly, efficiently, and accurately.

And as a result of yielding high value, people continue to use TurboTax, and many eventually upsell into Intuit’s suite of other financial products.

TurboTax is fairly intuitive, but showcasing the value of other technology software may not be as simple.

For more complex software, you might want to explore interactive product demos. For example, MonitorQA, a mobile inspection software, has an intricate back-end structure.

Getting people to see MonitorQA’s value in a free trial would be tough without extensive guidance. So the team stood up a product demo to guide users through the most notable features of MonitorQA, ensuring that they experienced an a-ha moment.

monitorqa

MonitorQA

Since implementing an interactive product demo, the number of abandoned MonitorQA trial accounts decreased dramatically.

And MonitorQA’s sales cycle also decreased. Prospects who had an a-ha moment didn’t need much convincing; they were ready to buy.

Step #5: Educate users on your product earlier in the buyer cycle

In an ideal world, users would see the value of your product before they even sign up for a free trial.

While this may seem impossible, you can start to generate excitement and communicate your product’s value by adding screenshots, videos, and product demos to your website, blog posts, ads, outbound campaigns, and more.

Product-led content grabs users’ attention, explains what kind of value your product offers, and entices prospects to sign up for a free trial.

The team at Autobound, a sales intelligence platform, realized that early prospects weren’t grasping the product’s value by reading content on their website. Reps were spending an excessive amount of time educating users on every call.

So they decided to insert a product tour right on their homepage to teach customers about Allbound ahead of time:

Autobound

Autobound

Doing so tripled Autobound’s free trial conversions. And because prospects already had a sense of what they should expect, they found their a-ha moments sooner and were much more likely to take a sales meeting.

Ultimately, previewing Autobound’s value with an interactive product demos led to more closed deals.

Atlhough many companies are just getting started with product-led content, it has tremendous potential. Not only does it get prospects’ hands on your product earlier, it also allows them to do research on their own terms, building up the trust required to convert them into a happy customer organically.

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