When marketing your software, many formats can help you tell prospective customers about all the wonderful benefits. You can also share great stories of how it saved the day for your current customers. But many software buyers just want to try it out for themselves—they want to know how they can sign up for a free trial, demo or download.
Of these three types of free offers, the free trial not only will help the customer better evaluate the software, it also has the greatest potential to provide information for your content marketing strategy. Here’s how.
Some patterns emerged as I reviewed sign-up methods for more than 40 free trial offers. The free trials ranged in offering access from seven to 30 days, and most required the individual to create an account. One only offered access for 48 hours.
Most companies provided a sign-up form on a dedicated landing page accessed from a link within the discussion of the benefits or from a button near their header that simply stated “Free Trial.” They used high-quality graphics and repeated the benefits of their product in an easy-to-scan format. The benefits generally were repeated on the page and the sign-up form was located in the right sidebar.
Two notable exceptions of engaging the visitor before asking them to sign up:
Many companies followed the best practice of a short form to make it as easy for the visitor to sign up. The easiest requested visitors to sign in to an existing account, either with a major vendor or a social media platform such as Facebook. The most common asked the visitor to create a username and password and provide an email address. Several added a security question. Only one required a company email address, which blocked Gmail, Yahoo and other free email addresses.
At the other extreme, the longest sign-up form I found was from Auric Technology, LLC., which asked multiple questions in seven major categories and asked for contact information.
Certainly, the more information you have about your trial user, the easier it is to tailor your blog posts, videos and infographics to your audience’s needs and add insights to your buyer personas. It was the rationale behind the complicated sign-up forms that often discourage completion.
Today, much of the same or more useful information can be gathered in less intrusive ways at key points in the user’s interaction with the provider using tools built into the platform, well-designed analytics or other external communication devices.
Once your trial requester becomes a trial user, you can gather more information through emails, surveys, special links, online chats, dashboard messages or other tools built into your trial platform, and by phone, particularly to a Help Desk.
When requesting information, keep the requests short, easy and periodic. Remember, you are building a relationship with your user and how he is treated pre-sale will set the expectation for the post-sale relationship. Make it absolutely easy for him to become a customer and whenever possible provide him incentive to do so.
Even with the most basic information, you can create content to expedite the decision-to-buy process for current trial users and for people like them.
For instance, if many of your trial users have a title that requires just a few years of experience, they may be potential end users or have the task of gathering information about several different types of software and the vendors that provide it. Make sure you are addressing how easy it is to become proficient with your software and where to turn for help.
However, if your trial user has a more senior title, she may be looking for suggestions on tasks that her subordinates should be able to complete and case studies of how other companies have been able to solve difficult problems by using your software.
Most likely your trial is on a dedicated portion of your website and you can passively monitor page views, number of logins during the trial period, number of functions tested and how long the user spent on each, clicks on help or support functions or prompts, and more.
If you collected information about the user’s level of expertise possibly through a job title, break out the data and compare the activity of different categories of users during their trial period. You will be able to create different content for each.
For example, you can use your data to identify trends that might reveal impediments to a successful trial, fix the problems and then make sure to publish the upgrades to past trial users who didn’t buy as well as current trial users.
You can also incorporate it into your blog posts.
If people are spending a lot of time in one particular area, it could be that they like the capabilities and want to see how far they can go. If your system permits, get feedback with a short pop-up survey or an offer of an online chat.
Keep in mind that creating an account also makes the user a part of a larger community, so if there is a forum where conversation can take place, you can both gather valuable details to help shape your content and respond quickly to misunderstanding or misinformation or any problems with the software.
As you find particularly popular areas in your software, you may consider creating a webinar that helps you receive more comprehensive feedback as the group interacts. Be sure to record the webinar to be able to offer it as additional content and to connect with more prospective customers.
As the trial progresses and you see the user actively engaged, continue to solicit feedback through customized communications. Set triggers by percentage of the trial period completed, number of logins, progression through the different features of your software, or types of tasks accomplished. By this time, the user is likely to see you as a partner in helping them solve their problems.
As always, the easier the method of feedback, the more likely you will be able to get a response.
Every company that has offered a free trial has encountered the user who signs up, looks at a few features and then never logs in again. Don’t make assumptions why. Use the tools you have to reach out to them to discover the source of the problem. Perhaps:
If non-activity is an ongoing problem with a particular group of users, re-evaluate your buyer personas or test other ways of engaging them.
A free trial is not an SaaS marketing gimmick. It is a test drive that can make or break a sale, especially if your brand is not well known. Use the data you collect about your customers and their use of your product or service to develop your buyer personas, and incorporate their feedback into your decisions about content and how you will make it available.
Michaela Kekedy is passionate about finding good stories and connecting with the audiences that will be equally excited. They become content for print, radio, TV, web, film and live presentations whether she is working as a journalist, public relations manager or marketing manager for companies, nonprofits or public sector entities. She’s always on the lookout for best practices to build awareness, increase revenue, and reduce costs so connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.