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How to Convert Free Trials into SaaS Sales

By William Steward on Thu, Oct 30, 2014

convert-free-trialsHow many of your free trials convert into sales? 

Most SaaS companies can expect to convert ~15-20% of their free trial users into paid users, and if you're doing better than that -- you probably don't need to be reading this post. 

However, if you're struggling to get near to these numbers -- read on. 

In this post I explain some of the ways SaaS companies can help convert more of their free trials into paying customers. 

Start By Knowing Your Numbers

You have a sales and marketing funnel in place, which likely looks something like the following:

conversion-image

  • Website visits - unique visits to your website. Usually you can expect to convert ~2% of your website visits into free trials, providing your website is well optimised for conversions. You may even outperform this if you have a good mechanism in place for converting visitors who aren't yet ready to try your software into leads, which I discuss in more detail in: 6 Ways to Reduce SaaS Customer Acquisition Costs.

  • Free trials - a free trial is anyone who has filled out a free trial request form on your website. 

  • Activated trials - an activated trial is someone who has requested a trial, and also started using it. Different companies will use different metrics to determine activation. If you're an email marketing company, activation might be your user adding an opt-in form to their website, or importing their contact database. If you run an analytics company, activation may be the user including your code on their website. If you run a project management company, activation may be a person creating a project and inviting at least one colleague. 

    If your software is complex, you may have multiple tasks that could be viewed as activation, depending on the user's needs. E.g. if you sold marketing automation software, then someone could be activated if they import their contact database, or install your lead tracking code on their website.

    If your product is good, easy-to-use and well documented, plus you have an appropriate nurturing strategy in place, you should expect to activate about 50% of all free trials. 

  • Customers - simply put, anyone who starts paying for your software. 15-25% of your free trials should be converting into customers in most cases.

If you're not yet tracking all these metrics, it's time to start. The big number that many companies fail to measure is the number of trials that are activated. Starting to measure this will make it possible for you to run tests on your software and trial onboarding process. You can then maximise activation rates and increase sales.

Start Sending Emails ASAP

Emailing people who have signed up for your free trials is vital. For this purpose, at this stage in the buying process, we recommend Intercom.io as the tool of choice. Intercom allows you to trigger emails not just by time, but also by specific actions taken within your software. 

As a minimum, you should follow a process similar to this:

  1. Send an email when the free trial begins. Instantly. Don't wait a day or two to send an email. Remind the visitor of why they might have signed up for the trial (your unique value proposition/key benefits) and make it clear when the user's free trial will expire. 

    Below this, explain how your new user can take steps to reach your "activation" requirement explained above. It's helpful to offer a quick video the user can watch to learn how to activate, and also to link off to a page which explains how to get setup in more detail if they want to learn more.

  2. Send multiple emails throughout the course of their trial. If your lead has just started their trial, it's perfectly acceptable to send them more than one email in the first week. Try sending out an email every couple of days, sharing tips and explaining a clear next step. These emails should be tailored with Intercom.io's event triggers, so that you maximise the relevancy of every email you send. 

    If a user hasn't yet done anything -- send them an email reminding them of how to login, and how easy it is to get started with the software. Likewise, if a user has been using the software heavily, you can send them an email to a video you've put together explaining more advanced functionality.

    You don't want to be sending out emails to someone telling them how to get started, if they've already started using your software! It's just spam.

    After the first week, try to restrict emails to once per week, so that you don't overload your free trial users with information.

Recommended Reading: The 7-Step Essential User Onboarding Checklist


Run Regular Webinars

Webinars are a great way to engage your free trial users, and they're easy to run once you've practiced a few times. Simply run a webinar that's at least as frequent as your free trial length. That means if you have a 30 day trial, you could run a webinar at least every 30 days. 

In the webinar you can then offer tips for getting more value from your product, and also allow attendees to ask their own questions. 

Your webinars can be promoted throughout your website, using smart call-to-action's if you have HubSpot, and also in any emails you send out to your free trial users. 

Encourage The Sale

Finally -- always be encouraging the sale. 

It seems obvious, but too many SaaS companies fail to discuss the next step after the trial when their trial users visit their website, use the product, or read their emails. 

Use clear call-to-action's in your emails, website and product which allow a trial user to upgrade to one of your paid packages at any time. You'll find that your best customers will find value in your product very early on, and look to upgrade ASAP. So make it easy for them. 

If your product has a significant headline price (say at least $100/mo) then it's probably a good idea to have a sales representative reach out to your free trials when they've begun using the software too, to see if they can help -- and determine the next best step.

Make sure your free trial is architected to make the upgrade a logical next step, too. Your free trial user needs to get enough benefit from your product to have a positive experience, but also feel a pain that they can't solve until they upgrade. You can do this in a number of ways, for example: limiting the volume of tasks a user can execute during their trial, restricting more advanced features, or disabling features which would save users time.

What does your company do to convert free trials/demos into SaaS sales? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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