Optimize Free Trial Conversions via Nurturing

trial conversions

Are you a SaaS company that has an icon like this on your website to promote a free trial offer to interested prospects?  If so, once they start the free trial do you do anything specific during the trial period to “nurture” the prospect to increase the odds they convert to a paid customer?  If not, this article is for you.

It is amazing how many companies have implemented some form of automated nurturing during the discovery and consideration phases of the lead generation cycle but don’t follow the same principles for free trial prospects.  The free trial phase is often the very last activity performed by a prospect.  To lose them unnecessarily by having them not convert to a paid license at the end of the trial is a real shame.  Your mission in life should be to do everything possible to optimize free trial conversion rates.  But if you’re a startup or early stage company, you probably don’t have the budget to hire personnel to reach out to these prospects during the trial phase.  But even if you did have the budget, I don’t think a personal touch is the right approach.  Most trial prospects absolutely hate being contacted by the vendor because they perceive it as invasive and excessive pressure.  I even know of some software companies that expect their lead development reps to contact free trial prospects within 24 hours of initiating the trial.  Don’t worry, there’s a very inexpensive and efficient approach to consider.

What if you knew the most common behavioral and trial usage differences between those that chose to convert versus those that didn’t?  Armed with this information, you could nudge trial users in certain ways to increase the odds they will convert.  Here are some examples to better paint the picture:

  • Usage frequency – Does it matter how often a trial user logs in and uses the system during the first half of the trial period?
  • Configuration settings – Does it matter which optional settings are configured or which preferences are modified?
  • Functionality – Are there particular functions that, if used, correlate with a higher conversion rate?

Your mission is to compare the community of trial users that convert to those that don’t by looking for differences in behavior or usage like the examples described above.  So how do you go about learning these things without talking to, or surveying, the trial customers?  There are SaaS-based analytics platforms like MixPanel that allow you to embed event triggers throughout your code.  Or check out Heap Analytics’ technology that makes it easy to instrument any element of a web page with the click of a button and without requiring the web developer to be involved.  These triggered events can be associated with various activities like logging in, adding a new user, making a config/preference change, performing a function, etc.  To start, you should add event triggers to all sorts of things that you imagine could correlate with a higher propensity to convert.  After enough trials have completed, use the analytics platform to identify differences between the two communities (those that convert versus those that don’t).  With just a little luck, you’ll find a few that really seem to correlate with higher conversion.

Armed with this information, you’re now ready to start nurturing your trial users.  If your analytics platform discovers a trial user hasn’t exhibited conversion-likely behavior, you will have it automatically trigger an email to the trial user “nudging” them in the right direction.  For example, if a trial user has not used a particular function that your analysis indicates makes a big difference in conversion rate, the email might say something like “Hi Gordon.  Thanks again for using the free trial version of Shockwave’s ABC software.  We noticed that you haven’t yet tried the Convertible Note Calculator function.  We find that our customers really enjoy this function because it allows them to _____.  If you’d like a quick review of how to use this function, click here for a short video.  And always feel free to contact us at 800-555-1212 if you have questions or need assistance.”

This approach obviously works best with SaaS offerings in which the vendor hosts the infrastructure and has easy access to the behavioral and usage-based data.  With on-premise software that is downloaded and installed by the prospect it’s definitely more difficult.  But something like a “phone home” capability within the software might work in many instances during the trial phase.

Another thing that is important with this concept of trial nurturing is to regularly track your conversion results and re-run your conversion correlation analysis.  Is your conversion trend moving in the right direction?  Are you seeing an effect from the trial nurturing actions you’re taking?  If so, great.  If not, try again with a different approach.  And from time to time re-run the correlation analysis using actual results to make sure the nurturing conditions you are looking for and taking action on are still the best ones.  This is especially important after significant new functionality is added or new types of users are targeted (new personas or roles, new geographies, new market segments, new application uses).

Check out my other articles on Customer Acquisition here.

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