Tips for Turning a Free Software Trial into a Sale

Hint: It takes more than putting the word “free” in your content.

If you’ve got a software product, one of the best ways to drive adoption and sales is to offer a free trial. The approach seems deceptively simple. Send emails and run banner ads and potential new customers will flock to your product and (hopefully) become customers.

But unless you’re a well-known brand with a popular product, you’re not likely to see the trial enrollment you’d hoped for. And if you do have success getting trial enrollees to sign up, you may not see those trials convert to active users. If you’re struggling with either of these issues, here are a few ideas that can help.

Focus on More Than Offering Something Free

Your potential trial user is likely a busy developer who knows two things before they click:

  1. They’ll have to take time to figure out how to use the product.
  2. You’ll eventually try to sell them the full version.

Just offering them a free trial is not enough.  So how do you get over that first hump? Make sure you focus the messaging of your ads and emails on the pain point and solution, not on the free trial. An open-source CMS vendor, Jahia, did this with a detailed content piece on Java-based CMS. They used that first click to engage on the topic of product value. Once a reader is interested, the free trial becomes a welcome next step.

Subject Line: Try our cloud software for free!

Better Subject Line: Need help getting your data into the cloud?

They’re in, Now What?

We’re familiar with this scenario: Your prospect logs in, clicks around a few times, and then moves on to other things. This is a critical point in the customer journey. The user needs to be nurtured and supported so that they can see the value of your product and how it will make their life easier.

All too often the follow-up communications focus on upgrading to the paid version. Instead, focus on helping them make the most of the trial. Do this by carefully crafting a nurture campaign that is instructional and clearly illustrates the optimal application of your solution.

Does your product improve code quality or increase developer efficiency? Is it easy to integrate into existing developer workflows? Factors like these can be critical to the decision-making process and in many cases are more influential than the price point.

Don’t focus on selling until you feel the user is engaging with the demo. Commercially available in-app analytic products (e.g., Pendo, Peep, Gainsight) can provide a wealth of detail about usage that can shape your engagement strategy. Marketing automation systems can also help provide insight into engagement. If you’re using email to communicate with users, you can monitor their open and clickthrough rates and even implement a scoring system to determine who is most engaged.

Why Community Matters

Your product may be the result of hundreds of hours of user experience testing. And your adoption and engagement with your core users may be exactly where you want it, but how do you share this with new users?

If you have a developer community, that could be the perfect way to introduce trial users to the real-world benefits of your product. And according to research by Evans Data, 92% of developers surveyed expect a developer community.

An open community can let trial users see how developers are using your product, and they can get their questions answered through searching the community’s q&a database or posing a question.  Monitoring which free users are posing the most questions is one way some free trial software companies zero in on prospects that can be converted.

Building and maintaining a vibrant developer community also allows your most passionate advocates to be the driver for adoption. Your trial user could easily become a customer without ever speaking with a salesperson.

If you don’t have a community, or if it is open only to paying customers of your product, you’ll need to invest in support that specifically guides trial users through your free version in a manner that lets them see what they’re likely to expect if they become paid users.

Having the ability to offer a free trial is a powerful marketing tool. By leading with the benefits of your full solution and providing a well-supported and engaging trial period, you’ll find more of those trial users becoming customers.