In this economy, mitigating personal and corporate risk is as much a priority for BtoB buyers as it is for consumers. Although many marketers have successfully addressed risk-averse shoppers by offering free trials for the past few years, industry experts say those offers are starting to lose their appeal and suggest that marketers now need to look at alternative means of showcasing their product and demonstrating ROI without a significant time commitment from the prospective buyer.
“There’s great over-reliance on the free trial strategy, especially in the high-tech sector and specifically for hosted (SaaS) software vendors,” says Howard Sewell, President, Connect Direct, Inc. “Free trials are popular because they’re perceived to be the shortest route to a sale, but what they really do is eliminate a huge subset of potential customers at the outset—people who may well have the relevant pain or problem, but who simply don’t want to expend the time or hassle downloading, installing and evaluating the actual product.”
Because these pain points are felt across the board, experts say that marketers should step outside the typical 30-day free trial box and create an offering that can be a competitive differentiator, demonstrate ease of use and, most importantly, provide a solution to mitigate risk.
Here are six of the alternative ways leading marketers are adding a different twist to the free trial offers:
- Test Drive with Limited Functionality: The test drive system typically uses demo data in it, as opposed to prospect company data and only certain features are enabled. “You can limit the overall functionality so that a potential customer can experience the value of some key features, but not enough so they can use the trial for business purposes,” says Norm Bellisario, Director of Client Services, for marketing automation consultant DemandGen.
- Usage Trials: This provides full functionality but limits the number of times certain tasks can be performed. “One popular approach is to set up a test account that runs on the Internet and is available as a sandbox where prospects can explore the product/solution with very little upfront investment of time and effort,” says Matt Quinlan, VP Field Operations, for marketing automation provider LoopFuse. “If you do this I suggest refreshing the data every 24 hours or the sandbox will become a mess very quickly.”
- ROI/Assessment Tools: “People love to be benchmarked and assessed,” says Jeff Pedowitz, Founder & President, for marketing automation consultancy The Pedowitz Group. “ROI is a little more suspect, as people tend to think that you manipulate the formulas to satisfy your solution. Using a third party analyst adds more credibility for that type of approach.” The Pedowitz Group has been using this approach for the last five years, and Pedowitz said it has closed over $1 million worth of business in less than six months. “Assessment tools can be very relevant in the middle portion of the buying process, as prospects are looking to find the right type of solution for a problem that has been identified,” says Tony Jaros, VP Research, SiriusDecisions. “ROI/TCO tools tend to be used in the latter parts of the process when vendors are being compared against one another and final decisions are being made.”
- Limited User Trials: This offer is a single user trial for systems that will ultimately require many users. “This provides the opportunity for a single decision maker to evaluate a solution and provide its value before expanding to a full department/companywide deployment,” says Bellisario.
- Consulting Offers: In 2008, The Pedowitz Group booked 20 free consulting days during which clients were consulted on any marketing topic they chose. “Usually by around noon we were scoping out the paid project after we proved our value,” says Pedowitz. “This was normally a $5-$10K value which we gave away.”
- Paid Pilot: This offer is for a specified amount of time, typically two or three months, during which the solution provider demonstrates to the customer the value in the product. It is fully implemented and employees are trained to use the product. “The biggest pro is that it offers more time to prove ROI and it’s got more skin in the game for the buyer,” says Jon Miller, VP Marketing, at marketing automation provider Marketo. “One of the things that a lot of vendors do to deliver a free trial experience is use the word ‘free.’ People will sign up when they’re not serious, so you have to manage for serious business—qualify prospects with an assigned criteria to be sure they have resources ready and can buy by pre-negotiating the agreement.”
Jaros notes that any trial offering should provide prospects with full support. “We are seeing a growing number of organizations that are proactively reaching out to prospects that have downloaded a trial with telephone-based support personnel to see if they have been successful in installing, whether they have had any problems, how they are finding the product to use, and any other feedback they may have,” says Jaros. “Showing prospects that you will support them even before they become customers sends a very strong message about what the relationship will be like if they were to buy.”
Bellisario says integrating trial usage into a lead scoring system has also proven to help triage leads and bring the best leads to the top of the list for follow up. “Marketers should monitor metrics like time to first use, usage milestones (completing certain high value tasks within a toll that shows/proves advance interest) and total usage (both time based and session based).”