How to Convert Free Trial Customers

If you build it, they will come — but you still have to close the deal.

Written by Brian Nordli
Published on Feb. 03, 2021
How to Convert Free Trial Customers

In the summer of 2020, Spark Hire noticed a troubling trend in its website traffic. While the number of visitors was high, customers weren’t sticking around to learn more about the product or make a purchase.

A quick survey of visitors who bounced from the website confirmed Director of Sales Brian McGarry’s assumption — it was time to set up a free-trial program.

“The survey came back overwhelmingly with an answer that there was no free trial,” McGarry said. “So that was a pretty easy calculus for us to figure out what steps we needed to take to capture more of that website traffic.”

Free trials have become an integral part of the SaaS purchasing process for businesses. While Spark Hire’s sales team offered demos, it required customers to meet with a rep first. In doing so, it raised the barrier to entry for customers and forced them into a sales conversation, McGarry said. Instead, what customers really want is to get their hands on the product first and see how it works before engaging in a sales conversation.

“The survey came back overwhelmingly with an answer that there was no free trial.”

Deciding to launch a trial program was the easy part; developing an effective sales process to convert trial customers, however, has proven trickier, McGarry said. Potential buyers may be drawn to a free trial, but whether it’s because of misguided expectations, interest in a competitor or a limited budget, they’ll leave.

Field of Dreams this is not. If you build it — and you don’t have a strong sales process — the sales won’t come.

To convert free-trial users into customers, sales teams must strike a balance between giving people the freedom to explore the product and offering the right amount of guidance about premium features that may be helpful. For Spark Hire, launching the free trial was just the start of this team’s efforts to create a seamless trial-based sales cycle.

5 Keys to Converting Free Trials Into Customers

  • Reach out to the customer as soon as they sign up for the free trial. The longer you wait, the less interest they’ll have in the product.  
  • Focus your sales efforts on customers who match your ideal customer profile. There will be an influx of trial users who aren’t a good fit for your company.
  • Serve as a consultant in the trial process. Perform a needs analysis to make sure the customer sees value from the free trial.
  • Make sure the customer’s expectations are aligned with what your product can offer. 
  • Create a feedback loop between sales and product to exchange customer feedback and product information. 

 

Don’t Wait for the Customer to Come to You

Once a customer signs up for a free trial, the clock starts ticking.

One of the biggest mistakes a sales team can make in a trial-based model is to assume the customer will purchase the product after they’ve had time to try it. Unless the buyer has a desperate need for the service, it won’t take long for them to disengage.

That’s why speedy outreach is crucial, said Prince Kwateng, Sprout Social’s mid-market sales manager. In his previous role, Kwateng managed the company’s small-business team, which specialized in converting trials into customers. His team made it a goal to reach out to users the same day they signed up for the trial.

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“The time to touch has been really important to us so we can get to people while they’re most interested in using the service,” Kwateng said.

While the customer may be interested in the product, the rep still needs to earn the buyer’s time to meet. Personalization and providing value is just as important when following up on a trial sign-up as it would be in a cold outreach message.

“The time to touch has been really important to us so we can get to people while they’re most interested in using the service.”

Kwateng said his team would research the buyer’s “about us” page and current social strategy to explain how Sprout Social can help them. The rep would also include a calendar link to make it easy to book a meeting.

Of course, it’s impossible to meet with every person who signs up for a free trial, and at any rate, many trial participants won’t be the right fit for the product. For that reason, it’s important to primarily focus on users who match your company’s ideal customer profile to increase the chances of conversion.

“You really want to focus your time at the very beginning going after the types of accounts that you know your team has had success with in the past,” Kwateng said.

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Use the Discovery Process to Set Expectations and Consult the Buyer

No matter how intuitive or engaging a product is, customers need guidance throughout the trial journey. Without it, a customer might miss out on a valuable feature or lose interest in the product.

At Spark Hire, customers only have 14 days to try out its video interview software before they need to make a decision. McGarry has focused on making that time as seamless as possible for the customer and ensuring they feel supported.

At first, that meant having the user schedule a meeting with an onboarding specialist to learn about the product before they meet with an AE. However, McGarry found that doing so slowed down the customer experience and introduced too many people into the sales process.

He has since fine-tuned the process to have the prospect schedule a meeting with the AE first. During that first meeting, the salesperson’s goal is to serve as an expert and consultant for the client. That starts with aligning the customer’s expectations of the product with what’s possible during the trial, McGarry said.

“We’re able to give them a little bit more coaching and make sure that they’re in the right plan for them.”

Conducting a needs analysis is also critical. McGarry’s team will often try to evaluate the buyer’s hiring needs and process to understand which features will be most valuable during the trial. This enables the rep to make sure the buyer is signed up for the right product and to tailor the onboarding process to their needs.

Ultimately, introducing the sales rep first made it easier to close the deal when the customer is ready.

“We’re able to give them a little bit more coaching and make sure that they’re in the right plan for them,” McGarry said. “That puts us in a much better space to be able to ask for the sale.”

However, it’s important that sales reps don’t spend too much time on the nitty gritty of the technology during those initial conversations, Kwateng said. Since customers have already spent time with the product, there is a tendency for those sales chats to drift into “What does this button do?” territory. As a result, the rep misses out on the opportunity to be a consultant to the buyer and have a value-based conversation. To prevent this, sales reps should already understand how the buyer makes money and how the product can further those goals.

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It’s also important to take a step back during discovery and understand why the customer downloaded the trial in the first place, Kwateng said.

“That will tell you exactly how your sales team can actually influence that organization,” he added.

Once the buyer and salesperson are on the same page, the rep can guide the buyer throughout the trial and ensure they see value from the product.

 

Create a Feedback Cycle Between Sales and Product

To make any trial-based sales cycle succeed, it’s important to create a feedback loop between your sales and product teams. Both teams possess information that can help the other.

At Sprout Social, the product team has access to recorded sales calls so team members can hear what customers like about the product and what they have issues with. But product also meets frequently with both sales leaders and sales reps to discuss product features.

That information helps the rep serve as a technical expert in the sales process.

For Spark Hire, the entire trial program has been a collective effort between the marketing, sales and product teams, McGarry said. It started with sales wanting to convert more website traffic, but marketing helped with the branding to draw users in, and product helped establish what a successful customer journey looked like.

“While your best intentions are to be customer centric, sometimes you have to listen to what they’re telling you and what they want out of those sales conversations and adapt to that.”

The teams met weekly to get the free-trial program off the ground and, since launch, they’ve continued to exchange information about the customer experience and come up with new tweaks to the model to improve conversion rates. The latest involves having trial customers include credit card information when signing up to reduce some of the noise from less-serious buyers.

Ultimately, Spark Hire doesn’t see its free-trial program as a finished product. There’s always new customer information to consider and changes to make to create a smoother experience.

“While your best intentions are to be customer centric, sometimes you have to listen to what they’re telling you and what they want out of those sales conversations and adapt to that,” McGarry said. “As long as you keep the customer as your North Star, they’ll lead you in the right direction to make this successful.”

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