A “try before you buy” sales experience has become a pillar of the Product Lead Growth/self-service sales world, however getting a trial right is more nuanced than you might think.
We implemented a credit card upfront trial at Codecademy and had a huge conversion win, which taught me a lot about what makes an effective experience.
There are always people who will buy your product no matter what.
There are always people who will never buy your product.
A good trial experience converts the people who are hesitant but could be convinced.
For 90% of products that are sold online, there are 4 core sales motions.
In reality, these models are mixed and matched, as you can have a freemium product that allows people to have a trial of the paid tier, but for clarity's sake, you can think of them independently.
The further you move down this list, the less risk that your customer feels but also the slower that you'll collect cash from sales.
From the company's perspective, you want to be as high up on this list as possible.
From the customer’s perspective, you want to be as low down this list as possible.
The goal of testing your sales flow is to see where you have to meet in the middle. You want to give away as little as you have to.
The job of a trial is to allow the user to experience the paid product for just long enough to see the value and no longer.
How long it will take to see this value depends on:
If you’re building a database solution for enterprise customers, they might need 180 days to get up to speed and see the value.
However, if you’re building a running companion app for serious athletes, they might be able to see the value in 72 hours.
It all depends on the context of the user.
Additionally, as companies mature, they start to offer different trial experiences for different customer types.
To set up a trial, there are 2 key decisions that you’ll have to make
To make a trial effective, the customer has to “pay” with something or overcome some level of friction to get started.
In the consumer space, the best practice is currently to have them input a credit card to begin the trial.
If you’re building a consumer product right now, don't overthink this part and just use a credit card trial upfront.
For business-focused (or B2B) products, the best practices are a lot less clear.
What makes B2B different is that the user might not end up being the buyer of the product due to how budgets/purchase approvals work.
Therefore, your user, who is interested in your product and wants to check it out, might not have the ability to put in a credit card.
Products like MongoDB have helped popularize the Product Led Growth movement, where they let a user get started for free with no credit card required.
This works because:
Miro combines all of these tactics but in a subtle way. They have a free tier, a direct purchase tier, and a credit card upfront tier.
They are (likely) only offering a credit card up front trial on their business plan as that's the plan they actually want you to buy.
How long should it be?
Building on the above advice, you’ll need to make this trial long enough so that the user experiences the value, but no longer.
The hardest part about managing a trial is trying to determine how long that period or usage is.
The best advice to early-stage companies is to default to being generous here. Start with a longer window and then test making it shorter.
As we talked about a few months back, most major companies start with more generous trial windows and pull them back with time:
- Netflix cut their streaming service trial from 30 days to 14 days, to 7 days, to no trial at all.
- The NY Times used to offer 10 free articles per month, then cut it to 5 articles, then cut it to 3 articles.
- Miro once upon a time gave away unlimited boards, then cut it to 10 boards, then to 3 boards.
The more that you give away initially, the more people will experience your product and the faster your brand will grow. However, this comes at the expense of your immediate revenue and conversion.
Additionally, the length of your trial can be used as both a tool against your competitors and to help mitigate other business constraints.
If you are implementing a trial for the first time, I would start with a relatively basic model, you can always iterate on this later.
Additionally, I would watch out for the following “gotchas”
Trials can be a huge step forward for a company if implemented correctly and they are worth re-testing the model every few quarters to see what additional conversion you can find.