The Free Trial: Will it Work for Your Business?

by Abbas Alidina

3 min read

When consumers land on your website, they usually arrive with mixed emotions. On one hand, they’re intrigued to see what you can do for them. At the same time, they don’t trust you one bit!

So how do you bridge the trust gap?

You offer a free trial.

The free trial helps you and the consumer to feel out the relationship. This is your chance to nurture the free trial user toward becoming a paid user by demonstrating the value you can offer.

One Size Does Not Fit All

When it comes to free trials, a lot of businesses just copy what their competitors are doing and hope for the best. This is suboptimal. Every business is different, and you need to determine what type of free trial works best for your own business.

Here are some factors that can influence the success rate of your free trial offer.

Free trial duration: Is your free trial seven days, 14 days, 30 days? The more complex your offering, the longer it takes the user to see the value. For larger scale products, the consumer might have to seek approval from executives regarding budget, which will extend the amount of time needed.

Onboarding process: Upon starting the free trial, users need to immediately see value in your offering. Busy users will leave your product and never come back if the value is not clear right off the bat. To get a user engaged and excited, offer tutorials.

Messaging strategy: Once someone signs up for a free trial, do you automatically initiate an email drip campaign, nurture them with in-app messages, or reach out to them on the phone? If your offering is simple, you can automate the whole process.  Otherwise, more hand-holding might be required.

Credit card details: Do you ask for credit card details upfront? Or only once the customer is ready to pay? Asking for a credit card upfront will reduce the number of free trial sign-ups, but should increase the conversion rate from free to paid because you have filtered out those who aren’t serious about it.

How to Run Free Trial Experiments

How do you figure out what type of free trial to set up?

You experiment!

Test the different combinations to see what results in the best conversion rate from free trial users to paid customers.

Keeping all factors constant except free trial duration, here is an example:

Free trials

The seven-day free trial performs poorly in free trial signups (2.5 percent) and paid customer acquisition (10 percent). It seems seven days is too short of a duration for most people to see value in your offering.

The 14-day free trial has an acceptable rate of free trial signups (10 percent) and phenomenal paid user acquisition (20 percent).

The 30-day free trial does a great job of free trial signups (15 percent) but falls short at paid user acquisition (8.33 percent).

Rather than relying on intuition or hunch, we ran an experiment and let the numbers do the talking. Based on this experiment, it seems the 14-day trial is the best for this example company, with an overall conversion rate of 2 percent.

Iterate and Repeat

We’ve conducted this experiment to determine the optimal free trial duration, but we still need to test all the other factors that impact the success of the trial. To do this, keep the free trial duration fixed at 14 days and vary one of the other factors such as the onboarding process.

When we initially ran these types of experiments at Crowdbabble, we were disappointed with the results. Our conversion rates were terrible. But we dedicated ourselves to running experiments to troubleshoot the performance of our free trial. Figuring out what was and wasn’t working allowed us to improve our process.

Every experiment is a learning opportunity. Running these experiments is an iterative process. Since you can always optimize further, you can keep testing different factors so your conversion rate is always improving.

When it comes to conversion rate, every percentage point matters. Even one-tenth of a percent can make a huge difference on your bottom line.

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