Why SaaS Software Companies Fail with Free Trial Approaches

We have all seen it before. Our search online to find a SaaS software solution that will make our life, workplace, shopping or anything we hope to do – better. Then we find something to potentially fill that gap in our lives. The next logical step we take before deciding and committing budget to make a purchase is to do a little research.

We are told that this technology software is the EASIEST on the market. It is so SIMPLE. Try it for 30 days and you will feel so completely comfortable with your experience, that paying a monthly recurring fee will be a no-brainer. In fact, you will have no sales people or customer experience reps bug you because “you can do this on your own.”

I’ve been duped before by this, and so have you (just admit it, even if just to yourself). It seems like such a great idea. Then I log-in for the first time with your custom, temporary password. And all of a sudden, I have no idea what I am looking at or what I should do first. If only I could call someone and get an answer. Of course, on the Contact Us page, there is just a form that I will receive a reply from someone in the next 48 business hours.

Three days pass, I look at my calendar and remember that I have this free trial and will tinker with it during lunch. Five days pass, I have completely forgotten about this software. 25 days pass and I receive an email that my Free Trial is about to expire. I forgot what this is and check the spam button.

And with that… the potential sale to me based on ease and simplicity is six feet under – sales suicide.

Technology Marketing Strategies: Why Simple & Easy Equals Lazy

Now, does pushing Easy & Simple as true differentiators make sense? Not only are these qualities vague, but pretty much it is an outright lie. For instance, I received an iPod shuffle back in my early days as a Cavs season ticket holder – thanks Dan Gilbert. I do not have many Apple products in my life; basically this was the first since I plotted points or played The Oregon Trail on an Apple IIe in grade school.

So just the one circle button was fairly intuitive, but what happened when my light started flashing and having different colors? Why could I not charge it from the computer at my girlfriend’s house like I did at mine?

Yep, even the simplest design needs to provide guidance and instruction. For proof, you can see the screen shots of the instructions I received with my Shuffle. Now, to learn that I could only charge/sync from the computer where my iTunes resided did require deeper research. Even that flustered me.

shuffle2 shuffle1

But Apple did provide some basic help, a concept many SaaS companies omit online whether due to lack of insight, funding or just arrogance that their solution is that straightforward. News flash, it seems simple because you have created and dealt with that solution every day!

SaaS marketers need to be sure they respect the process that someone new to the product has a learning curve.

Here are helpful hints to include in you SaaS marketing strategy, which will make the Free Trial process more viable by encouraging deeper prospect engagement in the trial period and motivating them to convert to a paying customer.

  • Demonstrate clear value propositions to the user. Identify with their pain points, and specifically outline how they will be resolved. Motivation from the initial thought to pursue a Free Trial is so valuable.
  • Provide a personal contact for someone to lean on during the Free Trial period – a coach that can help guide them through getting familiar with the software and integrating it into the prospects normal workflow. Without adoption, everything fails!
  • Let users reference a video gallery that shows mini-tutorials of how to get the basics set-up during the free trial.
  • Allow for a button or view where the prospect can populate with sample data to really get a feel for how the software would work for them and their needs.
  • List out an FAQ guide that can both be accessible from the site and in a printable format like a PDF that can easily be printed out for easy reference on the go.
  • Conduct email campaigns that provide insights and helpful hints throughout the entire course of the Free Trial experience. This is a perfect opportunity to highlight any of the other offerings mentioned in the above bullet points. If you have a real CSR or sales person interacting with your free trial user, that customer experience just gained brownie points, knowing there is peace of mind for future questions that arise after the purchase.

Putting in the hard work to really define the value proposition, differentiators and solved pain points for the customer early on will pay dividends when it comes time for conversions and revenue. If the potential customer feels secure and confident they can use your SaaS solution, as well as knowing there is help if needed, the connections and customer loyalty you build will be invaluable.

Interested in more blogs on SaaS marketing strategy? Learn why taking risks and losing fast is better than taking it slow for technology marketers.

About Michael Mazzone

Michael Mazzone is a Senior Account Executive at Fathom, specializing in technology-based lead generation campaigns. A graduate of Case Western Reserve's Weatherhead School of Business, Michael joined the Fathom team in 2006, bringing to the table a focus in entrepreneurial strategies and problem-solving skills. He has worked as the direct point of contact for Fathom on a number of accounts to include KeyBank, Vision Solutions, DoubleTake Software, Astute Solutions, mindSHIFT, Oppenheimer Funds, American Greetings, Eaton Corporation, Cleveland Clinic, Cub Cadet and Evenflo.As the main touch point, Michael provides cross-department coordination and strategies from SEO, conversion, online video, redesign projects, paid search and marketing initiatives like contests and product launches. Vital to measuring success for campaigns, he identifies ROI opportunities and implements measurement tactics. Follow Michael on Twitter @mmazzone29 or add him to your LinkedIn network.


  • Nico says:

    I could not agree more, Michael! I have had it with the “ukulele playing in the background-so simple!-videos! Total lies. They show some short demo that goes off without a hitch and you think, “cool”. But, it’s a whole other story after you sign up, as you explain. I literally WANT TO PAY for services these days so I can get some help. Elsewise, you’re rudderless and left with a happy, up-beat ukulele video.

  • Lirik says:

    Insightful read. It would be better that if ever you offer a free trial, you offer tutorials or demos first for familiarization purposes. It would be both easier for the SaaS provider and end user to start the transition if the end user is familiar and comfortable with using the platform. Using the free trial approach does not mean you let your end user figure things out after providing them the free trial platform, guide them all throughout the free trial period and make sure to make them comfortable using your platform.

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