Should Your Business Offer a Free Trial
A free trial of your product or service can be a win-win for both your company and your potential customers. You get a chance to show them what your product or service can do, and they get to try before they buy without any risk.
A trial greatly increases your base of potential customers—after all, if there’s no risk, there’s no reason not to take your product for a spin. But like anything else, offering a free trial has its pros and cons. Here’s a breakdown of how trials work, as well as some of the benefits and risks, to help you decide whether a trial is right for your company.
Free Trial Models
Free trials are typically structured in one of two ways: limited-time or limited-capability. In a limited-time trial, you offer the full product or service to a trialer but for a short period of time, such as two weeks or thirty days. In a limited-capability trial, you restrict the amount of functionality and features accessible to the trialer, in the hopes that what it does offer will get them hooked and willing to upgrade to the full product.
Some factors to take into consideration when deciding which free trial model to use:
- How long will it take for the consumer to see all the benefits of your product?
- Are the basic features of your product enough for a consumer to know whether or not it works for them?
- How long can you financially support a free trial?
- What effect will trial length have on your sale cycle, i.e., how long will you have to wait for trialers to buy?
1. Pro: A Great Product Sells Itself
A great product is the best marketing tool. If your product is fantastic, consumers will see that during a free trial. Once they have come to rely on your product or service, they won’t want to give it up—they’ll convert from trialers to paying customers. And customers who love your product will tell others about both your product and the trial, resulting in positive word-of-mouth recommendations and more trial sign-ups.
Free trials can also give you an edge over the competition. If offering a free trial is common or even standard in your industry, consumers will likely expect to be able to test-drive your product, and not offering one may hurt you. But if free trials aren’t standard, just offering one can set you apart from competitors as well as showcasing your product’s features.
2. Con: Money and Time Costs
Offering your product for free, even for a short time or in a limited version, obviously has monetary costs. But a free trial also takes careful preparation—deciding the length of the trial or identifying the features included, creating an effective and intuitive sign-up process, marketing the trial—all of which require investments of time and money. Consumers need guidance through the sign-up process, feature testing, and the onboarding process when they do convert.
Carefully consider all the associated costs, whether the potential benefits outweigh those costs, and if so, how long a trial you can reasonably provide.
3. Pro: Free Trialers Invest Time in Your Product
A free trial might not cost customers money, but they are investing time in your product. If setting up the free trial account requires a little time on the part of the trialer (as long as it’s not too much time or too complicated a set-up) they are more likely to stick with it after the trial ends. Not only will they see how your product benefits them, they will have already put time into inputting data, adding clients or friends, uploading images—effort they won’t want to duplicate elsewhere.
4. Con: There’s No Guarantee That Trialers Will Use the Product
How often have you signed up for a free trial but never used the product or service before the trial ran out? Busy, unpredictable life can get in the way of trialers spending time getting to know your product, despite their obvious interest.
Make it as easy and immediate as possible for trialers to see how your product will benefit them. Provide step-by-step copy and/or video tutorials to simplify navigation through the trial and prompt trialers to test out various features. Offer tips and tricks in emails or in your website, or consultation with customer service online or over the phone.
Be clear as to when the trial period will end, and let trialers know ahead of time that their trial is soon coming to a close. After a trial is over, follow up with trialers to give them a friendly reminder about your product, offer them an incentive to buy, or update them on new features.
5. Pro: Opportunity to Collect Feedback
Check in with trialers during and after the trial to get their feedback. This can be a valuable resource for continuing to develop your offering. Even trialers who don’t make the leap to paying customers may be able to provide you with insights into your product and its effectiveness.
6. Con: People Who Cheat the System Using The Free Trial Offer
It’s possible—even likely—that some consumers will take advantage of your free trial with no real consideration of buying, or will sign up multiple times with different information. Some companies even use competitors’ free trials to get the inside scoop on their products. When deciding whether to offer a trial, consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks of repeat trials or competitor snooping.
7. Pro: Chance to Offer Incentives After The Free Trial Offer is Accepted
Once you have an interested consumer signed up for a trial, you can offer incentives such as discounts for taking the plunge—making it even more tempting. A referral discount is another good bet: it will help woo the current trialer to buy as well as send another one your way.
What You Can Do Right Now
Ready to give a free trial a go? Here’s how you can get started.
- Decide whether a limited-time or limited-capability model will work best for your product and your company’s finances.
- If using a limited-time trial, decide the length of the trial period. In a limited-capability trial, identify the features you will make accessible during the trial and which you will hold back.
- Map out your trial’s structure (How will you guide trialers through your product? How will you lead them to buy?) and the post-trial onboarding process.
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