Why Product Demo and Free Trial Work in B2B Sales and How to Make Them More Effective

Product demos and trials have slowly become integral part of B2B solution selling – especially due to the popularity of Cloud and SaaS (Software as a Service) models. The buyers want to touch and feel the product, try it for a while before making the purchasing decision.


Photo Courtesy: FreeImages.com/Roberto Burgos S.

In this blog, I shall discuss how psychology can explain why and how demos and trials work. Also, I’d present how to make them way more effective by making small adjustments – keeping the same psychological behaviors in view.

Magical power of Touch

Consumer researchers Joann Peck and Suzanne B. Shu established that for a prospective buyer, merely touching an object results in an increase of perceived ownership of the object. The effect is seen even with an imagery encouraging touch. The valuation of the object in the minds of the buyer also increases as she touches the object.

To test this idea, participants playing the role of potential buyers were shown 2 products: a coffee mug and a Slinky toy. Half of the participants were instructed to touch and feel the products and the other half explicitly asked not to touch them. The group that were able to touch the products showed much higher positive emotional reaction to those products – typically 3 times more than the ones who were explicitly asked not to have any tactile contact with the products!

So, as a seller, you need to make the buyer touch and feel your product as much intimately as possible to lead him towards buying the product. Now you know why supermarkets and bookstores allow you to hold their fares closely in their display isles and why the soft toy packaging has a strategic opening through which your kid can touch the furry belly of the toy.

How can you use this magical power of touch when you are in the business of non-tangible goods and services? The answer lies in giving a product demo and making it as interactive as possible – so as to simulate the deeper imagery of touch and feel.

Based on the Peck and Shu’s research, I’d suggest the following best practices as a sales person while showing the product demo:

  1. Personalize the demo by entering/ preconfiguring the name and organization of the prospective buyer, use their brand colors and logos and anything that she strongly associates with.
  2. Let the client type and press the buttons of your user interface on their laptop or mobile device. This is as close as she can get to the product. You could instruct, but let the buyer drive the demo.
  3. During the demo, you should focus on the customer by understanding her needs and pain points – rather than focusing on the product. This will help the customer feel more ownership towards the product. Software products are usually complex and full of features to cover for all possible scenarios. Your job as the sales person is to make the client touch the right part of the product.
  4. A demo should start with one of the specific problems or challenges the prospect said she is having. You should start like, “During our previous meeting, you stated you didn’t see much advertising revenue coming from your digital media assets. In this part of the demo I’ll show you how you would be able to monetize your digital assets through clever ad placements.” By doing this you can touch the actual need of the prospect immediately.

Principle of Reciprocity

Now let’s examine the psychology behind the free trials and how they seem to boost sales. A couple of very striking phenomena are in work here: 1) The Principle of Reciprocity and 2) Irrational power of Free.

The retailers like Costco have figured out the effectiveness of doling out free samples. Samples have boosted sales in some cases by as much as 2,000 percent. Free sample can even bring behavioral change by swaying people to buy things impulsively.

Free samples help consumers learn more about products and the increased “touch” during sampling enhances their “perceived ownership”. They also operate at a more subconscious level. Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University and a popular TED talker researches and talks about this topic. If somebody does something for you — such as giving you a shot of mojito or a sheet of color sticker for free — you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them. This is Principle of Reciprocity for you!

The irrational power of “free” is another behavioral trait that Dan Ariely explains in his book called Predictably Irrational. With the opportunity to receive something for free, the actual value of the product or service is no longer considered. Ariely claims, “Most transactions have an upside and a downside, but when something is FREE! we forget the downside. FREE! gives us such an emotional charge that we perceive what is being offered as immensely more valuable than it really is.”

In one of his experiments, people were given the option to choose between two offers: One was a $10 Amazon gift certificate for free, the other was a $20 gift card available for $7. More people chose the $10 gift card even though the other option provided more value.

So, it’s not surprising that most of the software products now-a-days come with a free trial period for full-featured product, freemium schemes, free base slab with limited features etc.

Here are some recommendations on how to manage your free trials based on the principles described above:

  1. Offer a no-string-attached free trial. Simple T&C, no credit card, no questionnaires to fill in. You need to trust the prospective customer and wow her and then expect the principle of reciprocity to kick in. If you make your customer worry about her credit card getting charged at the end of the trial period, her focus will be on that and not on the product in trial.
  1. Highlight the word: FREE in all the ways possible. “Free unlimited video views for 30 days” is much attractive proposition than “50% discount of your monthly rental for first 6 months” – even though the later was more profitable for the customer.
  1. If you are launching a new product – for which there are other similar products – you should consider time-locked free trial to bridge the gap between consumer’s prior belief and the true functionality of your software. On the other hand, if your product is a new innovation, it’s prudent to offer a limited version free trial for perpetuity to exploit the network effect. This is explained more in this paper by Hsing Kenneth Cheng and Yipeng Liu.
  1. For a time-locked free trial, create the sense of urgency. Say trial end in 29 days (or may be in 696 hrs!)! But also be willing to make concessions. If there a technical issue that prevented the customer from using the product for the full period, give them extra time and assistance.
  1. Engage with the users actively during the free trial. If a consumer gets something for free but doesn’t actually use it, then you are wasting your time and efforts. Offer support often, and let customers know how to get help if they need it. In general, just stay in touch.
  1. Finally, the Free trial is not only for the low value SaaS customers who are availing your service from the internet. This is equally applicable also for large value enterprise sales with software licenses costing 100’s of 1000 US dollars. The same consumer psychology work in both the cases.

In modern B2B sales scenario, Demos and Free trials should be used as an effective sales tool – and not just as a necessary evil. The return on investment on these efforts could be significantly BIG depending on the strategy that you adopt and small tweaks you apply on your approach.


This article was written by Adrish Bera from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Adrish Bera
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Adrish Bera

Adrish Bera is the CEO and a co-founder of Apptarix. Adrish is an industry veteran with 20 years of experience in mobile software and telecom industry doing end-to-end product management, product development and Software engineering. He is also a technology blogger with broad interests in Smartphones, emerging market, social media and digital advertisement.
Adrish Bera
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