Effective trial experience

In cloud – trials has become the defacto way to attracting interest from your prospects. As in the former shareware days, where TuCows enabled customers to download WinZip, WinAmp and similar applications for a 30 days grace period – trials are a decent want to show case your product.

However, as you design your trial experience – stop for a second and consider the customer experience. In my 10 years of cloud – excessively I have seen one stereo type of trial experience.

  • Dozens of fields for signing up.
  • Captcha to “remove robots” (actually just to annoy you…)
  • 30 days “test period”
  • Regular scripted emails, sent by a clock.
  • Inappropriate follow up
  • Very steep entry to onboarding.

So let me explain. This is wrong. This is completely wrong. Why?

Because your product is not a stereo type product. Why? Because you told me. When I meet you as an investor, as an angel, as an advisor – you tell me how special your product is. How profound and differentiated it is. Yet – when you want to present it to the best asset (not being the moneyman) but the customer – you fall back to the dumbest idea of all.

Copying from the market leaders….

Take a step back

You need to take a step back. Validate your product and the customer experience. Those two words are more important in cloud that you every think. They are the divide between you having 2.000 free comments on a social community – “that you just experienced the best trial every, and bought the product 3 minutes later” – or you desperately call customer support – only to be put on queue.

Cost is a big thing in trial. COGS increase as you drive up capacity in the cloud. The cost shifts towards the vendor (you – my dear) so be sure to report the COGS of trials as a marketing cost. Consider the impact.

100 trials, with a compounded daily cost of $0.3 dollar is nothing. Over a month, it is easy $900 – and 10.000 is $90.000. What happens if customers open duplicated trials? What if 70% call customer support – and the $0.3 becomes $3.0? I have seen this very often – and CSVs (cloud service vendors) often explain the impact as – “cost of success”. I will let you in on a secret. It is not success.

Start from the beginning

Step 1. Leaping into your customer journey starts with R&D. Not rest and drinks – research and development. Tweak your product to be as simple as possible. As connected as possible. Without 40 different tools, portals and applications your need to master. If you can get one interface – you are top of the rock. Spotify did it by creating the sign-up experience within the application. No forms on a website. No captcha. No e-mail… 3 seconds and you listen to Bach.

Step 2. Be honest. Asses the complexity of your product. It is perfectly fair to offer trials of the next Mars Planetarium simulator – if customers would buy it. However, you need to be fair to your customers – maybe ask them how easy the application is to use.

Step 3. Customer data is king! Actually, customer data and users are king! Once you get a customer to upload data, create users – you are well underway in driving the adoption of your service. However, with data comes configuration – and adoption to that data. This often entails customizations (typically for CRM, ERP and HRM) – so understand the timeframe, cost and resources your potential customer need to use to customize the solution. The trial is likely to be used for a POC (proof of concept).

Consider the successful range in days for your customers. Trials below 5 days are good for consumers, but businesses need more.

Step 4. Connect the dots. Why offer 30 days for a very simple solution with no complexity and no customization? Any customer would asset the need of the application within 5-7 days. On the other hand, – the Mars application might need 3 months to monitor the star patterns – and without this, no value, and not value becomes no application. I have seen too often vendors lock the customers purchase timeframe to a fixed number of days. Offering trial extensions is a good approach – however nobody is making it easy due to the COGS. Why?

Step 5. Communicate by the 3C’s. Context, content and channel. Standardized emails are good. However, if you are testing an ERP application – is it financial management? Property management? Assets management? You need to tailor the experience to the expectations of your customer. If you offer a very complex product – why not add a Skype video conference call as the first page upon signing up for a trial? It will enable direct communication to your customer. Use an improved channel.

  • 7 of 10 trial emails are deleted.
  • 1 of 10 trial emails are tagged as spam.
  • 5 of 10 trial emails are revisited to login details.
  • 3 of 10 customers do not want to do it themselves.

What offer do you provide? What do your customer expect?

Use the following Boston 2-by-2 and consider your trial experience


Complexity of the solution


Drive hands-on assisted trial experience

Use dedicated resources

45-90 days, extendable

Use customer success managers

Offer hands-on assisted trial

You need to implement a nurture platform to understand who you would offer it to

30-45 days, extendable

Offer standardized trials

Use an automated approach

15-30 days

Offer self-service trials

Use an automated approach

5-15 days

Low < Volume of expected trials > high

As you design your trial experience – think about how you get the customer in and on. Do they only need to download a client, open a web application or do they need to fill in a survey. I know many would like to get quality data from the customer in the experience, however understand that customers who are looking are not keen to share their contact details. Often they use “mickey mouse” details – like Gmail or Hotmail data. Worthless anyhow – why not remove it.

It is very simple to track the user adoption. So why not ask for the details within the application and enrich your CRM or prospect database for follow-up using these. Often you will have to ask for a company, a full name – and there you go.

Last but not least. For complex scenarios, I mentioned that these trials would probably be used for some kind of POC. Yes – you do not want to offer free service to the public. Instead of making it a ridgig process – contacting a phone number, tampering data or filling a form – why no use the steps to know your customer. Extensions should be part of the journey and should connect the customer to you.

Think smart about your trial experience. A/B testing is the secret to success. And remember – simplicity is king so adjust.

UPDATE: Please see the article on tools to help setup your structure around trial management.


Human Success Management

We all know working with customers is crucial for our success as a business. They are a top priority – and need care. In the world of cloud, as you move your business model to a recurrent revenue business model, license & sales income turn to subscription revenue, and over the years – many of the top vendors and innovators in the cloud industry have formed the role as a Customer Success Manager (CSM). The CSM acts as a lifetime account manager, who’s purpose is to regularly touch base with the customer; understand the current business environment – and understand what opportunities present in the usage of your services within the client. Often measured on account growth, support the top accounts to become better advocates & references, account retention and reduction of churn.

A role I highly encourage any company to think about. If you are a business leader today, and do not think about the experience you deliver for your customers. Rethink.

But I want to take a step back, as I said customers are “a top priority”. There is another much more important priority.

As you move forward with your lifecycle management strategy; aligning customers to the experience of working with your company – one element becomes a critical factor. Motivated staff. I too often see high scale VPs or CEOs who target the “old school” of people management, and our HR departments today have become “hidden resources” or “human resistance”. Recruitment, motivation and talent development is outsourced to the “expert” and HR has become a cleaning agency for the remaining tasks. You need to rethink.

As your customers meet your employees – demotivated, without purpose and a sight to their carrier progression – the same employees you try to align to your new “customer experience economy” will service. And trust me;

People deal with people

This is why I want to encourage you to rebrand your HR – insource your capabilities and look to implement the Human Success Manager (HSM) role. The HSM acts the same way as the CSM, but targeting your internal organization. Measured on employee growth, support the top performers to become better advocates & references, talent retention and reduction of churn in staff. Rethink the old skip-level engagement system; your weekly 1:1 which turn into coffee updates on the football match. Your teams of HSMs would have a target to grow talent, retain the motivation and move your people to the next stage.

Think about what would happen if you develop your employees and they leave for a better carrier; branding your company as a strong and great place to work. And then consider the opposite. You do not development and they stay.

Your creditors are your biggest responsibility. Your investors are your biggest concern. Shareholder value is your biggest focus. Your employees are your best asset.

Cloud – understand your perspective

It has been 13 years since I heard the cloud term the first time. 10 years since I saw the first real cloud business model evolve. You would have to expect cloud was a defacto in the IT industry.

However, in working with various people in my line of work, I still face a lot of people who believe cloud “is just a delivery model”. I understand their reasons for this view – but I am surprised on the lack of insight to the financial elements of the cloud business models.

The cloud is a business model. Period.

Why? Because the distribution channel, the financial model and the supply chain changes rapidly. Above all – the organization changes. Existing vendors, practices and partners often hand on to the old form of IT distribution models. Moving your practice to a customer experience economy is though. It requires significant investments, and a new organization.

To understand that the cloud is, I would urge that you look at the following perspective:

  • C. Customer. Everything in cloud is about the customer, and the customer experience. For any process, design, product, offering, role, person, investment – consider where the customer interface exist. Cloud is not a delivery model.
  • L. Learn. Legacy. It is easy to built a new cloud business. You start from a clean slate – and you do not have to change any organization, change culture and adopt to the required innovation. Yet – 80% of the IT market is still established companies. Your second task as moving to the cloud, is to “re-learn” and “re-educate” yourself on the organization, on your customer base and channel partners and vendors. My recommendation; interview them. It is a great experience to meet clients and explain you wish to learn from them on how you can improve.
  • O. Opportunity. Organization. when I consult business’ on the cloud opportunity, and follow them over years, one thing always happen. A small spike of light turn into a fire. Once people open the chapter of the cloud book, the organization change and start to form differently. People automatically start innovating the offerings, products and processes. The cloud is about the opportunity, organization and innovation. As a leader you will need to instill this behavior in the culture and the DNA.
  • U. Understand. Uniform. Understand the gaps, issues, constraints and problems that pop up. Anything that presents itself as a problem can be turned into an opportunity. Trust me. If anything seems difficult – consider how you differentiate against your industry peers.
  • D. Delivery. Yes. Cloud is a different delivery model. Very different. However as you start your cloud journey, do not start with the delivery model. You need to align the customer into the context, and you need to learn the difference about the delivery model in the cloud space. Driving public or private cloud offerings, you still need to supply billing, support, transaction, deployment and adoption services. The experience of any customer in these 5 areas is crucial. Consider wisely what should be self service capabilities, what should be high touch people handled – or what gaps you have in your existing organization or business process map. Customers will pick up on this, if not optimal.

In summary – cloud begins with the customer and ends with the delivery model. I hope this serve to your inspiration how to get going.