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.


Online Marketing Does Not Create Demand

For a long time I have discussed and argued with key people I value highly regarding online marketing. My simple point:

Online marketing does not create demand.

If you wish to create or accelerate a market, you cannot rely on high cost marketing platforms like online marketing. You have to stick with old-time traditional sales model, throw millions (I mean  – MILLIONS) into online search and marketing activities or turn to a managed full-time freemium model. Bear in mind; I do not believe in freemium, there is no such thing as a free launch. My online freemium guru – Drew Houston, Dropbox – took the words out of my mouth in an interview with GIGAOM.COM. I quote;

Search is great for harvesting demand, not creating it

Reality is far more simple – I quote A highly trusted advisor – David Ednie (Sales Channel Europe);

Online marketing is like an eye. 5% of it is looking; 95% of it does not.

If you are a single platform – non cross-platform ISV, vendor or provider – a freemium business model will never live with your business model. A factor of success for freemium is simply cross-platform dependant. And even Dropbox dropped the online marketing act due to cost; it simply did not generate sufficient demand, for the investments made.

Designing a marketing entrance with online services (SaaS etc.) you have to carefully managed your go-2-market game plan. Look at the business model; and understand that you have to deal with numerous channels and strategies over little time to reach the long tale.

How Great Marketing Ajusts The Way of Life

Getting kids to recycle bottles, having people to use the stairs and not the escalator and making people use the recycle bins in a park are often works of habits – hard to change and people just ignore or don’t think around the environmental aspects; or even that the stairs actually are good for you. http://thefuntheory.com/ is a great place to understand how extremely great marketing becomes tangible to our daily life – and by adding experience to a work task! Look at these three examples:

Regardless of what you work with, you may consider sharing a new experience with your customer, and not just serve a simple purpose.