SaaS Trial Conversion Playbook

Author Avatar Oliver Bridge wrote this on Apr 27, 2021

 

Free trials have become pretty much standard in the SaaS industry.

Giving your prospects a chance to get some firsthand experience with your product is an honest and effective way to help them gauge whether it can help them solve their problems.

But converting those free trials is a different beast altogether. If you’re getting website visitors, email subscribers, and scheduled demos but you have low trial conversion rates—it might be time to think about the things you can do to improve the trial experience for your customers.

So, how do you provide enough value in a short time span so that your customers decide that paying for your service is worth it? And how do you do this at consistently high rates?

We’ve looked through the SaaS landscape and find some interesting ways in which businesses set themselves up to get more trial conversions. We’ve covered some of these techniques and complemented them with an example from a brand that’s doing it right.

Let’s dive deep into the logic behind free trials and explore some of the best practices in the industry!

 

Types of SaaS free trials

Most major SaaS players offer a free trial or even a full-blown “freemium” model where you can use their product for an unlimited period but with significant limitations when it comes to features. 

Source: Beamer

At their core, free trials can be split into two categories:

  • Opt-in trials: this type of trial gives the customers a chance to use the product for a limited time. After the trial period is over, the customers are offered a chance to sign up by entering their credit card details, or to “opt in” for the service.
  • Opt-out: you can ask your customers for credit card details right away, before they sign up for the free trial. While this might generate more sales (in the sense that people already left their CC details and are more likely to keep on using the product), it might deter prospects from signing up for a free trial in the first place.

Freemiums are slightly different because they place no limit on trial period end. They’re what we call a “product-lead” strategy, where you’re confident that the product itself will be efficient enough in promoting conversions. It’s opposed to the “sales-lead” strategy when you rely on bottom-of-the funnel content, ads, and other means of promotion to get you more signups.

Which one should you go for: opt-in, opt-out, or freemium?

We would discourage opt-out trials because a lot of the sales you end up getting with this method are not based on perceived value but rather on a “gotcha” moment of getting one’s credit card details ahead of time.

Whether you choose to go for a freemium or an opt-in model will largely depend on who your users are and how expensive your product is. Generally, more expensive products are better off with opt-in trials.

 

What is a good trial conversion rate?

We’ve spent all this time talking about conversion rates but do we know what constitutes a good conversion rate across the SaaS industry?

We can consult several resources to try and reach a magic number that would help us get the answer to this question.

Some Quora experts advise marketers to aim for the 5-10% range, with 7% being considered “strong”.

Lincoln Murphy puts this number at 3% for SaaS companies and B2B websites.

This article from TechCrunch considered a lot of industry-leading SaaS companies and found that their conversion rates fall between 1 and 10%.

Although it’s hard to reach a definitive answer and your conversion rates will depend on your product and business model to a great extent, it’s safe to say that anything over 5% is nothing to scoff at.

If you reach double digits, you should know you’re doing something right.

 

1. Content tactics: providing value during the trial

The first thing you should start doing to lay down a good base and get the most out of your free trials is to provide your users with a steady stream of quality content.

And, not just any content—the kind of content that makes it easier for them to use your product during the free trials. Tips, tricks, unique features, and use cases can all be great ways to keep challenging your customers to make the most out of their free trial.

This does two things:

  • It helps customers discover features and workflows;
  • It shows them that you’re a customer-centric business focused on creating value.

Let’s get into some ways to provide value during the trial.

 

Blog content and newsletters

By this point, you should be using SEO anyway. If you’re not—you’re missing out on some serious leads.

Only 1% of searchers click on one of the results found on the second page of a Google search. Getting to that first page is a crucial tactic that can help you reach prospects at the exact time they’re looking for a solution.

Let’s assume you already know this and you’re employing a good SEO strategy.

Source: Dribble

Here’s a tip to bring that strategy to a new level: don’t create content only for the prospects that are in the Awareness stage. Don’t just write articles with the goal of attracting visits and getting new users. You can use your articles to consistently provide value to your customers and trialists alike.

Expandi: providing consistent value through articles

A good example of this is Expandi—a LinkedIn automation tool, self-branded as the safest one out there. You can use this tool to automate your outreach efforts and reach new prospects with highly personalized, human-like messages.

What they do on their blog is create content that reports (in great detail) on their own prospecting efforts using their tool. So, they use their tool to get leads, go into detail about routines, messages, lead hunting—and outline these campaigns on their blog.

Source: Expandi

If you were an active user of the platform, you would find great value in these articles and you’d leave each one with an idea you can implement to your own LinkedIn outreach right away.

If you were a trialist, you’d get a sense of all the things you could do if you had more time, features, resources, etc.—all of which come with the paid plan.

What did this approach do for Expandi?

First of all, they got to $4M ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue) in just 14 months. They’ve also built a great community around their product, constantly sharing tips, suggesting improvements, and participating in discussions.

And they still use the same approach: do LinkedIn outreach with Expandi and cover all the techniques and tricks with in-depth blog posts. It helps them get 15.000 visitors per week!

You can do the same with a similar blog section for your brand. You can even send these articles (along with general tips on how to best use your tool) to your trialists on a regular schedule. That way, you make sure they’re making the most out of the product and not just browsing around, not realizing its full potential.

 

Tutorials and education

Another way to provide value to your trialists is through elaborate tutorial, demo, and FAQ sections on your website or other channels.

Product complexity is something that can often turn off people from using SaaS products, and a tutorial section is just what you need to make sure your users and trialists don’t have unanswered questions.

These sections allow you to go deeper into specific features and functions to help your trialists get to the most advanced stuff you offer.

Ontraport: a comprehensive “Resources” section

Here is how Ontraport, a sales and marketing solution for businesses organized their “Resources” section:

You have their blog, guides, step-by-step templates, and even a podcast with their CEO to help you learn not only about their platform but about starting and growing your business. On the right, you have a whole set of resources specifically related to the platform: setup wizards, FAQs, feature use cases, etc.

There is also the ROI calculator that can show you the return you can expect if you invest in their software.

If you create such a useful website section with this many resources, you can bet your trialists will keep finding value in your product.

 

Personalized onboarding videos

Using personalized video is a great way to build more significant customer relationships.

Nowhere is that more important than during the trial phase—that’s the first interaction your customers have with your brand and they need to instantly realize what kind of business they’re dealing with. They need to know that you’re the kind of company that puts customers first and focuses on creating real connections.

Welcoming your trialists and giving them a few pointers on where to find useful resources can be a great technique to build a solid relationship right from the start. You show your face, greet the customer, and make them feel like their attention and trust are important to you.

Several of our clients have found this approach effective as well.

For example, a fitness membership program—LUXE Fitness—increased their trial conversion rates by 29% in only one month. They did this by sending their trialists personal videos like this one:

Bonjoro: Onboarding trialists with personalized video

Here at Bonjoro we also onboard every new signup with a personalized onboarding video.

We do this by setting up a trigger between Intercom and our own tool Bonjoro to create a task for each customer that signs up for a free trial.

We then work from our tasklist in Bonjoro, recording videos on the fly from the Bonjoro web browser or mobile app. Using custom attributes in Bonjoro (pulled over from Intercom), we can see exactly how that user is doing with our product, and create a truly personalised video that outlines their next steps perfectly.

Bonjoro integrates with tons of SaaS marketing and CS tools like Intercom and ActiveCampaign, so you can send videos at the right moment in your user's journey.

The aim of our approach here is threefold:

1. Show that we care about new users, and want to help them truly succeed with our product.

2. Increase # of trials who get massive value from the product and upgrade to a paid plan.

3. Decrease the # of new paid customers who churn due to lack of success in the first few months.

We use two different CTAs in our videos dependent on if the lead is a marketing qualified lead (MQL), or non-qualified.

  1. For MQLs we invite them to a 1:1 product walkthrough, where we get the chance to properly show them around Bonjoro, and ensure they are set up to succeed. We link the CTA to our sales teams’ Calendly where a round robin rule assigns the meeting to the right person in the team.
  2. For non-qualified leads we send them a personal welcome video, but linking to a “Getting Started” resource that tells them all the steps they need to take to get success with their trial.

The two-pronged approach here helps us focus our conversion efforts where it counts, but make sure that other possible conversions don’t fall through the cracks. They still get the whole surprise and delight thing from our video, and feel truly taken care of.

BONUS TIP

But that’s not it. We do one more thing with personalised videos.

We send a personalized video to anyone that adds their credit card, but hasn’t yet had a call with one of the team.

So, imagine one of our non-qualified leads above actually enters their card and pays, we fire a new task in Bonjoro to send them an invite to a 1:1 call. 

Remember that call is all about activation and making sure they are set up to succeed. We don’t want them churning down the line.

But again, that’s not the end of the story. We have another trick up our sleeves. 

Not everyone is comfortable getting on a 1:1 call, so for every new MQL, or user that adds a credit card, we give them a fallback option to booking a call. We tell them that if they don’t want a call we will happily record a personalized walkthrough that they can watch in their own time. Zoom in on the image above and you will see the fallback option.

So many people take us up on this, and it lets us give them that full 1:1 experience but in an easy asynchronous way that suits them.

If you have a free trial for your SaaS, try some of these tactics. They worked for our other SaaS customers like YourVone who increased by MRR from $20k to $50k in just a few months, or CXL who increased trial conversions by 18%.

As for us, here’s what our process shared above achieves (measured in a 3 month split-test):

  • Increased our trial conversion rates by 32.7%,
  • Improved our upgrade rate by 307%, and
  • Reduced churn by 37%.

Not too shabby, right? Increased conversions, and stronger relationships with our customers.

Give it a try yourself - I can guarantee you will see the benefits! Not only will higher conversion rates bring you commercial success: they will also pick your whole team up and contribute to a contagious positive atmosphere!

 

Video tutorials

Another type of video you can create to provide value is a tutorial video.

We already touched on tutorials as a great format to keep the trialists engaged but videos can give you a more personal touch and more direct contact with the customer. In other words, you can send your trialists personalized tutorial videos that help them both discover new features and get to know you at the same time.

And, while a well-written tutorial section on your website is a great thing to have, videos can provide that personal touch that people love to see.

Asana: tutorial with screen recording

Here is an example of a good tutorial from Asana.

As you can see, the video uses a mixture of screen recording and a personal touch from the tutor to deliver an immersive presentation on how to execute a set of simple tasks in their platform.

Now, imagine if the tutor started the video with each customer’s name. Imagine how the customer in question would feel valued and cared for.

That’s something that we believe should be the ultimate goal for SaaS business owners and marketing teams.

It doesn’t need to get much more complicated than this—you don’t need expensive production equipment or camera crews. All you need is a smartphone and a dedication to making each customer feel special. These videos show you value each customer interaction and, more importantly, they get results.

 

2. Trial stage best practices

Now that we’ve covered some content strategies to keep the prospects engaged and informed during the trial stage, let’s branch out to some other things.

Let’s see what else can have a deep impact on your trial conversion rates: from design to commercial moves. Some of these are “tricks” or initiatives that you can implement almost immediately, some may take some time to change.

 

Good UI

UI falls into the second category—it’s not that easy to do an overhaul of your software from a design standpoint. But, you might need to do it anyway.

Even if your UI was top-of-the-industry at the time of creation, this is a field that’s always evolving. Your solution might have fallen behind and you could be in need of some overhauling. Why do you think Facebook has a redesign almost every year?

Make sure your interface is intuitive and easy to use. The most important features should be easy to find, which is especially important in the trial stage, where the user is discovering them.

MailChimp: Making difficult things easy

In the SaaS sphere, product owners can often get lost in their own tool and overwhelm their users with all the features right from the start. You need to prioritize your features and use cases to make sure they’re clear enough for someone who doesn’t have the first clue about your product.

MailChimp did a great job of avoiding this and making something that might seem difficult—creating a newsletter from scratch—as easy as possible. You simply drag and drop elements, edit values, and customize everything with zero design or coding knowledge.

Source: Chamaileon

Plus, it’s almost impossible to get lost anywhere, as you’ll always get tips, hints, and descriptions about what you can do with the element you’re working with. There are placeholders everywhere and it’s pretty clear which values you need to edit to get what you want.

MailChimp is a perfect example of a user-friendly interface that simplifies even the most complicated things.

 

Demonstrate value

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your free trial is giving your prospects a sandbox to play in.

In other words, don’t just give them a free run of your product with no structure. Point them to the most valuable features that will—depending on their needs and use case—demonstrate just how much value they can get with your product.

That way, you can make sure that they aren’t wasting time during the trial and missing out on some important things.

Slack: In-app guides

It’s a good idea to have little pop-ups and notifications that guide the trialists through their experience and highlight important workflows. That’s what Slack does:

Source: Capterra

With these tooltips, Slack explains their platform and shows you where you can find different features, options, and how you can take certain actions. And, if this isn’t enough, you have the slackbot: a chatbot that can answer most of your questions when it comes to finding and using some of the basic options the app offers.

With these, Slack made sure that their trialists aren’t missing out on some big USPs.

 

Limit the experience

You can spark your prospects’ imagination by limiting certain features in the free trial and making them wonder “what could I do if I had that feature?” at several points during the process. 

You can place limits on many things: the capacity (e.g., how many contacts they can store), features (e.g., what features are available), output (e.g., placing watermarks on images), and others.

The only thing you need to be careful of is striking a balance: you want to limit your offer enough but not so much that the prospect becomes frustrated because they can’t take some basic actions.

Canva: Pay for the really good stuff

Canva strikes this balance perfectly.

You can absolutely use Canva for free—a lot of people do. You have thousands of free Instagram Story templates, CVs, illustrations, shapes, and other graphic elements that look fine.

But, if you want to use the really good stuff: specific images and premium illustrations, you have to upgrade. So, for example, you’ll find that Canva has thousands of free stock photos that look really good. But if you want to find a specific photo like, say, a woman using a laptop, you’ll get only premium results in your search query.

You’ll also get a CTA right at the top of your search results to upgrade to Pro and unlock these images.

So, if you’re a long-time Canva customer and you find the platform useful, you might feel inclined to upgrade and make the most out of these premium features that make designing in Canva much easier and your end product look better.

 

Make your CTAs prominent

This might seem obvious but try to make it clear where the customer needs to go if they want to upgrade to the paid plans.

You want your CTA buttons to be prominently displayed (different color, large font) and stand out from the rest of the design.

You can also do this through periodical pop-ups: ask your customers to upgrade every time they open the app during the trial or when they’ve been using the tool for some time in one sitting. It might seem pushy or aggressive but it’s better than missing out on the opportunity to convert because a willing customer didn’t know where to go.

Dropbox: Pop-ups at the right time

Dropbox has these cute pop-ups that show up at the right time and ask you to upgrade to one of their paid plans:

Source: Process

As you can see, the CTAs are prominent and it’s noticeable which CTA is the primary one. What’s even more important, they personalize their CTAs using customers’ names to make them resonate better.

In this case, the pop-ups showed up when the user logged in to the app for the first time after a while so we can assume that the goal here is to re-ignite the user’s interest in Dropbox and show them all the things it can do.

 

Stay in touch

At different times during the trial period, you can contact the prospect to check if they have any questions or first impressions that could help you improve. Not only will this help you actually solve a potential problem they have, but it will show them that they’re dealing with someone who cares about their experience.

You can do this through email, live chat, or even personalized video. You might be able to make them realize how useful your platform is or, at the very least, you’ll show them that you’re someone they can rely on for answers.

CloudApp: Responding to user behavior

Here is a great example that shows how you can use customer actions during the trial to inform them on all the things they could do if only they had one of your paid plans.

In this case, CloudApp uses the fact that a customer made 12 drops and mentions that right in the opening line. They go on to introduce a feature available in one of the paid plans and give two clear CTAs that both lead to their pricing page where you can upgrade.

Source: Customer.io

 

Give a yearly discount

To encourage trial conversions, you can do something that a lot of SaaS companies are doing: give significant discounts for yearly subscriptions. If they’re on the edge about making a purchase, that discount might be just what they need to help them decide.

It might seem like you’re missing out on potential profits but just think about the effect this can have on your conversions. Plus, with a yearly subscription, you’re getting a steady stream of revenue and creating a bond with a long-term customer.

Zoom: Illustrating the difference

But, it’s not only about giving a yearly discount: it’s about making that discount clear and letting the users know just how much they can save.

Take a look at how Zoom does it:

Source: Zoom

Not only do you have a sticker highlighting exactly how much money you can save (with the Business plan, it’s a lot) but you also have a special offer at the top. The special offer, again, prioritizes the annual Pro plan and gives a 25% discount which isn’t at all negligible.

Show your trialists how much money they can save with annual plans and try to make it clear that they’re making the right choice.

 

Final word on SaaS trials - at least try this

Converting your trials might happen during the last stage of the funnel but it’s a crucial step that should have a special place in your marketing strategy.

If you were to take anything away from what you’ve just read, it would be this: provide value during the trial stage and make sure your trialists are using your product the right way.

The techniques you use to achieve this can vary—and we’ve covered a lot of them here. Whether you need to ensure your UI is up to par, send tutorials via email, use in-app notifications, or send personalized videos, you want to make sure your users are making the most out of your product and seeing value where it needs to be seen.

When it comes to the technique we’ve had a lot of success with—personalized video—you can count on us to help.

Register for Bonjoro, give personal videos a try, and start converting trials like never before!

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