How to Create a World-Class Free Trial Experience

Ward Andrews
By Ward Andrews
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Do you have a Free Trial experience that isn't converting users to paid customers?

Did your established legacy product never need a Free Trial experience until now?

If you’re looking to create a best-in-class Free Trial experience, it can be difficult to know where to start. While there are many layers to any user experience, Free Trials are particularly complex. They have to represent the full product within a tight timeframe and space.

We've had a lot of opportunities to help clients create or fix their Free Trial strategy. It doesn't always take a complete overhaul to see real results. We helped one recent client get eight times more users to sign up for their Free Trial with a few simple fixes.

A strong Free Trial experience can have serious repercussions for your business. That same client also saw a 40% increase in sales as those Free Trial users converted to paying customers.

It all comes down to taking the time to understand what users expect from a Free Trial. Then you can pave the path they'll follow from trial to sale.

Here are some of the things we've learned about creating world-class Free Trial experiences.

Free Trials Are All About User Flows

The first step in creating a successful Free Trial experience is to reduce complexity and confusion.

Product development is like the early stages of baking bread. After you combine the initial ingredients and let the dough rise, you have to press and stretch it back down again.

Why? Because if the dough rises to more than double its size, the gluten won't hold the structure needed for the final loaf. Sound familiar?

Too many products inflate way too big and never get deflated back down to a reasonable size. The result is often a densely packed user experience that’s hard to consume.

Think of your Free Trial experience as a compressed version of your product. If your product is overblown, then your Free Trial likely will be too.

Ideally, you’re in a position to address the bloated parts of your core product at the same time that you’re building or fixing your Free Trial. The problems in one will always impact the other.

But even if you can’t touch the core product, it’s imperative that you remove any confusion in your Free Trial. That’s why we start by reviewing and mapping out the existing experience from beginning to end.

When we map it out with clients, we often find that users are being pushed through as many as 20 unique steps or stages. Many of those steps loop back on themselves in ways that feel jarring, disjointed, and nonsensical.

Free Trial experiences get jammed with too many screens, too much information, and too many touch points. The longer your Free Trial experience sits there, the more it expands.

Sometimes you need to massage it back down to a reasonable level. Sometimes you need to get more aggressive and cut out entire pieces that no longer work. But you can’t do either of those if you don’t know what’s already there.

With the entire Free Trial experience mapped out, you’ll get a clear understanding of the big picture. You can pick apart the nuances between user and business needs. You can see all the entry points in the user flow, and identify what information users need and when they need it. And you’ll see where your Free Trial experience doubles back on itself and makes no sense.

We know that good user experience is central to product-led growth and the Free Trial experience is the tip of that spear. Folks won't buy your product if they can't experience it first.

A clear and accurate user flow gives you the roadmap you need for all the work to follow. It's the foundational element to any high-converting SaaS Free Trial experience.

Tips for reducing complexity in your Free Trial user flow:

  • Map out your Free Trial user flow. Look for every possible opportunity to cut out the fluff. Remove redundant or unnecessary steps and simplify as much as possible.

  • Tag (positive and negative) user emotions. Find the highs and lows so you can identify gaps in the experience that need urgent attention.

  • Focus on what the user needs to know, see, feel and do. How can you help the user feel most comfortable on their path to becoming a customer?

  • Identify all the possible entry points. Discuss what the user needs to know before entering the Free Trial flow so they're ready to dive in.

  • Document your discoveries. Use the user flow and journey map as the roadmap for future work. Share them across teams and ensure everybody understands the experience.

Structure Your Free Trial Around the Core User Value

The whole purpose of a Free Trial is to help the user feel the benefits they'll receive if they buy your product. This doesn't mean running through a list of features or fancy gadgets and widgets.

We’re big fans of the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) approach. If your product is robust enough to justify a Free Trial, then there's a core job users are looking to do with it.

You need to understand what that job is. Buyers and users are often not the same person for enterprise-level products. You need to know what each of them are looking to "hire" your product to do for them.

Think of your Free Trial as an extended job interview. It’s your opportunity to show (not tell) both buyers and end users what you can do. They need to feel that they can trust your product to solve their problems.

If there’s one thing you take away from this blog post, it needs to be this:

Too many companies think about their Free Trial experience as a way to show off fancy features. What makes a Free Trial experience successful at the end of the day is its ability to convert users into paying customers. The key to that is knowing their core needs and problems.

World-class Free Trial experiences leave no doubt that the product will help solve a user's problem. They make a user feel like they couldn't imagine living without your product.

Tips for demonstrating true user value through your Free Trial:

  • Research and create accurate user and buyer personas. Don't settle for demographics. Identify core needs and jobs-to-be-done and separate them by persona.

  • Identify the "happy path" for users. Find the path of least resistance that will help them feel the core value they'll get from your product.

  • Embed user needs into your team conversations. Keep your focus on what's good for the user even as you consider what's best for the business.

  • Talk about benefits first. Focus on the problems that you're solving for users and highlight features as a way to get there.

  • Guide users through the product. Don’t dump them into the product, but guide and educate and give them quick and easy access to support resources.

Communicate Clearly Throughout Your Free Trial

How can a Free Trial user become a paid customer if they don't know how to buy your product?

We’ve seen plenty of solid Free Trial experiences fumble the ball at the goal line with a scattered and confusing pricing page. More times than not, this is part of a larger pattern. Disjointed communication can undermine even the best Free Trial experience.

This is where continuity and collaboration within your organization pays off. Your marketing and product teams need to be working together to connect the dots for users. Too often, one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. The result is confusion and suppressed conversion rates.

You need one person or team keeping track of the 50,000-foot view to make sure the full experience makes sense. And you need to document it all so the experience remains consistent even as your team changes over time.

How you communicate to the user through the Free Trial experience will tell them a lot about how you’ll communicate with them as a customer. They’re evaluating not just the product but also your customer service.

Internal communication struggles almost always translate to poor user experience and customer communications. It’s imperative that your teams have a coordinated approach to helping users through the journey.

This means balancing sales and marketing messages with education and support. If you know where they run into the most trouble, you can plan for how to support them before they get stuck. That type of anticipation and execution leaves a meaningful impression with users. And it's more likely to convert them to customers.

Tips to help you communicate better with users:

  • Simplify your marketing pages. From the moment users hit your site they need to feel the value your product could deliver to them. Then they need a clear path to create an account and start the Free Trial. Keep it simple.

  • Think about helping more than selling. Free Trial communications (whether online or through sales calls) need to highlight specific features tailored to each user’s needs. Help them see how the product can help them rather than pressure them to buy.

  • Build helpful tools and guides. Show users how to explore the product and give them helpful resources so they know you'll have their back if they become customers.

  • Make it easy to buy. This seems obvious, but it gets overlooked a lot. Users need an ever-present (but not overbearing) way to buy when they're ready. They need to feel empowered to take action with an easy and simple process.

  • Show off your product with compelling visuals. Current high-quality screenshots are great, but also consider using conceptual illustrations to communicate the intangible benefits users will get.

  • Keep your branding consistent. Nothing reveals poor internal collaboration quicker than an inconsistent look and feel. Users want to feel like they're dealing with one team, not a hodgepodge patchwork of scattered stakeholders.

  • Use consistent and simple Calls to Action (CTAs). If you call attention to everything you'll end up calling attention to nothing and make the product feel confusing and scattered.

Increasing Free Trial Conversion May Be Easier Than You Think

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when feeling the pressure from leadership to improve sales. What we’ve found time and again is that the biggest opportunities are often hiding in plain sight.

Ultimately, it’s about making it easy for users to get to know your product, see and feel how it can fit into their lives, and buy it when they’re ready.

Whether you need help breathing new life into an aging product or you're looking for a way to introduce your new product to users, we know how to help you craft a Free Trial strategy that will create more conversions.

Let’s talk about your Free Trial experience and see what we can do to help make it world-class.