Do you need help engaging your free trial users?
You're not alone.
Many SaaS founders strive for a high trial-to-paid conversion rate but grapple with finding the sweet spot.
It's the delicate balance between the right type of free trial for your business, product adoption, and retention.
If one or all are out of balance, you'll see a higher churn rate no matter how many trial leads land on your website.
To help you curate a winning strategy, let's look at some SaaS free trial best practices and how to entice potential customers to sign-up for a paid plan.
What are the different types of SaaS free trials?
There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to creating a SaaS free trial strategy.
To improve your conversions, you’ll need to consider the different types of free trials that’ll work best for your business, attract the right kind of leads, and move users further along your customer journey.
- Free trial with credit card upfront (aka opt-out trials): Ask for a user's credit card details before the trial begins. While it can decrease sign-up rates, it will improve lead quality.
- Free trial without a credit card requirement (aka opt-in trials): With minimal to no barriers to entry, not asking for credit card details will boost your sign-up rates. It also increases trust as the user knows there is zero risk of accidentally getting charged at the end of the trial period.
- Freemium model: Products with a freemium version help to create "stickiness." The end user can experience your product with little to no risk, achieve small wins, and see the value in signing up for a paid plan.
- Free trial after a demo: For SaaS products with a steeper learning curve, a free trial after a demo is a good strategy. It allows you to educate the lead on how to get the most out of the product and produces higher-quality PQLs.
- Free trial with a gamified trial extension: Allow users to extend their trial with gamified elements. Encourage users to use more features or perform social actions like inviting friends or sharing content.
What is a good SaaS free trial conversion rate?
Let's look at Openview's 2020 Product Benchmark Report to answer this question. With insights from over 150 SaaS companies, it features benchmarks from the best-in-class free trial and freemium conversion funnels.
Here are the key takeaways:
- Freemium trials convert customers without sales 25% more than a free trial model.
- Freemium tools generate 33% more free accounts for every website visitor.
- Freemium activation rates are 20%, whereas free trials are 40%.
- The median free-to-paid conversion rate for free trials is 14%, versus freemium products at 7%.
What do these statistics mean in practice?
According to Openview, if you had 1,000 leads enter your funnel, here's how that would play out for each model:
- Freemium: You'll convert 4 of the 1,000 leads to paid, and three will need no outreach from sales or customer success.
- Free Trial: You'll convert 6 of the 1,000 leads, and half will opt-in for a paid plan without speaking to a salesperson.
To even things out, let's look at another study.
The Data-Led Blog released its free trial benchmarks from working with hundreds of SaaS businesses.
Here are their industry benchmarks for every 10,000 visitors:
Opt-in free trial
- 2% conversion rate = 200 opt-in free trials
- 25% conversion rate = 50 customers
- 80% customer retention rate after 90 days = 40 customers
- 0.40% end-to-end conversion rate
Opt-out free trial
- 1% conversion rate = 100 opt-in trials
- 60% conversion rate = 60 customers
- 60% customer retention rate after 90 days = 36 customers
- 0.36% end-to-end conversion rate
- 0.5% conversion rate = 50 opt-in trials
- 80% conversion rate = 40 customers
- 60% customer retention rate after 90 days = 24 customers
- 0.24% end-to-end conversion rate
Want to use your data to see how well your free trial is converting compared to industry benchmarks? Try the Inner Trends has a SaaS free trial benchmarks calculator.
SaaS free trial best practices to boost your conversion rate
Map out your free trial user journey
The first step to improving your SaaS free trial experience starts at the beginning of the user journey.
Identify your most successful users and reverse engineer their steps to success.
You'll notice a common theme of key events (aka conversion signals) such as:
- Inviting other users
- Completing a tutorial
- Signing up for a demo call
- Sending 10,000 messages
Once you have your list of key events, start mapping out your customer journey. It will give you a high-level view to help your CS and sales team understand how customers use your product and interact with your business.
If you use a tool like Breyta, you can plug in your customer journey steps and use the signals to identify your product champions and best leads.
Improve your onboarding experience
The secret to converting your free trial users into paying customers lies in the experience. The faster you can drive adoption and help users see value in your product, the better your conversion rates.
When new users opt-in, your onboarding process should focus on educating them on how to use your product to achieve their goal and alleviate a pain point.
Buffer’s onboarding process is a masterclass.
When you sign up for the tool, it creates a "choose your own adventure" scenario.
Buffer knows four types of people sign up, each with different goals. As you progress through the product tour and tutorials, it's curated to your needs, eliminating the fluff and helping you solve your problem - fast.
By creating an onboarding process that caters to these different needs, Buffer creates a “wow” experience, improves their time-to-value (TTV), and decreases churn.
Add limitations to your free trial
Are you giving your user base too much of a good thing?
Then, you're missing conversions.
The user has zero reason to sign up.
What you want to do is always leave the person wanting more.
It's like a movie trailer. The best ones don't give away the entire plot. It creates a sense of mystery, giving you only enough to lure you in and create a feeling of "I have to see this movie to find out what happens!"
To find your sweet spot, you can use two types of SaaS trial limitations to create a strong sense of desire within your user base.
- Time-limited: Allows a user to access the full product for a specific time period.
- Feature-limited: Limits usage capacity on features during the free trial.
You can add feature limits to your free trial by:
- Limiting the number of actions a user can perform.
- Restricting access to certain features.
- Adding a watermark on content.
- Limiting the capacity of data a user can upload.
Use NPS surveys
Sometimes, asking is the best way to find out why your free trial isn't converting.
That's where NPS surveys come in.
It's an excellent way to get real-time feedback from users who didn't convert and figure out the points of friction you need to remove.
The best part? These micro surveys are simple and receive high engagement.
54% of companies see higher response rates with NPS. In comparison, most surveys receive 5%-30%.
Start by asking a 0 to 10 question like:
- On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend our product?
These types of questions have the highest response rates, and you’ll learn more if you start with it and then follow up with open-ended questions like:
- What features do you like the most?
- What could we do to improve your experience?
After a while, you'll start noticing trends like:
- The features your best customers use.
- The issues you need to fix to improve your trial-to-paid conversion rate.
Once you have an idea of your "stickiest" features, use your onboarding process to promote them and get new users hooked on the parts of your product that increase conversions.
Educate in an interactive way
You know what's boring?
Information-heavy knowledge base documents.
While this content is helpful, it's daunting for a new user. If your product has features that are challenging to grasp, you want to ensure your customers feel supported and not confused.
To increase conversions, educate your users in an interactive way with:
- One-on-one calls
- Interactive quizzes
- Free live webinars
- Interactive product walkthroughs
- Online course
Another fun option is to gamify your onboarding process. As a user moves through the different "stages," they can collect points and compete with their team. Also, consider enticing users to redeem their points to unlock limited access to premium features. It will help deepen product adoption, increase engagement, and increase user retention.
7Shifts, a team management for restaurants tool, improved its paid-to-free conversion rate by tweaking its in-app checklist. To make the process easier, the checklist focuses on one action at a time with a clear call to action. Each action has a limit on the number of steps to avoid overwhelming the user and improving the checklist completion rate.
Personalized email marketing campaigns
Customer segmentation is powerful.
When you speak to a specific group of email subscribers instead of generalizing your message, you can:
- Send more relevant content to the right people at the right time.
- Avoid spamming your list with messages that don't matter to them.
- Move your user base further along your sales funnel.
The most important thing?
Email marketing segmentation has an ROI of $36 for every $1 spent.
How does this all tie into improving your free trial conversion rate?
Well, only 40-60% of SaaS trial users will login once and never use the product again.
To avoid this, trigger an automation email campaign as soon as a new user signs up. Then, segment the list and personalize your communication based on their activity.
For example, you can segment your list in the following way:
- Inactive: Users who have signed up but have zero product usage activity.
- Semi-active: Users who have only logged in once or twice.
- Active users: Users who are hitting milestones and using your product daily.
Next, you want to create an email drip campaign to speak to each segment and nurture the users further along your funnel.
It can look something like this:
- Inactive: Create an email flow to entice users to give your product a chance. Use social proof to show how your product can help achieve their goal.
- Semi-active: You have some product engagement. Use your email campaign to grow the spark. Highlight specific features, share different use cases, and share new feature rollouts.
- Active: The goal with active users is to increase "stickiness." Use your email marketing to share advanced tutorials, how to integrate your product with other tools, and highlight the features they'll unlock with your paid plan.
- Trial Expiry: Increase your conversion rate with a trial expiry email. Send a gentle reminder three days before the period ends and highlight the features and benefits of your paid plan.
Ask for the sale before the trial ends
Are you waiting until the end of the free trial to promote your paid plans?
Do it sooner.
Like as soon as the user achieves their "aha" moment.
Think about it.
When you solve a problem or accomplish a goal, you feel an increase in happiness, pride, and contentment. Take advantage of the high and ask your user to upgrade to a paid plan.
It will increase your conversion rates because the user has a good experience and is aware of the value you bring to the table.
The emotional high might have worn off if you wait until the trial expires. You also run the risk of giving the user time to research your competitors, adding more sales objections when asking for the sale.
Empower your customer success team
What tools is your customer success team using?
Probably a mix of Intercom, email, Word Docs, and, reluctantly, Salesforce.
The problem with that tech stack?
Those tools don't talk to each other, and most CRMs aren't built to help CS and sales work together.
Instead, you're left with a CRM supporting the sales workflow and leaving CS scrambling around in the dark, trying to piece the fragmented data together.
To improve your free trial conversion rate, your CS needs to know when is the right time to step in (i.e. low product adoption rates), who are your product champions and which accounts are the perfect fit for an expansion motion.
A tool like Breyta gives you an accurate customer fit score based on all your internal and external data. Plug in the integration to immediately start seeing which free trial users your CS team should nurture and stop wasting resources on leads that'll never convert.
SaaS Free Trial FAQs
Do free trials increase sales?
Free trials can increase sales, but it’s not a golden ticket.
You'll still need to work on attracting the right end user, creating a frictionless experience, solving a pain point, and holding enough value back to entice someone to pay for a subscription.
If you're doing the above right, opt-in free trials have a 25% or less conversion rate, and opt-out free trials have paid-to-free conversion rates of 60% or less.
Free trial vs. paid trial vs. freemium?
It's the ultimate SaaS conundrum.
Which option should you choose for your trial strategy?
Let's dive into the pros and cons of each one.
Pros: There is zero barrier to entry. You'll have more trial users entering your lead pool and users only have a limited time to try the product before it's locked behind a paywall. A free trial is the best option if you want to focus on near-term revenue and maximize your free-to-paid conversion rate.
Cons: A higher number of trial signups doesn't equal a high number of conversions. Often, the lead quality isn't as good, and you'll have a lower conversion rate. If your free trial period is too long, it removes the sense of urgency and risks users losing interest.
Pros: You'll have a higher quality of leads and a higher conversion rate. By opting in and handing over their credit card details, you know the user is serious and is most likely a good fit for the problem you solve.
Cons: On the flip side, you'll have lower signup numbers. Users might feel reluctant to pay you without a test drive, which can be risky. With a lack of trust, it might be difficult to convince users you're the best option on the market.
Pros: Freemium is an attractive customer acquisition strategy because it allows users to test drive your product and create a strong sense of value. It opens up your top of the funnel and is a good idea if your product generates more value, the more people use it. With no upfront commitment, you'll have higher signup rates, and it can reduce churn because users are creating a habit of using your product.
Cons: Users will only upgrade to a paid plan if you've done a good job of helping them reach their freemium limit. If users never reach the threshold, it's hard to motivate them to hand over their credit card details. You'll also need to factor the costs of supporting many users who aren't paying to use your product.
How long should a free trial be?
It doesn't matter if you're running a 7-day or 30-day trial period.
The length of your free trial comes down to two things:
- Creating a sense of urgency
Your free trial needs to be as long as it takes a user to reach their "aha" moment. Once the user performs key actions and is "activated," purchasing a paid plan should be the next step.
If you let the trial duration run after hitting this value milestone, you risk losing your sense of urgency, and users will take their time making a decision or forget your product exists.
You want to strike when the iron is hot - that's the secret sauce to high-converting free trials. When the user achieves something with your product, ask for the sale.
According to Steli Efti, Founder and CEO of Close, a 14-day trial length is suitable for 99% of SaaS B2B start-ups.
However, that isn't a fact.
Your SaaS product might need more days to reach its activation point and produce consistent PQLs.
And if the purchasing decision requires multiple people? Your free trial length needs a longer sales cycle.
The takeaway: Stop thinking in days and figure out how long it takes a user to see value in your product. Once you have a baseline, use it as the point to pull the trigger and encourage free users to sign up for a paid subscription.
Free trial with or without a credit card?
The decision to ask or not ask for a credit card comes down to three things:
- Your product type
- Business goals
- Target market
Still feeling unsure? Answer these questions to figure out which option is best for your business:
- Do you want to build high-quality leads and increase your conversion rates?
- Are you selling an expensive product?
- Do you want to maximize Revenue Per User (RPU)?
- Do you want to avoid attracting "tire kickers"?
Then ask for credit card details at the beginning of your free trial.
- Are you looking to build trust with users and collect data?
- Is your product still in beta?
- Are you looking to grow your user base regardless of conversion rates?
- Is total revenue more important than RPU?
Then not requesting credit card details will help you achieve your business goals.
Wrapping it up
Creating a free trial strategy is a process, not a one-stop shop. Experiment with these best practices and find a formula that works for your business.
To recap, here's how you can skyrocket your SaaS free trial conversion rate:
- Map out your customer journey to identify points of friction and stickiness.
- Improve your onboarding process to increase product adoption.
- Add limitations to create FOMO.
- Use NPS surveys to find and remove friction.
- Educate your users in an interactive way to increase engagement, retention, and adoption.
- Create personalized and segmented email marketing automation campaigns.
- Ask for the sale right after a user's "aha" moment.
- Empower your customer success team to nurture your best leads.