How To Maximize Conversions of B2B Software Trials

How To Maximize Conversions of B2B Software Trials

Trials are pivotal in B2B purchase decisions, especially when it comes to software. Prospects are unlikely to invest in software with complex functionalities and features that they haven’t yet tested themselves to see if it solves the pain points they need it for. Trials offer hands-on experience that users can take back to their stakeholders to make the case for investing in it. 

There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach for trials either. Some companies offer premium trials while others offer a Freemium tier of the software with the option to upgrade– and everything else in between. The key is to track metrics and benchmarks that tell you how the trial design you’re using is performing so you know if you need to stick with it or try a different approach.

Leveraging trials effectively can have a huge impact on revenue, converting prospects to customers and driving business growth. Here’s how your team can maximize conversions in B2B software trials. 

Types of Trials, from Free Trials to Pilots

B2B software trials come in a variety of options to meet the different needs of the target audiences they’re aiming to solve problems and pain points for to convert trial users into paying customers.

Free trials

Most people are familiar with free trials and freemium offerings, but even those come in several different free trial models:

  • Opt-in free trials: only require an email address to sign up with a credit card required to buy at the end.
  • Opt-out free trials: require credit card details to start the trial
  • Limited free trial: puts limits on the features available to the trial user or period of access
  • Unlimited free trial: no limits on feature access and/or period for access

Free trials are often a lower lift for teams than other kinds of trials (we'll get into those below) but free trial conversion rates are considered good around 15% according to Userpilot. They emphasize that while there isn’t a single average conversion rate for B2B SaaS free trials, “15% is considered a good rate- 25% is the B2B industry average you should aim for, and a 30% conversion rate and above is excellent”.

Other types of trials

There are also many other kinds of trials to choose from when designing the right model for your organization and trial users: 

  • Time-Limited Trials: access to the features and functionality of the software are limited by time; anywhere from a week to several months, often depending on complexity. 
  • Feature-Limited Trials: to mitigate user frustration with complex software, trials are sometimes limited by features available to users. This way trial users can test the core functionalities but will need to convert before they can explore the full range of premium features. 
  • Usage-Limited Trials: these trials limit the number of users who can participate in testing and validating the software for your company’s needs. 
  • Reverse trials: some trials will offer the chance to restart a trial after a certain amount of time has passed from an initial trial. For example, someone signing up for a premium trial might be moved down to the free version once the trial period ends, and then offered the chance to restart the trial six months later. When the users gain access to premium features again after losing them once before, the potential for conversion increases.
  • Proof-of-Concept (POC) Trials: POC trials involve a more comprehensive testing period where the software provider works closely with the customer to customize the offering, address specific use cases, and demonstrate value within the customer's environment.
  • Self-Service Trials: users control the entire trial process themselves, with low or no touch from your sales and customer success teams. 
  • Guided Trials: guided trials are more common with complex, enterprise-level software offerings that require hands-on onboarding and training from your team. 

There is also the option to offer completely customized trials to high-value prospects where pricing, available features, or other trial terms are tailored to their specific needs. Pilots are a type of trial customized at a very high level, involving a period where both organizations scope out objectives and build things out within the prospect’s environment so they’re able to truly see if it’s the right solution for them. 

These involve a huge commitment of time and other resources on both ends and they aren’t right for every B2B software company. 

Where Trials Commonly Fail

Before deciding on the design of your B2B software trial, it’s important to know where trials commonly fail so you can avoid the same pitfalls. 

It doesn’t matter how generous and well-designed your trial is if you don’t have the right product-market fit for your software when it comes to your target market. Does your software address your ICP’s (ideal customer profile) problems and pain points? If it doesn’t you either have the wrong ICP or the wrong product. Either way, your prospects will go looking at what your competitors have to offer.

If you do have a good product-market fit and you’re targeting the right ICP, you want to ensure you’re defining and tracking clear conversion goals. Some examples include: 

  • Percentage Increase in Trial Sign-ups: if you can increase the number of people signing up for a trial, you can drive more leads (but they may not be qualified leads). Free trial signups are easier to drive with a simple campaign, for example, but free trial conversions don't automatically follow unless you have a smart free trial strategy in place.
  • Improvement in Trial Activation Rate: signing up for a trial is just the first hurdle; you also want users to take certain actions or active certain features by a certain point in a trial to keep them engaged. 
  • Reduction in Time-to-Activation: a shorter time for users to take those actions and use those features indicates a better user experience and a higher likelihood they’ll convert. 
  • Increase in Trial-to-Paid Conversion Rate: the more users like your trial and convert to paid customers the more business growth you drive! 

You don’t need to track everything to start, but what you do track should be clear. Choose the metrics that make the most sense for your team and company objectives and that you can track and update easily. You don’t want to burn your team out on tracking goals to the point they can no longer run a trial well! 

You can also track bigger goals like an overall reduction in Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) through the trial process or an increase in Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) if that makes more sense for your team and company objectives. Tracking improvement in customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Score (NPS) is also a great way to keep tabs on overall user onboarding and training. If their trial experience isn’t great, they won’t be likely to convert but they will be more likely to write a bad review about it when the trial period ends. 

Be sure the team has comprehensive onboarding and training across the product and its features to ensure that trial users get and stay engaged with your software at the same time they’re engaging with your sales and customer success staff. Be sure these teams also have the bandwidth to serve prospects successfully alongside the paying customers your company already has.

The final place trials usually fail is when companies don’t capture user behavior and learn to flag intent signals that can indicate when a user is about to quit using certain features or logging in altogether. If your staff isn’t aware of these indicators and they aren’t regularly engaging with trial users, the chances of a conversion get lower and lower as the trial period ends.

Mapping the Trial User Journey

Capturing user behavior also helps you map the trial user journey from start to finish. Be sure you map out every stage from signup to purchase, studying where intent signals crop up that indicate someone’s interest in either direction. 

That can help your team understand the trial participant’s mindset and what questions they might have at each stage of the trial– and how you can design outreach to anticipate their needs and meet them where they are. Identify opportunities for staff to provide guidance and nurturing along the journey in a way that feels natural and helpful. 

Free trial users on their journey

For example, with a free trial period, trial users might be driven to sign up from a targeted ad. If it's an opt-in free trial, they're more likely to sign up once they hit the landing page since they don't have to enter their credit card details until the end of the trial period. During the free trial process, trial users should get regular reminders to log in, check out specific features, and be pointed to helpful resources. Ideally, you want them to understand the core abilities of the software at the beginning, then drive them to engage with other features throughout the trial period.

Trial users should have the option to reach out to the customer success team to address any questions during the trial but also as it ends, to increase free trial conversion rates. Trial users are potential customers and they need to experience quality customer service from the beginning, even as free users.

This is just one free trial model; an excellent free trial experience can convert free trial users into paying customers.

Best Practices for Structuring Trials

As we touched on in the opening, there are different trial structures to choose from. Always keep in mind the resources available before deciding on a structure; not just the budget for advertising a trial, but the staff to build, maintain, and scale it, as well as the time needed to train everyone on how the trial works internally (staff) and externally (trial participants). 

The complexity of your software is a good starting point for deciding how long your trial should be. If it takes a month to understand the features and functionalities at a comfortable level then a week-long free trial period probably won’t earn a high conversion rate. Users would be likely to get overwhelmed and decide they don’t have time to learn your software. 

It’s not always possible to offer a longer trial, so consider limiting features available during a trial or building in a way to narrow the scope of available features to trial participants in a way that feels tailored. For example, if there are three main pain points your target audience is dealing with, you could design three different limited trials tailored to address each one. 

Even without full access to the software, if a prospect sees that you can solve one of their major pain points in a targeted way they’re more likely to convert to paying customers and learn the rest of the software to solve their other problems. 

The best trials also have clearly defined usage metrics your team is tracking, along with dedicated checkpoints where sales and customer success reach out to see how the trial is going and if the user has any questions. Even a mostly hands-off, self-service trial should still have dedicated touchpoints from your team. 

Strategies for Trial User Onboarding

For the best user experience, make the trial onboarding process as seamless as possible. Provide training options and guidance resources early in the trial. As soon as a user signs up for a trial, you can trigger an email to go out that links to training and guidance resources, including any recorded demos and methods for reaching out to the customer success or sales team. 

Consider in-app tips and tutorials embedded in the software trial, triggered by users taking specific actions as they make their way through the planned user journey. If you’re tracking how users behave throughout the journey and their subsequent conversion rates, you can tweak which tips pop up when and the timing of offered tutorials. Always give an option to close out of any tips or tutorials too, for savvier users who may become annoyed if navigating these messages is mandatory to get through the trial. 

Aside from- or even in addition to- the in-app options, you can set up a series of notifications and reminders that go out to trial users at a certain cadence. If they haven’t logged in for a few days, it might trigger an email reminding them that their trial is coming to an end and they’ll either lose access to the software entirely or to a certain class of features. 

You can also set up reminders to check out certain features once users have been in the trial for a certain period and are most likely familiar with the core offerings. At that point, they’ll be primed to explore more premium features that enhance their experience– and make it more likely they’ll convert if those features help address their specific pain points. 

Driving Ongoing User Engagement

Aside from targeted in-app messaging and automated email campaigns based on trial users taking certain actions, you can also add a human touch: sales team check-ins at key intervals. Where some users might ignore automated emails, they’ll be more likely to respond to a personalized message asking how the trial is going and if they have any specific questions they’d like answered. 

These emails can also offer personalized demos and share links to recorded tutorials or help documents. Highly active users- even free users- should be targeted with content that highlights case studies or other customer stories where your software addressed and solved a particular pain point the prospect is also facing. 

Knowing your software is specifically capable of alleviating an issue their team faces makes a prospect much more likely to convert to a paid subscription.

Leveraging Usage Analytics and Intent Data

All of the trial usage data in the world isn’t useful if it’s simply collected and never analyzed, or if it’s analyzed but never shared with the teams that need it to take action. Customer-facing teams need to be able to access this data in ways that make it clear and actionable for them. 

What are the feature adoption trends? Marketing needs to know how trial users are discovering and adopting features, in what order, and how that’s influencing how engaged those users are with the trial itself. That way they can uncover content gaps they can fill, or tweak existing content and how it flows to trial participants. 

Sales and customer success need to have access to actionable data around signals that are predictive of purchase intent, including key triggers and moments as users move through a trial. That can help them craft conversations and personal outreach throughout the trial, to maximize conversions to a paid subscription. 

Aligning Teams to Optimize Trials

Teams across your organization need to be aligned to optimize trials and maximize conversions. Sales and marketing need to agree on who the target users are and how they should be approached, with what language, and on what timeline. 

Teams should collaborate on a playbook that defines engagement at each stage of the trial, depending on signals from the user starting at sign-up and leading through to the end of the trial period. For example, if a user signs up and then never logs in again, an email could be triggered at the end asking if they’d like to try again. Someone who signed up with good intentions but got pulled into an urgent project would be grateful for the chance to explore the software that could make their job easier in the long run. That's worth a paid subscription!

All of this alignment hinges on teams having access to a clear dashboard covering usage metrics that sends out customized alerts to each team so they’re able to take action without first having to spend hours analyzing data. These are the best practices for B2B software trial conversions.

Summarizing Results and Best Practices

By designing a trial option that showcases how their software can uniquely solve the pain points of their target audience, B2B software providers can maximize trial conversions into paying customers, significantly impacting revenue. 

To optimize the process, teams need to keep in mind common points of failure and anticipate them as they map out the trial user journey. Structuring onboarding and monitoring usage and engagement throughout the process gives teams data they can act on– especially if it's funneled into a dashboard that acts as a single source of truth driving each team’s next move. 

When teams across an organization are aligned on trial design, execution, and metrics they have the power to iterate on the process until it's a well-oiled machine driving higher sign-ups, better leads, and ultimately, conversions.

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