It's an effective incentive to gain users by offering a free trial and download. I've used lots of free/trial apps myself and converted to a paying customer, it works. And it works for everything from mobile apps that are non-critcial, to apps that run a significant part of a business; the ability to test drive can make the difference. It's a great strategy that lets the product and subsequent results sell itself.

A couple of things can get in the way of a deal though...Sales management can wonder why more aren't converting to revenue, and marketing teams are wondering what they need to do different.  There's a couple of things to look at to assess the issue.  First, there is a possibility of miscalculating the profile of the person downloading and test driving. Additionally, the non-supervised aspect of a free download/trial leaves a lot of room for things to happen that are a total blind spot to you.

That being said, a test drive where the user has a lot of independence can be a double-edged sword and end up being a deal killer.  What are the scenarios?

It's all about the user assumptions, the profile of the user, their expectations, and how far off that is from the actual activation/user experience.

To start, being able to test drive has a "fun" aspect to it, it's really interesting to get in there and see what an app can do. People enter into this with an anticipation of good results. 

But you have to take into account that:

  • People are impatient
  • Since it is a "free" test drive, they are often expecting an "easy" test drive setup
  • The user that is the "downloader" and "buyer" may not be the technical person that understands or would execute a complex setup
  • They are evaluating the experience immediately from when they start setting up
  • They have a way mentally they approach technology, and it is usually not in a way an engineer does (unless it is an engineering user profile)

What are the things that can go wrong?

  1. When a user gets stuck activating a feature, you lose them if they have to spend too much time on a single stage they feel should be simple
  2. If they misuse a feature, get confused, you lose them if it becomes a bad experience
  3. If they feel it is taking too long to become activated, need to go back and read directions too many times, you are losing them if they have to spend too much time figuring out what is wrong
  4. If the setup isn't intuitive, you are losing them. The average user expects a pretty easy set up without hiccups
  5. If the directions are hard to find, hard to read, assumes the user knows more than they do, you are losing them.  Many times the user that is doing the trial, is not a technical resource needed to set it up if it gets too complicated

I have seen many scenarios where it's clear a lot is assumed about a prospect doing a download. It is assumed they are very technical, and can figure out a lot on their own.

This is what results in lots of downloads, fewer activations, fewer conversions. The secret sauce to success is addressing the above in scenarios that surface issues BEFORE they try to use the app.

What are some things you can do?

  1. Assess your user by asking "Are you the technical person that would implement this?" If not, then ask "Do you have resources to help?" and if they are a key prospect, you might want to ask "Do you need help?" Losing a F500 client on a free demo because the setup was botched is something that can be easily avoided, it is worth it to spend some time with them to make sure it is a success.
  2. If it is an app that will have a high number of users, discover that up front, "How many users would you have?" If they are a high value prospect, have someone assigned to walk them through a setup.
  3. If you see a big name company come in on a download, get on it immediately.  Unfortunately, what some companies do to address that is have a salesrep call them within 15 minutes of downloading a demo/trial which is highly annoying and is all about the sale and not about the experience. A BETTER option is to make that first outreach very non-sales, and the entire objective is to go live successfully. Schedule a time to activate them. This may not always be practical, but doing it for high value prospects ensures success.
  4. Don't leave them on their own. Have a video clip for every stage of the activation/setup. Don't assume it is easy to figure out, even the most simple apps can be misused or misinterpreted. Recently I activated an app that walked you through each stage and said "here is a video of what this looks like" with 60 second clips.  It was awesome and 100% success the first time. THAT is what you want.  
  5. Make sure your documentation speaks in the language of your user. A good way is to work with someone in an advisory capacity to go through the process and surface areas that are unclear. Expecting your new users to ask questions may not happen because 1) they don't want to look stupid so they keep trying on their own, 2) they set it up wrong and just run with it, or 3) they are busy, tried too many times, and lost interest in trying. Better to have someone not involved as a user to walk through it and surface anything that is not clear.
  6. Provide an activation map for what this should look like for them. "X activity takes 15 minutes..." If they are spending 30, they will know something is wrong and will call before they spend 2 hours on it and get infuriated.
  7. Ping them through the process via email. "You signed up 3 days ago, did you know you can now do this..." Keep them interested!  They might have downloaded on the whim, but you can prove value when you keep them engaged and interested.

There's a lot of additional aspects to free trials that need to be addressed, these are some of the obvious that sometimes slip through the cracks. In a conversation with Lynne Barker who heads up the Channels group over at Avention, "Death by Trial and Demo" is a term she threw out there early on having experienced it herself. Stay engaged, and proactive with new users to make sure it's a great experience!

I'm interested to hear what some of you have done with your own trial offers to help users succeed out of the gate. And if you are seeing these scenarios how you have fixed them!

Happy downloading!