Live and Die by the Trial


I was thinking about this topic for my next post, and this article showed up in my inbox about how software companies can use trials to build their sales pipeline.

We are narrowing down our list of marketing automation solutions. In our case hosted was essential. And well some of the hosted solutions weren’t keen on the try it before you buy. In our case, try really meant check out the UI on our own but this wasn’t available with all choices.

One vendor said: we’ll let you do a guided walk through with our team online — after offering a 1 month paid trial. Once I eliminated them based on the longer implementation time and lack of a trial, I got an interesting response from my rep. “We’ve heard that before from other prospects. I think some people reduce overall functionality in order to deliver a trial.” To many of the hosted options looked a little too much like traditional software, with huge integration times and costs. I guess we closed the loop on that one.

One vendor has a real, and true functional demo. And requested that you use it for a real campaign. This is really smart of course, since by nature people are lazy. Once you start using something, as long as it isn’t absolutely horrible, after a few days you get used to it. Then it becomes part of your routine. Then you crave it. The other vendors don’t stand a chance. Whoever gets there first wins.

Two other vendors had a sandbox box environment with fake data (either their demo system or another functional system with fake data).

The trial killed one vendor we loved. They had every possible item we could have wanted in a solution. They were really friendly, and we got to talk with their entire team from product development, to sales to professional services.

The nail in the coffin? Too many steps to launch campaigns, build pages and everything else. The UI was too complicated for us to use, and any new employees wouldn’t be able to step in and catch on without extensive training sessions. We don’t have enough resources for that sort of tool. In our organization, we want new employees to step in and be productive right away.

When I looked at each option more, I realized some didn’t offer any improvements to what I was doing to day. Same steps, different system, no benefits.
So I guess the role of the marketer is to show the shopper how much better it would be with the product in use. That’s really what our user stories, case studies and live demos do. Plant the seeds. And for the sales team? Get them to buy into actually using this improvement. Make the buyer recognize life is better, and prove the buyer can’t wait for improvements to come to them, they need to take action to drive improvement. (Should the content be different?)

The difference between marketers and salespeople?

  • Marketers do something and wait for a reaction.
  • Salespeople make the reaction happen.

2 thoughts on “Live and Die by the Trial

  1. Free trial is an interesting/challenging question with software in the marketing automation space.

    For us, our initial integration and install process includes a bit of hand-holding and training. It doesn’t take long to be up and running (less than a week), but the fact is that these are complex tools that do a lot of stuff. It’s not your grandpa’s email service…

    And, there’s some technical setup. For example, to track visitor behavior, you’ve got to add a little google-analytics-like script to each page of your website. Is your tech team going to do that for a trial? Also, there’s the integrating of our SmartForms into your site.

    None of this is a big deal, but it does take a little time from someone who has access to edit your website. (We also offer to do it for you, if your people will give us access.)

    Without doing the technical integration, plus some strategic thinking about the marketing systems you’d be building… well, your free trial wouldn’t amount to much more than clicking around the UI, sending an email or postcard blast, and having another manual way to task internal people with stuff…

    The real goods come after you’ve swallowed the blue pill and have integrated the software into your process, technically and otherwise. That’s when the ‘autopilot’ kicks in, the tracking data is collected, the rules start to run, etc etc.

    So the question is, what’s the goal of a free trial? Do you just want to click around and make sure nothing crashes? Do you want to run basic tests? Or do you really want to see what kind of a difference the software makes in real life use?

    We don’t typically offer free-trials (though our arm has been twisted from time to time). Instead, we offer a money-back guarantee.. love it, or cancel within 90 days and get your money back.

    That way, we’re spending our time with folks who aren’t just tire kickers, and our prospective clients aren’t worried about paying – let alone signing an annual contract – for something they may not be able to use.

    Doesn’t that seem fair?

    All that said, we are developing a couple of ‘mini’ apps that we will do real live free trials with, so that prospects can at least get a sense of the quality of work we’re putting into the marketplace….

    How else are people dealing with free trials of complex software?

  2. Jame


    Thanks for posting. I see things from your perspective, especially since the “trial” comes up for storage too. The trial is a good way to gauge prospect interest. Especially if they have to do their own work to do the trial. Be sure I checked out the article I linked up top b/c there are some good real life expamples on how more people buy because of trials. Going back to the lazy factor — if your prospect is willing to take a few steps to try your solution, they are pretty engaged with considering doing business with you. (And in my case I don’t want to keep going back and forth to make those changes.) For a serious initiative I’d be willing to use my web developer to edit a couple of our web pages to test out the tracking, the full site? Maybe not, but enough to be representative of what I’d do. If it works well there is no need to change. And it is too much to change. The sandbox offers a good in between for people wanting to figure out how these sorts of things works and committing to them. But a money back guarantee is great, and a huge selling point.

    I think an ideal sales cycle for software has a few key stages:
    1. determine a solution is necessary
    2. design what a suitable solution would look like
    3. identify people that might provide the solution
    4. kick the tires with a few options, to see how they work
    5. use the solution in a real world way to prove it works as intended
    6. deploy the solution

    A sandbox is great to kick the tires and see if you can figure out the workflow in general. Then you have to figure out if it works for you.

    My company? We are still trying to figure out how to give people a taste of our solutions, but hardware is way more complex. Right now, we use the try and buy approach for a period of time, once we have identified you are a suitable candidate.

    Thanks for commenting. I hope more people chime in, from the marketing automation or software perspective.

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