Friday, March 1, 2019

Why free trials don’t always work


There's a reason lots of SaaS companies offer free trials.  Done well, they work.  They can attract paying customers to software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.  

But it doesn’t happen automatically.

There’s nothing about a free trial that magically converts a free trialer into a paying customer.  Getting prospects through that journey isn’t easy… meaning there are lot of ways that free trials can go wrong.

Your prospects are busy

One of the biggest obstacles to converting free trialers into paying customers is that your prospects are busy people.   While they’re juggling lots of priorities, carving out time to work with a trial solution is a challenge.  (See “Your prospect has a day job.”)

Even if you don’t charge to use the solution, working with the free trial will still cost the prospect precious time.  And if there are multiple trialers within the organization, even more time is needed.  (See “A free trial isn’t really free.”) 

Make free trials easier

A few tactics could help. 
  • Focus on key tasks:  When a prospective customer signs up for a free trial, guide them to complete 2 or 3 key tasks.  This should be enough to give them an idea of what the solution does and how to use it.  For most customers, that’s sufficient.  They don’t need, or have time, to go through every single feature in the product.   
  • Quickly show value:  Guide free trialers quickly to features that will “wow” them.  Don’t force them to jump through hoops before they can see how the solution can be helpful to them.
  • Don’t require too much set-up work:  Give the prospective customer a head-start.  For example, include sample data if possible so there’s no need to enter lots of data just to get started.  Starting them off with a blank page can be very intimidating.

  • Show it’s easy to use:  In talking with many free trialers, I’ve learned that most of them just want to see if the solution is easy to learn and use.  They don’t need to see all the features.  They just want to know that it’s something they’ll be comfortable and productive using.


Free trials are not required

Besides a free trial, keep in mind that there are other ways to let prospects see your solution.   Sometimes it’s better to offer something different or alongside the free trial.

An effective demo can show key features of the solution.  And for prospects that aren’t yet ready for a direct interaction with the vendor, a short video of highlights can be enough to give an overview and entice them to see more.  (See “Most demos are useless.”)

A no-obligation/no commitment subscription lets the customer pays for the solution, but they can cancel at any time.  If they’re not using it, they stop paying.

A money-back guarantee goes even further.  If the customer is unhappy after a month or some other designated time period, you send them their money back.

Both of these approaches give the customer the peace of mind to know they won’t be stuck with something they don’t use.


I’m not opposed to free trials.  I’ve seen them work very well at attracting prospects and paying customers, but only when they’re done well.  Otherwise, you’ll find you’re wasting your time and losing business.


Friday, February 1, 2019

Are you forgetting the “service” part of SaaS?


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Ok, let me remind us all of the blatantly obvious: “SaaS” stands for “software-as-service.”   Yup, “service” is right there in the name.

But looking at the way most SaaS solutions are marketed, too often it’s all about the “software”, and
not much about the “service.”

On website, in videos, during customer presentations, and in every other piece of marketing communication, it’s all about the software.  “Look at this feature, look at that feature, look at another feature.”

All this hyping of features reminds me of how we used to market traditional licensed application packages.  That made sense when we were essentially selling a disc full of software.

The buyer expects service with their software

But that’s not what SaaS is, and it’s not what the SaaS buyer expects.

They’re paying a regular subscription fee for access to the software features… and a whole lot more.

They’re expecting help with implementation.  They need to get up & running with the solution.  (See “Your SaaS buyers could be afraid to buy.”)

They’re looking for help with training.  That might include training for administrators and for others in the organization that will be using the solution.

And they’re looking for support.  When they get stuck and run into a problem, they expect that someone from the vendor will help.

Beyond that, a SaaS vendor should actually be providing expert guidance on how customers can get the most from the solution.  They can share tips, best practices, benchmarks, and other help.

So, if this is what SaaS buyers are expecting, this is what SaaS marketing should be promoting.  Talk about your expert guidance and your implementation, training, support services.

Follow the software-as-a-service label: Market your services, not just your features.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

New customers can teach you a lot… if you just ask


If you’re marketing and selling a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, feel free to ring a bell or do
whatever it is you do when you win a new deal.

But don’t stop there. 

Those new customers are worth more than just subscription revenue.  They can tell you a lot to help your marketing. 

Think about it.  They’ve just emerged from the evaluation and purchase process, they’ve seen your marketing efforts up close. 

They’re in a good spot to share some useful insights, such as:

  • What did they use before they bought your new solution?
  • Why did they change?  What was wrong with the old system?
  • Where did they find out about your solution?
  • What other solutions did they look at and why did they choose yours?


That’s vital information that can help you market and win even more new customers.


How do you get this information?

But you do need to ask them.  How?

You could conduct a customer survey via a questionnaire. There are lots of methodologies and software or consultants to help here.

Or you could ask your Sales people.  After all, they’ve been intimately involved in the process with the prospect. 

Beware though that Sales may carry a bias.  When asked why a customer bought, you may hear a salesperson explain “it was because of the wonderful relationship established by the salesperson.”

Another approach is to simply talk to small sample of new customers.  Even short conversations with a handful of customers can be useful. 

These can be especially revealing if they’re conducted as conversations, not surveys.  Tee up a few questions (like the ones suggested earlier) and follow wherever the customer takes you. 

Though the handful of interviews from an individual month represent only a small sample size, over the course of a year these should yield valid information.  You’ll gather insights that can help craft effective marketing messages and structure marketing programs that really reach prospects.

Worried about bothering new customers?  In my experience, most customers are happy to talk for a few minutes and share their thoughts.  In fact, they’re often delighted to know that their new vendor actually cares what they think.

I’ve seen these interviews done well by people within the company, though it’s best to have Marketing people call, not Sales.  Using an outside person can also be effective.  (Contact me if you need help.)

When you win a new customer, go ahead and celebrate.  But don’t miss out on the useful information you can gather from them.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Your SaaS prospects could be afraid to buy




If you’re selling or marketing a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, you’ve probably seen

something like this before:

You’re talking with a prospective customer that’s struggling with a broken, outdated system, something they’ve been using for a long time to handle some vital task.  The prospect knows it’s a poor system and they know it’s hurting their organization.

And you’ve shown them your wonderful SaaS solution, they can see how it would be a huge improvement, and… they still don’t buy.

You’d once listed these prospects as “highly qualified” or “ready to buy,” but then they go dormant.  No response to calls, no answers to emails… just radio silence.

What happened?

Fear that something will go wrong getting from the old to the new

It could just be fear.  Your once-hot prospect got cold feet. 

Up until the moment of truth - a decision to OK the purchase - everything had gone exactly as scripted.

Your prospect recognized the flaws in their existing system and they clearly saw the benefits and advantages of your superior alternative.

But then things hit a roadblock.  The prospect is worried about getting from here to there. 

Moving from their existing system to your new system is fraught with peril.  Lots can go wrong with the transition.

  • Inputting data can be difficult and time-consuming.
  • Data can get lost in the transition.
  • Users can get confused.
  • Administrators can get confused.
  • Standard reports might not get prepared.
  • Normal workflows might be interrupted.
  • There may be a gap when neither system is available.


None of this would be good news for your customer. 

Remember that they, like most SaaS buyers, is someone with a full-time job with other responsibilities and a reputation to protect. (See “Your prospect has a day job.”) 

The HR manager doesn’t want to hear from employees that they can’t request vacation days or complete a performance review.

The Finance manager doesn’t want to hear complaints that expense reports can’t be submitted or vendors can’t get paid.

The Sales exec doesn’t want to hear that account reps can’t see their pipeline or track progress on their opportunities.

The warehouse manager doesn’t want to find out that it’s impossible to accurately track inventory.

These folks don’t have the time, the patience, or the thick skin to deal with the complaints and push-back if the move to a new system goes wrong.

Getting prospects past the fear


No matter how poor their existing system, and no matter how wonderful the promise of your new system, if the customer can’t see themselves getting from the old to the new flawlessly, they might not take the risk. They’ll stick with what they’ve got and what they know, warts and all.



Getting them over that fear doesn’t mean showing them yet more features and functions in your system.  It doesn’t mean pointing out again the costs of their existing system or showing them the extraordinary ROI on your system.  And it has nothing to do with offering a lower price.

Instead, it’s about showing prospective customers that your experts will guide them through a proven, well-structured implementation.  They need to be convinced them that they can rely on you to help them navigate the transition to your new system.

Until prospects trust that you can help them get from where they are now to where they want to be – without things breaking along the way – they’ll hold off on making a decision.  They won’t buy.