The length of a free trial doesn’t really matter when you’re bringing in new customers. Here’s what does...

Published 2015-10-09, updated 2023-03-21

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Summary - Does your business offer a free trial? Find out how you can make sure your new customers get the most out of their free trial.

Many companies - ours included - allow potential customers to use the product for free for a limited time. The hope is that the trial will demonstrate value and lead customers to buy the product.

But how long should that free trial period last? Seven days? 14? 30?

We’ve been wrestling with the question lately. We did some analysis of our current trial period and the results challenged a commonly held assumption. Successful conversion of potential customers into paying clients is impacted by the first few minutes of a trial as opposed to the length of the free trial period.

Here’s how we arrived at that conclusion.

Klipfolio offers potential customers a 14-day free trial period.

But we’ve been hearing from some people that they were hesitant to sign up for a trial because they thought 14 days wasn’t long enough.

We like 14 days because it creates a sense of urgency. (In fact, we’d been wondering whether a shorter trial period - say, seven days - might increase the sense of urgency even more.)

But we recognize that 14 days may not be enough for some people, particularly if one or two people in the company critical to the trial happen to be on holidays or busy with a big project while the trial is going on.

So if more time is needed, we usually oblige. We have even built in an innovative way to automate an extension where people can get an additional 14 days by Tweeting a message that announces to their followers that they are trying our product.

But free trials cannot go on forever. So how much time does a potential customer really need to make a decision?

Our record for the longest trial at Klipfolio is 173 days, our average trial is 23 days, and the most frequent trial period is, not surprisingly, 14. But most people make the decision to buy in 24 hours or less - even if they don’t usually sign up until the trial period has ended.

The same goes for people who decide not to buy. Of the people who sign up for a 14-day free trial, a huge percentage - around 80% - drop out after two days.

That’s an important figure. It confirms that trial success is not a factor of how long the trial lasts. The last day of the trial is obviously a trigger for those who are left, but playing with the length of the trial is not likely to get you more customers.

What’s important, though, is engaging potential customers right off the bat.

And the best way to do that is to make sure that the product has value for them from the moment they start using it. The decay rate is a really strong force working against you, from the moment a potential customer starts the trial.

Simply put, a great product means better client engagement, and better engagement means more success.

It’s not enough for our success team to reach out near the end of the trial and urge people to buy. Potential customers need engagement throughout the process - from the moment a trial starts. We need to be monitoring what is happening in the first five or 10 minutes of a trial, and figuring out what we need to do to get them to continue the trial the next day and the day after.

Of course, we have to target and engage the right people.

Last week, I identified four key personas in a company: corporate drivers and information consumers who primarily view the dashboard; and technical analysts and implementers who connect the data sources and build the visualizations.

During the trial period, we’re mostly working with the drivers and the analysts - the folks ultimately making the decision. We need to fully understand their experience as they proceed through the trial - from the first five minutes to the first 30 minutes and beyond.

It all comes back to improving the product.

Users have to see the value right away, and they won’t if it’s too hard to use. If the trial is too complicated to use on day one, few people will stick around for a 14-day trial, let alone change their wariness or reluctance to buy.

We have worked hard to improve the trial experience. We have introduced in-application tours along with live-help, and have improved many of our common flows. These investments are keeping our trial users in the application longer and subsequently converting more of them into happy customers.

So be flexible (within reason) when offering a free trial period. But be rigid in demanding the highest level of continuous improvement of your product.

Allan Wille is a Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Klipfolio. He’s also a designer, a cyclist, a father and a resolute optimist.

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