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Determining the Right Length for a Free Trial

Whether your company is just starting its PLG journey or you’ve been at it for a while, you’ll likely encounter a question that could consume countless hours, multiple Zoom calls, and a flurry of emails: How long should we make our free trial?

Of course, it’s natural to obsess over this detail. But in the end, here’s the hard truth:

The length of your free trial may not really matter.

Our team at MadKudu wanted to be 100% sure before we made such a bold statement. So, we did some digging. First, we looked at our friend Tomasz Tunguz’s recap of the Redpoint Free Trial Survey completed in late 2018. One of his key takeaways: Conversion rates aren’t impacted by trial length. Most companies employ a 14-day trial. But all time-bound free trials convert at the same rate.

Next, we crunched our numbers. We took facts and figures from nine high-volume SaaS companies that sold subscriptions priced between $5 and $5,000/month and that received 10 or more free trials daily. You can read the full results here, but we’ll save you some time and explain one key finding right now. It takes 40 days for a product to get 80% of customers to convert. While 14-day trials accelerate faster than 30-day trials and freemium models also convert faster, the curves converge at that 40-day mark.

So, Why Do So Many Free Trials Last 14 Days or 30 Days?

We can only assume companies choose those lengths for one of three reasons:

  1. They used a Magic 8 Ball or flipped a coin. It’s fun while choosing a takeout meal, not so much fun when making critical business decisions.
  2. They looked at what other companies were doing. Very few companies take the time to analyze the length of their free trial, which has led to the erroneous belief that a 30-day trial is the gold standard. 
  3. They focused on the wrong audience. All companies need revenue to survive, so they determine the length of a free trial based on what they need and not what their buyers’ need.

If Length of Time Doesn’t Matter, Where Should I Focus?

Focus on creating a relevant, frictionless journey for your buyers. Consider what your buyers are trying to accomplish with your product and how you can make the trial experience meet their needs.

Your mission is to find buyers at their moment of peak intent. That’s when they derive either the first value or the second value from your product. If your data shows that your product’s users derive value early on, a shorter trial length may work for you. If your data shows it takes longer, then a longer trial may be of benefit.

But There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Approach

That’s why we recommend considering these four tactics when planning to offer a free trial:

  1. Fudge the trial length a little bit. A shorter trial will create greater urgency than a longer one. But a trial advertised for 15 days doesn’t have to actually be 15 days. We’ve seen PLG companies use the 15-day mark as an opportunity to connect with free trial users, ask for feedback, and offer a trial extension. This type of win-back campaign allows companies to provide something of value based on a user’s behavior. It also allows them to identify users who aren’t likely to stick around and separate them from those who need more trial time before they’re ready to convert. 
  2. Create separate paths for leads and accounts. Your lead-to-conversion rate may be short. But many companies forget to consider their account-to-conversion rate. Often, the first users to sign up for your product aren’t the decision-makers at their companies. Instead, they’ve signed up to do some research on specific product features. In this scenario, a win-back campaign can allow your sales reps to reach out to a user, find the right decision-maker, and get a full picture of an account’s conversion journey. 
  3. Look for ways to incentivize conversion. Freemium models or hybrid freemium approaches (a special, shorter free trial) can help win over potential users sooner. We recommend that companies using a hybrid approach provide the highest level of functionality possible during the trial without having a paid tier. This will show your lead the value of your nearly full product. If they love it, they’ll buy it. And if they don’t, you can move them back down to a free tier with lesser functionality.
  4. Take a full-funnel view. Companies should use free-trial data to address any gaps in their funnel. If your biggest drop-offs come before activation, your sales team can step in and try to help activate more people. If more drop-offs occur between activation and conversion, then sales reps can help bridge that gap by reaching out post-trial and learning whether or not users are on track to purchase.

We could talk about this stuff all day. If you want more information right now, here’s some insight into how behavior-based conversions can accelerate SaaS sales

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