Shorter Trial Periods

We’ve just changed the standard trial period for our SaaS Accounting Software product from 60 days to 14 days for any new trials as from right now.

This is a big change for us as it’s been 60 days ever since we started.

Why?

We analysed our trial data and found that the vast majority of people who never converted from free trial to paid-up had logged into the software only once or twice. It could be argued that this just means they quickly determined the software wasn’t for them and went off into the sunset never to be seen again. Maybe.

But we phoned up thousands of would-be customers and asked why they hadn’t continued with the software – the overwhelming response was “I just never got around to looking at it properly”.

Perhaps they were saying that because they didn’t want to hurt our feelings. Perhaps it’s true.

No Urgency

It’s something I can certainly relate to.

Send me an email and start it with “This isn’t urgent, but….” and it drops way down my To Do list.

A 60 day trial is just that – it says “this isn’t urgent”. You’ve got a long time to look at the software so it’s not going to be high on your list of things To Do. And I know all business owners have an ever-growing list of things to do.

So we’re hoping that shortening the trial to just 14 days will help focus peoples minds on having a good look at the software. We know that once someone logs in more than 3 times then the conversion rate rockets.

Channel Changes

We have lots of people re-selling the software – from affiliates to accountants and plenty inbetween.

The plan is to shorten the trial period available via our affiliates as from next month. We’ll be emailing them and letting them know so they can update their websites, etc. They can even use the rest of the month to do a big push on “last chance to get 2 months free”.

Accountants who have signed up to our Orbit system have done so on the understanding that they’d be able to let their clients trial the software for 60 days. So for existing “Orbiters” we’ll be sharing the results of this change and letting them decide if they want to shorten their trial period or not.

Sharing the Results

There seems to be very little research out there on the subject of trial periods and SaaS. We’re strong believers in sharing knowledge on this kind of stuff. So we’re hoping to be able to post again in a few months time with an update on how this went.

[UPDATE: The results are in.]

Feel free to use the comments box below to share your thoughts on this or ask any questions you may have.

Duane Jackson - Founder

As Founder of KashFlow, Duane writes primarily about the trials and tribulations of starting and growing a successful business. Having handled KashFlow’s PR internally for so many years he can’t resist writing a bit about that too.

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  • Martin

    Only thing I’d suggest is think about stressing that an expired trial doesn’t mean “That’s it! Don’t come back!” as the bulk of trials from software, etc. will treat you like a leech if you try to re-use your email to try again…

    Maybe track emails from failed trials, the date they signed up and what’s changed since so if they re-register yoi can show them what’s changed or follow up to see if they need a bit more hand holding to get over the hump..

    For myself I’m guilty of signing up for a trial, seeing that things need setting up, that I don’t have the time so I delay, then forget and the trial runs out. Case in point: Assistly… So being able to return when I have more time/motivation and not feel a door closed behind me last time is a real plus.

    You get the idea…

  • Duane Jackson – Founder & CEO

    We allow unlimited trials with the same email address (Sssh, don’t tell everyone)

    I don’t like the tone of our current Expired Trial emails/messages though. We’re reviewing them to make them much “softer”

    • James Murphy

      I’m developing integration for a client – you’ve addressed the concern I had (I had expected to get the initial work done within the 60 day window I have) but was worried about the inevitable need to play again once live. If I can go round again with my dev email then that will nicely solve the problem!

    • http://www.spanishvilla.com Vincent

      What happens to affiliates if same prospect signs-up again, what time span now?

  • Christina Spencer

    Just a thought: There are probably two (or more) rather different groups here – for instance people looking for a first accounting system and people moving from elsewhere. I fell into the second. I took a lot longer than 2 weeks to evaluate: changing accounting systems is a pretty big deal for small businesses and and KashFlow has enough difference from standard packages that (as an accountant by training) it can take a while to absorb. Also, if comparing with other packages that also takes time. The 60 days made it possible to evaluate properly and I don’t think I would have persevered if I was into paying after 14 days as I had some months to make the decision and even with the 60 day eval actually started paying 4 months before fully transitioning….

    • http://www.prettypinkpearl.co.uk TEresa

      I agree Christina – I have been ‘trailing’ the software for a while now – and paying for the privilege – finding bugs all the time and struggling to get the support! This is from their linked-in profile: KashFlow provides accounting software for small business owners, with the emphasis always being on ease of use.

      These are our aims:
      To make your life easier and less stressful by keeping our software incredibly easy to use.
      To minimise the time you spend dealing with accounting by automating as much as possible.
      To provide a level of service that makes you want to tell everyone you know about us.
      To always deliver more than we promise.
      This has not been my experience! I am now spending 3-4 hours a night for over a week now trying to remove duplicate invoices and make my bank account balance – a 6 month trial would have been worth while for me as I would never have started to pay had I know how many issues there were!

      • Duane Jackson – Founder & CEO

        Hi Teresa,

        Can you let me know the support ticket number for any ticket(s) where you’ve not been happy with the support provided so I can look into it??

  • http://www.thepayrollsite.co.uk Steven Tucker

    Duane,

    We shortened our trial period from 2 months to 1 month back in 2004 and it boosted our conversion rate significantly. We measured it, but we haven’t published the numbers – we’re not quite as open as you.

    I hope shortening the trial works for you too.

    Steven.

  • http://www.liveplan.com Alan Gleeson

    Thanks for the post – It is an Interesting issue Duane, we have had many similar internal debates about the ‘Free Trial Period’. I am tending towards a shorter period also on the back of some tests we are running. It may be worth at looking at solutions like Totango given the growing importance of driving engagement and understanding in app behaviour on the back of various offerings, trials and even mail communications to those taking a trial. Alan

  • http://www.proco-it.com Richard Daw

    I was originally interested in signing up for a trial because it wasn’t short like some other providers. Admittedly once I started using the product it was completely irrelevant because I was hooked! I’m not sure whether I would have tried it on the basis of 14 days initially.

  • Shane McCracken

    Interesting idea but I’m not sure you’re getting it right and although an increase in your conversion rate might ensue you might be putting people off. I can imagine for people starting accounts from fresh 14 days is enough. I however was transferring from Sage and 14 days would not have been enough time to assess whether it was good enough to warrant the move. 6 months down the line I still sometimes have wobbles but on the whole I’m happy.

  • http://www.boatphotos.co.uk Tony Toller

    I’ve recently persuaded a customer to switch to KashFlow and am helping them through the process. After several years with Sage this takes some doing and the 60 day trial was a major selling point – if they had to start paying after 14 days I don’t think they would have bothered.

  • Duane Jackson – Founder & CEO

    Thanks for all the comments.
    It’s a little worrying to hear the anecdotal stuff about how 14 days wouldn’t have worked for you.

    We’re going to brave it out and let the numbers do the talking. First day in and conversion from web visitors to trialists certainly haven’t gone down.

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  • http://www.itforsmallbusinesses.co.uk Gareth Everson

    With two businesses and two KashFlow accounts, I’ve got two perspectives. The 2nd business I started was a ‘no-brainer’ decision to adopt KashFlow; I’d seen the value of it from the first. Setting an account / the accounts up from scratch and seeing it work was a matter of hours not weeks. This experience is – I think – closer to the ‘new business adopting KashFlow’ use case.

    The first business was a different matter. I’d been a disgruntled MYOB customer for some time. It took me two goes / trials at convincing myself I could jump to KashFlow without impacting business performance too greatly. Even then I didn’t migrate the couple of years of history I had in MYOB but just cutover from one year end to the next.

    To make that particular experience a true ‘no-brainer’ decision, having better (/ any) import facilities into KF from MYOB would have sealed the deal instantly – hours not weeks, 1-trial, not 2.

    The ‘jump’ to KF use-case is – I think – the one that in my experience poses the biggest challenges for you with this move.

    Best regards,

    Gareth

    • Duane Jackson – Founder & CEO

      “having better (/ any) import facilities into KF from MYOB would have sealed the deal instantly – hours not weeks,” – that’s the key I think. Imports mean would-be customers can get up and running very quickly.

      We’re working on it!

      • http://www.spanishvilla.com Vincent

        I was about to state the same thing.
        The best way to get users of other systems has always been to make the process simple.
        IMHO sort out migration tools for most popular ‘competitors’ before you reduce your free trial offer. Otherwise cart before the horse comes to mind :-)

        I also suggest being careful with statistics.
        Conversion rates are based on percentages, which by nature can be misleading. Just look at bottom line order numbers. Having high conversion but less orders is not as desirable as low conversion but more orders overall. Apologies if I sate obvious.

        Lastly regarding your link to previous stats:
        http://www.kashflow.com/blog/how-we-use-google-analytics-and-website-optimizer/
        Did you ever test my suggestions in the comments there, you mentioned you would?

  • http://Www.bigsquarebox.co.uk Shaun Gill

    For me, being a small business, 60 days was perfect. I started my trial right at the beginning of my business so had very little income and purchases to record at the time, and had i been forced into paying within 14 days i probably would have gone with someone like intuit or open source as i’d not heard of KashFlow. As my business grew grew within those 2 months i had more of an opportunity to use the software, and now i love the kit and tell startups all about it and how easy it is to use for newbies.

    Personally, if i was going to recuce the trial i would take it down to 30 days, not 14. As you mentioned, thise not taking up the trial only logged into the software once or twice, why not give those that use the trial to the full extent the extended time period to really get them hooked on KashFlow so they find it harder to migrate elsewhere? That way its win win, you get A conversion a the end, and they get a couple of months grace in accounting fees when starting their business.

    • Charlie

      I had the same experience – with very little money to spare, and being encouraged by a friend to give it a go, a trial of longer than 2 weeks was very helpful and convinced me to stick with kashfow in the long run – I do think a 14 day period is a little short… perhaps split the difference?

      cHarlie

  • http://www.newslettersender.co.uk Paul O’Brien

    We also offer a SaaS application and cut our trial periods from 60 to 30 days, this was a positive move but I feel your 14 day approach is to short.

  • Greg

    I signed up for KashFlow because – unlike its competition – it had a generous, 60 day trial period. If this had been 14 days chances are I wouldn’t have signed up in the first place but chosen another service. For me 14 days would have felt too short to properly evaluate an accounting system.

  • Tom S

    I have to say, congratulations for finally joining the club. I work at a competing product and there would be a few would be customers every quarter that we had to allow longer trial period as they were claiming KashFlow does the same as well. Finally we can remove this procedure.

    Our management was debating between lengthening our trial length as well, for my part I always had the opinion that KashFlow really are losing money on the longer trial, so it doesn’t make sense to do so. Good to see that this suspicion is confirmed. I also think this will further strengthen competition with people having to decide between features, not the length of the trial.

  • http://www.freeboilergrants.co.uk/ Nathan H

    I am probably one of a few customers who have left KashFlow and went to the competition (Xero), not because of features but based upon accountant recommendations due to the features I needed at the time for internal system development.

    I was recently considering coming back for my current business’s accounting platform, secure in the knowledge that I would have 2 months trial to get all of the computer systems in place to automatically generate and email invoices etc, as a busy web developer time is always short and 60 days (Probably + another 90 days paid subscription) would have worked brilliantly for me and been one of the big reasons for choosing to come back over your competitors..

    However this news has already cost you at least one conversion as I wont be returning.

  • http://www.apjuk.com Paul Jansen

    I transferred from another accounting package and only having 14 days to check it out would have made me think twice. Having used my previous software for over a decade, I wanted to be sure that KashFlow was right for my business. I can’t imagine being able to find enough time in 14 days to check out all that I needed to. I love KashFlow, but think dropping to 14 days is a mistake. You may increase the conversion rate, but I think potential customers who need longer to evaluate, but once on board will be more committed and more likely to shout about KashFlow to others.

  • http://www.grafea.com Yanni K

    I do also think that 14 days is too short. 30 days is much better. The whole point signing to an online accounting system is that it shows you the amount of hassle you are saving by letting the software doing the stuff for yourself.

    You cannot see the amount of work saved within 14 days, it’s when the months start adding up and then it’s obvious that you’d better with KashFlow rather than with Excel or anything else.

  • http://www.familyhubmagazine.co.uk Lorraine

    For me the 60 days was perfect – I only really felt happy to convert to paying at the end of the trial – I certainly wouldn’t have converted after 14 days and most likely would have gone back to Sage. 30 days would be better. Could you perhaps offer a longer trial on a case-by-case basis?

  • http://www.tripwheels.com Elle H

    I too would not have signed up for a 14 day trial. 60 days was a real selling point, I think 30 days would have the same effect but 14 days involves too much commitment in terms of time to test the system over your normal system, and get to grips with how to integrate all your existing information. 14 days feels like pressure tactics as a consumer, it feels as though you don’t have confidence in your product and need to sign people up quickly before they realise the downfalls – when in fact – KashFlow is a brilliant product and I recommend it to anyone I speak to and your service team are great! 30 days shows much more confidence that the advantages of your product will shine through to the client.

  • http://www.kijoma.net Bill

    We cam from Winweb (aarrghh) and KashFlow sold itself with the API facility. it does the job of 1 or 2 staff by eliminating manual entry of data from our servers etc..

    I think the trial period was shorter back then too but it was a done deal once we found / got working PHP code to use the API. As somebody mentioned before, the key is import tools (importing manually was a bind) and any tools such as well documented API interface code freely available etc.. All of this will make migrating from whatever a lot easier and attract the API integration nerds too. IF you could find a bank or banks who would work with you to enable KF to be linked to their accounts via the API etc.. then this would be a BIG bonus… it is the missing link for smaller businesses with lots of customers.. automated reconciliation! (a dream).

  • John Marton

    Twinfield, ClearBooks and other competition all offer 3 0day trials. KashFlow had a uniqie selling point with its 60 days trial in this market.

    I’m sure the conversions will be better with 14 days as well as you’ll be seeing a drop in trial sign ups. So if this move is to improve your conversion rate then it’s a great one, however if its in hopes to increase the number of sign ups I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.

  • Kris McCulloch

    I was one of the people who signed up for the trial then things changed and I didn’t have time to try it. I had every intention of trying it soon, but I don’t think 14 days will be enough time to really evaluate it. The other software I use, VT Transaction, also had a 60 day trial period which is why I tried and then bought it too.

  • http://www.e-cubate.com James Scott

    Interesting post and comments – but aren’t we all missing the point?

    A 14-day free trial period doesn’t mean you only have 14 days to evaluate the system. It just means you have 14 days free and then need to commit to paying for a month of service to continue your evaluation for another 30 days.

    If you haven’t got £15.99 (one month’s subscription) to invest in making the correct choice of business system then I would suggest you have bigger problems to worry about…!

    • http://www.spanishvilla.com Vincent

      James, IMHO your point is valid but needs expanding.
      Don’t think anyone has an issue with £15.99 per say.
      * These are people that are still ‘evaluating’, hence KF would be only one of many they are testing.

      * Normally wouldn’t want to give their credit card details until they ‘feel’ a particular solution is worth their trust.

      * Don’t think 14 days is enough to evaluate multiple solutions. Keep in mind it makes sense to run evaluations at same time, side-by-side.

      * Hence if all accounting solutions require payment to continue evaluation after 14 days, the costs are multiplied. Not least credit card security.

  • http://www.2cubed.ie Jennifer O’Brien

    HI Duane, KashFlow was recommended to me by an accountant here in Ireland. I just visited the website and the relief I experienced was unbelievable! I’m a web developer that wanted a very easy to use online accountancy software package.. As could not understand why I would want to have anything installed on my laptop! Which most other accountancy software is. When I saw that you are a fellow developer and created this it just has confirmed to me that this is definitely for me.. I think it makes for a more rounded piece of software because you are not an accountant. Can’t wait to start using it. Just thought I would share this with you.

    Jennifer

    • Duane Jackson – Founder & CEO

      HI Jennifer,

      Comments like that really make my day – so thanks for taking the time to post it.

      Do check out out our APIif you haven’t already – http://www.accountingapi.com

  • Nick Prater

    I set time aside tonight to register for a KashFlow trial. Seeing the trial reduced from 60 days to 14, I decided not to.

    Instead I have signed up for another trial, marketed as ‘limited to a maximum of 180 days’. They have hooked me in with the promise of a longer trial period.

    For me, changing our businesses to new accounting software is categorically ‘non urgent’. Important perhaps, certainly risky, but not urgent. Your shortening of the trial period does not change that, apart from increasing the risk. I share Elle H’s view that it feels like pressure tactics, which I react defensively to.

    I strongly echo the comments of Christina Spencer and Shane McCracken above. I have a particular set of requirements which will take time to evaluate, noteably with regard to API integration. 14 days is insufficient time.

    The direct marketing I recently received, promised ‘two months free’. Your FAQs still promote a 60 day trial period:

    Emotionally, I feel that you have reneged on an offer and I’ve become more wary as a result. Building trust is especially important, given that your published terms permit you to ‘make any variation to the Agreement with immediate effect’.

    In writing this, I mean to give you insight into the thoughts and reactions of one potential customer. It’s an issue I have wrestled with in my own ventures. Though I disagree, I respect your reasons for making the change and thank you for sharing them.

  • http://www.servertastic.com Andy Gambles

    Some people are just tight fisted as well though.

    Given it only costs £15 per month if you want more than 2 weeks just pay £15 for a month and carry on.

    Saying things like I need 60 days because I have to integrate everything seems bizarre. The trial period is to see what it can do. Once you start using and ‘integrating’ you should be paying.

    The alternatives are a money back guarantee. (But some are suspicious of such) or a free version. Such as limited to 10 transactions a month.

    My experience of selling software a free version tends to go down very well. But then you still get the ‘but I have to pay £15 to process 11 transactions’. That and free customers tend to need the most support.

    Very difficult subject to tackle really.

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  • Richard Kynaston

    Its interesting reading all these comments about why people won’t look at the software if they’ve only got 14 days to trial it.

    Go back a few years to when software was delivered on CD-ROM and DVD from a shop or mail order, you didn’t get any free trial then, but yet strangely, people decided based on information and advertising whether it could work for them. If they thought it could they bought the software and discovered first hand the result, some it did work for, some it didn’t! To be honest there is more information around today what with the company website, independent web views, forums, product reviews in the magazines etc…

    At the end of the day, 14 days is enough to evaluate whether the product interests you or not. This is not KashFlow saying we’re going to sponsor your business for 60 days! For those small businesses who are querying the decision, ask yourselves the question – do you deal with customers? do you release the goods/service to those customers once they pay? If the answer is yes to both, then why should your dealing with KashFlow be any different!!

    Everyone wants something for nothing in todays world – and the sooner people realise the web doesn’t work that way, the better.

    I’ve no association to KashFlow other than an interested and satisfied customer. To be honest if it takes me more than seven days to work out whether something has the potential to work for me then it obviously doesn’t. If it does, they i’m happy to pay to continue investigating. Personally I think KashFlow has filled a niche in the market and with the benefit of an online system (that I can access from my home or office), a mobile version (iPhone) and a programmable API all aspects are covered!

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  • http://thestoneyard Mark Betts

    I think 14 days is far too short. It simply leaves you too short of time to discuss with all parties . All your reasons for moving to this short time seem wrong to us.
    If we are looking at 4 or 5 systems and choosing the best it will expire way before we have reached any conclusion.

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