The Effect of Shorter Trial Periods for SaaS

A couple of months ago I wrote that we were reducing our free trial period for our online accounting software.

To summarise: we have always offered a 60 day trial, one of the longest in our industry. I decided to drop it to 14 days – one of the shortest. The reasoning for this was that of those that didn’t convert into paying customers after the trial, by far the most cited reason was that they didn’t get a chance to take a look.

My theory was that 60 days is a long time, so it wasn’t high on their priority list. Making the trial much shorter would hopefully focus their minds on taking the time to evaluate the software.

The comments on the original post are an interesting read. It might be more honest to say they’re a “scary read” if you’re in my position. The end of the world was predicted. So what actually happened?

Sign-ups to Trial

One of the concerns was how a shorter trial period would affect conversions from web visitor to trialist. We’d recently received a massive boost on this metric from a completely redesigned site and really didn’t want to see it go down.
If people aren’t willing to take the first step to see how awesome our software is then we’ve got no chance of turning them in to paying customers.

The result? Well, nothing really. Reducing the trial period from 60 to 14 days had no noticeable effect on a web-site visitor’s willingness to take a trial. Phew.

Conversion to Paying

This was the biggie. This is the metric the change was designed to improve. And I’m really relieved to say it has. So far we’ve seen an increase of around 25% in conversions from trial to paying. When you have thousands of free trials being taken every month this makes a big difference to the bottom line. It’s still fairly early days – the change was just a couple of months ago – so I’d like to give it a few more months before making a judgement. But I’d be very surprised if in a few months time the change is no longer a very positive one.

Other Benefits

We still contact everyone that takes a free trial but doesn’t convert to ask them why. One of the benefits of the shorter trial period is that they still remember who we are, why they signed up for the trial and why they haven’t yet subscribed. Contacting someone two months after they started a trial often results in a blank look – ‘sorry, who are you again?’

For a lot of the non-subscribers the overwhelming reason is still “I didn’t get a chance to look”, and in those instances we extend the trial for a further 14 days.

It also means that we can more quickly evaluate the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. Yes, with a longer trial period we can get an indication of how it’s going (number of logins etc) and the likely return, but nothing speaks as loudly as cash in the bank.

In Summary

Website visitors don’t seem to care how long the trial period is. Make the case for trialling compelling enough, regardless of the length of trial, and they’ll take it.

With a shorter trial period, you focus the mind of the would-be customer and (assuming your software is brilliant) you get more customers. You also get quicker and more useful feedback cycles.

So, all things considered, I’m glad we made the change. The question now is whether or not I have the balls to remove the trial period completely…!

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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