The Software-as-a-Service business model has peaked in popularity over the past few years, driven by the rise of cloud computing and the startup craze.

A huge percentage of the SaaS websites around, offer a free trial to all their clients as a part of their sales process before driving them to a paid subscription-based plan.

But a prevalent problem they are facing is actually converting the free trial signups into paying subscribers. According to Totango, 75% of free trial users (when no credit card is required) don’t convert to a paid plan after their trial ends.

So what is keeping all these users from converting and what can you do about it?

Not all free-trial users are the same

A key success driver is understanding and profiling your free trial users, in order to nurture and ultimately convert them.

Totango identifies 3 types of free trial users:

Totango SaaS free trial user types
The True Evaluators
These are the users you should be focusing on the most, as they are actively interested and are using their free trial. They are most likely to convert.

This is the high-priority type of user for a SaaS website and should be treated accordingly by the customer success and sales team.

The Potentials
These users are the second most likely to convert. They are not as engaged as the former during their free trial and are less likely to convert right after their trial ends.

These type of users make qualified leads and shouldn’t be neglected so you do not to lose their interest completely.

You should focus your efforts on trying to make them more active during their free trial (eg onboarding, sending personalized emails and content) and after their trial ends, all the unconverted users should then be put in a lead nurturing cycle.

Your goal is to gradually build up their interest and drive them back to your solution when they are sales-ready.

The Accidental Signups
Unfortunately, the number of unqualified leads make for a staggering amount of the sum. And many companies spend a lot of time and effort trying to convert these unbudging “accidental signups”.

Naturally, you should not ignore this type of free trial user completely. But once you identify a user as “accidental”, you can’t follow the same approach as the previous more engaged types.

The accidental signups may not ever convert or truly engage with your service. So you need to create a separate nurturing cycle that gradually pulls them in. One that requires minimum resources and is as automated as possible.

Define milestones

Once a user has activated his trial, is when your real work begins…

In order to design an effective nurturing program and guide your users smoothly through their trial, you should define certain important events you expect to occur.

Often called milestones, these events are types of micro-conversions that happen during a trial and indicate if a user is interacting with the product and experiencing its features the way you want him to.

For example, if your SaaS website was an email marketing platform, major event that could be counted as milestones could be the following:

  • user downloaded an email template
  • user created/uploaded an email template
  • user created a draft email campaign
  • user uploaded an email list…etc

Based on these milestones you will want to send relevant triggered emails to enrich the user’s experience, guiding him through and inspiring him on what to do next.

Send triggered emails

Onboarding and lead-nurturing emails are one of the most important tools SaaS companies use in their quest for more conversions.

Both during and after a free trial, your leads should be treated with special care. Sometimes all a user needs is a little push in the right direction in order for him to convert.

Make sure your autoresponders are optimized and tested. For example, the welcome email after sign-up is the first piece of communication a user will get from you – you need to craft it to perfection, make it personal and memorable!

The most efficient way of lead-nurturing throughout the trial period is not to having your emails time-triggered, but rather event-triggered. Or preferably, a combination of both.

After a free trial is initiated, you should design several different triggered emails.
Based on your user’s actions such as frequency of logins, or completing some sort of micro-conversion or milestone (eg user saved a draft uploaded a file) he should be placed in a specific email segment.

Depending on his actions, he should receive triggered emails aimed at making his journey easier and fuller (eg tutorial emails, “have you explored this feature” emails etc) or to take him to the next “commitment” level (eg “now you ‘ve saved your draft, how about starting your first campaign?”).

Use Content Marketing

Sharing content with your SaaS users is another method of driving more conversions, coupled with email marketing.

Your content marketing efforts should not be focused solely on acquiring new users, but also on driving users further down the sales funnel.

During the trial period, sharing helpful content and insights with your users can make them more active and engaged, leading them to perform key actions that bring them closer to becoming “true evaluators”.

Educational content such as how-tos can showcase your product’s different features. Powerful case studies are another effective way of engaging users and beckoning them to get more out of their trial.

After a free trial ends, content marketing should be a priority for all 3 types of trial-users. Create drip-emails and send content sequences tailored to the characteristics of each email segment you have created.

Offer extended trials

As mentioned previously, the majority of users who sign up for a free trial don’t convert to paid subscribers at the end of it.

Along with the various lead-nurturing techniques you apply to keep these users engaged and usher them further up the buying cycle, an often used method is offering an extended trial.

Of course, a trial extension should only be offered to those special users who “deserve it” and not be granted automatically to everyone who simply doesn’t convert.

If a user remains disengaged throughout the trial period, he probably won’t be needing an extension, there are other reasons for his lack of activity.

On the other hand, if you have a user that is very active during his free trial and he simply doesn’t convert once his trial ends, maybe a few more days is what he needs to seal the deal.
You may want to individually reach out to these users by sending them a personal email asking them if they need more time to properly try out your product.

Or, in the case of users reaching out on their own for an extension once their free trial ends, you probably also want to grant them some extra free days. Of course after getting some useful feedback on why they require an extension.

In Conclusion

There is no guaranteed method to gain more conversions from your free-trialers.

The road to success is paved with a lot of hard work getting to know your audience and their individual needs.

Find out which bottlenecks users run into that prevent them from moving down the conversion funnel. You then can create and test lead nurturing programs tailored to their individual journeys to find out which one works more efficiently.

And lastly, never stop working on your product and brand!

If you have created something you are genuinely proud of, the rest should fall in place naturally; with a little hard work and creative thinking.

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Victoria Stamati

Digital Marketer at Exit Bee. Loves helping websites create great campaigns to get more conversions and re-engage abandoning visitors. Keen film buff and cheese appreciator.

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