Sales & Marketing

How to Convert B2B Software Free Trial Users into Paying Customers

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“We generate quite a few leads from the free trial of our software, but not enough leads convert into paying customers. What can we do?”

It’s a question I’ve been asked by clients, seen on LinkedIn and other online forums, and a problem I had to help solve while working in the marketing/PR department of multiple software companies. Since free trial offers are a main source of lead generation for many B2B software companies, it’s imperative that these leads are converted if sales revenue goals are to be met.

Free trials alone won’t sell software. I believe the root of this problem comes from the mentality of many software marketers that once a prospective customer uses their software they’ll love it, and once they love it they’ll eagerly pay money to have it. The prospect will convert from lead (free trial user) to paying customer without much influence from marketing or sales because the software will basically sell itself.

Unfortunately this way of thinking doesn’t take into account:

  • Prospects are probably not only using your free trial, they are also using other vendor’s trials for comparison
  • Prospects are busy and may only spend a few minutes with your software then not use it again
  • Prospects may not understand how to use your software correctly and therefore not experience its full value
  • Most B2B software sales involve several people making the purchase decision, so unless all of them are using your free trial, you’re not influencing everyone you need to in order to close the sale

Focus on lead nurturing Having a lead nurturing program specifically for free trial users is the most effective method I’ve found for converting them into sales. It’s important to note that free trial users are usually further along in the sales cycle than most leads, meaning they’re usually past the ‘information gathering’ stage and into the ‘evaluation’ stage. Follow-up contact with free trial users needs to focus on providing information that makes it clear:

  • How your software is different from and better than competitors
  • How using your software is better than trying to solve their problem themselves

Lead nurturing tactics

There are many ways to nurture leads, but here are a few that I’ve found to be successful. If at all possible, invest in marketing automation software (such as Genco) and a solid CRM system like Salesforce.com  to ensure timely follow-up and the ability to track the success of your lead nurturing program and optimize it for even better results as time goes on.

1) Email. When prospects submit their personal information to register for your free trial, offer a simple way to opt-in to receiving emails from your company. To encourage prospects to opt-in, offer a valuable ‘how to’ guide or other marketing asset that they immediately receive.

Send a confirmation email to all prospects thanking them for registering for the free trial, and include a link to brief instructional materials or FAQ document that they can download to ensure they use your software trial correctly. If you offer customer support to free trial users, make sure to explain how to get help. Ask the prospect if there are other people in their organization who are evaluating your software who would like to participate in the free trial, and provide an easy, fast way for them to send the trial info to colleagues. If possible, send the email from the salesperson that is assigned to the lead, and provide that salesperson’s contact information.

If free trial users haven’t converted into buyers by a certain time period (whatever is appropriate for your particular software) and have opted-in to receiving emails, send them a link to a document, video, podcast, or other marketing asset directly comparing your software to competitors. You might also send a link to a case study describing the success of a customer that is similar to the prospect. One client I worked with had great success with a case study we did on a customer that had switched to their software from a competitor.

If it’s possible, send prospects a link to an ROI calculator or some method for prospects to calculate how much money or time they can expect to save or amount of revenue they can expect to generate, etc. by using your software.

2) Direct Mail. Use direct mail to send marketing materials discussed above to prospects who don’t opt-in to emails. You can send the materials themselves, or send postcards with links to get the materials online.

3) Phone. The salesperson assigned to the lead should call the free trial user 2-3 days after they register, simply introducing themselves and inquiring as to the user’s experience with the trial so far, if they have any questions, etc. Ask prospects what problem(s) they’re having that drove them to evaluate your software, which is a good way to break the ice and engage the prospect in a conversation about their needs and how your software can help solve them.

Kim Cornwall Malseed is Principal of MarCom Ink.

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