Trials are a fantastic way to attract new users and get them engaged with your subscription product. But many companies struggle with their SaaS trial length. With the length of a trial having a huge effect on whether users end up signing on as paid customers, it’s vital to figure the optimal period for your particular product or service.
Trials range from one day to 6 months or more, and the length of your trial needs find the right balance between giving users just enough time to discover the value of your services, and not too much time where they feel no urgency to become engaged.
Many SaaS companies opt (at least initially) for 30-day trials as a kind of unofficial standard. But as a digital merchant, you need to figure out if this is actually the best amount of time for a trial of your service. In most cases, 30 days is not optimal for software-as-a-service.
Here are some pros and cons for short and long trial periods and what that means for SaaS companies.
MOTIVATION. By reducing your trial length, you actually increase the likelihood that your users will start engaging with your product quickly, which is crucial for converting trial users. With just a few days to check out the value you can provide, there is a greater sense of urgency to dig in right away. And experience has shown that if you don’t get users engaged quickly, they are much less likely to convert regardless of how long your trial is.
REDUCE COSTS. With nurturing trial users obviously being more costly than having paying customers, a shorter trial can reduce your sales cycle. For example, shortening your trial from 30 days to 7 days will significantly reduce the amount of time you have to support unpaid users, shorten your sales cycle and hopefully increase the number that convert, which can reduce your overall customer acquisition costs.
LOWER TRIAL SIGNUPS. Prospective customers may not bother with a 7-day trial if they feel like it’s not enough time to evaluate your product, especially if they are busy.
RISK OF HIGHER CONVERSION/LOWER RECURRING REVENUE. When a provider shortens their SaaS trial length, most often the conversion rate from trial to paid goes up. But this approach can also cause lower initial trial sign ups and higher churn rates which can result in lower recurring revenues in the long-run.
MORE TIME. Long trials are useful for those SaaS companies whose products are more complex to learn or have a longer lead-time to value realization. A good example of this kind of service is Evernote. People love it because they can store all their notes, pictures and files in one place. After spending time centralizing their life's content in Evernote, the product becomes very hard to give up, making it less likely for the customer to move to another company’s offering.
STICKINESS. Knowing your audience’s needs and behavior can also warrant a longer trial time. Email marketing software Constant Contact offers a 60-day free trial because they know their service is aimed towards busy small business owners. And, like Evernote, they know their audience wants to test out the service because they are looking for something specific that they will use for a long time.
USER PROCRASTINATION. Offering a one- or two-month trial can make it easier for users to put off exploring your product, increasing the chance that they will forget about it altogether.
SHORT ATTENTION SPANS. People don’t really try something for a full month. If customers keep using for up to a week, they are more likely to buy into the service. After that, conversion rates drop significantly. So, depending on your sales cycle, the remaining 23 days may be redundant.
If you’re still unsure of whether to go short or long, try meeting somewhere in the middle and experimenting. According to Close.io, 99% of B2B SaaS products should limit their trial to a maximum of 14 days. This is increasingly becoming the sweet spot for trial lengths as it gives a sense of urgency while also allowing potential customers a fair amount of time to get to know your software.
Regardless of trial length, prospects that are active in the first three days of a SaaS free trial convert at a significantly higher rate than those who aren’t. Customers may think that they have 30 days to evaluate your product but you should know that you really only have three days to get them started using your software to get them to convert. You can achieve this by activating them quickly, clearly stating or showing product benefits and ensuring that the onboarding process is easy and engaging.
Ultimately, your free trial should be as long as it takes for a user to learn your product and be convinced it’s right for them. Once you understand your customer, what they are looking for and current market expectations, you will have a much clearer understanding of how long your trial period should be. Then, you can focus on leveraging that time to engage and onboard users quickly to accelerate and optimize customer acquisition.