3 ways to nurse lost trial leads into activation

by Steli Efti

Like most SaaS businesses, you offer a free trial for your product. Through the trial, you've done your best to drive customer engagement.

Customer onboarding seamlessly runs new users through all the shiny features of your product, and your mastery of the free trial lifecycle email has them active from beginning to the end.

According to research by Softletter, 66% of SaaS vendors report free trial conversion rates of 25% or less—but industry averages are just benchmarks. Whatever your trial conversion rate is, you want to improve that number.

Don’t stop when the trial does. If you give up on unconverted users after the trial, you lose out on all the potential customers that could be activated later.

Free trial users took the time and effort to sign up for and test your product. They're warm leads you should nurture. Don’t turn your back on them just because the trial’s over. Try to reignite the spark that got them using your product in the first place.

Here are 3 simple ways to get unconverted users back into your funnel—right where they should be.

1. Shorten trial periods and offer generous extensions

A 30-day trial is too long. For the majority of SaaS companies, it’s better to have shorter trial periods, with liberal extensions, than a longer trial period.

These are the main benefits of having a shorter trial period:

  1. Users will know they have less time to check out your product, and be more proactive during the trial.
  2. Shorter trial periods mean shorter SaaS sales cycles, and lower customer acquisition costs.
  3. You’re able to conduct more testing, which allows you to learn faster and iterate faster.

At the end of the day, your SaaS product probably doesn’t take 30 days to evaluate. Limit your free trial to 14, or even 7 days.

You can always provide users who need more time to evaluate your product with extensions.

Don’t just give your extension away, though it’s already free. When it comes to offering an extension, contact trial users and ask, “Do you want me to extend your free trial for you?”

Around 30% of unconverted users will request more time. It's a great way to initiate a conversation with them, find out more about their needs, and eventually steer them along the path to conversion.

The most common reasons prospects need more time are:

  • They have to test your product more internally, and go to a higher-level decision-maker for the final call
  • They’ve been too busy to try your product out

Larger accounts have lengthier decision-making procedures for implementing new software, and warrant extensions on their trials. They also tend to be prospects you’ll want to focus your sales efforts on.

But even for general users, giving an extension costs you nothing, and allows prospects to gain a deeper experience of your product—which is why you have a free trial in the first place. Use extensions as a way to increase customer engagement with your product, and keep them coming back for more.

2. Send an open-ended exit survey

When the free trial expires, avoid sending a tedious survey with pre-filled answers that ask how users “felt” on a scale of 1 to 10. Most people won’t bother to answer.

Instead, start collecting feedback by asking one simple open-ended question: “What prevented you from choosing our solution?” You’re guaranteed to increase response rates several times over.

The answers you receive won’t be nearly as easy to quantify as those from a survey form. But they’ll often be answers you don’t expect, and more valuable to the success of both your free trial and your product.

Here’s an example of an open-ended exit survey that helped Groove boost their exit survey responses by 785%:

By sending the message from a real person, and giving users the option to hit the “reply” button, you invite better responses:

  • Even if the feedback is negative, it opens the door to further discussion, and even potential conversion.
  • Trial users will notice bugs and glitches that your paying customers have grown used to, or learned to work around.
  • They’ll hand you concrete, actionable feedback that you can implement without waiting for quantifiable data to pile up.

Some of the responses will even present immediate touch points to re-engage—and convert—lost trial users. Pick up the phone, and call them.

Calling new trial users within 5 minutes after sign-up can boost your conversion rate by more than 2x . The same logic applies after the trial.

For example, if a user liked your product, but thought it was missing a certain feature that you already have, get them on the phone. Tell them about the feature, and how best to implement it for their business.

If you're in the early stages of your product and have a very low volume of sign-ups, you can even take an aggressive approach and require them to call you to cancel their trial. This way you increase the chance that you actually get to speak with your users.

Try to streamline a process for incorporating this feedback into your business by dividing it between your various teams. Segment out responses based on the specific problems they address.

  • Issues surrounding specific feature implementation can be taken to your Customer Success Team to ramp up your onboarding procedure.
  • Problems with user experience and workflow inefficiencies go to your Product Team.
  • Concerns about pricing can be delivered to your Sales Team.

Approached the right way, unconverted users will teach you the most about the shortfalls in your free trial process. Learn why they're not buying. Get inside their heads to discover how you can use your free trial to unlock value for your product, and you’ll boost your conversion rate dramatically.

3. Extend your drip email strategy beyond the trial period

Customers aren’t necessarily ready to make the purchase right now—but that doesn’t mean they won’t buy your product in the future. You want to keep in touch with former users without shoving your product down their throats, or blasting out spammy “you’re missing out” emails.

15five is a SaaS product that helps managers maximize team productivity. Take a page from their post-trial playbook, and re-engage former users by launching a drip email campaign that starts after the trial period is over.

Here’s an email from the campaign to Janet Choi at Customer.io

Look for ways you can provide additional value to unconverted users beyond your product. You want to nurture their interest in your company and your mission, without driving them away by being too pushy on the sales side.

Here’s how to proceed once the trial ends:

  1. Target your most active users during your trial, who frequently logged into your product and tested multiple features.
  2. Launch a drip email campaign over the next six months that delivers relevant and educational content to former users. The purpose of each email should be to enable the success of its recipients.
  3. Make it easy in each email for users to reply. Provide a call to action button that puts them in touch with a member of your sales or customer success team.
  4. After they respond, you can find the touch points that allow you to reopen the sales conversation with former users — when they’re ready.

Highly active users who don’t convert are some of the best candidates for reactivation later. They’ve already engaged significantly with your product.

These active users probably already work in a field that’s related to your product and your company. Re-engage them with what you’re doing rather than what you’re selling.

By keeping them in the loop, you walk them down steps in your sales-funnel that will help convert them into paying customers in the future.

Optimize your free trial

Your free trial is one of the most important tools in your SaaS sales arsenal. It allows you to prove value to buyers before they spend a dime, and implicitly sells value over price. Keep looking for ways to fine-tune it.

The majority of people who take your product for a spin on a free trial probably won’t convert. But that’s no reason to put them on the back-burner. Not only will some turn into paying customers later, but they’re also a vital resource for improving the overall quality of your free trial.

Your lost trial leads can become your greatest teachers when it comes to optimizing your trial. Whether it’s better onboarding, more valuable lifecycle emails or overall user engagement—they have the answers. They know why they didn't take the next step. Use that knowledge to ramp up your trial, and convert more leads into customers.

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