The Ultimate Guide to Hacking Your SaaS Free Trial Conversion Rates
Today, I’ll give you some guidance on how to hack your free trial conversion rate. This will help you convert more of your trial users into your most loyal customers.
But before you can convert free users into paying customers, there’s one unspoken rule.
You need to do whatever it takes to help your users become badass in your product.
Only then, you can optimize for conversions to your heart’s content, but please don’t skip the first step.
For instance, if you were to eliminate several steps in your current onboarding flow without first knowing what it really takes for a user to become successful, you might end up hurting your conversion rate more than helping it.
Now, if you’re still reading this, I’m going to assume you’ve got a firm handle on your onboarding must-haves. With that information in mind, I’m going to share with you an unbelievable framework from BJ Fogg that can help your users adopt literally any behavior.
It’s powerful, but, lucky for us, simple.
There are only three factors you need to know about in order to help anyone adopt a new behavior in your product. Here they are:
1) Motivation – the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.
2) User Experience – how easy or hard people find it to use your product
3) Triggers – tools you can use to prompt a certain behavior
If you master these three factors, you’ll be able to do anything from adopting new habits to converting more users into customers.
You’ll find that when a user experiences the key outcomes your product enables them to do, the most logical next step is them upgrading to a paid account.
So you’ll get the “improve your free trial conversion rate” outcome you want, by focusing on the outcome they want. Win-win.
For now, we’re going to focus on Motivation and User Experience, since they’re the foundation of adopting any new behavior.
Using Motivation & User Experience as Tools to Help Your Users Become Successful aka Increase Your Free Trial Conversion Rate
High motivation and a good UX alone are powerful enough to help anyone do what it takes to experience a key behavior, whether that be learning a new habit or creating their first dashboard in a product.
Just think about the last time you successfully added a new habit to your arsenal. You most likely had a high motivation and ability to make the habit stick. If you look at the graph below, these are the keys to helping our users achieve a key outcome by using our products.
Now, if you’re like most SaaS businesses, you hardly ever encounter users who sign up for your product with high motivation and zero learning curve. Let’s face it, most SaaS products take work to learn. And that’s totally fine!
With that being said, you aren’t doomed if your users start off with a low motivation and find your product hard to use. It just means that your conversion rate won’t be as high as it could be.
To bring your conversion rate up, I find it is helpful to know which scenario you play in so that you can implement the right strategy to help your users become successful.
Later on in this article, I’ll break down how you can improve both the motivation and user experience for your users.
For now, I want you to take a minute and identify the ONE scenario that resembles your business the most. This will come in handy later, I promise.
1) Scenario #1: Mission Impossible — Your user has low motivation and finds it hard, if not impossible, to use your product.
2) Scenario #2: Rookie — Your user has high motivation and finds it incredibly difficult to use your product. This scenario is often a luxury for a lot of companies. Often this scenario pops up when employees are forced to use your software or have no alternative solutions.
3) Scenario #3: Veteran — Your user has low motivation and finds it easy to use your product. This means your user will accomplish the target behavior easily but could flee at any sign of friction—or hunger. Who knows?!
4) Scenario #4: Spoiled — This is the outcome to optimize for. Your user has high motivation and finds it straightforward to use your product. This means that you’ll be able to help the greatest amount of people in your Total Addressable Market (TAM).
I’m curious. What scenario resembles your business?
If you’re in Scenario 1-3, I’m going to show you how you can improve the motivation and user experience for your users shortly.
If you’re in Scenario 4, bravo.
So far, we’ve only talked about using Motivation and User Experience as tools to help new users adopt key behaviors in our product. Now, we’ll dive into how we can use triggers to help improve our conversion rate.
How to use triggers to help your users become successful at free trial conversion rate
Triggers increase the likelihood that someone will adopt a key behavior in your product.
If your users have a strong motivation and ability, triggers can make your product sticky.
However, if your users have a low motivation and find it difficult to use your product, triggers might actually backfire by annoying your users.
Now, not all triggers are created equal — there are key difference between the external and internal.
Both external and internal triggers are helpful for users to achieve and maintain a new target behavior in a product.
External triggers are much easier to control. It could be as easy as sending out an email to remind someone to use your product, or targeting a conversational marketing playbook at them when they visit your website.
Internal triggers can take much longer to form in someone’s mind, but are much more powerful. For example, if it’s Monday at work and you typically pull a marketing report to share with your boss, you login to your marketing tool and share your weekly report without thinking twice about it.
If we look at the graph below, triggers allow us to increase the likelihood of someone adopting a new behavior.
In the beginning of a user’s journey in your product you can rely more heavily on external triggers, but eventually you have to rely more heavily on internal triggers.
Take Duolingo, for instance. As soon as you start learning a new language, you’ll receive daily reminders (i.e. external triggers) at a set time each day to learn the language. What Duolingo is trying to do is build a habit so that you eventually don’t need notifications to remember to check Duolingo — it becomes automatic (i.e. internal triggers).
Now that we’ve gone through how we can use motivation, user experience and triggers as tools to help our users become successful, I broke this article down into mini lessons that will help you address each problem you’re facing below:
- How to improve user motivation
- How to improve your product’s user experience
- How to use triggers to convert more free users into paying customers
Just click on the section you find most relevant to your business.
How to improve user motivation
Motivation is one of the most nebulous concepts out there, but it really just boils down to understanding what your users care about.
Motivation is incredibly important because if someone isn’t motivated to use your product, well, they’re just not going to use it, unless they have to.
One of the easiest ways to lock down what motivates your users is to do customer research.
Now, one of my pet peeves is when marketers say “do customer research,” but don’t tell you how. So if you don’t know, I created a free course for SaaS customer research. I give you all the templates, questions, and spreadsheets you need to do this stuff on your own. So, no excuses.
When it comes to improving the motivation of each user, here’s a couple great ways to do just that:
Top Tactics to Improve User Motivation
Pre-Signup Motivation Methods (free trial conversion rate optimization tactic)
3-Track Home Page – If you’ve taken a look at Crazy Egg’s homepage, it is a bit crazy. They’ve stripped out the non-essential items and optimized for only three action items. You can:
- Log in
- Read more
- Sign up
Just to give you a quick comparison, Crazy Egg’s competitors have 29+ different buttons you can click on.
This extreme focus has significantly boosted Crazy Egg’s conversion rate. If you want to go behind the scenes and see how the Crazy Egg team went about this experiment, they just published an impressive case study on what it takes to create a high-converting SaaS website.
Objection Bot – Before we buy products, we have objections, such as:
- Will it cost too much?
- Will this be a good fit for my team?
Regardless of what the objection is, one thing is for sure. If you don’t answer these objections, you bleed sales. James from GoSquared was kind enough to share an example of how he’s been able to tackle this problem head on, below.
“It may sound simple, but we send a triggered automatic message to visitors simply saying “Have any questions about our pricing?” when people have been on our pricing page for more than 30 seconds. It’s helped us convert 100’s of visitors in real-time.” – James Gill, GoSquared
Post-Signup Motivation Methods (Crucial to hack your free trial conversion rate)
Checklists – Humans love checklists. They show us what we need to do, and how far along we are in the process of doing something.
If I’m going to get all geeky on you, checklists employ the Endowed progress effect, which is a psychological phenomenon that basically boils down to this: the closer people think they are to completing something, the more likely they are to actually see it through.
In the example below, Evernote uses a checklist to walk people through learning the product — and to highlight its unique value proposition. If you didn’t go through these 4 steps, you most likely wouldn’t know how Evernote is different than Microsoft Word or Google Docs — with the exception of a different UI.
If you go through this checklist, you understand the pros of using Evernote vs. its competitors, and are more inclined to continue using it.
If you want to apply this to your business, make sure to map your checklist items to the distinct advantages of using your product.
Celebrate Wins – MailChimp gives a virtual high-five whenever you send out a campaign. It’s a cute way to celebrate a small win you’ve been able to experience in the product. It also gives you the feeling that you’re doing something right.
Focused Mode – Pipefy strips out everything that draws focus away from the single task at hand. Gone are the usual screen components such as the header, main navigation, and more.
How to improve your product’s user experience
According to Intercom, 40-60% of users who sign up for a free trial of your software or SaaS application will use it once and never come back . That’s a lot of waste.
Most often, what’s driving the vast majority of people away is that they don’t understand how to use your product and get value out of it.
Now, we could try to dial up our marketing and do all we can to improve our user’s motivation before signing up for our product, but it’s often easier and more cost-effective to make the product simpler to use in the long-term.
Without overhauling your entire product, I’ve outlined some of the most powerful tactics that my clients have used to double their free trial to paid conversion rate.
Top Tactics to Boost Your Free Trial Conversion Rate
Empty States – Have you signed up for a product only to find that it’s empty? There might be navigation, but there’s no data or anything useful for you to do with the product right off the bat.
This scenario is very common for a lot of SaaS companies. Quite simply, you need to put that wasted real estate to good use. In Gmail’s example below, they guide you through the entire setup process in order. If you have a lot of empty space in your product when people sign up, this could be relatively straightforward to roll out.
If you’re looking for other great empty state examples, here is a treasure trove of them.
Hotspots & Action-Driven Tooltips – I see hotspots and tooltips as one of the easiest things to set up, especially if you’re using a product adoption platform. But be careful about getting too cue-happy – some products feel like you’re playing “whack a mole,” trying to speed through the entire onboarding experience.
Pro tip: If you’re going to use Hotspots or Tooltips, take your user through a guided journey that leads to a specific outcome in the product. If you’re just walking people through every single feature, you’re wasting their time.
We don’t want our hotspots to feel like we’re playing whack-a-mole…
Slow Load – If your application takes a while to load, try adding humor or offering a helpful tip. In the example below, observe how Nimble takes peoples’ attention off the fact that their application takes a while to boot up with some playful copy.
Add a Friend – Asking users who sign up to add their colleagues makes your free trial more sticky. And in the case of Slack and Asana, the product becomes exponentially more valuable.
“For our product, we encourage getting other teammates involved early as Userpilot is best used in teams. We also try to not overwhelm users in the free trial by showing them everything that the product can do. Instead, we try to get them to the point where they understand how our product can help them accomplish their goals and then provide a deeper learning of the product at later stages.” – Yazan Sehwail
Intent-Driven Onboarding – This one doubles as both an acquisition and activation play! Canva has created an amazing resource for how to create posters. The CTA directs people to the home page, and once they sign up they are immediately directed to a poster image and given a bunch of great examples to help accomplish the job-to-be-done.
You can apply this approach to your B2B SaaS application by identifying what core jobs-to-be-done your product accomplishes, creating amazing content to solve that problem, and then having a CTA direct people to tackle EXACTLY that problem using your product.
Make it easy to upgrade – This sounds straightforward, but you’d be surprised by the number of businesses that make it really hard to upgrade their accounts. In order to make the upgrade decision easy for someone, you need to align your value with their upgrade path.
“Much of what’s worked well for Buffer is focusing on what’s a key part of the value delivered by our product. For our more popular product (Publish), a key value prop is being able to batch work social media updates (create the post now, send it at various times in the coming days/weeks/months). People on the free plan who find this action valuable want to do it more, so an upgrade path that opens up more future schedule slots works well. Our data analysis shows that this is a very popular upgrade path for us and it makes sense. Anything gimmicky that’s not tied to the core value will only work in the short term.” Roy Olende, Buffer
Proactive Customer Success – Consider the case of RapidMiner; a SaaS app for data science teams. The company tracks user error rates and notifies its Customer Success Manager (CSR) if a customer exceeds a predefined threshold of errors within a single hour. The CSR then proactively reaches out to the customer. By helping customers understand how to avoid errors, and instead, best use RapidMiner to achieve their goals, the company minimizes both support requests and churn rates associated with user frustration.
Top Tactics to Bring People Back Into Your Product
Lifecycle Emails – These emails pull your users back into your app. The end goal of lifecycle emails is to eventually not need them, in the same way that you don’t permanently install bicycle training wheels. The point is to help see the adjustment period through, then let the “real” use take over.
For software, that means habitual and unprompted use.
To accomplish this, lifecycle emails should be set up to nudge people along through the most critical inflection points of the journey — from signup to thriving user.
When it comes to lifecycle emails, there are 5 main ones that you’ll want for your business. Here they are:
- Welcome Emails
- Usage Tips
- Sales Touches
- Usage Reviews
- Expiry Warning
1. Welcome Email – Send a welcome message from the CEO that asks a new customer what they hope to get out of their experience using your product. Here’s a short example from HubStaff:
2. Usage Tips – These emails direct users to a specific in-app page or help center article, and directs to best practices. The primary goal for these emails is to provide actionable value. Here’s an example from Wistia:
This is a usage tip email that was triggered the second I created my first video using Wistia’s Soapbox video tool. The tip itself is timely and helps me get the full use out of the product.
3. Sales Touches – These emails could be sent out as a “success meeting” to celebrate the user achieving an aha moment, to help the user get more value out of the product, or to invite inactive users to an orientation demo (e.g. “30-minute crash course on how to share documents and collaborate between teams”).
This is an automated email from Databox that starts the conversation where I left off in the product, and shows a helping hand when I might need it most.
4. Usage Reviews – Sent throughout the trial to give users a bird’s-eye view of their progress and suggest areas to explore further.
Zendesk sends a usage review email each month to show you how you’ve been able to reduce your support times since you began using their support ticketing platform.
Regardless of your product, what you want to do is showcase your value metrics in this email. That way you’re always reminding customers why they’re paying you — and why they should continue to do so.
5. Expiry Warning – Expiry warning emails are common for free trials, but remain a powerful way to motivate users to upgrade (if they’ve received value from your free trial, that is).
This is an old example from Basecamp; it simply shows that someone’s time is up in a trial, and nudges them to upgrade. One thing I would recommend adding to this email is the benefits of the product. Basecamp missed the mark on reminding people why their product is worth buying, in my opinion.
What to do when people don’t convert
Let’s face it. The majority of people aren’t going to convert when they sign up for your free product.
Here are some great ways to motivate those tire kickers:
Gamified Free Trial Extension – If people want to extend their free trial (so that you can hack your conversion rate), you can give them a certain number of actions to do. Ideally, you’d have these actions line up with accomplishing a key outcome in the product.
Freemium Downgrade – If people sign up for your free trial but don’t upgrade, you can downgrade them to a forever free plan with a limited product set, and use it as free advertising (this is a great hack to improve your free trial conversion rate).
In the case of Nudge.ai, they’ve been able to enrich my contacts in Gmail, as well as earn a sizeable portion of email real estate. If you want a low cost way to advertise your product to your target audience, this may be a great option for your business.
“Free edition users could become the biggest advocates for your product and contribute to acquiring paying customers.” Balasubramanian V, Securden
Post-Trial Survey – Include a survey at the end of your onboarding process that asks people what you could have done better.
What I like about Autopilot’s approach is that if you fill out their survey, you automatically get enrolled in a nurture or sales program depending on your response. For instance, if you tell AutoPilot that it’s too complex, an onboarding specialist can then help you get up-to-speed in the product. Problem solved!
Re-evaluate your product-led model – If you’ve tried everything above and are still not seeing a great free to paid conversion rate, you might be using the wrong product-led model.
“One of the best things we did as a business was asking people to upgrade to a paid plan from a trial and scrapping freemium. Our freemium conversion was 1.8% and when we switched to a free trial, we went to a 7% conversion rate overnight. Now, we’re at nearly 9%.” – Adam Hempenstall, BetterProposals
Tying it all together. Adam is a prime example of hacking the free trial conversion rate with a free trial instead of freemium.
When we’re trying to convert more free users into paying customers, it’s easy to focus on tactics. If you run enough experiments, I guarantee that you’ll eventually find one that works.
But, if you don’t want to waste valuable resources and time, it pays to use a systematic approach to help your users adopt a new behavior in your product. In my experience, using the Fogg framework below has helped me prioritize what tactics to employ.
For instance, if people find the user experience challenging but have a high motivation to use the product, I can simply improve the user experience to improve adoption.
Or if people aren’t motivated to use the product but find it easy-to-use, I can then focus on tactics that will help improve their motivation.
By using the Fogg framework, you can quickly prioritize what levers you need to pull in order to help free trial users adopt a new behavior.
When it comes to converting more free users into customers, there’s only one silver bullet – It’s when a user experiences the key outcomes your product enables them to do. Once they experience that key outcome, the most logical next step is for them to upgrade to a paid account.
By focusing on helping your users experience the value of your product, you’ll simultaneously be able to improve your free trial to paid conversion rate. Win-win!
Wes Bush helps B2B SaaS leaders launch and optimize free trial and freemium models at Traffic Is Currency.
You can find his free course about learning who your best customers really are—and how to find more of them—at doubleyourtrials.com.