How Long Should Your Free Trial Be? Stop Thinking in Days

How long should your free trial be? Ah, the question as old as time.

Ok, maybe it’s only a 15-year old question, and it seems we still can’t get a definitive answer.

Some argue for a free trial as short as possible (7 days) to create urgency for the user. Others say a longer free trial (+14 days) lets users explore your product at their leisure, and it becomes stickier.

Honestly, at Userpilot, all we care about is helping companies create product experiences that convert users into customers and retain them.

A huge number – around 80% of users will drop out after two days. At the same time, 80% of SaaS conversions happen at the 40-day mark. Our research shows that it is actually the time it takes for users to reach your “Aha Moment!” and to performing key actions that influence conversion rate much more than the free trial length.

Companies need to stop thinking of a free trial just in terms of days but also consider user behavior.

In this article, we will be diving into how you should design a free trial that fits your product and not just what is easy to market. We will go over the benefits of a short free trial vs a long free trial and the different free trial models available.

Finally, we will go over a step-by-step process to show your product’s value within the first 2 minutes, 2 hours, and 2 days for maximum conversion.

free trial meme

Source: imgflip.com

 

Table of Contents

TL;DR

  • Your “Aha! Moment” is when the user realizes the value of your product.
  • Your free trial should be as long as it takes to reach your “Aha! Moment” and perform the key actions to be considered “Activated”. 14-30 days is the most common for B2B companies.
  • Short free trials (7 days) are great for adding urgency to the buying process but are more likely to be used by B2C companies.
  • Long free trials (+14 days) are great for products that require integrations, have long implementation times, and can afford a long sales cycle.
  • Different types of free trials are: modular, demo then trial, and automated extension.
  • The best way to convert trial users is to show a personalized welcome screen and then a checklist in the first two minutes.
  • Show an interactive walkthrough with tooltips triggered based on custom events, and then send an onboarding email in the first two hours. After two days you should start a secondary onboarding sequence showing your more advanced features, inviting them to engage with your blog or webinars, and a check in from customer success.

What Are Free Trials For, and What Is The “Aha! Moment”?

Before we even begin talking about how long your free trial should be, we must cover their main purpose: so that users can try before they buy.

The way they come to a buying decision is if they see the value of your product in the time given.

That instance, when everything clicks and they see how your product helps them get their job done, it is called the “Aha! Moment.”

In LinkedIn, it is adding your first connection; in Spotify, it is building a playlist; for Userpilot, it is creating your first product experience.

How long should your free trial be?

Source: Userpilot.com

How do you get them to this moment?

First of all, make it as easy for them as possible to reach the key activation points.

You can include an onboarding experience for new users that guide them to the activation events. Then after they perform the core action that allows them to experience the value of your product first hand, you can consider them “activated” (read more about it here.)

user adoption flywheel

Source: Userpilot.com

Through your analytics, you will see how long it typically takes them to reach this moment as users enter your free trial (ie. 1-2 days or 15+ days). That is when you will know if your free trial is either too short or too long.

 

But what if you still don’t know when is your “Aha Moment!” or maybe you think you have several for different use cases?

Let’s tackle that in the next section.

How Do You Find Your Product’s “Aha Moment!”?

Generally speaking, there are two Aha! Moments for your product. One is what you think your Aha! Moment is. The other is what your users think their Aha! Moment is.

You know your product better than anybody else. You designed it to solve a specific problem you had in mind and know the value that you offer.

That moment where you believe sets your product apart from the rest is the “Aha! moment” in your head.

Let’s say you are building a simple CRM for small businesses-we can call it Eureka. You may think the Aha! Moment is when users realize they can create new sales opportunities straight from their Gmail.

streak crm

Source: Streak.com

But your users have unique insight because they are the ones actually using Eureka.

Their Aha! Moment might actually be when they import their contact list from their previous tool and see how seamless the process is.

So, how can you be sure you are building a product that has users running down the street screaming “Eureka!”?

Just ask them.

  • Choose your most successful users. These are people who have used most of your both basic and advanced features, spend ample time in your product, and advocate on your behalf.
  • Ask them about their experience signing up, which features they used first, at which point were they convinced they had found the right solution.
  • Talk to customers who churned and ask what was missing from their experience.
  • Talk to prospects to understand their product evaluation process.

After talking to several groups of users, you will start to see some patterns emerge. Most will talk about the same specific moment when they decided to go all-in on your product.

Now that we know where to find the proper free trial length, let’s look at the benefits of a short free trial vs long.

How Long Should Your Free Trial Be? Short vs Long

According to a post by Close.io in 2017, “99% of B2B SaaS products should limit the trial to 14 days, max.”

No offense to Close, but that is a pretty general statement that doesn’t add much to the topic. 14 days could be too long for various simple SaaS products that show their value after signing up.

14 days is also too short a trial to find the activation point or have consistent Product Qualified Leads (PQLs) for that 1% of B2B SaaS companies.

This is especially true if it requires multiple users to come to a buying decision, not to mention that Databox later ran a study in 2019 and found that over 40% of B2B SaaS companies had a free trial between 14-29 days.

databox how long should your free trial be?

Source: Databox.com

Each company’s financial situation is different too. Some might have the funding to support a 60-day trial, so they know everything about their ideal users.

The updated version would be: “99% of B2B SaaS products should limit their trial to how long it takes for users to perform key actions and what makes sense for their bottom line.” Plain and simple.

How long should your free trial be? Checklist

Source: Userpilot.com

So what other factors (besides the ‘Aha Moment’ should you consider when setting a free trial length?

  • How is the trial length going to affect your sales cycle? Do you have enough sales reps to close after 7 days? Are you pressured to close sales quickly?
  • How long can you financially support hundreds or thousands of users in a trial period?
  • The more complex it is, the higher the price point and the longer the buying process because there may be may decision makers involved.
  • A ton of features? You may need a demo too.

Let’s take a look at how a short free trial has helped some companies.

The Benefits of a Short Free Trial in SaaS:

It makes sense to define a short free trial as no more than 7 days. The truth is some products are so user-friendly they don’t need 30 or even 14 days for users to see the value.

Their users want to know as soon as they sign up that the product will solve their problem.

play station free trial

Source: Playstation.com

So, companies opt for the short free trial period because it adds a sense of urgency to the buying process. Users will take the time more seriously, so companies have their full attention.

These short trials work more for the B2C space of SaaS because the job people are trying to get done is much simpler. Trials that are too long or include product walkthroughs in this space bore users, and they are more likely to become inactive.

Your customer acquisition costs (CAC) are also reduced when people covert faster. The longer the trial, the longer the sales cycle, which means higher CAC. With a shorter sales cycle, your sales and customer success teams will have fewer prospects they need to manage and can be more supportive.

Just look at how Sleeknote offers a 7-day free trial.

sleeknote 7 day trial

Source: Sleeknote

It is a simple tool that online businesses use to launch marketing campaigns for their customers.

As soon you enter the product, you are met with a checklist that leads straight to their activation point.

Sleeknote onboarding

Source: Sleeknote.com

Since there are only a couple of core features of the software, users realize the value within the first two minutes of signing up and setting up the product. Seven days is more than enough time for the user to come to a buying decision.

Now, let’s take a look at how some companies have benefitted from a longer free trial.

The Benefits of a Long Free Trial in SaaS:

A free trial is considered long if it extends beyond 14 days. It might be the best option when selling a product with several use cases and secondary features. If you are a mid-market solution like us, then 14 days makes sense.

How long should your free trial be? userpilot

Source: Userpilot.com-Schedule a free product consultation to learn how easy it is to create product experiences that increase free trial conversion.

So, why would B2B companies want to have a 14+ day free trial?

  • Users learn about the product without any pressure.
  • Target users are looking for a complete solution and need the time to explore every benefit possible.
  • A great free trial experience provides a strong argument to their departments for why your solution is better in a crowded market.
  • People become emotionally attached to products that they have invested more than two weeks learning about and implementing. It makes it much harder to switch.
  • If your product requires assistance from IT or customer success to set up and integrate into a tech stack, a long trial makes sense.

Many companies hesitate to implement a long free trial because they think their product will be over-run with people who have no intention of buying. Usually, this results from who you are targeting, messaging, and your product positioning.

These two companies below realized that a short free trial might scare away potential users looking for a complete solution. They also found that more time given to users made it harder to stop using their product.

Dropbox: Once you upload your pictures and files, you won’t upload them to another service.

dropbox business

Evernote: The more thoughts and ideas you add to Evernote, the harder it is to think about putting them somewhere else.

evernote onboarding

Now, let’s look at the different free trial combinations you can offer.

Different Types Of Free Trials

Days and credit card requirements are not the only factors that define a free trial. You can also be creative with your design and incentives for your user.

  1. Modular trial-Users enter the product, and each feature has its own trial. This is great when you have a complex product and want to establish a hierarchy of features.
  2. Demo, then Free Trial-Users enter a free trial period only after they have been given a demo. This gives salespeople the ability to qualify leads and educate them as much as possible before allowing them to enter the product.
  3. Automate an extension-Users can extend a free trial period after completing steps in the onboarding or trying out all the features. You can also offer it in exchange for referring another user or for sharing your product on social media. This method works great to incentivize users to explore everything about your product and gamifies the onboarding process.
prodpad how long should your free trial be?

Source: Prodpad.com

Then you have different standards depending on your business model. According to Customer.io, requiring a credit card and having a high-touch onboarding process is more common in B2B.

If you are B2C, most companies leave their users to explore everything in only 7 days with no sales involved.

free trial length

Source: Customer.io

Now that we know all the options available for free trials and what makes sense for each type of product, we can explain our final recommendations for setting free trial length.

How To Convert Free Trial Users To Paid: The Winning Strategy

As we mentioned in the intro, companies should look at their free trial based on user behavior. The free trial experience is the product sample that users see, and there will be patterns to their reactions.

As they move along their user journey, your job is the engage them from the moment they sign in. This fosters the ideal behavior.

If the onboarding is too complicated or underwhelming, it doesn’t matter how many days they have. They will bounce after day 1.

So we have broken down the ideal onboarding experience for any product into the moments that matter most: the first 2 mins, the first 2 hours, and the first 2 days.

The churn rate for these moments increases exponentially so it’s time to get cracking!

1. First 2 minutes of a free trial

The key to increasing day 1 retention is creating the right first impression. It is common for many users to make up their mind about a product in the first few seconds, so the first screen they see will make or break their opinion.

The perfect introduction is personalized to a use case. While many might be tempted to give a one-off hello or start a long product tour, it is more productive to ask the user what job they need.

Userpilot welcome screen personalization

You can even experiment with customized messaging depending on certain user characteristics like where they are from, their native language, or how long ago the last time they signed in.

userpilot welcome screen

Source: Userpilot.com – Take personalization deeper by segmenting your messaging to each group of users. Find out how in a free call with one of our product specialists!

You are already confirming the value before the user even starts exploring. You set high expectations for the product experience.

After going through the welcome screen, you can tailor a checklist that matches their use case but still leads directly to your “aha moment.”

userpilot checklist

Source: Userpilot.com

So it includes all the features they want to use but the necessary steps that many users skip over or are wary of implementing. Like downloading the chrome extension or importing a data set.

The checklist will inspire users to complete the onboarding but don’t forget about filling empty states! This helps to not overwhelm the user with a blank canvas they need to fill and establishes expectations for what is possible.

userpilot empty state

Source: Userpilot.com

Other options to influence those first two minutes would be to create engaging videos that highlight your core features or provide an interactive walkthrough.

2. First 2 hours of a free trial

Ok, at this point, a majority of users have probably at least hit your “aha moment” or have come close to it.

The next step is to create a secondary experience flow. This is creating experiences for users based on their behavior – which you can ‘read’ by looking at the custom events.

Have they used your core features? Have they visited specific secondary feature pages? Did they change their avatar?

userpilot segmentation
userpilot segmentation

You can get deep as you want into your segmentation. Even for those 5 users from the Republic of Moldova that have completed the checklist but still haven’t engaged with any other core features.

userpilot segmentation custom events

Source: Userpilot.com

At this point, many users will have completed at least the first onboarding checklist you have thrown at them. Now would be a great time to offer a slide-out offering tips for using the core features.

userpilot slideout

Source: Userpilot.com

You might have users that saw your welcome screen but still haven’t completed their onboarding checklist. You could put a tooltip on the specific feature that completes it.

creating a tooltip in Userpilot

Source: Userpilot.com -Create tooltips with no coding required! Save time on your product road map and schedule a call today.

This is also the perfect time for the user to receive an onboarding email from your customer success team.

Shopify onboarding email

Not just a generic welcome, but explaining all the features available to them and offering their availability to set up a call or answer any questions.

3. First 2 days of a free trial

After two-three days, your prospective users have probably already made up their minds about your product. They have at least gone through your onboarding or interactive walkthrough and have a pretty good idea of how your product works.

So why keep the free trial so long? Well, making your mind about a product and actually purchasing are two very different things. A report by MadKudu shows that it takes about 40 days to get 80% of SaaS conversions.

That is why at the two-day mark, you want to show your users everything you got. Highlight your secondary features through tooltips or driven actions. The more use cases that your product has, the stickier it becomes.

userpilot tooltip

Source: Userpilot.com

You can also try setting driven actions to encourage the behavior of your most successful users. The ones who find the best combinations of functionality. Set driven actions in the same sequence that they started using those features.

Provide in-app surveys to gauge any problems users may be experiencing or to figure out what is working. The user feels supported in their product experience and knows that you are dedicated to improving your product even if there are some issues.

Userpilot in app survey

Source: Userpilot.com

You will also want to advertise all the possibilities of signing up for your product. You can include modals that highlight your help center or product school. You can highlight webinars that relate to their use case or interactive videos.

Userpilot Webinar

Source: Userpilot.com

The point is, onboarding should never stop. Even after conversion.

What if users are disengaged?

If users have stopped logging in at the two-day mark or still haven’t completed the first onboarding checklist, they aren’t lost forever.

You still have a chance to re-engage them with a personalized email from a customer success or sales rep.

userpilot onboarding email

Source: Userpilot.com

This isn’t a prompt to buy now, but one that explains the benefits of the features a user still hasn’t touched but fits their use case. This email also usually includes a link to their calendar to hop on a call if they have any questions.

Other tactics for re-engaging users at this stage would be offering incentives like feature discounts or free trial extensions.

pricing incentives for converting free trial to paid

Source: Postfity.com

You can also test a whole new onboarding experience that the user can opt-in to and see if that increases their activity.

Following these steps and executing engaging product experiences at these moments will impact the conversion rate much more than shortening your free trial.

What Is A Good Free Trial Conversion Rate?

Before we go, you might be thinking, “Well, I have tried some of these things, and I did see an increase in conversion, but I have no benchmark.”

It’s true; free trial conversion varies depending on the product and who you ask. Some say 14% is the average. Others rate it higher at 25% to 30%.

There is no definitive ‘standard’ free trial conversion rate, but you know you are in a good place if you have more customers than free trial users.

The one takeaway is that the companies with the highest conversion rates have the best onboarding experiences. Just look at Kontentino; they increased their new user activation rates by 10% by including an interactive walkthrough (created through Userpilot).

So, How Long Should Your Free Trial Be?

The product experience and your target user’s preferences will always trump what is easier to market.

If you are still unsure what works for you, A/B test a 14 day and 30-day trial and see which users engage more. Look into your sales cycle and see how much your sales reps engage with prospects and how much customer success helps customers. You could be lacking the resources to provide a great experience based on the time you set.

Look into how long you are setting sales contracts. Is your price point fair for your market position?

Above all else, if you aren’t setting your free trial based on how long it takes to reach your aha moment and activation rate, you are judging from speculation alone.

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