Every SaaS wants to boost trial to paid conversions.
Why do some succeed while others fail?
Well, we will be terribly honest with you: there is no one-size-fits all cure for low conversion rates.
This is not another ‘7 proven tactics’ listicle post that prescribes a universal cookie-cutter recipe for success.
Before you start working on improving your conversion rates, you need to (brace yourself for the cliche!) – start with the why.
But after you have identified why your free triallists aren’t converting – there are some proven ways to boost the trial-to-paid conversion rates for each scenario – both outside and inside your app.
(We’ve built a lot of them straight into our product adoption platform – which you can get a demo of for free here.) Let’s dive in!
- Examine analytics, support tickets and other data for friction and drop-off points
- Study session recordings for qualitative information
- Talk to your users to get feedback
- Look at price/value fit and prequalify triallists
- Segment the audience by use cases and solutions
- Segment during sign-up
- Orient new users as soon as they arrive
- Eliminate “empty state” confusion
- Make onboarding interactive
- Minimise Time to First Value
- Don’t neglect Secondary and Tertiary Onboarding
- Keep pushing for the upgrade
- Re-engage with email sequences, push notifications and retargeting
- Remove the perceived risks of converting from trial to paid
- Pay individual attention to users with webinars, personalized emails and calls
First: Determine Why Users are Not Converting
There are many best practices with wide application that can boost trial to paid conversions. We’ll talk about many of them in the next two sections.
But first, it’s essential that you understand why your own users are not converting.
Why? Because the most effective solutions are tailored to the problems they solve.
Examine analytics, support tickets and other data for friction and drop-off points
The single most helpful tool here is to have event-based analytics installed in your app.
We would recommend Heap, Mixpanel or Amplitude as they all have ready-made integrations with Userpilot.
Studying in-app activities will show you the points at which users fail to complete tasks successfully or struggle to achieve value. Once you know where the workflows are breaking down, you can start to fix them.
Heavy drop-offs at the checkout page, for example, could indicate:
- A bug in the app
- The range of payment options offered is limited
- The price is too high!
You will need to dig deeper, but you know that this page is where to start looking!
Aggregated analytics are not the only source of information: support tickets and help center usage stats will also give you valuable information about what kinds of things users are struggling with.
If the same problems keep appearing:
- Provide self-serve solutions through your Knowledge Base
- Improve the UX: Greenvelope, for example, significantly improved conversion by changing their CTA button wording from “upgrade now” to a less forceful “view pricing”
- Offer concierge-style contextual help with a chatbot, like the example given by Sujan Patel of Mailshake below. When a user appeared to be having difficulties, a ready-made solution would be offered. Sujan reports that this increased user Activation (see below for a definition) by 30%
Study session recordings for qualitative information
Session recording tools like Fullstory allow you to watch back in real-time how users have been interacting with your app. This will really help you boost trial to paid conversion by figuring out where people go wrong.
Combine the quantitative data you’ve seen from analytics and other sources (which tells you which problems keep cropping up) with qualitative insights from the recordings.
Fullstory also provides heatmaps (below) which can aggregate and visualize click and cursor movement data – bridging the gap between individual stories and mass behavior.
By studying actual cases of people failing or succeeding to use your tool, you will see:
- Where they get stuck
- When they give up
- What mistakes they make and why
You’ll also start to see what would solve those problems.
Talk to your users to get feedback
Sometimes there’s no substitute for just ASKING people what they expect.
These questions are taken directly from our own Userpilot user research questionnaires:
- What happened exactly and why did you start searching for a solution like this?
- Before you signed up, how did you imagine things would get better with our tool?
- What drove to use or search for a product like this? What were you trying to solve?
Sometimes you’ll need to give incentives to feedback.
Trak.io has a great way of doing this: they offer a three-day trial extension to users who explain to them why they’re not ready to convert!
Look at price/value fit and prequalify triallists
Maybe users are telling you that your tool is too expensive?
Then adopt a value-based pricing strategy – price your product on the basis of value provided.
Nick Kozmin of SalesProcess.io recommends pricing SaaS products so that you provide value worth ten times the price tag. If the value is overwhelming relative to price, you’ll convert more trials.
Some triallists don’t care about price. They’re just there to test out your service.
You need to identify these people and focus your efforts on users who are serious about becoming paid customers.
Asking a question about company size and readiness to start during the sign-up process can help identify users who are likely to pay. Here’s part of BAMF’s sign-up form.
We defined them as a segment and tailored onboarding experiences accordingly:
Get a free demo of userpilot now!
Segment the audience by use cases and solutions
Users come to your tool looking for different things. “Value” is not the same thing for everyone.
If you lead brand new users through onboarding for features they’re not interested in, you’ll lose some of them.
So use everything you know about users to sort them into segments, and then provide onboarding experiences tailored to what value means for their different use cases.
Userpilot enables you to create experiences that are triggered only by certain users, defined by profile details or activity patterns.
Get a free demo of userpilot now!
If you have a one-size-fits-all approach to your audience and their onboarding, you will certainly lose triallists who could have been converted had you given them a more relevant experience.
In-App Tactics to Boost Trial to Paid Conversion
Once you know why users are not upgrading, you can start to fix the problems.
Your particular situation will determine the best mix of tactics, but it’s sure to involve most of the following approaches.
Segment during sign-up
In the last section, we showed why it’s vital to segment. The earlier you can do this, the better. This ensures the onboarding experience is relevant from the very start.
Rather than asking for loads of personal details during sign-up, Sprout Social asks questions that help them segment by use case.
But don’t bombard new users with long lists of questions. Keep it minimal and contextual by asking for small amounts of data (for example, with microsurveys) at different times, building up a picture gradually.
This is called Progressive Profiling.
Orient new users as soon as they arrive
It’s always intimidating to find yourself in a strange new environment. Imagine walking into a party and not knowing anybody. Many people would turn around and leave.
So we were surprised that 40% of SaaS products still don’t provide a welcome screen for new users.
A welcome screen:
- Makes new users feel valued
- Gives you a chance to convey essential information about getting started
Here’s an ideal example from Buffer, which gets new users right on the road to value.
Eliminate “empty state” confusion
The worst thing you can do is welcome new users with something they don’t understand. Compare these examples:
Would you know what to do with the one on the left?
If your tool needs the user to do certain things before there is anything for them to interact with, make sure you explain that immediately.
This is something Trello does well, providing a sample board to help users understand what the service does.
Provide guidance, example data, templates and other examples of how other people are using your tool to avoid leaving new users confused by empty states.
Make onboarding interactive
One big error that’s often made it to provide a generic Product Tour:
- Being one-size-fits-all, they don’t acknowledge that different use cases matter to different users
- They’re passive
- They have notoriously low completion rates
Most people learn best by doing, which is why Interactive Walkthroughs are so much better.
By using an Interactive Walkthrough to talk you through the process of adding a messaging service – and making you do it why you learn – Rocketbots drives users directly to value.
This Interactive Walkthrough increased Rocketbots’ triallist activation rate from 15% to 30%!
Use a checklist to make it clear how much Primary Onboarding a user has done and how much is left.
You can even offer incentives to promote completion and pre-fill a number of boxes as a neat little psychological trick, as Postfity does in the example below.
Minimize Time to First Value
Everything we’ve talked about in this section so far is focused on reducing the time between a user signing-up and experiencing the benefit they came for.
That is, reducing Time to First Value (TTFV).
First Value is a critical step on the user journey. We usually call it Activation.
As well as the tactics we’ve already looked at, you should:
- Remove clutter and complexity from your User Interface
- Exploit familiarity: everyone recognizes an envelope as an icon that represents messaging. Forcing people to learn a new language (visual or otherwise) is a major source of friction
- Onboard contextually so as to drive action: native tooltips can show where features are and how to use them; checklists can remind users to complete unfinished tasks; and Userpilot’s unique Driven Actions let you build onboarding flows that require user input to move forwards
Don’t neglect Secondary and Tertiary Onboarding
TTFV is important but it’s not the end of the journey. Once you’ve activated a user, you need to turn your attention to Secondary and Tertiary Onboarding.
That is, keep showing the user more features. Keep pushing them to achieve more value.
Follow the same practices as we talked about earlier for Primary Onboarding, but assuming a higher degree of knowledge and engaging with more advanced features.
Make sure Activated users are kept engaged by:
- Announcing new features to them
- Asking for and listening to feedback
- Sharing testimonials and case studies that will reveal new use cases and sources of value to them
Keep pushing for the upgrade
Another way to boost trial to paid conversion is to reserve premium features for paid users.
This can be done in various ways:
- Show free and Freemium users a standard dashboard, but with premium features deactivated. Use native tooltips to ensure they understand what they have to do to get them!
- Impose usage limits and ensure people know about them. As Tomer Aharon of Poptin says:
The most important email we send is the email that tells users that they’ve reached their free plan limit (1,000 popup views). This email converts free users to paid users more than anything else.
- Alternatively, provide access to the full range of features during the trial period – but then either opt for the paid service or a free, restricted version.
And don’t be shy about asking for the upgrade in-app.
Dropbox uses a variety of in-app messages to drive users from free plans to paid one, such as this slideout.
While Adobe uses modals to remind users when their free trials end and push for the upgrade.
Tactics to Boost Trial to Paid Conversion Outside the App
In the product-led era, in-app is the best environment to convince triallists to convert. However, you can complement your in-app efforts through other channels as well.
And some barriers to conversion are actually better dealt with elsewhere, as we shall see.
“Preboarding” means getting new users onboarded before they even sign up for a trial.
Ahrefs does a great job of Preboarding users through content marketing. They produce loads of great blogs and videos – which get an average 1.5 million and 400,000 views per month, respectively.
These target a whole host of people interested in SEO and related topics, and explain how to serve the common Jobs To Be Done in those areas.
Surprise, surprise: the solution provided always involves Ahrefs!
As CMO Tim Soulo explains, Ahrefs creates demand AND educates future users on how to use their tools with their marketing content. They already understand the value available before they start a trial.
It’s possible to go even further and give access to some features of your tool as part of Preboarding- eg Buzzsumo lets visitors to their site try out its content analysis tools:
While Hubspot lets visitors try out their website grader:
This is a great way to build familiarity and demonstrate value, while showcasing what else paid customers get.
Re-engage with email sequences, push notifications and retargeting
If a user is engaged with your product, the best channels for driving conversion will be in-app. They’re most likely to upgrade when they are successfully using it.
But what if they’re not?
Then you need to engage them elsewhere to draw them back.
Email is the most obvious channel. Here’s a great example from Airtable:
- A sense of urgency – reminding the user that they will soon lose Airtable’s benefits if they don’t upgrade
- A quick way back in to the app, with the “Start with a template” button
- Educational content to help readers get more out of the product
An personalized end-of-trial email is a great way to win back disengaged users. It can be used to win them back with:
- A trial extension to allow more evaluation time
- A discount on the subscription
- Introductions to features they have not tried, which may give them more value
- Offers of alternative solutions you may have
At the very least, an end-of-trial email is an opportunity to get feedback that can be used to help future users.
And you don’t have to limit these kinds of re-engagement to email:
- Web push notifications and SMSs can be used to drive users back to the app, especially for timely events such as webinars
- Retargeting triallists with ads on other sites can be a handy way to remind them about your app when they’ve forgotten!
Remove the perceived risks of converting from trial to paid
As John Kopelman of First Round Capital says on CXL’s blog:
Scaling from $5 to $50 million is not the toughest part of a new venture—it’s getting your users to pay you anything at all. The biggest gap in any venture is that between a service that is free and one that costs a penny.
Why? Users see a risk in paying for something they may not get value out of. We’ve already talked about getting pricing right specifically, and much of this blog has been about making sure users get value fast.
But there are other things you can to address risk-aversion:
- Provide price anchors to help users understand your value proposition. This example from SEMRush sets the Guru package as the “standard” price level
- Don’t make it hard to cancel – minimize the financial commitment it takes to become a paid user and you’ll get more of them
- Indeed, offer no strings refunds if you can
- Make it easy to switch plans, both up and down
- Allow users to keep their data if they downgrade. The fear of losing time and effort invested can be a big deterrent to getting started
- Provide a range of convenient payment options with a friction-free checkout process
Pay individual attention to users with webinars, personalized emails and calls
One trial to paid conversion tactic that has worked really well for Userpilot is tailored webinars.
If we see a user struggling to achieve value, we invite them to a problem-solving webinar. This triggered contextual slide got 14% of everyone who saw it to sign up!
Get a free demo of userpilot now!
Then we make the webinar valuable and personal:
- Demo features to show how to use them
- Find out more about our users and their friction points
- Ask for questions, so that we can personalize the content to attendees and guarantee relevance
As a result:
- We convert more than 50% of webinar attendees into paying customers
- We’ve improved our overall trial to paid conversion rate by 4%
- We’ve cut churn by 2%
Closing the loop, we follow up:
- Via personalized emails
- Via phone calls
This kind of personalized attention is one of the reasons for our success! One-to-one attention is really the best way to understand your users, so spend as much time talking to them as you can afford.