Supporting SAAS free trials

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Mollie Luckhurst
Mollie Luckhurst Member Posts: 6 Contributor
edited October 2023 in Customer Journey

I'm interested to understand different ways companies handle free trials.  We're trialling  (excuse the pun) them as a method of accelerating sales but to support them in the long run I don't know the best structure between CSMs and Sales to support the trials.  I have a lot of questions around support/ownership (dedicated role which mixes CSM/Sales skills and responsibilities?), qualification for a "good fit", playbook differences to standard customer onboarding, compensation if conversion, and more.  I couldn't find any results when I searched for "trial" here but I know many of your companies must do them.  I'd be grateful to hear from your experiences. 

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  • Jana Morrelli
    Jana Morrelli Member Posts: 1 Navigator
    edited July 2020
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    Hi Mollie! We've spent a lot of time in this last year creating an really clear list of Roles and Responsbilities for our account team.

    Working with trialers has been very clearly put into our pre-sales motion, which our CSMs aren't part of. However, there are always exceptions. Ha. Examples are when it's a land and expand motion and the trialer is a key decision maker at an exisiting customer. Then the sales rep may ask the CSM to join talk with te decision maker about what we're currently doing at the company. 

    In order to be successful with this strategy of having sales handle trialers, you have to have good resources in place (demos and sales engineers to do more technical walk walk throughs). The idea is that your sales team needs to get really good at understanding the business value and converting from that. CSMs are then ready to deliver on the promise of that business value when the baton is passed. 

    Hope that helps!

  • Manan Joshi
    Manan Joshi Member Posts: 11 Contributor
    edited July 2020
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    Hi Mollie - Our trials and evaluations are owned by PreSales folks. CSM is responsible to drive the effort if this pertains to an expansion opportunity in an existing customer but he/she is not accountable.

    The real challenge with trials is defining the scope of engagement - the tighter and clearly defined scope, the better the outcome!!

    CSM along with PreSales define the success criterias and take a buy-in / validation from customer champion.

    Hope this helps!

  • Thomas Fortier
    Thomas Fortier Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
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    edited July 2020
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    Reiterating the previous replies, in my past experience with fintech SaaS providers, trials are owned by the pre-sales team. This would include either product managers (as SME's) or solutions specialists, along with the sales person. The sales team is expected to have enough working knowledge that they can provide light-touch demo's on specific elements of the solutions that meet the client's expressed need - which the sales person should be capturing as the key success drivers that the CSM would need to understand during the Sales to CSM handoff. 

    As the prior replies mentioned, CSM's can be involved in this conversation when the trial involves an expansion for an existing client, particularly if the CSM is the one that brought in the lead.

    One point that I am sure you have come across is the importance of the timing of the trial. Frequently, clients and prospects will request a trial as an initial step, without understand where the solution fits in their workflow. They don't prioritize the trial, and then the trial period ends before they have taken the time to dive into the solution. This ultimately can delay the sales cycle, as the client will likely need to request another demo. It's critical that the trial is offered when the client understands the problem that they want to solve and why this solution would be a fit to solve that problem. Also, the trial should involve a power user along with the sponsor/decision maker.

    Hope this is helpful, this is a great subject and certainly one of the keys to establishing value at the outset.

  • Mollie Luckhurst
    Mollie Luckhurst Member Posts: 6 Contributor
    edited July 2020
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    Thank you, that's really helpful. I appreciate your time in responding

  • Mollie Luckhurst
    Mollie Luckhurst Member Posts: 6 Contributor
    edited July 2020
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    Thank you that's really helpful.  We're actually currently offering too long of a trial I think, opposite to what you warned about, with its own challenges.  Thanks for taking the time to respond. 

  • Mollie Luckhurst
    Mollie Luckhurst Member Posts: 6 Contributor
    edited July 2020
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    It definitely helps, thank you. I appreciate your time

  • Thomas Seelbinder
    Thomas Seelbinder Member Posts: 22 Thought Leader
    edited July 2020
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    We are getting to launch a "Pilot" program in the next few days so this discussion is perfect timing! 

     

    Our trial is more aligned with a test-drive. It will be very hands-on, and provided through an existing relationship with Sales (versus having a link on our website, etc). For the most part, Sales will own this journey. Right now, it's 10 days with 3 schedules calls all headed up by the sales team member who owns that lead. 

    What we are hoping to pull off is having the CSM (me, for now) attached to the journey, "behind the scenes". This way all relevant information gathered during the test-drive can easily be transferred once we move to close. There is also soft-introductions as well so the account has a clear understanding of who they will be working with if they decide to partner and the expectations are as clear as possible. 

     

    I hope this helps but am more than willing to dive deeper on this! 

     

  • Matthew Ferguson
    Matthew Ferguson Member Posts: 7 Contributor
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    edited July 2020
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    Hi Mollie, @Mollie Luckhurst 

    I've managed both sales and customer success teams, and in my experience, I have found that incorporating Customer Success into the trials managed by Sales significantly increases our chances of winning the prospect. I'd put this down to two main reasons:

    1. Product knowledge and practical applications - CS can help the prospect feel comfortable about what exactly the product does (and does not do) through immense knowledge of the product. Sharing specific case studies from other clients demonstrates real industry knowledge, shows the prospect you understand their specific business issues and can help the prospect feel like they have a trusted partner.

    2. Try before you buy - Giving prospects as close to a real experience as a client, and having a personal connection with an actual member of the team, makes the prospect feel much more comfortable. When executed well, the decision for the prospect becomes less about whether to buy your service, but whether they can afford not to turn the trial into a contract.

    There's possibly a third benefit of having CS involved where the prospect doesn't feel like they are constantly being "sold to" and can focus on the product's solutions for them, but that's debatable and probably a bit harsh on good salespeople.

    Unless you have a pre-sales team with extensive experience in CS, I'm not sure you get the true benefits above. I appreciate that this approach lends itself to more strategic or enterprise level prospects and does require leaving a CSM's workload with a little space to facilitate these trials. It does also allow CS individuals to get some exposure to sales by working with salespeople, which is no bad thing, while still allowing each individual (Sales and CS) to play to their strengths. I do believe CS should be compensated for a successful sale that they have been part of.

    I'm not sure I've unearthed any life-changing insights for you - just my experience!

    Fergie

     

  • Mollie Luckhurst
    Mollie Luckhurst Member Posts: 6 Contributor
    edited July 2020
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    Thanks, Fergie.  I appreciate the counter perspective and it's given me something more to consider.   

  • Alex Farmer
    Alex Farmer Member Posts: 62 Expert
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    edited July 2020
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    Lots of great answers on roles and responsibilities here.  But the big question (I've been burned before) I'd have here is how are you recognizing trial revenue?  If the business recognizes a trial (or even a trial that rolls into a fully paid contract with an exit clause) as ARR you have a massive churn problem brewing.  Every failed trial booked as ARR contributes to churn, which incentivizes CSMs (owners of churn number) to swarm on making trial accounts successful (converting them, which should be the job of sales) and neglects paid customers, which leads to an even greater churn problem!  So, I'm a strong believe paid trials can count as revenue, but not recurring revenue!  And sales might not like it if they're commissioned on recurring revenue only, but its the right incentive to fully complete the sale (see below).

    That said, it does depend on the product.  If its a high-volume, self-service sales process where you pick your plan and enter your credit card details, then trials make total sense and in fact its almost perfectly designed so that customers self-select if they need a sales person engaged - ie: sales teams need to engage with those that select trials to convert them, those that sign-up in full don't need any sales resources.  

    But I've seen the same logic apply upmarket to complex B2B sales where I think it largely does more harm than good.  That sales cycle is much more complex and requires budget sign-offs, scoping documents etc.  Trials in this scenario can be incorrectly used to short-cut "proper selling" of the solution.  Sales teams want to close deals and sometimes too often say "don't worry about all your questions, lets just do a trial!", which is a pretty lazy way of trying to speed up a deal - the customer isn't sold yet!  So, the burden on "proper selling" is now on CS, product, onboarding teams, which increases customer acquisition cost and probably leads to fewer converted deals.  So for B2B enterprise SaaS, if we have to do trials to prove value, they should be self-contained in the sales org.  You gotta pay to get the CS, product, onboarding teams, who need to focus on making existing customers successful.

  • Thomas Fortier
    Thomas Fortier Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
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    edited July 2020
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    Good thoughts on paid trials, Alex, I'd love to see this under its own post with a separate discussion on the challenges of paid trials. Adding a revenue component does raise issues with churn and trial support that would be treated differently from free trials. Definitely an interesting topic that I think is worth the conversation though!

  • Alex Farmer
    Alex Farmer Member Posts: 62 Expert
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    edited July 2020
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    Well spotted that the subject of this thread was FREE trials - my bad!  I think the "proper selling" comments still apply, but well spotted re: revenue recognition

  • Alex Farmer
    Alex Farmer Member Posts: 62 Expert
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    edited July 2020
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    Have created a separate thread for paid trials

  • Thomas Fortier
    Thomas Fortier Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
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    edited July 2020
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    Completely agree on the "proper selling" aspect of trials. For transparency's sake, my comments are relative to my background in enterprise SaaS/Fintech providers. In these companies, particularly where the data that customers get from the platform is heart of the value that they get, trials need to be very limited, and offered only by the sales team as part of the overall sales process. Once the sales person has identified the key influencers and a power user, they should offer the free trial immediately following a demo, providing a clear message on the dates of the trial. If the customer is not ready to dedicate time to the solution, then they should not be granted a trial until they are ready.

    Regardless of whether the trial is paid or free, it should always limited somehow, whether by limiting the length of the trial or limiting access (functionality, number of users, etc.). In a highly budget conscious environment, you don't want the customer to short cut the sales process, as you said. Many of our fellow CS leaders have likely seen cases where a customer took a trial, fulfilled their own short term need, and then postponed the spend on the full subscription by a year or more.

    I'd be curious if anyone has data on the conversion rate of customers who were given a free trial vs. conversion rates for paid trials into long-term relationships?

  • Alex Farmer
    Alex Farmer Member Posts: 62 Expert
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    edited July 2020
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    Not exactly what you're looking for but still relevant data I think: 

    Opt-in vs opt-out conversion rate benchmark for free trials: https://sixteenventures.com/saas-free-trial-benchmarks

    Free trials vs freemium: https://www.profitwell.com/blog/freemium-vs-free-trial

    Good blog on this topic: https://cxl.com/blog/freemium-vs-free-trial/

     

  • Thomas Fortier
    Thomas Fortier Member Posts: 15 Thought Leader
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    edited July 2020
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    Great resources, thanks for sharing Alex! I'll check them out today.