Brand Strategy · Saas

Is a 'free trial' the answer?

Ken Valledy CEO & Co-founder: T2B (Tech2Brand)

June 1st, 2015

Should start-ups offer a free trial of their tech to brands? Does this strategy work in the long run? Do brands need to have 'skin in the game' from the very start?

Anirvan Lahiri CEO & Co-Founder at The Stay Guru

June 1st, 2015

A few factors to consider.

1. The cost & effort needed to provision the trial. If you are selling pure software with near zero provisioning costs, then a free trial makes economic sense. Obviously.

2. The nature of your value add: one-off or on-going. If you are selling a data recovery software, a free, unrestricted trial would be a bad idea. If you are selling anti-virus, sure, no problem.

3. The cost and effort to the client to initiate the trial. The higher this is, the less relevant the 'freeness' of the trial is to the decision process. Hypothetically, consider a situation where to deploy, the client needs to get a buy in from 3 different stakeholders, identify a trial site and train key members of staff before the trial can launch. Here your pricing is not the bottleneck. Making it zero will not move the needle.

4. The maturity of your product and its positioning. Is the client a guinea pig? Are you being transparent with the client that bugs remain and you will be figuring out things as you go along. If so this is a special case, and a free trial is unlikely to set a precedent. A client willing to trial you under these terms very likely already has skin in the game (in terms of risk), so a free trial should be OK. On the other hand if it is already a mature product then giving it away for free sets more of a pricing signal.

Chris Carruth VP/Director. Strategy | Business Development | Operations | Product | Solutions

June 1st, 2015

And, on top of the other great comments, I would also add that it will be drastically impacted by the weight of your brand and/or impact of your product. I have seen more than one case where large companies paid to be part of initial trials. The caveat is the offering companies were HUGE brands who could offer significant advantages down the road if the trial companies participated, even if they paid to.

For most, including start-ups, who have no significant brand or lever to apply, free (or close to it) is almost expected. I always suggest that if it is a software or hardware product merely getting into the client's test bed for evaluation is a huge win in itself. Delivering over and above in that phase will likely make the actual trial participation, and terms, that much easier.  

Alex Eckelberry CEO at

June 1st, 2015

Yes, if you can, do a trial. If you can't (because your product is too complex or buggy), then don't. 

John Petrone CTO at LaunchPad Central

June 1st, 2015

I don't think it's "the answer". It might be "an answer" but it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. It's certainly not a silver bullet answer to get people to adopt your software.

Some things to consider - 

  • Is your product ready for prime time? If not a free trial won't help.
  • Is the free trial long enough to give the customer enough of a taste of your product to want to continue using it?
  • Do you have the resources and ability to pay attention to the customer during the free trial phase - are you going to leave them with a positive experience?
  • Always be testing - try different variations of free trials (length, version of product, credit card required upfront or not, etc) against no free trial at all and measure your close rate.

Eleanor Carman Incoming BLP Sales Associate at LinkedIn

June 1st, 2015

Hey Ken - that's a great question. Here are a few answers that might be helpful from a discussion about freemium distribution >>

Karl Schulmeisters Founder ExStreamVR

June 1st, 2015

What Chris said.   the "Freemium" model has the advantage in that it increases your user base.  OTOH  the "conversion" rate is often very very low.  For example we currently are using a FreeCRM because we just don't have enough staff to make a paid version worth it. 

When we get to where our sales team is large enough that the Freemium version of the solution isn't enough, we are going to look very seriously at all full fee CRM solutions, and if we opt for another solution, we will simply delete all the accounts,  pay for one month of use of the "Pro" upgrade and export all the data.

So the step from Free to Pay is a challenge.

We ourselves have an "intro trial" that we charge for - but for which in larger client engagements we will discount the trial fee..     But the point is that free is also sometimes a disincentive to use.  I'm currently registered for a "free" trial for a piece of mgmt. software that I've not deployed because I haven't paid for it and because it doesn't cost me anything I haven't had the incentive to do the deployment

Ken Valledy CEO & Co-founder: T2B (Tech2Brand)

June 2nd, 2015

Thanks for all of the replies guys, some really interesting points. Like most things there isn't a definitive 'right' or 'wrong', it really depends on the product, the situation and the potential opportunity.