Business Strategy · Strategic Partnerships

Which business model should I use for a SaaS pilot program?

Joe Lam CEO at Brainbuild, Inc.

April 11th, 2016

B2B2C product; Selling to organizations with smaller subgroups - decision makers are the heads of those subgroups; Monthly to yearly subscription fee.

Should there be a free trial, money-back guarantee, discounted price, extended initial term, other? The pilot study will definitely not be free, but what is the most effective alternative?

Sidney Sclar SID the SECURITY PRO at

April 11th, 2016

In my travels I have found that promos and discounts work well for client retention and renewals.
Free samples of edibles and drinks work only if people like the product.
We stopped giving free security monitoring except to buy out an existing agreement to get a new client.

Andy Catsimanes Owner, Principal Consultant at DayByDay Marketing

April 11th, 2016

Lincoln Murphy at sixteen ventures has some good insights on this.

Andrew Lockley Investments & consulting for tech startups

April 11th, 2016

Depends on competition and cost of providing the service principally. A

David Salinger

April 11th, 2016

The Sixteen Ventures article is a great read. Glad you shared it, Andy.

In my experience, 14-day trials for SaaS products that are used by individuals (no dependencies on other team members) are usually the right length. For products that require 2 or more team members to evaluate together as a team, you can likely expect to have a standard 30-day trial length. It's just not realistic to think multiple users will be motivated the same or work at a similar pace with unfamiliar tools unless there is a crisis driving the consideration of a new product.

Assuming you are in the single-user category, so much of the strategy for effective trial user acquisition (and subsequent conversion to paid user) comes down to a few attributes of your CURRENT product:

1) How 'self service' is it today? If a user can visit your web site, gain a solid understanding of the value your product offers to them, sign up, and then get up and running on their own in less than 10-15 minutes, then you can probably go with a 14-day trial.

2) How sticky/engaged are your beta users? You've hopefully been able to learn a lot about your users' habits and their activity with your product through your beta cycles. If your beta users are logging in daily and completing tasks consistently, you can probably conduct a 14-day trial.

3) How busy is your support site or your FAQ page, etc.? If your current users or beta program participants have been able to work with your product in it's current state without much help or interaction with your support resources, you can probably expect a 14-day trial to suffice. If not, you can probably expect to go longer.

4) What's the use case? If people who use your product get a sense of satisfaction daily (like a to-do list or workout tracker), you can go shorter. If the satisfaction line is crossed monthly (like a budgeting tool or a campaign management product) then a longer trial period is required. People need to validate for themselves what they would be paying you to help them achieve.

Lots of other factors in play, obviously, but the best news for you is that you can change it overnight and roll out a longer/shorter period based on feedback and user stats. 

I've worked in the free-trial world as a sales leader for 17+ years, primarily focused on selling to business users. It's safe to bet that more than 90% of your paid users will trial your product (some will not because they will have either used your products before or they will have their license purchased for them by an existing user), and well over 50% of those paid users will need a trial period extension - regardless of length. Just make the trial long enough to encourage people to join, but not so long that your best prospects will get on board and then lose steam because they think they still have plenty of time - then they forget about you.

Mamie Stewart Founder & CEO at Meeteor, Speaker, Change-maker

April 12th, 2016

My experience is that a free trial is good when you're not involved directly in the selling process - for example, with online signups. In this case, the decision maker wants to experience/explore the product before having to pay. The free trial is part of their decision as to whether to use your product.  

If, on the other hand, you've gone through the sales cycle and convinced someone to be part of your pilot, then a discounted trial is a better route than a free trial. You've already sold them on the value and they have a pretty good idea of what the product is so they don't need to 'explore' like the online signups. So charge them from the beginning but make them feel special since they are part of the pilot by offering them a discounted price. 

Bhanu Prakash Valluri Co-Founder & CEO at Mobiport Inc

April 13th, 2016

  1. Identify the value you provide to the customer
  2. Can you divide this value into different parts and assign a metric to them 
  3. This metric is to measure the price that the customer is ready to pay for a specific value if delivered
  4. You can start offering "value"s as part of your pilot for which the metric is at the lower end
  5. Let the user pay when they need "value"s for which the metric is at a higher end