How To Convert More Free Trials Into Customers (In 5 Steps)

If you do a quick Google search on how to convert more free trial users into revenue, you’ll find tons of articles that cover different tactics for different departments.

Quick and easy. “Just send more emails.”

“You won’t even have to think about it.”

“In fact, here’s the playbook right here.”

And while tactics alone are an excellent way to kick the wheel on moving the needle in small ticks, it’s a bit misleading.

Convert free trial users

I propose a different way to look at converting more free trial users - because it’s something that many SaaS companies with free-trial and freemium models deal with, but there’s very few that truly master this problem.

The ones that did? Slack, Contentful, AdEspresso, Appcues, and Typeform to name a few.

Let’s take a look at what these companies did to master their free trial conversion rate and how they think about the problem.

Ultimately, If you’re looking for quick and easy tactics like sending more drip emails or changing the copy of a retargeting ad, then this post won’t be for you.

Don’t get me wrong.

There’s lot of really awesome posts out there that highlight just the tactics - and we definitely have our fair share of those - but keep in mind these three things:

  1. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to improving conversion rates and therefore, growth. What I’m about to break down for you might not work for your company - and that’s okay.
  2. While tactics are dope, they tend to mask symptoms and not solve for cures
  3. Solving for cures take time, but when you do, the result has a massive impact

A lot of people think about free trial to paid conversion rate as something that requires just a bunch of channels, more emails, and quick trigger fingers, but in order to move the needle with maximum effect, it requires more of a concerted effort.

It can easily be:

  • a combination of marketing and sales touchpoints,
  • excellent onboarding,
  • adequate self-service documentation,
  • an amazing product

That’s four, five departments right there.

It’s a company effort. It’s strategic. And you’re going to need everyone on your side to get this one to work.

I will teach you a different way to think about your free trial users and how you can identify those that are most likely to pay - and focus your time on those.

The Steps to Converting More Free Trial Users

First, these are the exact steps high-performing companies took to knock their free-trial conversion rate out of the park.

1. Get internal buy-in and start

For whatever reason, most people wait until the very last second to get internal buy-in on a big effort they’re about to embark on (or something they’ve already embarked on and haven’t been able to get buy-in when they’re blocked).

I say plant the seeds early and paint the vision before you ever even begin - with executive leadership, with other team members, with other department heads. Finding high-quality free trials demands collaboration on behalf of Sales, Product, Marketing, and even Engineering and Customer Success. So don’t wait until the last second.

This is about revenue, now.

2. Take a step back and really look at the data - and start with people already paying you.

Your first task is to work with Customer Success, Product, and Engineering to find the customers that are the absolute best. You get to determine what that means, of course. You’ll probably need tools like Mixpanel to collect and listen for that data or whatever is monitoring your in-app activities. Get someone’s help on extracting it in a way that enables you to make decisions from it. The data is where you’re going to start.

3. Identify the “aha!” moments

The “aha!” moment isn’t just a SaaS myth. It’s a very real moment that a user has with your product that enlightens them on its true value and therefore keeps them engaged, happy, and ultimately, not churning. The “aha!” moment you’re looking for in your product data can be different depending on the types of customers you have. But you’re still looking for what that moment is - even if it varies depending on a particular segment of people.

4. Map the journey to the “aha!” moment

Identifying the “aha!” moment might be a feat in and of itself, so if you can find it, kudos! And when you do, it’s time for the next step. Next is piecing together the activities that led the user to that moment are what’s going to take your insights to the next level.

For Slack, it was 100% activity to a certain threshold.

“Based on experience of which companies stuck with us and which didn't, we decided that any team that has exchanged 2,000 messages in its history has tried Slack — really tried it. For a team around 50 people that means about 10 hours’ worth of messages. For a typical team of 10 people, that’s maybe a week’s worth of messages. But it hit us that, regardless of any other factor, after 2,000 messages, 93% of those customers are still using Slack today.” -- Stewart Butterfield, CEO & Co-Founder at Slack

For Contentful, a content management system, it was also activity to a certain threshold, but in a specific area of their product - API calls.

“If somebody is doing 500 delivery API calls, that's a good indicator that they're going to use us for real. If you cross that 500 threshold, chances are you set something up. That POC's up and running, and you delivered some things of worth, and then we decide we really want to try and build it. Before a user has crossed that threshold, it’s more likely that they’re just playing around, testing things out.’ After 500 API calls, there’s a good chance that you become a legitimate regular user.” -- Chris Schagen, CMO at Contentful

Note that the “aha!” moments are crystal clear and the activities that lead up to the “aha!” moment are also crystal clear. There’s no mistaking it - these are the ingredients that make the perfect customer.

5. Qualify and segment

So now that you know exactly what it takes for your product to become extremely sticky, apply this knowledge to the drip emails you’re sending out to everyone, the onboarding calls your customer success team is having, and the in-app product experience. And when I say “apply”, I mean segmenting out the people who hit that perfect “aha!” moment trigger and focusing your efforts on them - they’re the most likely to buy and stay.

And for everyone else, now we can focus on the tactics that can enable someone to get more out of the product. And the second someone becomes product qualified, you’ll be able to react in the best way as opposed to turning them off with basic onboarding messages.

Creating the Product Qualified Lead

This is the exact process for creating what’s called a “product qualified lead” - or a “PQL”.

You might have heard about product qualified leads already from masterminds like Tom Tunguz and on amazing publications like Sales Hacker.

But I want to be careful, here. The product qualified lead does not replace the marketing qualified lead - it simply adds to the funnel.

The PQL sits between MQL and SQL and exists on its own pedestal - it examines free trial users and just like an MQL, qualifies them based on activity within the product.

Product qualified leads are proven to help convert more free trial users into paying customers because it enables marketing and sales teams to focus on the users that are most likely to buy based on hitting the right triggers in a product.

And the results don’t lie - PQLs convert into customers at about 20 - 30% according to Tom Tunguz - which is a far cry from the 1% rates that Marketing sees from leads.

If you want to learn more about product qualified leads and how you can leverage them in your own organization, click here for the Complete Guide to Product Qualified Leads.

It’s a completely free resource about how to convert more free trial users into MRR and covers every single one of the steps I mentioned in detail.

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What you should do now

  1. Request a custom demo - and see how to unify & sync all your tools, teams & data (like we did for all these companies), or book a demo with a product expert.

  2. If you'd like to learn our best practice for customer data integration, read our free Guide to Getting Started with Customer Data Integration.

  3. If you enjoyed this article, perhaps your team will too? Why not share it with the links below.

Asia Matos

Atlanta's SaaSiest demand gen manager