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Responding to the challenges of free-trials

Audrey Crane Audrey Crane 3 min read

In the previous post, ‘Who’s calling the shots now?’ we talked about the evolution of the consumerization of enterprise software and the importance of free trials in this new model. In this post, we’ll be discussing some factors that impact the free-trial user experience from the perspective of the end users as well as the product team.

Often times, the first test of an enterprise software offering comes when customers are asked if – and how much – they are willing to pay for it. This is where the trial phase comes into play. It transports users from the potential to the actual experience and, when done right, also converts them from potential to actual customers.

Let’s take a look at some common challenges for end-users and product teams face and some of the process approaches that can be deployed to overcome them.

First, we’ll look on some of the obstacles the end-user faces.

End-user Challenges

Challenge 1:
Setup and configuration for the trial is often tedious and time-consuming.

This is the user’s first touch-point and impression of the product, which means it’s an important area for the product team to focus on – you want to do everything in your power to avoid starting your end user off with a bad onboarding experience. Part of this involves ensuring that as many of the “configuration” portions as possible are automated. It’s also essential to strike the right balance between providing “sample content” to the trial user and teaching them about setting up their own data. Everything the user generates during the trial phase should be easily transferrable to the paid and “full” version of your software.

Challenge 2:
Potential customers often find the new software too complex, and struggle with the lack of assistance available to educate them on the product’s features.

You can address this challenge by streamlining required end-user tasks and making sure that your pre-populated content drives your end user’s actions and tells a clear and strong story. Applying exponential learning techniques to the entire trial experience can be very helpful. By gradually introducing simple concepts to a new user, which form the basis for demonstrating more complex workflows in your application helps to avoid overwhelming your user with all the new information presented to them.

Besides considering the amount and flow of information, it’s also important to recognize that the target user-base will have varied learning styles and methods. Based on Kolb’s theory, “Knowing a person’s learning style enables learning to be orientated according to the preferred method.”

For the trial experience, the users’ different learning styles will impact how they prefer experiencing the user-assistance in the application: some may prefer a guided walkthrough, while other may prefer contextual tips. Accounting for these differing needs in a consistent, cohesive and non-intrusive manner leads to a good user experience.

Now let’s consider on some challenges that the product team needs to address as they design and develop the trial experience.
Product Team Challenges

Challenge 3:
The software trial must not only appeal to all the primary end-users, but also appeal to the leadership involved in providing the final approval for the purchase.

Process: Grasping the nuances of each persona to figure out which personas will become the key focus for designing the trial is a good first step. One safe assumption is that the persona who will most heavily use your software will probably be involved in testing the trial against their pre-existing workflow. But the trial will also have to have highly marketable features that resonate with the “decision maker” persona. Due to the impact both of these personas have on the final decision of purchase, the trial experience will need to strike a balance between the two needs. This means providing features in the trial that highlight solutions to the key pain points in the end user’s workflow, and features that allow the leadership to see how your software yields better results than the competitors. A thoughtful combination of those two types of features will ensure higher success in user adoption.

Challenge 4:
The software is dynamic and constantly evolving, so the trial experience needs to be able to keep up with the product’s evolution.

Your product design team must create trial experiences that can be updated easily. To do so, here are 3 key things to be mindful of:

Models – To fully understand the current flow for new customer acquisition in the company, it’s imperative to create a model that reflects the end user’s existing journey and how introducing the trial period will impact that flow. The model should include the various stages a user progresses through – from the initial point of contact up to the purchase decision. Once this model has been created, it’s helpful for the team to discuss the goals which the software trial is attempting to accomplish.

Goals – Designing a trial period for a pre-existing product may sometimes feel like shooting at a moving target. With all the frequent features updates and changes, it’s difficult to plan, design and develop everything in a truly cohesive manner. Once the goals have been identified and agreed upon by the entire product team, it becomes easier to adjust the schedule for incorporating feature changes, or account for new ones that are currently being developed.

Patterns/Modules – Creating a first-time experience that is scalable will ensure that the trial phase does not require a full redesign with each new product release cycle. To do so, it’s good practice to create patterns so that new features can easily be integrated into the trial experience. Utilizing the existing UI component library for your product as a baseline to create the right framework for the various trial interactions also helps maintain consistency.

Success requires alignment of end-user, product team and leadership. By responding to these four common challenges, new products can maximise the conversion of free-trials newbies into long-term power users and the generation of additional value.