You are here: Before reading this article, we highly recommend that you’ve gone through these steps:
If you’ve made it this far, I’ve either not bored you to sleep or you’ve skipped the other articles and are jumping in right here. Either way, make sure you’ve accomplished the to-dos in the “You are here” above or that you’re at least familiar with those concepts and, ideally, have completed the work discussed in those articles. Converting your target USERs into trial or freemium USERs requires the strategy and execution from the previous steps.
Conversion rate optimization (CRO), like SEO, is a highly discussed topic and there’s plenty of great (and not so great) content about it on the web. Some people have specialized their careers solely on CRO — but you don’t need to hire those specialists yet. First, you need to get the fundamentals in place (with good CRO practices) and that’s what we’ll cover here.
What is a conversion rate?
Generally speaking, conversion rate is a metric to measure how effective you are at getting USERs to progress to the next stage of your GTM funnel. In practice, the term “conversion rate” usually means the percentage of unique visitors to your marketing site who filled out a form during a specified period. Other funnel-stage conversions have adopted their own — typically stage-specific — names, such as “win rate,” which is the percent of sales opportunities that convert to paying customers. In this article, we’re focusing on the free trial conversion, and our goal is to convert as many USERs visiting our website into free trial USERs as possible.
Experimentation or A/B testing is fundamental to learning what motivates your USERs and to improving your conversion rates. But what exactly will you be experimenting with? At the early stages, there are several key “building blocks” at your disposal to experiment with and drive conversions. The rest of this article focuses on these building blocks.
Before we discuss each of the building blocks, we need to do a quick GTM tech stack review. This topic is covered in excruciating detail here in Leads! How do we get more leads?, but to refresh your memory, you need the following components up and running in order to successfully get USERs into a trial and manage the flow of information between product, marketing, and sales:
• Marketing website to promote your offer and get USERs to register for a trial.
• Marketing automation system to store and email leads and pass qualified leads to the sales team.
• Sales CRM to accept qualified leads and manage the sales process.
• Your application to create the USER’s product account, start their trial, and share product engagement metrics with the marketing automation system.
You’ll probably have more tech than this, at least to collect and analyze metrics, but these are the ones to focus on for this article.
The motion continues through the sales process or until the USER self-service purchases, but we’ll stop here to focus on getting a user to the free trial or freemium stage.
The offer: free trial vs. freemium
At the end of the day, you are promoting an offer to your USERs. Sure, it’s a free trial, but there are variables like duration, product editions, expired trial experience, and more to consider.
One of the first considerations is whether to offer a free trial or a freemium edition of your product. Honestly, it depends on the product, ICP, USER/BUYER requirements, cost to serve, margins, etc. With that said, I’ve seen the following product packaging and offer work really well for many organizations:
Product packaging is relevant in the context of converting USERs to free trial USERS because we need to clearly articulate an offer on the marketing website, in ads, and everywhere you promote. I’m not going to fill out a form on a website if I don’t know what I’m getting!
The primary reason I like this three-package setup is because the FREE edition reduces friction for USERs to start an enterprise free trial.
Nobody wants to invest their time and energy into a free trial if:
1. they don’t think they’ll be able to purchase the product right away
2. when the trial expires, they lose all access to the product. Therefore, my favorite offer is:
that automatically transitions to the FREE edition at the end of the trial
if the USER does not purchase STANDARD or ENTERPRISE.
The remainder of this article will assume the offer and packages described above are in place.
Messaging and positioning
Your product needs a story that resonates with the USER enough to get them to commit their time to trialing your product. This includes the overall company and product messaging and now also includes messaging the offer.
Call to action (CTA)
Creating an effective conversion page
The conversion page is the last thing standing between your USER and your offer, which, in your case, is a free trial. The page includes the form that the USER must complete in order to register for your product and start the trial. This is also your last opportunity to convey your value to the USER and entice them to actually fill out and submit the form.
CRO experts spend a lot of time iterating and experimenting with these pages, and you will too. The general idea is to keep these pages clean, concise, and easy to use (easy to fill out and submit the form). Clean and concise doesn’t mean just a headline and the form. Include concise, direct, personable, value-oriented messages reinforcing your USERs’ desire to fill out that form. Maybe something like: “Deploy your code to production three times faster (don’t worry, you can still take a coffee break).”
Finally, include social proof. Nothing makes a USER want to start your trial more than seeing your awesome customer logos and testimonials. They’ll think, “Hey, if they’re using it, we should too.” Highlighting vanity metrics and awards can help USERs get a sense of your scale. If your product helps companies make widgets, you can say something like “Over 1 million widgets made!” or “100,000+ widget makers rely on us!”. If you’ve received an award, recognition, or press from an amazing source, mention that too. However, don’t link to the press article from this page — we don’t want anyone getting sidetracked so close to the conversion.
Deciding the fields to include on your form — really, just a part of your conversion page — can be so contentious that I decided to call it out separately. The contention comes from finding the balance between reducing friction and collecting valuable information about your USERs. Long story short, USERs’ willingness to fill out a form decreases as the number of form fields increase.
I recommend that you keep the number of form fields to a minimum. If your USER is creating a product account and starting a free trial, that usually requires just an email address and password. But I suspect your sales team will ask to include fields such as first name, last name, title, company name, company size, company location, and a host of qualification questions. There’s no doubt that having this additional information will be helpful to everyone in the organization, not just sales.
However, there’s also no question that asking for that additional information will negatively impact conversions. Your goal is to get as many USERs as possible to try your product. Asking for more information increases USER cognitive load and plants a seed of concern about giving up so much information, all leading to more friction and fewer conversions. Remember, the USER is self-serve registering for your product to start a free trial. Asking for more information screams, “Our sales team will be contacting you as soon as you push that submit button!”
There are many ways to acquire this additional information after the USER has submitted the minimal information required to get started with the trial. Of course, your mileage may vary. Experiment with including more form fields and measure the impact. Maybe for your USER, the impact is negligible and you get all that extra information. You won’t know unless you experiment.
Content, retargeting, and nurture emails
Up until now, we’ve focused on converting active website USERs into free trial USERs. If you collect leads through other programs, such as gated content or events, then you’ll have an opportunity to convert them into Free Trial USERs, too, even when they aren’t on your site. Typically, these USERs will not be educated enough to be ready to start a free trial of your product. However, if they were interested enough to part with their email address in order to consume your content or talk to you at your trade-show booth, they’re likely to be interested in your product. They just need a little assistance in getting educated.
In this case, educational content and/or events are your usual “offer.” Educating a USER can take time and multiple content pieces and events. These offers will align with the USER’s current education maturity, progressively getting deeper into your product capabilities. For example, at the beginning of the education segment, your content may address higher-level problem analysis and non-product recommendations. While at the end of the segment, the message will be rich with product specifics.
Nurture emails and retargeting advertising campaigns are two good methods for presenting your offer to these lightly educated USERs. You can track whether USERs open, click, and download your content or register, attend, and even engage in your events. These metrics flow into your marketing automation system to record the USER’s education progress and align their nurture stream to include more advanced educational content until they are ready for their free trial.
Rewards and gifts
For some people, all it takes is a little reward to get over the “start your free trial” hump. You don’t want to depend on rewards too much, but they can be a good tactic. If executed well, the reward can promote your brand and encourage social sharing:
“Look what the good folks at @your_twitter_handle just sent
me! <picture of branded gift>”
New Relic’s “Data Nerds” shirt campaign during the early days of the company is a quintessential example of using gifts to incent USERs to try a product. I joined New Relic as head of product marketing in 2011, when the company had about 40 employees. I credit the success of the campaign to:
How the New Relic “Data Nerd” campaign worked:
a. USER registered for a free trial.
b. Marketing automation systems emailed USER to remind them to install the SDK to get the shirt.
c. USER installed SDK, which sent data to New Relic application servers.
d. New Relic application code updated marketing automation system noting that the USER deployed the SDK.
e. Marketing automation system sent the USER an email with a link to order the shirt.
f. USER received the shirt in the mail.
g. Delivery notification updated the USER record in the marketing automation system.
h. Marketing automation system emailed the USER to recommend they tweet a picture of themselves wearing the shirt.
This may be obvious but it’s important, so I’m going to cover it quickly. There are a few critical pages your marketing website must include to provide USERs with information they need to get comfortable starting a trial of your product.
If you have a free trial, you need a pricing page that actually shows prices and compares the different editions of your product. Your USERs leverage this page heavily as they consider whether to try your product. Your pricing page will have CTAs strategically placed and, based on my experience, is one of the most visited pages and drives the most conversions.
Eventually, you’ll have a library of educational content that includes documentation, tutorials, how-to videos, etc. That doesn’t preclude the need for a detailed product page on your marketing site. In fact, the product page serves as a launching point for USERs, and for many companies is considered the first step (conversion) of the education stage of the GTM funnel. If the product page speaks to the USER, they’re likely to proceed to your richer education content, and your site should provide links to “learn more” that guide your USERs to your more detailed education content.
A good product page will first convey the big picture and, if relevant, showcase a diagram of how your product fits in or improves the USER’s workflow. As the USER scrolls down the page, you’ll show them the most important product features (regardless of product edition) with concise descriptions of what the feature does and how and why it delivers value to the USER. If relevant to your product, you may group the features into categories or sections on the page to make the content more digestible.
Screenshots, videos, customer quotes, and logos go a long way on product pages. I know, I know. Your product is changing every day. And the UI isn’t where you want it yet. Doesn’t matter. Show your USERs what you have and be prepared to update your marketing site often, videos and all, as your product evolves.
Your product page describes (and shows) what your product does and the benefits for using it. Create a “use cases” or “solutions” section to personalize those benefits for a particular use case, industry, or persona — for example, “for developers,” “for DevOps,” “for data scientists”. These pages are your opportunity to really connect with your USER and show that you understand their challenges and goals and how your product will support them. It depends on your USER, but typically these pages are pretty high-level and don’t provide feature-level details but rather paint a picture for the USER of how your solution will positively impact their lives.
Once again, social proof is extremely valuable on these pages. Dedicate a significant amount of real estate to use case–specific customer logos, quotes, case studies, and educational content that doesn’t just say “we get you” but also “we get you and we have happy, successful customers just like you!”
Comfort pages establish trust
There are a few pages I call “comfort pages.” Like comfort food, they give USERs warm and fuzzy feelings, but more importantly, they get USERs comfortable working with your young company by establishing trust and credibility.
Experimentation and A/B testing
You all know what A/B testing is and why you do it. The hard part is actually doing it. It adds extra work and you already have more work than you can handle. Someday, you’ll have a bigger team and you can go all in on experimentation. For now, leverage experimentation when you’re really looking for feedback.
Testing email newsletter subject lines can provide informative feedback on an aspect of your messaging. It’s easy to test and only requires you to write one or two additional headlines. Same goes with your conversion page. Test a few versions of your value props or how you message the free trial. You may not have enough traffic to reach statistical significance but you may learn something and it’s good to build experimentation into the culture from the start, even if it’s just a few tests a year. I find it also helps to better appreciate the USER journey and often uncovers new metrics to track and measure.
That’s it! Marketing is done once the USER fills out the “start free” trial form! It’s up to the product and sales teams to support the USER throughout the rest of their journey. Wrong. Well, yes, it is up to product and sales, but marketing isn’t off the hook yet. In the next article, you’ll learn how marketing works in partnership with the product, sales, education, and community teams to help engage trial USERs, guide them to their aha moment, and beyond!
The Modern GTM
From trial to aha!, land, and beyond