This question was originally posted on Quora and I had responded. I am expanding on that answer in this post.
As companies push firmly into a SaaS delivery model, providing ability to do a trial/evaluation has become table stakes. In the new world order of technology procurement, buyers are more educated and prefer to touch-and-feel the technology before they even engage with the vendor. Gone are the days when salespeople used their relationship, pushed products to companies. Buyers usually would do all the upfront analysis and prefer talking to sales guys only to close the deal. This applies most industries now – technology, real estate, automobiles. The only exception to this might be the pharmaceutical industry where a pharma company “educates” the doctors into prescribing their solution. We all know how that works. Anyway I digress.
Technology world has, belatedly, moved all-in to a try-before-you-buy model. It is probably the only good thing oft-ridiculed automobile industry has taught the technology industry. With SaaS model of delivery, that has become much more achievable. Freemium models have spawned some of the most successful companies. In the legacy software delivery model, the customer would still be required to make hardware and sometimes resource investments to get a trial done on an expensive software.
If you product has clear ROI milestones that you can establish as part of a trial without the need to have involvement of someone from your end then by all means do a trial. The core idea behind the trial is that you are confident that your solution solves a clear problem and the solution is designed to be intuitive. Alternatively it has enough pick-em-up tips scattered in the app so the user is not lost. The goal is to ensure the trial is a success. Remember the last thing you want is for the prospect to leave with a bad experience.
That said, are there cases in SaaS where this try-before-you-use model does not work ?
While the goal for all SaaS companies should be to achieve this, there are some scenarios where a trial might be challenging and the undoing of the company.
- Your product involves (elaborate) upfront implementation work and customers cannot see the proof of their problem being addressed.
- Your product needs third party integration to be done for it to demonstrate a complete flow.
- Your company does not have a customer success process (needs it own post) defined. You have done all the hard work to get the customer to try your product. If you don’t follow that up with process in play to ensure that trial have a high degree of success the you better not do trials.
But my recommendation to all product companies is to figure out a way to make trial version available. Nothing speaks more about your confidence on your product as saying “You have nothing to lose, try it and we are sure you will find our product meeting your needs and will subsequently buy it“. Also from the product side it
- Forces you to make the product intuitive
- Forces you to think about ROI all the time – even at a smaller scale
- Reduces your sales cycle by a whole lot of time.
- Eliminates the advantage your competition might get by providing trials when you don’t.
As for my personal beliefs I think every product should be designed with the ability to do Trials, even complex enterprise software. The “Why not?” question the product team should keep asking themselves should be if “every CAR (much more complex than software) has trial why not software?”