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The Free-Trial Backfire

December 11, 2009  

It's become standard fare for software vendors to offer free trials to their prospects when they land on Web pages via search or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. This approach makes sense, since most software packages can't be appreciated fully unless they are experienced first-hand. It's also a super-efficient touch point—one that requires no human intervention. But can a free-trial offer work against you? Absolutely, says Howard J. Sewell, of Connect Direct, in a recent blog post.

The problem, says Sewell, is that many prospects just aren't ready to commit to a free trial. "Offering a free trial risks eliminating a huge subset of potential customers—people who well may have the relevant pain or problem your product solves, but aren't at a place where they feel compelled to actually evaluate the product."

The issue is more acute when free trials are used on a PPC landing page, and customers are clearly in the early stages of shopping. There, Sewell says, "we often recommend free trials only be used for branded terms or key words that suggest the user is actively shopping for a solution."

Consider alternatives that require less of a time commitment from the buyer, says Sewell. A flash demo, for example, will enable you to show off the product to a larger pool of prospects, including those who would have responded to your trial offer. Or, consider a "buyers' guide," which will appeal both to serious buyers and to new prospects.

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