Strategies to increase sales are wide and varied. Today, I want to speak directly to sales reps that are in the software as a service business (SaaS).

There are many paradoxes in using a free trials to sell Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. Cloud vendors want to give customers the opportunity to empower prospects to see if their solutions will be a good fit for their prospects. Handing over the “keys” to your solution and wishing the client well in their evaluation isn’t very effective. Trying to lead the prospect through the trial process to aggressively can make them cut and run for the hills.

Striking the right balance between a micro-managed SaaS eval, and “call me if you need me” test-drives can be difficult. Here are five tips to leading your SaaS sales team to winning more deals, and reducing time wasted on tire-kickers.

1. Offer Tiered Trials to Filter Prospects from Suspects

Would you ever expect to stroll into a luxury car dealership, sidle up to a salesman, and take a fine car for a spin out of the blue? Probably not. They’ll likely want to evaluate your propensity to afford the vehicle, ensure you have a valid driver’s license, and otherwise mitigate their risk. Providing options for trials can help you to gauge the amount of time and effort you invest a sales qualified opportunity, as opposed to chasing rainbows.

Try the following:

  • Offer “DIY Trials” and “Guided Tours” – If a prospect wants the expertise of a technical pre-sales consultant, have them provide a provisional purchase order, or invest in a handful of subscriptions at a reduced price.
  • For the DIY prospects, give them access to your knowledge base and pre-recorded demonstrations. Consider having weekly liv Q&A sessions for DIYers but keep them brief and recorded to build out your self-service knowledge base. If they request one-on-one time with your sales or pre-sales team, encourage them to step up to put some “skin in the game” with a proof of concept or fee based evaluation.
  • For paid Proofs of Concept, provide full access to clients to your support channel and have your team responsive and supportive to their process.

2. Make Trials as Close to Day in the Life as Possible

Trials which mirror real life can be a lot more effective than a empty shell of your software. Whether you upload a sample of the prospect’s data, or even use “dummy data” which mimics real life, inject some “life” into the trial to provide context. The time you spend in making a trial system seem like production an increase your chances of winning a deal, and increase engagement in the evaluation process. Putting some familiar “toys” in the sandbox will improve the sandbox.

If you are using dummy data, consider having industry specific trials if you have many clients in a specific industry. Create personas of Cloud users for engaging trial data as well to provide more targeted demo context. If you have online training available to paying customers, offer limited time access to eval clients too.

If possible, monitor the prospect’s use of your trial. If they aren’t logging into the trial you have set up for them, offer to coach them how to get started, delay the trial until they have time to evaluate, or see if they are still in the market for your solution. Don’t watch a client’s every move, but ensure your sales/pre-sales reps can log into a trial to provide assistance where needed.

3. Don’t Start the Trial Until You Understand the Sales Prospect’s Success Criteria

If you just allow clients to try out your software without understanding their business or technical goals, you might be setting your product up for failure. Positioning a discovery call with a prospect as a way to save them time, not burning their time is important.

Try to take the word “Free” out of the evaluation conversation, because a prospect’s time and resources do have value. You are better off to talk to the prospect, and proactively taking your product out of consideration should you not be able to meet a client’s success metrics. There may be ways of consulting your clients on ways to use your application to their benefit which you may miss by unleashing unqualified customers on your system. If a prospect is not willing to provide your sales/pre-sales team with insight into their business goals, they likely aren’t worth the risk of enabling them on a trial. Offer alternatives such as:

  • Pre-trial or mid-trial consultations
  • Freemium services such as volume restrictions on production use of your application
  • Infrequent e-mail tips on optimizing trial ROI with videos or tips on best practices
  • “Buy Now” or “Guide Me” buttons in the trial to initiate contact quickly
  • Access to a portal especially tailored for prospects on trial with FAQs, videos and documentation

4. Optimize the Trial Length or Model

In some cases, a 30 day trial is too long for a client to test drive your solution, without losing interest or diminishing their motivation to take action. For many SaaS solutions, time-based trials aren’t the best models. A better metric might be:

  • Converting a web portal/e-commerce platform or CMS theme from design mode to production
  • Restricting e-mail marketing/contacts/transactions/social media channels to a specific volume
  • Goal-based evaluations, meaning if a client meets a specific milestone, they need to pay to continue to use your solution (Conversion rate, report generation, application integrations)

5. Don’t Let Prospects Ride Alone into the Sunset 

Regardless of which of these strategies you use in your no-charge trial sales process, try not to let any trial customers get away without having a “post-mortem” on a trial process. If there are features/functions/business context lessons to be learned from a successful or unsuccessful trial, you want to benefit from as many experiences as possible to improve your solutions and processes based on wins as well as losses.

Demonstrating your commitment to a prospect, partner or consultant that you are committed their success before being a paid customer can be just as important to their buying decisions as meeting their functional requirements. It can also set the stage for building trust and loyalty for the buying process and for the long term.

What have your experiences been like when offering or participating in SaaS evaluations or POC's? Tell us about them in the comments section!

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