We’ve always thought that free trials work very well, especially if you’re selling your products to small businesses, which my email marketing company VerticalResponse does. If you’ve worked with small business you know that they are far more careful with their budgets than their larger counterparts. They treat any money they spend for the business as their own … because it is.
So when we decided to give our online product away totally free back in 2001, people looked at us like we were crazy. Our largest competitor wasn’t doing it; they gave a free trial of their product for the first 30 days, but you had to input your credit card. Then they would charge it on the 31st day and monthly thereafter. That’s not really free in my opinion.
We not only decided to give away a free trial of our product, but we also took away that nasty notion of a subscription (which we offer now if our customers want it), so that our small business customers wouldn’t get their credit card charged every month if they simply didn’t use our product. Think of the real estate agent in South Dakota who might not have a great February, and might not want to spend any money on marketing then. We didn’t feel that they should pay for what they didn’t use.
Our potential customers log onto our application, create an email and send it up to 100 recipients (in some cases 500 depending on the channel). They can track their reporting in a full working version of the product so they can see the exact experience they’d see if they paid. Since we also have surveys and direct mail postcards, they get 25 free responses on surveys and they get to send themselves a free postcard so they can see the quality.
And it turned a tough sale into an easy sale. When asked by prospects, “How are you different?” or “What makes you better?” we could simply say, “Why don’t you try us out; it’s totally free. And try our competitors, too. Then pick which one did the best job for your company.” It was, and to this day is, the greatest sales pitch I’ve ever had. It takes any pressure off, and puts the decision right into the hands of the prospect. No hard sale needed. We obviously message them pretty hard during the first trial month, which helps push them to interact with our product.
Giving a full working version of our product has been the way we get over 2,000 new customers each month and how our customers become accustomed to our product — without them having to fork over a credit card or pay us a dime. It’s been worth it.