What's the ideal SaaS free trial length?

Hey.com is probably responsible for the most hyped email launch since superhuman, but today, after 2 weeks of trial I received this message:

What's the ideal SaaS free trial length? the mobile spoon

Now, as a user - I'm unhappy: I didn't get a chance to do anything special with the product, so I didn't experience its' value, and there's no way to extend my trial either. I'm stuck. 

As a product person - I'm asking myself are 14 days enough to evaluate such a product? 

In most cases, I would think yes; 14 days should be enough, but this case is different: unlike most email apps that let you hook-up to your existing email/Gmail account - this one is a full email service, which means you're getting a shiny new email address (@hey.com), but it also means the inbox is pretty empty most of the time, as it does take a while to shift focus to a new email account. 

Now here's the thing: this product positions itself as a new type of email that fights "inbox overflow" and makes email manageable again, but how can you evaluate it when your inbox is always empty? 

So for me, this trial hasn't been successful (sorry to be a party pooper, product hunt...) but it got me thinking: 
What is the right trial length for SaaS products? 

It's obvious that it depends on the type of business (B2B vs. B2C), the product (simple vs. complicated), and the ramp-up period.
But is there a rule of thumb?
A few best practices to start with when launching a new product?

Let's begin with a list of factors to consider: 
  1. Time to value - how long does it take for a typical user to experience the value of the product.
  2. Features - will longer trial make the user more engaged with it?
  3. Impact on unit economics - how much does it cost to maintain free trial users on the platform (added to CAC).
  4. Impact on the sales cycle.

Given the above, I came up with the following chart: 

What's the ideal SaaS free trial length? The mobile spoon

Here are a few things to remember before setting a product trial length: 

Too short trials keep leads away

When the trial is too short, some good leads will feel like they won't have enough time to adequately evaluate the product and might give up without singing-up. 

That's the exact opposite of the ultimate goal of a trial, which is to invite as many leads as possible to experience the greatness of the product and happily convert. 

Unless there's a massive cost involved - don't scare your leads away and give them the confidence that the trial period will be long enough for them to make a decision. 

Value first, money later

While planning your onboarding, make sure not to involve costs or ask for any commitment too early, especially not... (hard for me to even write it...)... asking for credit card upfront 😱🤮💀.

Make them sign-up first, and worry about money later. 

'Time to value' is key

The essence of any free trial is to let users experience the value and benefits of using the product. 
The trial should be long enough for users to reach their a-ha moment and understand the key benefits of using the product. Product-led growth strategy defines it as time-to-value (TTV) - the time it takes for new users to realize value from the product.

For you, it might feel like a few days because you know your product.
For the users, it's always longer: they need time to set-up, understand how things work, try out some key features, get used to the product, have a chance to get back to it from time to time, and form a habit. 

Oh, and they also have other priorities besides testing this product, so...

Try to understand what's your TTV based on your data: examine the behavior of converted leads vs. unconverted ones, how much time did they spend with the product, what actions did they perform, analyze their behavior to define your TTV; this should be the minimum length of your trial, plus a buffer, just to be on the safe side.  

Time to value is a critical factor in product-led growth strategy - read more about it in my pocket guide for product-led growth

Don't bet on scarcity and urgency

I've written in the past about how to use cognitive biases to improve conversion rates. Urgency and scarcity are great ways to nudge users towards making certain decisions when they are half-way there, but when it comes to a yearly commitment - it's a risky bet. 
No one buys a product just because the trial period has ended.
If the users didn't experience the product enough to be convinced it's right for them - they will not be willing to commit to it.

[Read: cohort analysis - 4 ways to analyze your product performance based on retention rate]

The 7, 14, 30 rules of thumb

  • 7 days trial - often used by B2C products, where things are simple, and the users are expected (and expecting) to experience 1-2 key features/benefits pretty quickly. It might also be a good fit for really simple B2B SaaS products. 
  • 14 days trial - that's the most popular trial length.
    According to Redpoint Ventures, who surveyed 600 SaaS companies, the majority of products use a 14 days trial. It gives enough time for the users to explore and experience the product and enough time for companies to onboard and educate trial users with personalized content and tips without investing too much on free support.
    According to Steli Efti, Close.io CEO, a 14-day trial is an optimal length for most B2B SaaS products.
  • 30 days trial - that's the second most popular trial length, and probably a better fit for more expensive and complex B2B products, that require a wider buy-in, initial set-up, configuration, heavy testing, or even migration. Make sure to measure how users behave during this month, to make sure they are not losing momentum towards the second half of the period. 

Don't make it too long either

You may think longer trials might work better because they increase the probability that the users will have enough time to experience the value of the product, but there are also some downsides: 
  1. CAC - long trials mean more active users on your platform, unpaid support, and longer sales cycle. Shorter trials lower your customer acquisition costs and improve your unit economics. 
  2. Time kills momentum - when there's no sense of urgency, users will feel safe to delay the evaluation, and delays always put deals at risk.
To maintain a certain level of engagement and lower acquisition costs - shorten the trial length to the minimum required to reach TTV, and add an option to extend the trial period (see next bullet). 

Extend trial length as a means to qualify leads

Consider shortening your trial length while allowing users to ask for an extension. 
This is a great way to ensure you are not giving away too much trial time for free, while at the same time, it creates a great mechanism to qualify leads.

According to Appcues, putting up a paywall at the 14-day mark and offering trial extensions sped up their sales by 68%. Not bad!

ProdPad shortened their trial from 30 days to 7 days, but they made it easy for users to extend the trial time by using the product; they created a "magically extending free trial" where every action the user makes automatically extends the trial time. This gamification gimmick increased engagement level and helped qualify leads based on it.

Storytime: when I was looking to start an internal company blog I ran into BlogIn - a great blogging platform for sharing product news and knowledge. I started a 2-weeks trial but didn't have time to write enough content to publish it across the company. The trial has ended with 1 welcoming post and 0 readers. 

I asked to extend the trial (2 times actually), but the team at BlogIn was super cooperative, and after 6 weeks I was able to finish the first 5 posts, publish the blog across the company, see some reactions, and make the decision to purchase.

Decouple trial length from sales engagement cycle

When you define your sales processes and automated communication with your trial users - consider decoupling the trial length from the sales cycle. 

In some cases you will want to engage before the trial has ended, in other cases, the engagement might happen after the trial has ended, as reported by Madkudu: 50% of SaaS conversions happen after the trial ends (sometimes even 2-3 months after). 

This post has been published on www.productschool.com communities.

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