An Effective Trial Approach That Converts
A trial provides prospects an opportunity to test a vendor’s solution before purchasing. In the age of Software as a Service (SaaS), many technology companies provide self-serve demos. While this works for single-user purchases, it’s not as effective for more complex purchases where multiple stakeholders are forced to navigate the intricacies of trials on their own.
Simply providing a link to a software product and inviting prospective buyers to “try before you buy” places all responsibility for the trial on the prospect, who will experience the trial without any guidance. As a result, the prospect may miss key areas of the solution that address their problems or—with no accountability—may not finish the trial.
MOST TRIALS FAIL TO COMPLETE – HERE’S WHY
In addition to this major failing of SaaS-based trials, numerous challenges block their successful completion (see figure below). The three top reasons are that:
- In 51% of SaaS-based trials, sales reps fail to manage prospect expectations primarily because their success criteria are not properly defined before the trial begins.
- A large number of trials fail to even get started. 46% of organizations view trial adoption as a critical issue.
- Sales reps don’t engage effectively with buyers in 40% of SaaS-based trials, giving them little opportunity to overcome objections and make sure the trial is on track.
To conduct effective trials and convert a high percentage of trials to purchase, sales reps need to follow a proven, standardized process for managing the trial from beginning to end. A standardized approach enables sales reps to maintain control of the trial and allows prospective buyers to confirm the solution’s value to their company.
AN APPROACH THAT IMPROVES CONVERSION RATES
TOPO developed a unique hands-on approach—which includes a series of meetings and shared deliverables—designed to enable sales teams to improve trial conversion rates. The TOPO approach focuses on the prospective buyer’s business objectives and pains, rather than showcasing an application’s features and functions. During a trial, the prospect sees what the application can do to solve their problems—not merely how the software operates.
By positioning your reps to manage the trial process from beginning to end—and remain in close contact with the prospect throughout the trial period—this process enables them to resolve issues quickly or avoid them altogether. In short, the TOPO process focuses on the prospect as a way to build trust, foster satisfaction and loyalty, and open the door to additional trials and sales.
Best Practices for Effective Trials
To create and execute an effective trial, consider these best practices:
- Set trial expectations before the trial begins. Doing so enables you to compare beginning-of-trial expectations with end-of-trial results to illustrate success. You can also map expectations with trial milestones.
- Assign clear roles to each member of the trial team. During the kickoff meeting, decide which deliverables/actions will be completed by which team members.
- Include a solution engineer in all trial discussions. The solution engineer (or sales consultant in some cases) can help set the trial roadmap to ensure the buyer knows the relevant areas of the software to explore. The solution engineer or sales consultant can also help keep momentum going by overcoming objections throughout the trial process.
- Hold open conversations that invite participation from the prospect’s team. During checkpoint meetings, ask leading questions that prompt the prospective buyer’s team for detailed answers, rather than simply “yes” or “no.” For example, a good question to get feedback is “What are the top one or two things you liked about this feature? Why?” Or conversely “What are the one or two things you didn’t like about this feature?”
- Discuss how your solution resolves the prospect’s challenges and meets the trial expectations at every opportunity during every meeting.
- Agree on a follow-up meeting time and send the calendar invitation as soon as possible at the close of every meeting.
MARKERS OF SUCCESS
The key metric for measuring trial effectiveness is the trial-to-close conversion rate. The TOPO benchmark1 for trial-to-close is 54%. For managed trials, that conversion rate increases to 75–90%; for unmanaged trials, that number goes as low as 20%. This metric should be tracked to assess overall trial effectiveness in the sales process and individual rep effectiveness. Any results far off these benchmark rates can signal that a problem exists with the trial process.
When it comes to leading indicators for trial effectiveness, the most important metric is usually trial adoption rate (the number of users adopting the software out of the entire number of users eligible to adopt it during the trial). Other metrics include:
- Average kickoff/adoption time
- Time spent in application
- Sessions per trial
- Product usage
Follow a Buyer-Centric Trial Process
Trials are complex processes that require significant time and effort for prospects to complete. However, they are also proven ways for prospective buyers to confirm that a solution resolves their business pains and challenges. To help sales organizations remove the complexity of the trial process—while also building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with prospects—TOPO recommends following a buyer-centric process that leads to more sales. Such an approach enables sales reps to more easily set expectations, perform the right activities, and maximize prospect value perception.
1 The Sales Benchmark Report, TOPO, August 2017