How to increase free to paid trial conversions for your SaaS

Take credit cards upfront.

If your product's value is easy to understand, it may be worth a try taking credit card details upfront. Of course, you will lose some people on the front end who simply want to try the product, but on the upside more will convert to paid after the trial is over.

Totango, a customer research platform did a study on cc up front or no cc, and found that companies who accepted credit cards up front saw an average conversion rate of 50%, vs only 15% without cards up front.

Of course, this needs to be considered with the findings of a lead-to-trial ratio of 2% for flows requiring CC, vs. 10% for those without.

Interestingly, retention rates were higher for signups without credit cards as those companies tended to have higher levels of engagement with their leads.

A Charbee article concluded that it's best to try without requiring a credit card, but I feel that the situation is too nuanced to recommend one way or the other. You should try this for yourself to see what works for you.

Here is an example from Dropbox. The company asks for payment up front:

Even though we are presented with a 30 day free trial, Dropbox asks people to pull out their credit card right away.
Notice how they make it clear that you are not charged now.

Tips for taking cards up front:

  • Make it very clear that the user will not be charged today. Netflix does this 11 times in the onboarding flow!
  • Show the exact date when the free trial will end
  • If you want to build a solid brand built on honesty, send them a reminder before the charge date. Notice how Dropbox does not do this and says "charges won't be refunded when you cancel" -- not a great way of doing business if you ask me.
  • Offer multiple payment options like PayPal. Many developers use Stripe. While convenient for developers, some people refuse to enter credit cards due to fear of cancellation hassles.

Remind people they won't be charged.

Not long ago I put together a breakdown of Netflix' onboarding. To date, it remains one of the best onboarding processes I have encountered.

What's so amazing about Netflix and the way it sings people up? The way they re-assure people that they will not be charged at the time of signup.

As with anything, Netflix' signup is unique to them and depends on the type of business. B2B products do not require as many reassurances as direct to consumer ones.

Personally, I would test adding re-assuring messages in as many places as you can before the customer signs up (unless you are in the B2B space, where I think the effect will be less pronounced).

To add to the re-assurance, you could even specify the exact date the customer will be charged, and let them know you'll notify them some days before the card is charged. This is an excellent way to build trust.

Add other payment options like PayPal.

Many people, myself included are skeptical of entering credit cards online. It's not that we don't trust security of the process, but the fact that it's much easier to cancel through portals like PayPal, without having to jump through any hoops.

All I need to do is click a few place in PayPal and my subscription is cancelled. I do not need to hunt down my logins, look through a dashboard, navigate to billing and find the place to cancel.

You can use this to your advantage and add PayPal as a payment option.

While a comScore study suggests PayPal improves conversion rates for ecommerce stores, there was no data on SaaS.

My suspicion is that PayPal and other payment options in addition to credit cards, boost conversions - just because the prospect has more options to choose from.

As always, this is something you should test for yourself.

Limit trial to 7 days instead of 14.

This is not a hack, and there is nothing magical about it. It works for some products and not others - depending on the complexity of your product.

If your product is simple, where one sets it up quickly and everything is straight forward, reducing the trial to 7 days can help conversions.

If your product is complex and requires some time to become familiar with it, perhaps the 7 day trial is pushing it.

Shortening the trail period makes your team hustle for the sale - become more lean and efficient at closing the deal instead of dragging it out for 2 weeks or even a month.

If applicable, get the user to invite others.

Let's say you sell a service to monitor people's websites and apps.

Inviting co-workers to get alerts when things are down is a good idea. You can add this invitation process into the signup flow. Just have a screen where they can enter email addresses to send invites to co-workers.

The more people you have engaged with your product per account, the more likely one of them is going to like it and make the case for your service to others.

Give them all of the features.

I'd test it both ways, limited and full feature access.

Sometimes giving people access to your entire product will let them see the full benefit and turn them into a customer.

In other cases, it may let them abuse the signup system with multiple accounts and never sign up for paid. Be careful with this one!

Paywall the most critical features

Wait, what?!

Didn't you just say give them unlimited features?

Yes... I did.

But, it's all on a case by case basis.

Some apps actually benefit from significantly limiting the most important features.

For example, if you were to create a graphic, you'd want an SVG version of it, or at least a 2x PNG. But if the software only allows a low res version export, wouldn't you pay for that sweet image just to get it in high quality? Yes you would.

Rate-limit your app's usage.

PhantomBuster and Descript are perfect examples. Both tools give you complete access to the software and there are no time limits. The only thing that stands between you and continuous usage is a rate limit.

Rate limits are an excellent way to let your users experience the full wonder of your software, get them hooked and begging for more. Of course, that's when you ask them to pull out the wallet!

Provide an incentive to upgrade before the trial is over.

I rarely see this because everyone expects all of their trials to convert to paid.

Try adding an incentive for people to upgrade to paid. For example, create a prompt in the app for 20% OFF their next month if they upgrade before the trial expires.

If the user has seen enough value, but are trying to make the trial last all the way to the end, 20% OFF their first month might be a great way to incentivize them to upgrade. You'll likely need a 14 or a 7 day trail for this to work - or you could consider an annual discount offer.

You can even take this a step further and offer an annual upsell with an additional discount on top if they act before the trial is over.

For example, if you already offer 2 months off when they sign up for an annual plan (with a trial), you could offer another month off on top of that within your app's dashboard -- but only if they act now, before the trial expires.

Personally reach out to trial users.

This may not work for startups or SaaS companies with thousands of people trying them every month, but if yours is more high-touch and fewer trials at once — you could try reaching out to each person as yourself, the founder.

Ask how it's going and what you can help with. People are less likely to respond to automated messages.

When Rand Fishkin launched SparkToro, he personally reached out to early users and asked them if everything was going well. I know because I got this email, and I responded to it and he responded back all within one minute.

This is not an automated broadcast. Automated emails have unsubscribe links and my gmail filters them as "Automated". This is Rand, messaging from his SparkToro account.

Imagine if every one of your trials got this type of VIP treatment. They'd be more likely to take a serious look at the software and actually sign up.

In case you are wondering, SparkToro is a great too, and I did end up looking more at it because of Rand's email, but ended up delaying the purchase because it wasn't what I needed at the moment. I may still come back and yes, I would think about this email while doing so.

It saddens me when an IndieHacker launches something new and uses an automated response to ask for feedback.

You just launched and you are already automating? Nah. Ask personally - that's how you start a conversation.

Send successful customer outcomes case studies via email after the user signs up.

One way to let future customers imagine their own success is by showing how some of your other customers are doing with your product. If you have them, send case studies to people who have opted in to your emails. You can easily take them from a warm lead to a hot one by showing relevant case studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of your product.

A study by ProfitWell found that B2B and DTC willingness to pay went up by 10-15% when prospects were presented with case studies:

This may work better if it comes from a person sending it directly and tailored specifically to the recipient and not an automated, generic message. If you need a kickin' case study, check out the work of my friend Joel Klettke at Case Study Buddy.

If the product requires a lot of set up, provide templates, starting points, or personally guide the user via 1-1 outreach.

Imagine you signed up to a product but have limited time to set it up.

Wouldn't it be great if you saw the full value of this product or what is possible to achieve?

You can accomplish this by creating starting points for your users or templates where applicable.

Once the user is able to add their own data into your product, it becomes harder to abandon it. This is particularly true when the product's value is clearly visible after enough data has been contributed.

Templates and placeholder content enable shortcuts to the "aha!" moment. Instead of manually plugging data, the prospect can see exactly what they can achieve just by swapping the sample data with theirs.

It's also a great way to learn about a technical product that would otherwise be more daunting to explore from scratch (think product upload templates - already pre-filled, vs. having to read the documentation and figuring out which column titles you need before plugging in any data).

Screen preferences during onboarding so the user can get the most value out of your product by jumping straight to the relevant parts of your product.

A customized experience is better at delivering value than a generic one.

Imagine you sell form building software. A trial prospect gets into your dashboard and sees "create a form" button. They click it and see a blank screen with a bunch of options to build the form.

This is an acceptable flow, but not a great one.

Now imagine the prospect signs up, sees "Create a form button", clicks it and we ask him "What kind of form would you like to create?" with some options on the screen.

One click and the form is created. We just saved our free trial user a bunch of time and they can embed the form right away. We delivered value in one click. Sure, they can customize it, adjust test, but the majority of the form is built for them, styled and all.

While this is a simple example, the same can be applied to any software that requires the user to make choices to get to a starting point.

If you are selling business intelligence data, would you rather drop the user off into an empty dashboard, or ask them some relevant questions and serve a pre-populated, useful dashboard?