The Pros and Cons of Free Trials

May 14 / Andrew Kopp / filed under Miscellaneous

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Would you buy a car without taking it for a test drive? How about a house without first doing a walk-through? People want to know what they’re getting in return for their hard-earned dough, and it’s hard to get consumers to buy a product or enter into a service contract without giving them some idea what to expect.

That’s where free trials come in. These low/no-risk opportunities are the modern-day answer to door-to-door vacuum salesman hoovering your dirty living room carpet as proof your purchase will pay off…. or are they?

There are pros and cons to free trials, and getting to know both sides of the coin is your key to understanding whether a gimme is the right choice for you, your brand, and your customers.

PRO: You’ll weed out the less-serious suspects

If you’re offering a service that requires a lot of internal resources during the onboarding process, a free trial can help you determine whether your customer is really in it for the long haul or not. The free trial would theoretically offer limited scope, so you’re not doing all the work of signing up, educating, and delivering a welcome kit for someone who is going to cancel after a month anyway.

CON: A free month might not be enough time

Free trials can’t go on forever. A week or a month are both popular time limits, but can your consumers properly gauge their love for your product in just seven days? Or even in 30? The answer to that question could change depending on the item you’re offering for sale; it’s easy to see if you like a streaming music service in just hours but a complicated project management tool requires more consideration.

PRO: A great product may sell itself during the feel trial period

A free trial delivers true proof of concept. Reviews, video demos, testimonials—all of those factors are unlikely to seal the deal if your client base is skeptical or if your claims are so incredible they’re almost self-defeating (something else to watch out for, by the way). Give away a free trial and people can see for themselves that your mop truly picks up dirt like no other, and that kind of evidence is invaluable.

CON: Without much investment, consumers may not be motivated enough to really give your product a chance

If you’ve shelled out a couple hundred bucks for a piece of software and it’s giving you fits, you’re going to make a significant effort to troubleshoot your way out of the mess because you’re already invested in the outcome. If you’re in the middle of a free trial and the software seems buggy, you’re much more likely to cast it aside and go on to the next possibility. If your product or service is difficult to use, hard to understand, or in any other way not user-friendly, a free trial could hurt you more than it helps you.

PRO: You can get highly beneficial feedback

Lots of brands make an end-date survey part of their free trial package. The idea is that users get the complimentary usage period in return for offering up their opinions. This is great for a company that is still fine-tuning their product, but that can also bite you in the you-know-what.

CON: That feedback might come too late

Free feedback seems awesome, and it certainly can be, but if it comes at the cost of a customer who now has a subpar impression of your brand, the resulting consumer alienation (not to mention negative worth of mouth) could be more damage than the feedback itself is worth.