Free Trials Are Nice, But You’ll Be Broke Without Customers – Here Are 8 Ways To Convert Them

Free trials are a great marketing tactic. Everyone loves free.

Signing up for one is easy. A first name here, an email address there, and you have access. But as a business owner, there’s a massive gap between getting names and getting dollars.

How many free trial users end up as paying customers? Depends on your conversion model:


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These numbers obviously represent the high end of the spectrum. The best in show. On average, a SaaS is going to see a much lower free-to-paid conversion rate, most likely under 25%, and in all probability, less than 10% for the majority.

But there is plenty you can do to drag it up.

High trial conversions are a good sign – people are interested in you and your product, your marketing channels are working – but they don’t pay the rent. You can’t put all your efforts and resources in that one basket.

You need to consider everything holistically: website to trial user, trial user to paid plan, active trial users, short-term churn, long-term churn, and more. A high visitor-to-trial CVR ultimately doesn’t mean a thing if you’re not vigorously working to increase the other metrics and decrease churn.

Free trials or freemium pricing plans can be tremendously beneficial and effective, but they may not be for everyone.  

It’s not even as easy as deciding yay or nay: you need to pick either freemium, free trial with a credit card (often referred to as opt-out), or free trial without a credit card (known as opt-in). What’s best for you and your brand?

Once you’ve decided and implemented, the real work begins. You’ve got to nudge those free users to paying customers. And an email campaign can make it happen.

Signing up is a powerful signal of intent to buy. Send them email until they do.” ~Jordie van Rijn, Email Monday

1. Nurturing is Not a One-trick Pony

Your drip campaigns shouldn’t be about just one thing. You don’t want to come across as the pushy sales guy or gal. No one responds well to aggressive tactics. If you’re sending an email that says something like “Hey there, you’ve been trying our product for a while, it’s time to pay up,” you’re doing it wrong. Very, very wrong.

Instead, provide added value. Demonstrate appreciation with a thank you and/or welcome letter. Offer tips, tutorials, and how-tos to increase the usefulness of your product. Send check-ins and reminders to engage with users. Cultivate a relationship. Provide benefits and introductions to lesser-known features to make your product more relevant and valuable to them.

Nurture your leads and users. Don’t sell them. The goal is to become irreplaceable.

2. Make Haste

The early bird gets the worm.

Some businesses have a 24-hour rule – or longer – when it comes to reaching out to their new leads and users. They don’t want to come on too strong. Big mistake.

Connect immediately with trial users. The faster you get them engaged and using your service, the more likely they’ll stick with you after the free trial is over.

Signing up for a free trial is easy. Convincing someone they need your product in their life is harder. We’ve all signed up for or installed something that we only end up using once or twice, if at all.

Users who are active for 3 days are 4x more likely to convert, so don’t miss the opportunity. Reach out, connect, and engage as soon as their name and address hit your system. They’re interested in you. Go to them.

3. Be Clear Upfront

Don’t dance around the issue of costs, what’s included, and what’s not. It’s a short-term gain.

Optimize all of your messaging (emails, landing pages, pricing page, etc) to include everything. State it all explicitly. There should never be any hidden costs or surprises for a user down the road.

What exactly can they expect from you during the trial (frequency of email messages, content, available support)? How much will it cost them if they convert to a paying account? What’s in it for them?

Let them know.


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4. Segment Your Email List

I’m not going to go too much into the power of email segmentation. If you’re using email, you should be segmenting your email list. Higher open and click-through rates, lower unsubscribes and complaints.

That includes your trial users, too. To start, go with something easy until you can gather more data on them:

  1. Active trial users. These people are using it daily and loving it. Don’t ignore them, though. Make it an even better experience with advanced tips and tricks.
  2. Semi-active users. They’ve logged on a few times, but aren’t consistent with their usage. Remind them of the benefits. Solve a pain point.
  3. Unengaged (no activity). They signed up, but haven’t done anything since. Win them back.

Personalization is the lifeblood of email conversions. Segment your list, collect data on recipients, and personalize even more. Get the right message to the right user at the right time.

Personalization – it is not about first/last name. It’s about relevant content.” ~Dan Jak, Email Marketer

An email product like Mailshake can help with personalization and lead catcher features.  


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5. Create Urgency

We want what we can’t – or think we can’t – have. When it comes to conversions, we’re pushed into action by a sense of urgency.

A free trial of a great service that’s about to expire creates the “fear of loss”…use that. Loss aversion can be a powerful marketing strategy, but always use it ethically. Send users a reminder message. Summarize all the benefits they’ll be losing. Invite them to opt-in immediately to avoid any downtime, delay, or loss at all.

You could also try offering a time-sensitive incentive to upgrade before the free trial ends. It might be a reduced rate for X months, a free gift, or a trial extension for active users not quite there yet.

Create urgency. Harness the fear of loss. But use it for good, not evil.

6. Set Goals for Users

We are competitive beasts. Most of us love the thrill of competition, of moving up a scoreboard or into new levels.

Consequently, we love to see progress and that we’re at least keeping pace with others. Create a series of daily or weekly goals for free trial users to complete. Each goal should be tied to exploring or using a particular feature of your product. Discover the endowed progress effect for an even stronger response.

Goals. Tracking usage and completion. It works.

7. Pave the Road

As we’ve said before, getting someone to sign up for a free trial is the easy part.

Make the transition from free to paid as smooth as possible. If it takes too long, or requires too many steps, or demands too much information, you’ll lose them.

Remove friction. Increase trust and security with social proof and trust badges. Request as little information as possible. Use condensed forms. Keep it simple.

The free-to-paid conversion should be only 1-2 clicks directly from the email itself.


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Give them a smooth ride, and they’re more likely to go the distance.

8. Triggered Over Timed

Emails sent based on user actions and behaviors are better than the traditional “after x days” model.

If you’re still sending emails based on a timed sequence instead of triggered by actual user behavior, you’re 100 percent doing it wrong.” ~Lincoln Murphy, Sixteen Ventures

You want your messaging tied directly to what your users have done/used or not done/used, not how long it’s been since your last email. This alone is compelling personalization.

Triggered emails have a 624% higher conversion response rate. It puts the perfect message in their inbox at the perfect time.   

Trigger. Don’t time.

Email marketing continues to be a dynamic channel for business. Actively engage your free trial users and you have a better-than-average chance of converting them. Follow the suggestions listed here, and those odds go up again.

You do have a few decisions to make upfront, though. Is a free trial right for you and your product? Should you use an opt-in or opt-out model? How long should the trial period last? Do some research. Crunch some numbers. Then go for it.

Write relevant and useful messages. Work hard to stay out of the spam folder. Engage on a personal level.

Convert. Free trial users look and feel good. Paid customers look and feel better.

Do you offer a free trial for your product or service? What conversion rate have you been experiencing, and what tactics have you tried to improve it? Leave your ideas in the comments below:

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