Struggling to convert your free trial users to paying customers?
You’re not alone — most SaaS do, even the high-growth ones.
OpenView – 2022 Product Benchmarks found that the conversion rate for free trials is just 17% and an even lower 5% for freemium.
Depending on your type of SaaS trial, ARR growth, and a whole lot of other factors, your trial rates may be higher or lower (we’ll dive deeper into this later on).
The good news is, regardless of your current metrics and strategy, there are dozens of ways to improve it!
We’ll show you precisely what 30+ SaaS experts did to convert their free trials, including the specific changes and optimizations they made.
These are the tactics they use grouped by category:
And these are the types of free trials they provided:
TLDR: 5 key takeaways to increase trial conversion
Here are the interesting findings we got on how modern SaaS teams enhance their conversion rates:
- The most used tactic is Improving the onboarding process relentlessly, including the signup process and your onboarding emails. That’s why investing in a behavior-based email onboarding tool like Encharge is non-negotiable.
- Those who have 2x’ed their conversion rates have experimented heavily with product changes like perfecting the trial length, doing reverse trials, or taking valued features to higher-tiered packages.
- Participants have employed 2-5 different strategies in improving their onboarding.
- Lesser known onboarding strategies like doubling down on your user targeting, leveraging market trends, and even improving your website’s copy positively impact trial conversion rates.
- When participants applied their strategies, they saw between 6 and 100% improvement in their trial conversion rates.
First, let’s dive into the basics of free trials to clear out the nuances. For one, there are different types of SaaS trials which greatly affect onboarding, activation, and conversion numbers.
Why do users sign up for free trials?
SaaS users sign up for a variety of reasons, which could be:
- They want to ensure that your tool can solve their problem before taking money out of their wallets. Smart move, especially if the product is expensive or has a tough learning curve.
- They’re in research mode. They want to compare your product with similar tools to see which one is better in terms of ease of use, price, and other factors important to them.
- They’re just curious. Sometimes, you can chalk it up to plain old curiosity. They might not necessarily need what you’re offering, but maybe they saw a persuasive advertisement of your SaaS tool or a content piece, which eventually moved them to try it out.
People sign up because they want to test your product, explore its features and capabilities, and determine whether it meets their needs and expectations.
But why do they churn?
Understanding why your users churn can vastly help you to attract and convert the right trials:
- They found it difficult to use your product. Maybe they had to jump through many hoops to accomplish a seemingly simple task. Or they just don’t know what to do after signing up.
- Your tool fails to deliver what it says. It could be overmarketing. Or they misunderstood what they read on your website. Or your app wasn’t really what they thought they needed.
- What you’re offering is good but your competitors are just “better.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with your SaaS — it might be easy to use and does as advertised, but so is your competitor’s + theirs might be cheaper and well-suited for the specific use case of the buyer.
- They didn’t experience value right away. The more you’re able to make your users realize that your tool is something they can’t live without, the better your chances are at retaining them.
- Your team can’t onboard new members quickly, and new users can’t get ahold of your support team.
What percentage of free trials convert?
A free trial conversion rate is the percentage of users who convert from a free trial to a paid subscription.
According to Openview’s latest 2022 product benchmark, the short answer is 4% to 17% of free trials convert.
The longer answer is that percentages of free trials that convert vary based on the type of trial, industry, target audience, length of the trial period, the company doing the study, product complexity, and many more factors.
If you notice, Freemium and Product-Led Growth companies have lower rates. This is because these types of products typically have more signups than free trials, which usually demand a credit card before starting a trial.
If you are curious, Standout PLG in this chart refers to the subset of companies that filled out the 2022 Product Benchmarks Survey that consistently grow above 30% at scale, have surpassed $30m in revenue, and are household names in SaaS.
That said, let’s dive a bit deeper into the types of SaaS trials.
3 main types of SaaS trials
Here are the most common ones that most SaaS, including our respondents, have:
A freemium is like an unlimited free trial. It lets you use the product without restrictions for an unlimited time and may or may not require users to sign up. Some products might make money by showing users ads in exchange for letting them use their software for free. And buying a paid plan removes these advertisements.
Limited free trial
With the limited free trial model, you don’t have access to all of the software’s features and/or the volume you’re allowed is limited.
Opt-in free trial
An opt-in free trial requires users to sign up before using the product. No credit card is required. The catch is that this trial has a time limit, and you must purchase a paid plan if you want to retain access to the tool after the trial period.
Opt-out free trial
The main difference between an opt-out and an opt-in free trial is the credit card requirement for signing up. Users get to use the product with nearly no restrictions, but if you don’t want to get charged, you must cancel your subscription before the trial period ends.
Reverse trial is a hybrid of the freemium and free trial models. People get the paid features right when they sign up. However, once the trial ends, people go back into freemium mode.
Here’s an illustration from Rick Koleta’s Medium article, When to use a Reverse Trial:
How do you calculate your trial conversions?
You need to divide the number of users who converted to a paid subscription by the total number of users who signed up for your trial and multiply the result by 100.
Trial conversion rate = (Number of users who converted to a paid subscription / Total number of users who signed up for the trial) x 100
For example, if 100 users signed up for your free trial, and 20 of them converted to a paid subscription, your trial conversion rate would be:
Trial conversion rate = (20 / 100) x 100 = 20%
This means that your Trial conversion rate is 20%.
Now that we got those out of the way, onto the exciting part — the tactics that you could borrow to improve your own conversions.
The 5 most popular tactics to convert free trial users
When we asked 30+ SaaS experts how they improved their trial conversions, we ended up with 9 main categories.
We tallied which tactics were most used and got:
- Improve the onboarding process
- Change the product strategy
- Deliver better customer support
- Improve product messaging
- Implement FOMO with upgrade incentives
Improve the onboarding process
The most common solution is to improve the onboarding process to make it feel like the onboarding of popular SaaS.
You’d have to return to the onboarding process, find friction and activation points, and optimize from there.
Looking at the shared tips, simplifying the signup and onboarding process is one rule to follow for this step to be effective. This strategy seems to be a crowd favorite and has proven effective time and time again:
“We streamlined the onboarding experience by ensuring it takes less time and doesn’t require too many details.
Prospective customers can now use our handy checklist to make progress and realize the immediate value of our offering. We improved conversion by 18%.”— Dan Thomas, Quoter.a
“The change that has had the biggest impact on our free trial conversion rate was adding a link to a Request for Quotation form to the popup screen that is seen on startup. The link provides a clear next step in the sales process. Our conversion rate improved 2% with the implementation of this link.”— Erin Ouellette, Marketing specialist at COGZ Systems
“We added an in-app widget to help users follow 5 simple steps to be fully onboarded. This also helped in increasing stickiness and conversion. We’re able to improve conversions by 67%.”— Waqar Azeem, ContentStudio
“We used to ask for a credit card, but later we dropped that request and immediately saw a 71% increase in users wanting to try our software who were previously dropped on the payment screen.”— Udit, Founder & CEO at Firstsales.io
A huge chunk of these SaaS onboarding improvements involved optimizing their email campaigns.
“We send a drip campaign if they don’t finish their conversion within 30 minutes of starting it. We were able to recover many of these users by launching this campaign, effectively improving our conversion rate by 10%.”— Olivier Adam, Chief Growth Office at ReferralCandy
To push unfinished registrations to complete sign-up, you can send a reminder email or two. To do that, you can use this Encharge template. Click on Copy to your account, and the flow will be added along with the emails.
“We send out emails inviting customers to hop on a call with a specialist and providing them with tips on how to get the most out of using our SaaS and how they could benefit even more from upgrading. Our conversion rate increased by about 20% after we made these changes.”— Logan Mallory, VP of Marketing at Motivosity
This is proof that simply having proper onboarding emails in place puts you ahead in the onboarding game.
If you don’t have one yet, it’s best to look at Encharge. Encharge is an email automation tool that boosts product activation and guides your users to value faster with personalized behavior-based user onboarding journeys.
Change your product strategy
Sometimes, when you’ve exhausted countless little optimizations and nothing seems to improve, it’s time for something drastic, like a change in product strategy.
You must think outside the box to pinpoint what you need to change, not just in your onboarding process but in your product. Sometimes what is most commonly used in your industry won’t be the best strategy for your SaaS, so it’s all about experimentation.
“Reverse trials and extended free trials are two of the biggest changes we made to convert free trial users to full-time customers.
A reverse trial option lets the user experience the full experience of your SaaS product, and it works amazingly well if your product truly has something to offer.”— Michael Maximoff, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Belkins
“We allowed prospects access to various couriers, branded tracking pages, and a smart dashboard. Previously they only had access to order status page tracking and Shopify native notifications. We improved our trial rate by up to 45%.”— Liam Liu, Co-founder of ParcelPanel
“We started with an opt-out system akin to one that most industry-leading services offer. We’ve seen much lower adoption rates than once we opened up a 15-day free trial that didn’t require credit card info. We’ve seen an increase in the number of unique users by almost 40% on a monthly basis.”— Goran Luledzija, CEO of Localizely
Drastic changes like switching your trial model take effort and dozens, if not hundreds, of man-hours to execute, so you must make decisions based on actual user data. At a minimum, you should record your baseline metrics to compare the experiment – like the number of signups, trial conversion rate, retention rate after week 1, and others.
Deliver personalized support
Talk to your customers. Provide personalized proactive demo calls.
It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of your SaaS business, especially in your early days.
It gives you a chance to show users the value of your product in less time. When this happens, conversions happen quicker too!
“We send a Calendly link with a 15-minute call booking link to the user automatically as they sign up to jump on a call with myself… this means we LEARN about our users but then also can show they how to get to the value quicker if needed. Trial conversions increased by 22%.”— Tom Hunt, Abney
“We offer additional features to lower plans that converted. I had to take demo calls that had a higher conversion, last and recent thing we did that increased conversion by 10% is to offer pricing based on country.”— Danish Soomro, Founder of Devi AI
“Offering customer support to users who needed more time to explore the platform.”— Abhishek Shah, Founder of Testlify
Improve product messaging
Who knew that your 10-word headline on your homepage and landing pages could have such a drastic effect on your bottom line?
These words (your headlines, help guides, and web copy) plant your product’s value in your customers’ heads early on. When they finally sign up for your app, they’re excited to reap the promise that you made them through your words.
It’s not just a bunch of words anymore, they’re your money-making assets. We’re not making this up. These guys have proved it.
“To increase our conversion rates we:
1) Redesigned our landing page and product pages.
2) Wrote educational articles that provide tips to our audience.
We went from a 20% conversion rate to a current conversion rate of 42.86%.”— Day Dixon, Founder of Brandkandy
“First change we made is to add landing pages for different use cases, industries, and features so users can find exactly what they’re looking for. Next big change we made, is to make it insanely easy to start trial. Two clicks from the homepage and your trial start.”— Sajwal Pageni, Growth lead at Jetdocs
“We have seen the biggest impact on our trial conversion rates by offering a limited free trial with limited access to features, and by providing clear, concise information about our product and its benefits. This has resulted in a 2x improvement in our trial conversion rate.”— Lilian Chen, Co-Founder and COO of Bar None Games
Implement FOMO with upgrade incentives
We’re not talking about just discounts here. You don’t have to push down your offers so low that your margins suffer.
Of course, you’d have to be smart about discounts like “$1 for the first month”. Or “30% OFF for a year when you upgrade today”.
You can always use that most coveted feature as an “add-on” or an exclusive benefit or extra done-for-you setup so that users will FOMO their way to the billing page.
“We offered a limited-time discount to encourage users to convert from a free trial to a paid plan. We were able to increase our trial conversion rates by 40%.”— Ataur Rahman, Founder and CEO of GetGenie
“To improve our trial conversion rates, we used a combination of features, including discounting the subscription price of our service, giving trial users a voucher, and unlocking an added feature for some users. The trial rate grew by 14%, and the conversion rate increased by 10%. ”— Alvin Wei, Co-founder and CMO of SEOAnt
“We offered exclusive benefits or promotions for those who decide to upgrade.”— John Willis, Founder of Convertfree
4 lesser-used tactics SaaS experts adopt for free trial conversion
Communicate with users better
Nurture, nurture, nurture.
It doesn’t mean annoying your customers until they upgrade. It means being helpful and being there whenever they get stuck during their trial period.
By engaging with customers consistently during the trial period, you’ll gain valuable insights into how they interact with your product. This gives you pointers on where improvements can be made.
“Ever since we did a simple check-in chat when onboarding starts, we have talked to 1000s of new customers, resolving their questions/concerns right away. Our in-app chats are also 34% more effective in converting active trailers into paying users compared to emails.”— Will Cannon, Founder and CEO of UpLead
“We added a chatbot feature to our website to assist users during the trial period, which improved their overall experience. Our trial rate increased by 30%.”— Mukesh Sharma, Co-Founder & CMO of Byaj Book
“Following up consistently with free tier users has the biggest positive impact on conversion rates. This gives customers a chance to ask questions and learn more about the advanced features.”— Logan Mallory, VP of Marketing at Motivosity
Improve your user targeting
Being laser-focused on user acquisition has its rewards.
Dig down your data for clues as to who your profitable clients are, which marketing channels give you the most ROI, your lead costs, and all the other important metrics.
If, for example, your most profitable customers come from fellow clients, then double down on referral marketing.
It requires you to do brain-cracking data analysis, but it is so worth it.
“Learning which kind of leads were best for us lets us prioritize our journey.
Understanding that we can get a lot of signups from Reddit or LinkedIn, but on the whole, they convert at a lower ROAS than other channels is crucial to understand.
We use something scratch-built in Airtable, and it lets us easily calculate lead cost & active trial user cost in real-time.”— Trevor Longino, Founder & CEO of CrowdTamers
“We also implemented a referral program that incentivizes trial users to invite their friends and colleagues to try our software.”— Mukesh Sharma, Co-Founder & CMO of Byaj Book
Earn trust & credibility
People only engage with businesses they like, know, and TRUST. Without the latter, new users will have a hard time trusting you to charge their credit card with your monthly subscription.
Sure, they had already given you some level of trust when they signed up. However, it’s still important to keep that trust during the trial period.
You can do this by responding promptly to queries, being transparent about your sales terms, and sharing social proof.
“Clearly defining cancelation. Since potential customers consider many factors before choosing SaaS software, we became upfront and honest to address their questions and concerns. We let them know how canceling a paid subscription works and that they can cancel anytime. We improved our trial rate conversion by 18%.”— Dan Thomas, Quoter.ai
“Simplifying the pricing plans and making them transparent can help increase trust and transparency. It can also help the trial users understand the value proposition of the product, making them more likely to convert.”— Nazmul Hasan, Founder and CIO of AIBuster
“The one thing that has had the greatest impact on our free trial to paid conversion rate is that our designer adds the customer’s logo, colors, and background image to their login page on all trial accounts. So when the customers log in to their trial account they feel right at home.”— Jesper Tange Faurby, CoFounder of Filecamp
Experiment with pricing
“Your product is expensive.”
This seems like a petty response from a user who can’t afford you. But it’s often wise to look at things beyond the surface. There’s no denying that your pricing CAN impact conversions.
That’s why there are several SaaS pricing models: flat rate, usage-based, feature-based, and a whole lot more. Spend time on it to improve your conversions and also to make sure that you’re not undercharging!
When these SaaS teams experimented with their pricing, they saw a boost in conversions.
“We released a new price plan in July ’22. This change actually reduced our conversion rate by about 2%. But this drop was more than offset by the increased LTV (we saw a significant increase in ARPU and a reduction in churn).”— Olivier Adam, Chief Growth Office at ReferralCandy
“Getting the pricing tiers right was also crucial. We discovered that all of our core features were actually necessary for user success, so paywalling features limited their product experience during trial. Instead, we now have a volume paywall. Once the project grows and the users keep getting more value from the software, there is no hesitation for upgrading.”— Johanna-Mai Riismaa, CEO of Zelos Team Management
- 8 Best Practices for SaaS Onboarding that Converts Users to Customers
- 15 Highly-Converting SaaS Onboarding Email Templates for Busy Marketers
- 11 SaaS Startups (Like You) Share Their Best Onboarding Emails
- Smart emails to double your trial conversion rate
- 28 SaaS Free Trial Best Practices to Supercharge Your Growth In 2023
Time for your own onboarding experiments
It’s important to periodically review your onboarding process to ensure that everything is functioning properly and to continue improving your conversion rates.
Draw inspiration from these SaaS experts and their effective strategies.
The fastest way to squeeze in more conversions is through optimizing your email onboarding. No need to change your product, process, or hire more people.
Use Encharge to nurture, convert, and onboard customers with advanced behavior emails, company profiles, billing integrations, and CRM sync for your SaaS business.
Don’t delay optimizing your email onboarding process, or you risk missing out on potential revenue opportunities.