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Software trials abound, but marketing management is lacking

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Before purchasing software, IT decision-makers often use demos or free trial versions to determine if an application suits their needs. However, a surprising number of software companies that offer such “try before you buy” deals aren't doing much to manage the process and so may be missing conversions and risking longtime customer loyalty. Those are the findings of a recent study by customer-engagement company Totango, which sought to determine how companies offering cloud-based software track prospect activity and encourage trial users to make a purchase. The results were not encouraging: Among the 10 software companies Totango tracked by signing up for their software demos, six were what Totango termed “oblivious” that Totango wasn't using their products after registering to do so. Some companies sent generic emails that were introductions to the app (how-tos), while others sent irrelevant emails, such as conference promotions. Further, the volume and engagement levels of email communications during the trial period were lacking: Seven of the 10 companies didn't bother to send a single personal email from a sales rep encouraging Totango to sign up after the demo period had ended, instead relying on automated messages. “We were surprised to see how little contextual and personal interaction there was,” said Dominique Levin, CMO at Totango. “As an industry as a whole, these companies were just focused on getting customers in the door, and then they dropped the ball.” Levin said that the trial model has become an increasingly common way to market cloud-based software. Totango itself conducted an online poll in February of 550 enterprise-size companies offering cloud-based software and found that 44% offered a free trial after which the software was disabled. Seventeen percent offer the “freemium” model where the prospect can use a limited version indefinitely or pay for a version offering more features. “But much of the process seems immature and not well managed,” Levin said. The reason, she added, may be due to the rapid rise of the empowered customer, who now insists on trials. Software marketers are complying, but may not understand how to do it right. “The onus of paying upfront for software is no longer on the user,” Levin said. “It's now the software companies' responsible to make customers happy. It's new, and companies have to change to accommodate themselves to this new model.” The best-performing companies in Totango's trial software study were aware that after registration their products were not used and reached out to prospects with various support solutions. The most helpful included the emails and phone numbers of coaches or “customer success” reps. Totango also gauged what it called “sign-up friction”—that is, how easy or difficult it was to actually register for the software trial. Totango judged the best companies to be ones that demanded fewer sign-up options and registration fields. After registration, Totango gauged the effectiveness of follow-up emails. The best were from real people who sounded sincerely interested in the prospective user, provided instructions on getting started and suggested ways the trial user could contact the company, even from another country.
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