Don’t punish old trials and former customers

A common pattern in SaaS apps is to allow a free trial period of 2 weeks or 1 month, and then to require a credit card to use it any longer.

Either out of curiosity or out of a genuine need for a tool that some SaaS service is offering, I will often sign up for a free trial soon after learning about it in order to check it out. For a variety of reasons by the time the free trial is up, I’m not ready to purchase.

It could be because I was just poking around. But more often it’s because I got too busy. Or my reason for signing up didn’t stay a high enough priority to be ready to purchase and fully implement some solution. Or maybe because the product just wasn’t far enough developed to satisfy what I was looking for.

What I find happening is that 3, 6, 12, or 18 months later I’ll find myself thinking about this tool. Perhaps the problem that led me to originally check out tools of the service has become more pressing than ever before. Or perhaps I’m fed up with another tool I chose, and am searching again for a better option. Or I’m hoping that the product has evolved more. Or whatever.

When logging back into your previously-created account, what you typically see is something like this:

Your free trial expired. Please enter your credit card to continue.

At this point, it’s far too easy to just close the tab. I’ve done it many times, even when I actually was in need (and willing to purchase) a tool in their category.

Savvy users will email the site’s sales or support team and can usually get a trial extended, but this often takes a few hours, which sucks. When a user gives you enough attention to want to check out your product right now, you should always take advantage of that. It’s too easy for that attention to get lost if you make the user wait.

Similarly some users will just use another email address, which is really bad for understanding your marketing funnel and metrics, and is a bad user experience overall. Plus, this may mean losing whatever progress was made on the first trial.

Let’s stop punishing our older trials.

I always thought this was a bad user experience, but I knew we were guilty of doing the same thing at Not anymore. Now if you login to a trial that has been expired for long enough (i.e. you haven’t checked out the product in a long time), we give you a single click to get started again.

Screenshot 2015-08-04 14.50.22

The same applies for former customers. Once you’ve been around a while, it won’t be uncommon for an early adopter to have churned and then want to give you another shot a year later. We should welcome this!

It’s a super easy change to make and within minutes of pushing this change we already saw its effects pushed to our chat.

Screenshot 2015-08-07 16.53.17

Don’t treat old users worse than new trials!

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  1. Taylor Brooks said,

    August 8, 2015 @ 12:21 am

    I just did this at by implementing a usage based trial.

    So a person can sign and send up to 1000 emails before getting any trial expired or promptings for a credit card.

    Before, it was a 2 month trial and even at that length, people would sign up, put it on their “todo” list and forget. Usage based trials seems to make the most sense because you can usually prove the app’s utility and value after X amount of usage.

  2. Tim Lynch said,

    August 17, 2015 @ 9:02 am

    Phil – great points! It is important to show users the love. Sometimes the trial and need are aligned and your ready to go… Sometimes, they are getting a ‘feel’ for your solution and when the real need arises they think of your brand/solution. The last thing you want to do is punish them for coming back.

  3. Kevin said,

    August 17, 2015 @ 11:25 am

    I agree that from a UI standpoint you should be recognizing repeat clients.

    But not all #SaaS companies are the same.

    Being that our SaaS is not just a tool — we do all of the work and are a complete solution.

    After two weeks our clients know exactly what the value is and what to expect from us going forward.

    I often get the question from clients:

    “Can I just get a few more days to evaluate your service.”

    About 99.9% of the clients that ask this do not stay on past our trial. They are just freeloaders. Our conversions past trial are typically in the 65% – 85% range month after month — so this is a pretty telling fact to me.

    If we allowed two extra weeks of trial, we would just have folks taking advantage of it for free work. Instead of spending more time working for clients that never intend to pay us for our work — I would rather focus on paying and fully engaged clients.

  4. Phil Freo said,

    August 17, 2015 @ 11:29 am

    Kevin, I am not advocating allowing arbitrary extensions of just-expired trials. Like yours, many of our new paying customers start paying soon after their trial expired. You’ll notice my post says “if you login to a trial that has been expired for long enough”.

  5. Steven Hambleton said,

    August 17, 2015 @ 5:31 pm

    Hey Phil,

    How long is ‘long enough’ out of interest?

  6. Phil Freo said,

    August 17, 2015 @ 9:00 pm

    Hey Steven, I think it depends on the SaaS business. For mission-critical apps (used multiple times per week) I think if a trial has been expired at least 1 or 2 months you could allow them to restart, since clearly they haven’t been getting any value out of it, and it’s past the decision point of purchasing it right after the initial expiration. For services used less often you might want to extend this to 3 or 6 months or more. For canceled customers (versus expired trials) you might want to have it be a little longer to avoid abuse since their accounts have real history/data stored.

  7. Patrick Hathaway said,

    August 18, 2015 @ 9:34 am

    A logical extension of this is to auto-enroll users for a new trial if they have only used the product once or twice during the trial period.

    They could come back on day 15, having used it once. It is ludicrous to expect them to be able to pay at this point as they have not had a chance to evaluate it (granted, this was their fault). But they shouldn’t be punished either.

    That’s our theory anyway, and we’ll be implementing it very soon (along with everything you covered in this post, which was excellent by the way).

  8. Phil Freo said,

    August 18, 2015 @ 3:47 pm

    Patrick – I think this is a great idea for certain businesses, though I think the further extension of this logic is to simply structure your trials to never be time based, but rather be activity based (e.g. you can perform up to X actions or store Y amount of data or whatever). I think this can work really well, though the downside is that you don’t ever push someone to a decision point of committing to seriously use your app or not if there’s no time pressure.

  9. Gonzalo said,

    August 20, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

    Phil have you tried to offer some kind of discounts before trial expiration to rush them to become paying customers?

  10. Phil Freo said,

    August 20, 2015 @ 2:25 pm

    A discount that gets offered to everyone really just means that your prices are lower :)

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