Optimizing Trial Conversion Rates With Lead Nurturing

Testing and Optimization


We are excited to have Jep Castelein of popular lead management and marketing automation blog, Lead Sloth, contribute a guest blog post. Read below to find out the best ways to optimize your conversion rates using lead nurturing:

A lot of early adopters of Marketing Automation systems are in the technology industry. For many of them, product trials are an important lead generation tactic. However, conversion rates of product trials are notoriously low. Often, prospects simply forget that they signed up, or they encounter a road block and give up.

Based on my work with Marketo clients, I wanted to share some best practices for trial nurturing that can easily double trial conversion rates.

Lead Nurturing for Trials

The goal of a product trial is to convince prospects that your product meets their needs. However, very few trials are finished successfully, and lead nurturing can change that.

If prospects sign up for a product trial, they almost always receive an initial ‘thank you’ email. However, in many cases that’s the only email they will ever receive. Adding them to your email newsletter is a big improvement: you stay in touch with them, but it will not make their trial successful. And that’s the big risk of product trials: without a successful trial many prospects won’t adopt your product.

The risk of unsuccessful trials can be reduced with lead nurturing campaigns that are specially designed to help trial participants succeed. A drip email campaign with usage tips will already make a big difference. But to get dramatic conversion rate increases, you’ll need to apply lead nurturing best practices. You need to optimize the campaign for:

  • Different personas
  • Stages in the evaluation process
  • Duration of the trial

Persona Optimization

Product trials often appeal to a very specific group of people. These are the people who adopt the motto “seeing is believing”, and many of them have a technical background. However, some Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products are so easy to use that trials may attract both technical and business users. In that case, you need to develop separate nurturing tracks for technical and business users. In the registration form, you want to ask which type of user they are, or you could even create different trial packages that appeal to different user groups (and will receive different nurturing).

Evaluation Stage Optimization

It is a best practice to adapt lead nurturing to the phase in the buying process, such as the awareness, evaluation and decision phases. The same applies to trials: to make nurturing relevant, you need to know where prospects are in the evaluation process.

In a typical trial, the prospect goes through the following phases:

  • Registration
  • Account Validation
  • Downloading (only for installable software)
  • Installation or first login
  • Project Creation
  • Using at least x% of the functionality
  • Project Publishing or Sharing

Figure 1: Example Product Trial Stages

When prospects have not yet installed the product (or logged in for the first time), the nurturing campaign will need to increase the sense of urgency and get people to start their evaluation. And once they make a start, it is a good time to begin sending usage tips and support information. Step by step you are helping to move prospects through the trial stages. This approach turns nurturing into a real conversation rather than a one-way push of information.

To make interactive nurturing possible, product usage information needs to be passed on to the Marketing Automation. More about this below.

Trial Duration Optimization

Most trials last a limited amount of time, such as 15, 30 or 45 days. The nurturing campaign needs to be optimized for this. The frequency of messages needs to be high enough to cover all relevant topics within the duration of the trial, but low enough to avoid annoying people.

Once the end of the trial approaches, you may want to send out a reminder, like “only 7 days left”. At the end of the trial, you could let them know they can extend the trial by contacting a sales person.

Some trial participants will have done a successful trial, but many people simply didn’t have time to finish it. To reactivate them, it works well to let them know you’ve extended their trial with every major update of your product.

Figure 2: sample 15-day trial planning

Technical Requirements for Trial Nurturing

As mentioned earlier, your marketing automation system needs to know where prospects are in their evaluation process to have a dynamic nurturing campaign. The first step is to identify which stages you want to use in your nurturing process. Then ask the product development team to send an update to your Marketing Automation or CRM system whenever the prospect enters a new stage. They can do this via the Web Services Interface. Most products offer such an interface, including Marketo and Salesforce.com.

Sometimes it can be challenging to get the product team to create those integrations. They may prefer developing new features rather than doing “marketing stuff”. However, if you explain that these features will actually help adoption of the product, they will quickly realize that getting more users on “their” system is very important too.

If you have a downloadable product, it may be more challenging to build in these product hooks. The application will have to contact your servers to send usage information. Some customers may object to this practice. However, as web-connected desktop applications get more common, this objection is getting less relevant every day.

How to Get Started

Most organizations that I talk to are just starting with trial nurturing. A few companies are ahead of the curve, and have implemented dynamic trial nurturing. One example is Appcelerator, a Marketo customer that relies heavily on their trial for demand generation.

To get started, a simple drip campaign with 5-10 email messages will already do wonders. You can take the next step once your product development team has implemented product usage tracking.
I’m working on a couple of case studies for trial lead nurturing: please contact me if you’d like to receive more information on this.

Please let me know any feedback on this article. I’m especially interested to hear examples of product trial nurturing that worked or didn’t work.

About the Author

Jep Castelein is principal consultant and founder of LeadSloth, a firm that helps companies turn more leads into revenue through lead nurturing. For more information on lead nurturing, lead management and marketing automation, please visit http://www.leadsloth.com or contact Jep at (510) 545-4171 or jep at leadsloth dot com.