Benchmarking Online Sales and Trial Processes of SaaS Companies
Roughly a year ago Pilvi conducted a research project where the online sales maturity and functionality of trial processes of 50 Finnish SaaS companies was evaluated. The study was conducted online using a mystery shopping method. The prospects were selected from the Pilvi prospectus database and through Google searches with keywords such as “try now”.
The Pilvi trial process study was divided into two parts. First, we study how well a site visitor can find information on the trial process, basic product information, and its various versions (SaaS Pricing Plans). Below we’ll focus on reviewing results of the first part.
The issues studied during the first phase were:
- Business Information, main segment (B2B, B2C, B2B+C)
- Was a personally guided demo available?
- Type of Application (Web, App, IoT, a combination of the previous)
- Was the trial process automated?
- Call-to-Action for the trial process, where it is found and how clearly it is marked
- Pricing ease of finding
- Number of Pricing Plans, quality, clarity
- Is there a Free Trial of the product, an open demo, and/or a Freemium version?
- Pricing, discounts, and contract models were also evaluated
The second phase is to examine how the trial begins as well as the trial process itself, and how communication and guidance are carried out through the entire SaaS Onboarding Process. The second phase will be more closely examined in an article at a later date, this second phase in general contained far more challenges and shortcomings.
SaaS Companies and vendors of continuous services were the target group
Pilvi has an extensive list of prospects, but for the study, we went to Google using trial related keywords (such as “free trial”, “try it for free”, “30 days”) to find those that promote their products on their website. Products and services that were not software-based (eg. gyms) were then taken out of the group, and we filled out the list of 50 using the prospects we mentioned previously.
Of the companies examined roughly 85% were B2B companies or their product was made for businesses, which could also be suitable for private use (free-time, home office, hobby, or small business). 16% of the companies were ones in which the product was either completely or partly mobile use.
Demo, sales contact, or a genuine automated trial?
One of the aims of the study was to find out the functionality of the trial processes of SaaS companies and others providing continuous services, but also measure the authenticity and level of automation. By a real trial account as seen below we mean a trial where the user has a fully operational account with access for a certain time to try out the full features of the product.
The terminology is often jumbled either intentionally or unintentionally, which is why references to a “trial” sometimes seen on websites can mean several different things. During this study, we explored the different types of trials and their prevalence. A fourth of the companies provided a personal demo more or less clearly. In these cases, the Call-to-Action was typically, “request a demo”, “order demo”. Four of the companies tested provided a demo in the form of a short product presentation video. In addition, there were an array or promotional videos in which the product was not at the forefront, we did not count these.
In addition to the trial request, we identified the nature of the actual online trial. Two-thirds of the companies tested provided users with a genuine trial complete with user IDs, ie. a complete account with access to the entire environment. The rest of the companies did not offer anything concrete (manual contact, phone call follow-ups), or offered generalized demo accounts (shared demo accounts).
In a few cases, the trial ended with an automated contact, which was aimed at setting up a time for the demonstration, meaning the process was more so geared towards setting up a guided tour, which was concealed in the form of a free trial.
Call-to-Actions for the trial were clearly placed.
Start Free Trial, and its variations is the most popular CTA, and is clearly found on companies’ web pages. In nearly 80% of the websites, the CTA was immediately seen. In the second phase, we look at what happens when the Call-to-Action is clicked. In short, we can surmise that the quality of the Trial/Onboarding Process weakens the further you go.
* The Trial Call-to-Action can and must be in several locations.
The most popular trial CTA locations were the main page’s top view, and the top right corner of the Navi. Of the companies, 18 had CTAs in multiple places, some (6) had a CTA on sub-pages. Eight companies had hidden their CTA on lower pages or could only be found by Google search.
It is recommended that the trial (as well as the product pricing) appear on the front page immediately. It could be noted that some of the companies had spent a lot of time and resources on designing their web pages, so the trial launch was easy, and pricing and productization could be clearly found.
Hidden pricing is still popular
If you are selling goods, failure to report price will not often promote your sales. Unfortunately, finding pricing and presenting it clearly is still a challenge for many companies. Only 10% of businesses had their pricing clearly stated on the front page in connection with the trial. An excellent example is a company named ContractZen (https://www.contractzen.com/), which shows their price as soon as you arrive on their page.
A good option (or an addition to the previous) is to display your pricing in the form of product cards on the front page slightly below the main view.
However, 36% of the companies surveyed had their pricing information one-click away, so although the pricing was initially hidden it was still readily available. However nearly 40% had their pricing either completely hidden, very unclear, or only partially there i.e. “Starting from 100€/mo”. These do not promote sales.
Product Price Plans are the starting point for SaaS and service sales!
Good Plans are the starting point for service sales. Productization needs to be clear to the customer, gear pricing plans to create more encounters and make variations of the product in order to maximize the number of visitors that feel there is a product to suit them – also for its price.
Pricing Plans from around the world have been pretty well copied in Finland. Of course, one-third (32%) do not have any yet, so there is room for improvement. Only 12% of companies have brought forth the different variations of their product in the form of product cards to their front page.
The most common amount of product variations is three
There was greater dispersity in both quality and methods when it came to productization and own product presentation. However, the most popular way was to package 2 to 4 products as various sets with slightly different content. We at Pilvi recommend 3 to 4 product variations, of which the first can be a freemium product and the last an enterprise product, in which the Call-to-Action is a manual contact to sales.
Six or more product versions are often too great, at least in the initial stages of a company. Similarly, 2 variations can be too little. More important than the number, however, is the transition between products and their causes, and how the versions are designed for different buyer segments.
* = For a single product, some companies had a bundle of add-ons and options for the product, and in some cases the discounts due to the length of the contract period were packed into different products, which is not a very elegant way of doing business.
The length of the trial period is defined by the amount of time needed for product to generate value
In general 14 and 30 day trial periods are the most popular. The trial period should be determined by the length of time by which you can be sure a user has experienced the value generated by the product. Only once the added value is sufficient enough can the trial period end and sales begin.
Of the companies included in the study (of which had an automated real trial) the majority had timed their trial period to be either 14 or 30 days (or one month).
What came as a surprise was that 7 of the companies in the study did not clearly state the length of the trial period prior to registration. In some cases, the information came with or after registration.
Some (mostly consumer services) required credit card information in the trial phase already. There is a school of thought which recommends this, but we would consider when it is worth implementing or not. We would strongly advise against it for B2B services, especially if the user is different from the credit card holder.
Free is an option to Trial
In connection with trials (Trial, Free Trial) the word free is often used to attempt to enhance conversion rates, but an actual free product (Freenium) is, of course, a completely different matter. A free product is one that is forever free but does, however, generate value for the end user.
A Freemium product is a good way to get users onboard. There are however several challenges in creating one. Out of the companies studied roughly a fifth offered some sort of free product, and in a few cases it completely replaces the “free” trial.
At Pilvi we tend to recommend productizing a Freemium product as a type of loss leader to attract a different type of customer segment. Your actual Trial should be based on your main product so that the trial user gets a fair view of the full features of the product. Productization should be considered at the product development stage.
Summary and the next steps towards phase two of the study
The companies involved in the study had done well in different areas, and although some of the companies in the first part of the study were even commendable (e.g. Isolta, ContractZen and a few others), there was largely much room for improvement. Unfortunately some failed miserably.
It is worth noting that companies have vastly different resources to act. However, the main reason for poor performance is the lack of know-how, meaning they either attempt to self-build or copy things a piece at a time.
Overall, online sales expertise in Finland is still weak, which is reflected in many companies favoring traditional sales models over online sales.
Next, we will open up the second part of the trial process, that is, the steps from registration to customer communication. In this phase, we will be looking at for example trial launch, and volume and quality of communication.
The study has given us a deep view into Finnish B2B companies selling continuous services. We will continue to expand the research to cover new companies (at their request), as well as internationally into SaaS companies in other countries.
We will divulge the results and give suggestions for improvement to the companies involved in the study when asked.
If you are a SaaS company and would like the entire material for use, you can order it here and at the same time participate in the research.
N.B. If your service has already been tested, you will receive the entire report and your company’s benchmark against others (average and best).