How to convert free trials into paying customers
If you’re offering free trial memberships, get this guide on how to convert free trials into paying customers to keep them in your funnel over the long-term.
You’re celebrating a small win after deciding to offer free trial memberships.
After all, you’re seeing an influx of trial signups. Your audience is responding to your offer.
What’s your next step from here?
It’s time to turn that small win into a big one by converting your free trial members to paying customers.
Better yet, convert them into long-term customers.
Here’s how in five strategies.
5 ways to convert free trial users to paying customers
#1. Optimize your welcome email
The first way to turn your free trial customers into paying members is to leverage your welcome email, which is a wildly important first communication to your new trial users.
Plus, they can lift unique open rates by 86% and revenue per email by a whopping 320%.
If you’re wondering what to include in your welcome email, look to Oberlo, whose first email includes a warm welcome and clear steps on how to use their service. They also include steps the user already completed, followed by what to expect going forward.
The roadmap allows Oberlo’s recipient to see what’s ahead, which simplifies their process and encourages them to engage with its service.
Oberlo also closes out the email with a welcoming face from a team member who’s willing to offer help through their onboarding online course.
Another effective way to use your welcome email is to highlight your most valuable features, so your free trial users can get a taste of your benefits right away.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg for what makes this a great welcome email.
Down at the bottom, it has a unique “trial meter” that shows how many remaining days the user has in the trial, which creates a sense of urgency.
Most people won’t keep track of where they are in a trial if there isn’t a credit card attached, but with emails like this, they’ll know exactly where they are -- and how long until they lose access to all of the benefits they signed up for -- at every communication.
Basically, a good welcome email is a simple beast. Feature your most valuable benefits and direct users to their next steps to enjoy them, and ideally, do it with a sense of urgency.
Which is, not incidentally, our next tip.
#2. Leverage a sense of urgency
Our next tip for converting your free trial users into paying members is to create a sense of urgency by focusing on the limited trial period time.
If you’re wondering why you should focus on urgency, the reason is practical, if perhaps anticlimactic: it works.
In fact, a study of five experiments revealed that people are more likely to perform unimportant tasks characterized by urgency and an illusion of expiration over important tasks.
This is why countdown timers work well on ecommerce sites. Even if you include just a small countdown timer and an inventory log on a product’s checkout page, you can nearly triple your conversion rate according to a ConversionXL experiment.
As ConversionXL rolled out its landing page variant that featured this sense of urgency, they saw a conversion rate that jumped from about 3.5% to nearly 10%.
Another reason why creating a sense of urgency is important for converting your free trial members to paid users is it makes them feel like they’re missing out on something beneficial by not taking you up on your offer.
Otherwise known as loss aversion, you basically want your trial users to feel the pain of losing out on your membership during their trial just as much, if not more so, than the gain itself.
Put into chart form, you want to inspire your users to feel a £100 gain less than they would a £100 loss.
That’s not to say you must include a countdown timer and over-blast emails to your trial users warning them of their membership expiration. The takeaway here is to tap into the psychology of scarcity and urgency to encourage your free trial users to act right away.
And, if you’re thinking this all sounds a touch Dr. Evil to you, take heart. You’re not tricking people with a sense of urgency: you’re providing them something they value so much that losing it is more detrimental than paying for it.
In other words, you’re making sure they get -- and feel that they get -- their money’s worth.
For a good example of a sense of urgency without a countdown timer, here’s an email I received from ScheduleOnce reminding me that my free trial expiration was approaching. It also included a clear “purchase your subscription now” CTA for becoming a paying customer.
They laid out how long I had -- just three days -- to continue enjoying my subscription, which still created the sense that time was running out. It wasn’t very dramatic, but it didn’t need to be to be effective for putting their product top-of-mind for me.
Or, for that matter, to make me click the simple CTA to keep the good times rolling with their product.
In a nutshell:
Find creative ways to create a sense of urgency and notify your free trial users that their trial period is expiring. Be sure to include a CTA that makes it convenient to switch over to a paid membership.
Of course, scarcity and missing out on your member benefits aren’t the only factors that will convert your free trial members. Personalization also plays a big role, which brings us to our next tip.
#3. Personalize your communication
The third way to convert trial users to paid members is to personalize your communication whenever possible.
Go beyond including their first name in your communication. Make every email you send to them relevant to their lives.
If you don’t, you risk annoying (or worse) your trial users. A whopping 74% of consumers get frustrated if you send them content that’s not relevant to their lives.
The report is highly customized, making it the quintessential definition of relevant and personalized.
To make sure your content is as relevant as Monday’s email, make sure your timing is relevant, too. This means sending content at the right time is just as vital as the content itself.
How do you line up the right content for the right time?
Send triggered emails based on your users’ behaviors and actions, rather than simply scheduling them based on time. If you need convincing, look to the numbers: triggered emails drive 24 times more revenue per send when compared to emails that are batch-and-blasted.
The difference in revenue is akin to the difference in a tidal wave and a kiddie pool splash.
So lean on your triggers, and if you don’t have them, get yourself an email platform that provides them -- they’ll make a world of difference for serving up the relevant content you need to convert trial users to customers.
They’ll do a lot to help with our next tip, too.
#4. Encourage your trial users to actively engage
Another effective way to convert your free trial users is an obvious one, but harder than it sounds. You need them to actually use and engage with your service.
An effective tactic is to set goals for them within your membership.
The reason why this works is it’s a great way to start solving their problems as soon as they start as trial members. Plus, it demonstrates the benefit of joining in the first place.
Even if your trial users don’t reach their goals yet, send a snapshot of their progress with a CTA that encourages them to engage with your membership.
Check out how Fitbit sends a personalized email that shows and encourages users’ engagement by quantifying weekly usage stats.
As you can see, the “view dashboard” CTA entices the recipient to head back into the platform to re-engage with Fitbit directly.
Of course, if your trial members achieve a goal, send them an email that congratulates them on their progress, just like LinkedIn Learning does.
This will show off to your user how your service helped them solve a problem and achieve a goal.
Another option is to take it a step further and reach out to individual free trial members inviting them to a meeting where you support the adoption of your product. It’s an effective way to get them to engage with your membership and buy your service in the end.
In fact, it’s so effective that doing so makes trial users 70% more likely to purchase your paid service.
(While this research is specific to using a sales rep, as an online business owner, that’s likely the same person as the marketer and customer support lead -- you.)
Personal touches like this are widespread. Check out this email prompting me to book a demo with an account executive after joining a free trial with analytics tool Oribi.
If you can’t afford the personal meeting time, then try a live chat messaging tool that allows you to preload tailored messages to support and engage your new trial members as soon as they enter your membership portal.
(Need some templates for using live chat? Grab these 8 messaging templates.)
Whether through an email, personal meeting, or live chat message, one of the most powerful best practices for membership trials is to go as far as onboarding your trial users as if they’re already paying members.
It’s a chance to show off your excellent customer experience, and it won’t go unnoticed.
90% of Americans decide whether or not to do business with you based on customer service. I’d say that makes it a pretty significant factor.
What’s more, according to a Salesforce study, 67% of customers claim they’ll pay more for a great customer experience.
On the flip side, a bad customer experience could cost you a pretty penny. So much so that 57% of your customers may stop buying from you, and 62% might share their bad experience with others.
Basically, get trial users to engage with your membership by creating goals, highlighting progress reports that clearly illustrate their activity level, setting one-on-one support meetings, and using live messaging to show off the benefits of using your service.
Providing an excellent customer experience should be at the forefront of every interaction.
(And if you don’t already have a tool for managing your membership site, check out how seamless a free trial customer experience can be using this 2-week free trial.)
On the topic of customer experience, one of the most vital factors is user experience (UX), which brings us to our final strategy for long-term conversion today.
#5. Make their user experience as low friction as possible
Finally, to convert your trial membership customers to long-term paying customers, create an excellent user experience (UX) that makes transitioning into a paying member super easy.
In other words, for every $1 you invest in UX, your return is $100.
On top of that, 88% of users are less likely to return to your site if they have a bad user experience. So this is an everything-to-gain and plenty-to-lose decision for an online business.
Now that you’re (hopefully) convinced your UX is important, how can you improve it?
Try some of these tips for improving your user experience:
Use customer surveys to gather feedback from your users and continue to iterate features and design based on your findings.
Interview your users to find out their favorite parts of your service and areas that need improvement. And then address those.
Improving your UX doesn’t stop there. It’s also vital to make the transition from trial user to paying customer as smooth as possible.
You can do so by offering a plan that doesn’t lock them into a long-term commitment.
Converting to a monthly plan causes less friction than a longer-term annual plan. For B2B businesses, free monthly trials convert nearly 15% better than annual plans, and for B2C businesses, free monthly trials convert 10% better.
None of this is to say that there’s no place for friction in a user or customer experience. There are a lot of smart designers who would advocate for friction as a force of good, and we’re inclined to agree with them.
It’s why Podia’s free trials, both for our service and those that our creators offer their customers, don’t require a credit card. But outside of that, you want the path from trial to paying customer to be as smooth as a freshly shaved ice rink.
If they have to take more steps than clicking a link, adding their financial info, and selecting buy, each one is a step where they get further and further away from conversion.
So make the investment in UX, or invest in a platform that has already put in the elbow grease for you. It may take a while to get right, but it’s a tide that lifts all boats and, most importantly, bottom lines.
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Seamlessly transition your trial users to paying customers
Now that you have these five tactics in hand, it’s time to convert your free trial membership customers into long-term customers.
To recap for you:
Your welcome email is a highly visible opportunity to get your trial members to engage with your offer, so make it count. Include clear next steps that simplify your process and highlight valuable member benefits.
Spotlight a sense of urgency by letting your free trial users know what they're missing out on if they don’t continue using your service beyond their free trial.
Personalize your customer experience by sending relevant content based on their engagement level, actions, and behaviors, rather than a generic time-based schedule.
Focus on enticing trial users to engage with your membership by creating goals and personalized progress reports, setting support meetings, and leveraging live messaging.
Prioritize improving your UX and making the transition from free trial user to paid member so smooth it feels like a 1970s pop song.