The Jury Is Out On Trials

Optimize your B2B Software Sales

Changing customer buying behavior has resulted in the rapid proliferation and availability of trial engines; publicly available software configured to provide prospects and tire-kickers alike with unfettered access to their full capabilities.

Software publishers and their partner communities have made (and will continue to make) significant capital investments in robust trial engines with an expectation that the trial experience will provide sufficient “proof” and “comfort” to intelligently inform and drive an accelerated decision making process. If only it were that easy.

Historically, “proof” and “comfort” were established via product demonstrations delivered throughout the sales/buying cycle. Prior to product demonstrations B2B software sales professionals typically facilitated structured discovery sessions to determine prospect business pains and business process challenges, then converted them into recommended functionality. This functionality would then be demonstrated by a seasoned pre-sales/delivery consultant, who inevitably framed and positioned their solution recommendation as well as handled objections and/or corrected misconceptions. With these comprehensive and influential “proof” activities in place, most Partners drove a 20% – 25% close ratio; and buyers experienced a 50% – 65% project failure rate.

Replacing this structured approach with an unmanaged trial experience will inevitably lower both conversion and close ratios. Business applications are complex beasts, so unless prospects are looking for simple contact management (CRM) or a basic set of core financials (ERP), there is a high probability their trial experience will be a frustrating one as they root through complex modules and wrestle with unfamiliar UIs in search of their ERP/CRM panacea.

Yet…..with average selling prices dropping, cost of sale increasing and a demand-side transition towards subscription licensing on the rise, trial experiences are here to stay. The question becomes… do we mitigate or reduce prospect frustration and confusion as they blindly attempt to unearth their utopian future state amongst the hundreds, (or thousands) of available menu and screen options?

The answer lies in developing a trial management strategy that includes some or all of the following options:

  • Limit the trial experience to 1-2 contacts
  • Create a template for prospects that helps them define the specific functionality they need to explore during the trial to meet their critical business requirements
  • Document and provide prospects with a “trial guide” that walks them step-by-step through the most critical (and differentiating) business processes
  • Deliver regularly scheduled mandatory one-to-many trial preparation webcasts that prospects must attend prior to securing access to their software trial
  • Deliver one-to-one trial engine ‘tours” for larger opportunities
  • Configure trial engines for specific vertical industries
  • Implement a “chat now” capability throughout the trial application that routes requests to a defined customer friendly support resource in real-time
  • Schedule and facilitate post-trial reviews to address outstanding questions as well as misconceptions, unspoken objections and confusion.

Given the breadth, depth and maturity of business applications, prospect confusion and frustration is an unavoidable by-product of the trial experience. CRM and ERP providers do not allow their own pre-sales engineers to deliver prospect/customer demonstrations until they have completed a rigorous and exhaustive training and testing program that often lasts months. Expecting unsophisticated prospects (by comparison) to intuitively replicate this experience on their own is unrealistic. Software publishers and partners will need to support their trial experience with structure and prescriptive guidance, or risk the anticipated returns from these significant and strategic capital investments.

About the Author

Mark Stuyt

Mark is an accomplished and expert 20 year veteran in the technology industry. His experience is wide and varied, having held Senior Channel and Direct Sales positions with Computer Associates, SAP, PeopleSoft and Pivotal Software, where he consistently distinguished himself as a top producer, both in terms of customer value and revenue generation.