The Importance of a Polished Software Trial

Imagine a technical professional searching for a new product to help their company. As they search for just the right software, a half-dozen (or more) competing products might pop up, some by well-known companies, and others that they have never heard of before. In what can seem like an endless sea of possibilities, how do they decide which product is worth the investment?

For many, the solution is to download a trial version of the software: a limited-time license or a feature-restricted download that a prospective customer can experiment with. They have the opportunity to experiment with most (if not all) of the features provided, get a feel for the program’s user friendliness, and decide if it actually does what they require.

Unfortunately for the developers, most of these trials are only superficially explored. Potential customers usually won’t even read the documentation; they’ll just follow the interface and their instincts until they get stuck, at which point they’ll move on to the next option. Most products only have a few hours to impress, and an install glitch or confusing interface could keep customers from fully exploring a product that might actually be a perfect fit for their needs.

Another issue is that the company has a very slim chance of getting to even speak to a potential client. Many IT people don’t trust a company’s sales department for fear that they will be pressured into an uncertain purchase, and will delay reaching out until they’ve already made a decision. In fact, 60% of B2B purchases today include little to no actual human interaction.

All this leads us to a very important lesson:

Your software has to make the sale before you even know the customer is interested.

As a result, it is vital that the trial version of a product is just as complete and impressive as the full version. This is especially important for small firms and startups competing to get their first hundred accounts or so. They do not have their name or reputation to fall back on, so every piece of trial software must be a well-polished, consistent, and easily manageable package. But how do you ensure that your trial version is the best it can possibly be?

The first, and possibly most critical, element of that tiny evaluation period is your installation process. When packaging your software trial, make sure that you take just as much care as you do with your full product. Review the files you have included, and make sure that there is no unintuitive or overly complicated configuration that would deter a trial user. Make sure that the features available are easy to access and there is no excessive advertising blocking you from actually using the product (this can be seen as overly pushy). And most importantly of all, test, test, and test your installs on every platform that you claim to support. If your trial package fails to load properly because of an error on your end, you are likely to lose a prospect for good. Tech professionals need their software to work instantly and efficiently, especially in an industry where it’s so easy for something to go wrong. Hurdles thrown up in the install process destroy consumer confidence and make it much less likely for them to give you a chance in the future. It is better to delay the release of a trial version for a few days than to put out a faulty package.

In terms of the product itself, make the UI as close to the actual full version as possible. Customers will not appreciate a bait and switch, especially after taking the time to learn a new interface. Offer as much of the product that is feasible, and don’t withhold features that are vital to the base functionality of the software. Some trial products contain built-in “tours” of the software. Be careful with these, though; they could be seen as intrusive and patronizing if they’re too basic or thorough, but could help explain less obvious features of your product without requiring a user to dig into the oft-forgone documentation.

It is helpful to remember that if your product loads quickly, works intuitively, and meets the user’s requirements, you’ll have done more than just made it into the running for that sale; you’ll have done that evaluator a favor. Now they know they have a product that will deploy quickly, and that they’ll be able to operate with minimal training. Besides making their lives easier directly, it makes them look better and more able to their colleagues and superiors (the ones who will frequently be signing the purchase order). Don’t underestimate the connection that makes; especially with backend technology, the people operating the software have enormous input into purchasing decisions, and if they want to be using your software, they’ll usually find a way to make it happen.

Give the product a chance, and let it sell itself.

Talk about it:

  • Why do you use (or not use) software trials?

  • What do you look for in the trial version of a product?
  • How much time do you give a product to convince you of its worth?

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