Pricing Strategy, Part 2: How to Structure Support for a Free Product Trial

» Posted by on Aug 8, 2012 in Business Strategy, Marketing, Pricing, Sales | 0 comments

Pricing Strategy, Part 2: How to Structure Support for a Free Product Trial

Not getting the results that you hoped for from your product trial strategy? Are you finding that prospects don’t use the trial to evaluate the product properly? It could be that you aren’t providing enough customer support to enable your prospects to experience your product thoroughly.  Our earlier article listed three different types of free product trials; in this article we’ll describe how to structure customer support for your product trial program.

Choosing the Right Level of Customer Support: Doing the Homework

Whatever type of free trial you decide to offer, you will need some form of customer support to ensure that prospects convert smoothly to customers. The trick is to balance the level of customer support required with the cost and workload for your support team. In order to make a good management decision, you need to do some homework.

Step One:  Look at your existing process for new customers. This is a good place to start to determine how much support you need. If your sales and implementation process is automated, and you run support without a phone system, you should be able to do the same for your free trials. If you require a combination of online training, onsite consulting, extensive documentation and a specified phone representative, you will need to provide similar services for your trials to be successful.

Step Two:  Create a rough budget. No company that we’ve worked with has these numbers at their fingertips-although in an ideal scenario, they would – so just do your best with an estimate on the following: what revenue do you expect from a customer over the next five years? What is your current customer acquisition cost? How long do you expect it to take for your customer to become profitable? What is the highest cost of customer acquisition that the business could absorb and still enable growth? These numbers, or at least educated guesses at these numbers, are important. It may be that you just can’t afford to support a trial, in which case you should not do them, or you will need to change the trial structure so that the numbers come into line with reasonable customer acquisition costs for your product.

Step Three:  Talk to the support team. This one is both obvious and most often overlooked. Trials are often developed in the sales or marketing department, but they are supported in customer service. If you aren’t sure what support is available to you, or how the current support system works, you are doomed to failure. You are doomed even more so if you don’t have the cooperation of your customer support management colleagues. Make the effort to put together some numbers, take them out to lunch, and explain how a successful trial strategy could potentially boost sales and customer base. A customer with prior experience of the product may also lessens the support burden at purchase.

Trial Support Options: 3 Possible Choices

Let’s assume that your trial requires some support, and it’s not a simple sample of a manufactured product. There are many variations that you can come up with, but here are three basic structures to start from.

  1. Automated Support. Automated Support could be documentation built into the product, automated training videos, an FAQ page, or user forums.

Pros: Once developed, automated support is inexpensive to maintain and doesn’t generally require a new hire or extra staffing. This structure is scalable; having fifty people using the system is no harder than having five people use it.

Cons: This structure doesn’t allow you to do the extra hand holding and nurturing that might tip a prospect into a sale. You may lose the opportunity to step in if your prospect runs into a problem. You have to rely upon the technology to do its job, and you have to make the investment to be absolutely sure that the automated processes are user friendly.

The Right Choice: If the product is user friendly, and your usual customer support load is light, an automated support process may work well. This also makes the most sense for a business model with a high volume, low margin customer base.

  1. Group Training and Support. Often done in an online format, group training is a simplification of your normal training process. Performed on a regularly scheduled basis, all trial prospects undergo the training together, minimizing cost to the company. This is combined with some form of support, either full or limited, to answer questions during the trial.

Pros: This is less expensive than personalized training, and when it’s developed can usually be fit into the existing support team’s load. It lessens the individual support calls that may follow, and allows the prospect exposure to the company staffing, which may be a selling point.

Cons: A group training may not cover details specific to the needs of the individual prospect, and it usually is not sufficient by itself to get a prospect up and running on a successful trial.

The Right Choice: This is a great option for products that don’t quite explain themselves, but also don’t require a lot of customization. It’s a good choice if you sell a single or <10 seat license, and if the product won’t require a change of business process across multiple departments.

  1. Individual SupportIndividual support or onsite consulting. This is the red carpet treatment for your prospects, where you hold their hands through every step of the trial process.

Pros: The clients love it.  It provides them the opportunity to experience your support and your expertise, and gives you a lot of control over the prospect’s user experience and decision making process. Often it means an investment on the prospect side, so close rate is high.

Cons: This is a very expensive option. It’s only reasonable if your lifetime revenue expectations for a customer are very high. It also may require separate staffing; the best person to support a nervous prospect and soothe them through some initial confusion is sometimes a combination of sales and support, rather than a very efficient technical support staffer.

The Right Choice: This option may be necessary if you have a very complex product, if your product requires customization, or requires significant change of business process. It’s a correct option if your business model is one of high lifetime customer revenue with a lower volume customer base, and if your current revenue can support the staffing.

Offering good support is critical for the success of your trial program. If it’s worth your company’s effort to put a trial system in place, it is worth the extra step of setting up an appropriate support system to ensure that those prospects have the best user experience possible and convert to customers at a high rate.

Miriam McNabb is a principal at Spalding Barker Strategies, sales and marketing consultants.

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