Are Paid Pilots or Free Trials Better for B2B?

I have recently read two great posts about the over-use and ultimate lack of effectiveness of the free trial as a marketing tactic in B2B SaaS sales organizations. Both Jep Castlestein of LeadSloth and Amanda Ferrante of DemandGen Report talk about alternatives to the ubiquitous trial and each provided great food for thought on a topic that is often dismissed by SaaS vendors. Most vendors I have seen, even those with extremely complex solutions (CRM, accounting, marketing automation, content management systems, etc.), seem to funnel everyone towards a free trial, shake the bucket up a bit, and then see which clients stick it out. While this has no doubt been effective for many organizations, especially simpler, less expensive solutions (see Basecamp, Constant Contact, etc.), I think it can simply add to the marketing and sales noise for many B2B organizations.

Problems with B2B free trials:

  1. The prospect has little skin in the game and may not be in a hurry to implement the trial solution during the assigned peirod. Other priorities come up
  2. The corporate sponsor may have difficulty getting buy-in from her internal team ( administrator, IT, etc.) in making changes that may be temporary
  3. The product is likely to be too vast for the client to be able to wander her way through it (imagine how many or NetSuite trials feel) without significant guidance from the vendor
  4. To be most effective in terms of converting the prospect, the vendor must fully implement, train, and support the free trial as though they were a full-paying client

I have been on both sides of this game. As a B2B buyer, I am relatively poor at dealing with the free trials for which I sign up. I sign up for them and then other priotities quickly come up. Since I have nothing invested (in terms of time, money, or stakeholder buy-in), I often wind up shelving the evaluation until a later date. What typically works best for me is a situation where I am paying for the solution but I have an out-clause if I am not satisfied after a certain period. That gives me the incentive to get things integrated quickly but also minimizes my risk as a buyer.

Advantages of a Paid Pilot Approach:

  1. The prospect has a sense of urgency when implementing the product -she is actually paying for it
  2. The vendor has a sense of urgency when  supporting the client — the prospect in this case is actually a paying customer and could become one on a recurring basis
  3. Increases likelihood of the prospect getting buy-in from other stakeholders at her company. She can tell them that she has selected a product but that it comes with an out-clause if needed.
  4. The vendor is able to at least partially compensate his sales rep; making the paid pilot feel like much more of a “win” than a trial would

At my marketing automation company we do a bit of both but the vast majority of our clients are month-to-month and have the option to cancel their service at any time. This has been a tremendous model for both our sales team (reduced risk is a nice message) as well as our support team. Since our clients can leave at any time, we have to constantly be on our “A game” in terms of the level of service we provide to our customer base. In a sense, all of our clients always in a paid pilot and we love it that way.

If you are only using the free trial method currently, I encourage you to also take a look at paid pilots. You may find that it works out better for both you and your prospects.

Let Your Website Do the Selling in B2B

As a marketer, I have the opportunity to look at a wide variety of company websites when assessing our inbound leads. I am always surprised by the number of websites I come across that are not user friendly. Within the B2B industry, your website can mean everything to your potential customers. Prospects want information and they want to get it fast without much effort.

The article Give Them the B2B Content They Want tells you how to give your online visitors just that.

According to the article, when buyers are searching for information on your site they ask 3 questions:

  • Am I in the right place?
  • Is there something here for me?
  • Can I get to it easily?

In order to help your viewers answer these three questions with a simple yes, make sure to utilize a few simple suggestions, outlined below.

Thanks in large part to the great websites that exist, a standard for layout has been set. As a web surfer, you are used to this standard and look for items in certain locations. For example, when I go to research a lead’s company, I expect to find a brief overview of what the company is selling on the homepage. I also expect to find an About Us tab either at the top of the page or along the sidebar at the left or right hand side. Surprisingly enough, some sites I have come across make it relatively difficult to even figure out what it is they do. Not only is it important to follow the standard for organization and flow of your website, but it is also important to communicate your message clearly. By having more organizational flow to your website, you also increase SEO.

Another nuisance is not understanding the content of a website. When too much marketing fluff or too many industry words are used, it is hard for others to get the gist of the product or service. Keep the wording short and to the point. Bullet points stand out and help visitors learn more quickly. Also it is helpful to distinguish yourself from your competition. In the B2B industry, buyers will check out multiple options, so make sure to inform your audience why your product is the best.

Following the idea of clarity when promoting your product, the use of visuals also helps describe your company and product. Use key visuals to not only portray your brand, but also to quickly connect words to images. Images and videos are longer lasting memories. They also jump out and attract attention unlike paragraphs.

To wrap it up, let’s list the main points to remember when designing your number one tool to sell your product.

  • Organization is key. Make it easy for visitors to locate the information they want.
  • Clarity gets the point across. Define your product or service in a simple, straightforward way.
  • Use visuals. Attract the eye and provide lasting memories.

B2B Marketing Lessons from the King

Are you a Big Mac or a Whopper?

McDonald’s has long been lauded for its scientific approach to determining optimal real estate for new store locations. For a time Burger King engaged in an arms race of sorts, competing with the better-financed Golden Arches for the best new opening possibilities. Burger King later shifted strategy and started to simply wait for McDonald’s to open new stores first. The King would then quickly follow suit, constructing a new store within a few blocks. This tactic negated many of the real estate analysis advantages that McDonald’s once enjoyed and shifted the battle to product and customer experience.

Take a look around the next time you go to a BK. You’ll probably see a McDonald’s just down the street.


So how does this apply to you as a B2B marketer?

If you are not the top dog in your market, mimicking BK’s strategy may be a good approach when determining where to spend your marketing dollars. A good technique is to take your savviest (though not necessarily your biggest) competitor, and watch very carefully how and where they are spending their marketing dollars. Let them make their marketing investments, ad places, and trade show bookings. They will no doubt be spending some of their dollars evaluating which media are effective. See what sticks and copy their approach. Are they focusing on certain keywords for SEO/SEM, sponsoring certain sites or newsletters, or attending key trade show? That is like market research that you are getting for free.

Be sure to set up Google Alerts for your competitor’s company and product names (I’ll write more on using Google Alerts in a future post) to get a head’s up when they post on sites, issue press releases, add to their blog, etc.

It is not a hard and fast rule, but chances are if the savviest (until you take that title away) marketer in your space is consistently putting dollars into something, it is worth being there as well.

B2B Marketing Strategy from "The King"

B2B Marketing Strategy from "The King"