Should You Use Free Trial Offers in Your Marketing?


Free trial promotions are commonplace in both business to business and business to consumer marketing. They’re used as a way to entice new customers and can be a great way to demonstrate that your product or service is as valuable as your marketing claims it to be.

They seem to be used now more than ever though, partly because “software as a service” has become much more widespread than it was a decade ago, and because consumers are being given much more choice.

You can find free trials being offered for just about anything online, including:

  • Video streaming services
  • Cloud-based software packages
  • Shaving products subscriptions
  • Cloud storage services
  • Contact lense subscriptions

So with their prevalence in modern marketing, should you use a free trial offer to entice more customers to your business? Well it depends.

Is Your Product Any Good?

Free trials are designed to show off your product. If you have a really good product that you know customers will love and realise that they can’t do without once they’ve used it, then a free trial is probably a good idea.

Collect Feedback

If you aren’t confident that your product can sell itself then you’ll need to address this first. The only time you may wish to use a free trial in this case is if you want to collect feedback from your customers on how to improve your offering.

Is Your Offer Open to Abuse?

Savvy money savers often take advantage of free trial offers to get a free product or service with no intention of ever paying for it. Some may create a new account after the trial is over, or may only need to use the product once so won’t renew any way. If your target market is likely to be filled with a lot of these types of customers, you may need to think twice, or find a way to weed out freeloaders.

There are ways that you can filter out customers who never intend to spend any money by attaching the free offer to a qualifying spend. While this technically doesn’t make it a trial any more, it still reduces the risk for the consumer while taking away some of the burden from the business. Examples of this include businesses that offer “x months free when you take out an annual subscription” or free bet offers that require the customer to deposit money first.

Can You Offer a “Money Back Guarantee” Instead?

One common barrier for someone buying your product is that they don’t know if it will be suitable for them. A free trial is a way to get around this problem, but it puts all of the risk on you and means many unqualified “tyre kickers” will take the offer with no intention of paying for it.

A money back guarantee is another way to weed out the freeloaders. Customers must pay for the service up front, meaning that you get your money right away. However, if they are unsatisfied they can request a full refund, no questions asked.

This makes the customer do some more work if they want their money back and means that more qualified customers will be taking out the “trial” any way. This type of guarantee takes away the risk to the customer as they know they can get the money back if they are not happy, and has been proven to increase sales.

Will They Actually Use the Product?

Some people will get anything if it’s free, just because it’s free. There are whole websites and forums where communities of these people discuss free offers with each other.

For example the Money Saving Expert forums has seen people discuss how they’ve ordered washing powder measuring devices and turf samples, just because they’re free. Despite never having a need for them.

If you receive a lot of these types of requests then you may quickly use up all of your resources, stopping genuine potential customers from trialling your product. If you are marketing to business customers, you could require anyone who requests a free trial to enter their company details and then manually verify them first.

You could also use an auto responder email campaign to send how to guides and tutorials about the product throughout the trial period. This will help to increase the likelihood that the person testing out the product will be able to get the most out of it.

It Needs to be Right for Your Business

Ultimately, you need to assess the suitability of a free trial on your business, your product/service and the type of customers that you want to reach. If you do decide to offer a trial, then monitor its effectiveness and be prepared to end the offer, or make changes to it if you don’t need the response you expect.