The hidden cost of free trials

by George Easton

Your company has grown beyond the scope of your current project management system, what do you do?

You begin the hunt for a new tool. You do your market research – browsing through some internet searches, reading a few trade blogs. You ask people for recommendations and get advice on competing options like Asana, Monday or Trello. You sign up to see what they’re like, and now you’re locked into a 14-day trial.

14 days to get to know a product that’ll form a key part of your company’s infrastructure. 14 days to test drive all its features. 14 days to explore how and when it can be used to enhance operations across various departments, staff, and projects.

In the meantime life doesn’t stop, and neither does your business. You have work to do, family obligations, all those time-consuming responsibilities that come with adult life.

What you don’t have is 14 days to sit down and trial this new software with the kind of detailed attention it needs so you can do an apples to apples comparison of all the choices available.

So you might load up your new tool for a few minutes before dinner, or squeeze in a quick demonstration between meetings but, all too often, the time goes by and suddenly the clock’s run out on that free trial.

Subscribe or move on. Either way you’re at a disadvantage because the gun of time and money held to your head prevented you from making an educated choice.

Breaking free of the free trial hamster wheel 

The free trial system isn’t an accident. It’s a time-honoured tactic whereby companies create a perception of scarcity…and then apply the pressure.

But a scarcity-focused mind and pressure are not fodder for good decision-making. You’re hurried, you’re rushed, you’re conscious of the clock. And this is when you’re most vulnerable to tool fatigue – indecisively choosing one product, hating it, going to another one, hating it, and so on. So many people work their way through all these tools that never really fit but keep jumping from one to the other because of the gun to their head.

Clients suffering from tool fatigue are more likely to make bad decisions just to get off the marketing merry-go-round. We see it all the time. They do the free trial dance and, before they know it, they’re committed to a product they’ve come to loathe. It seemed effective at the time but three months in, the cracks are showing and they’re desperate to get out of their handcuffs.

Here’s the bad news – you’re not getting out of those contracts. They’re deliberately iron-clad and small companies just don’t have the legal resources to go to battle over them.

Catering to SMEs

There’s always been this idea that small and medium-sized businesses are agile enough to pivot at any moment whereas big enterprises are slow-moving juggernauts. That’s true, but they also have nearly limitless capital and human resources.

A small company may be agile, but they still can’t afford to make any wrong decisions whereas the slow movers can get it wrong all day long. The big firms still hold all the cards.

Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu, the so-called ‘barefoot billionaire’, built his company with this in mind. He saw that mid-sized organizations were being routinely disadvantaged in a market that failed to accommodate their particular limitations.

That’s why Zoho puts the gun down and takes the handcuffs off.

Zoho sells its applications without contract and at an extremely competitive low price. That gives SMEs options, particularly if they’re already in the market for at least one of their applications. If you know you need their CRM, or their financial suite, why not pay the low price, get those core functions and have the entire Zoho portfolio to play with.

There’s no time pressure, no contracts, and you can take your sweet time exploring all those other features as much as you want. Tweak them, test them and then wipe the slate clean and start fresh when you’re ready to deploy. And if you hate them, no problem. When you’re out, you’re out, clean of contracts, legal wrangles and penalty fees.

Zoho’s growth in the mid-market niche is testament to the success of this approach. By ditching the cheap sales gimmicks and acknowledging the challenges of mid-sized firms, they’ve built a loyal customer base. Software giants take note – just because you take the handcuffs off, doesn’t mean clients will run away.

George Easton is ion8’s CEO and president. He’s a master of making digital technologies work for business by streamlining operations, improving online presences, creating and reinforcing brands, and selling products and services effectively online. George is a certified Google AdWords & Analytics professional, a certified Google Educator and a cloud communication technology guru. Additional skill sets include: Clio Certified Consultant and Certified Zoho CRM Consultant.