Is Trial Software an Effective Marketing Tool?

There are people who believe that offering free trials is not the best way to market software. Rather, sitting with a prospective customer, face-to-face or over the web, is the best way to do it. Then there are others, the vast majority, who believe otherwise. Although I belong to the majority, I do believe that there are some cases when a trial may not be the best way to go about marketing a software. This issue is not as simple as it appears to be.

The key is to understand two things: (1) the software product, and (2) the target audience. Companies whose software products which are highly specialized, and hence not easy to understand and use, will almost always need to have personal interaction with a prospective customer. In such cases, due to the nature of the product, the target audience is usually small and it becomes feasible for a company to give personal attention to each prospective customer.

For a product which is designed to be used by the masses, personal attention to each and every prospective customer becomes impossible. In such cases, it is wise for a company to use its limited resources efficiently. I believe the best approach is to give personal attention to major accounts, big companies that have the need and purchasing power for a large number of licenses, and offer free trial software targeted to the rest. This way you get the best of both worlds. I know it sounds unfair, but trying to give personal attention to everyone just does not make good business sense.

Take SpaceClaim for example, a company which till recently did not offer a free trial of their software. Their marketing strategy revolves around their belief that there are approximately 5 million people involved in 3D product design and only 1/5th of them are exposed to existing CAD software. Their product is targeted at the remaining 4/5th. How exactly SpaceClaim intended to give personal attention to the 4 million people is beyond the limits of my comprehension.

What is often forgotten is the cost of giving personal attention. My NetMeeting Webinar with SpaceClaim lasted more than an hour with two people giving the demo, a guy from marketing and an applications engineer. There is a cost to all of this which eventually gets added to the price of the product. The more you spend on personalising the experience, the more unafforable your product becomes.

A common argument for having personal interaction is that the prospective customer’s questions will be answered immediately. Lets analyze this a little. I have had many such personal briefings over the web. When I ask a question to the person giving the demo, the reply has often been, “I don’t know. I will get back to you on this.” Later, he consults someone in the company and sends me an email with the replies to my questions. This cannot be very different from me downloading a trial, playing around with it and contacting the company’s support helpdesk with my questions. At SYCODE, we get numerous emails everyday from people who have tried our software and need clarifications. We reply to them the very same day, sometimes instantly. And since they can try our software with their data and at their own time, their questions are much more thought out and sensible.

And then, of course, there are people like me who will just not spend a dime, unless they have checked and cross-checked whether the software works as desired, and that too with their data. Nothing short of a free trial will make them dish out the dough. I am not sure whether these kind of people form a majority, but they are certainly a big group.

  • Ralph Grabowski

    >How exactly SpaceClaim intended
    > to give personal attention to
    >the 4 million people is beyond
    >the limits of my comprehension.

    Their’s too, considering that they admit to selling [oops: licensing] just 500 copies in their first half year.

    3,999,500 left to go!

  • Ralph Grabowski

    >How exactly SpaceClaim intended> to give personal attention to >the 4 million people is beyond >the limits of my comprehension.Their’s too, considering that they admit to selling [oops: licensing] just 500 copies in their first half year. 3,999,500 left to go!

  • R.Paul Waddington

    Deelip, In the main I would agree with you but their are at least two other main marketing/cost considerations that involve ‘free’ software.
    1) is that time costs the business user as well; a ‘small’ operator left on his own, using demo software will spend considerable dollar/hours doing his assessment and then quite likely need to spend on training as well. A good vendor/demo=personal attention will cost less overall for both parties.
    2) bad experiences using demo software will leave a small user with a bad taste even if the product might be ‘right’ for his business. The cost of overcoming this will be greater than an initial professional personal approach/demo etc.

    As CAD software is not a white good I believe, CAD vendors, specifically, need dealer structures that match their users base this way the vendors get good market coverage, the customers gets the attention they deserve and require and ‘free’ software becomes the tool and attractant it should be.
    R.Paul Waddington.

  • R.Paul Waddington

    Deelip, In the main I would agree with you but their are at least two other main marketing/cost considerations that involve ‘free’ software.1) is that time costs the business user as well; a ‘small’ operator left on his own, using demo software will spend considerable dollar/hours doing his assessment and then quite likely need to spend on training as well. A good vendor/demo=personal attention will cost less overall for both parties.2) bad experiences using demo software will leave a small user with a bad taste even if the product might be ‘right’ for his business. The cost of overcoming this will be greater than an initial professional personal approach/demo etc.As CAD software is not a white good I believe, CAD vendors, specifically, need dealer structures that match their users base this way the vendors get good market coverage, the customers gets the attention they deserve and require and ‘free’ software becomes the tool and attractant it should be.R.Paul Waddington.

  • Josh

    Hey Deelip, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    “For a product which is designed to be used by the masses”

    those masses are increasingly becoming a generation that is more “access” oriented rather than a generation that has been driven by trusted brand advertising. There’s such a saturation of information and programs, I want to choose, try it out for myself and pick the one I can use the quickest. Adobe products are the perfect example of those designed for the masses. I wouldn’t hesitate to emulate how they have marketed they’re product for a second.

    After choosing, using and getting to a stopping point, I’m still much more likely to stay, seek help, get training, talk to support, and pay, cause I’ve already put time into learning and want to trust my own decision.

  • Josh

    Hey Deelip, I couldn’t agree with you more. “For a product which is designed to be used by the masses”those masses are increasingly becoming a generation that is more “access” oriented rather than a generation that has been driven by trusted brand advertising. There’s such a saturation of information and programs, I want to choose, try it out for myself and pick the one I can use the quickest. Adobe products are the perfect example of those designed for the masses. I wouldn’t hesitate to emulate how they have marketed they’re product for a second.After choosing, using and getting to a stopping point, I’m still much more likely to stay, seek help, get training, talk to support, and pay, cause I’ve already put time into learning and want to trust my own decision.

  • Deelip Menezes

    Paul, I agree with you. Good documentation and step-by-step tutorials is the key. Companies who offer half baked literature on their products are often keeping an eye on how they can charge their customers for training.

    Josh, you’re the man! I couldn’t put it in a better way: "those masses are
    increasingly becoming a generation that is more ‘access’ oriented rather than a generation that has been driven by trusted brand advertising.
    " There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that companies making software targeted to the masses simply have to offer a free trial. If they don’t they are asking for trouble, and they will get it.

  • Deelip Menezes

    Paul, I agree with you. Good documentation and step-by-step tutorials is the key. Companies who offer half baked literature on their products are often keeping an eye on how they can charge their customers for training.Josh, you’re the man! I couldn’t put it in a better way: "those masses are increasingly becoming a generation that is more ‘access’ oriented rather than a generation that has been driven by trusted brand advertising." There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that companies making software targeted to the masses simply have to offer a free trial. If they don’t they are asking for trouble, and they will get it.

  • Kevin

    It’s hard to get a free SolidWorks trial but they manage to sell.

  • Kevin

    It’s hard to get a free SolidWorks trial but they manage to sell.

  • Jeff Waters

    Deelip,
    You start your article by correctly alluding to the fact that this is not a black or white issue. By the end, however, it feels like you’ve skewed in strong favor of free trials.

    There are cases where test drives are completely necessary and appropriate (selecting an automobile in North America, for instance). I believe it is largely a waste of time for most non-commodity software, though.

    I would fire any engineer who spent her day stumbling around CAE trials. A trial version of Adobe Acrobat? Sure, I’m okay with that. Evaluating a CAD or CAE tool with no training or immediate need? Forget it.

    It’s funny, I am just wrapping up a 3 part series on this issue that falls decidely on the “other” side of the debate:

    http://lifeupfront.com/2007/10/19/can-you-afford-a-free-software-evaluation-part-1/

  • Jeff Waters

    Deelip,You start your article by correctly alluding to the fact that this is not a black or white issue. By the end, however, it feels like you’ve skewed in strong favor of free trials.There are cases where test drives are completely necessary and appropriate (selecting an automobile in North America, for instance). I believe it is largely a waste of time for most non-commodity software, though. I would fire any engineer who spent her day stumbling around CAE trials. A trial version of Adobe Acrobat? Sure, I’m okay with that. Evaluating a CAD or CAE tool with no training or immediate need? Forget it.It’s funny, I am just wrapping up a 3 part series on this issue that falls decidely on the “other” side of the debate:http://lifeupfront.com/2007/10/19/can-you-afford-a-free-software-evaluation-part-1/

  • Deelip Menezes

    Jeff Waters: “I would fire any engineer who spent her day stumbling around CAE trials”

    >>> Sure I would fire her as well. So who is the problem? The irresponsible engineer or the trial software.

    Jeff Waters: “Evaluating a CAD or CAE tool with no training or immediate need? Forget it.”

    >>> No immediate need? So why are you evaluating in the first place? I think you are missing the point that free evaluation software is meant to be used by people who feel the need for it. Just because Boeing make planes, you don’t have to go and try one out.

  • Deelip Menezes

    Jeff Waters: “I would fire any engineer who spent her day stumbling around CAE trials”>>> Sure I would fire her as well. So who is the problem? The irresponsible engineer or the trial software.Jeff Waters: “Evaluating a CAD or CAE tool with no training or immediate need? Forget it.”>>> No immediate need? So why are you evaluating in the first place? I think you are missing the point that free evaluation software is meant to be used by people who feel the need for it. Just because Boeing make planes, you don’t have to go and try one out.

  • Jeff Waters

    >>> No immediate need? So why are you evaluating in the first place?

    Indeed!

    We may not be on the same page here, though. “Who” is feeling this need is an important question. Let’s use CAD as an example. How about a Pro/E user in a group of 50 Pro/E users who believes Solidworks will provide a faster and easier workflow? Maybe that’s even true. True for him at least. But, maybe it’s not true for the manufacturing guys. Or, maybe a switch to another CAD tool would disrupt supplier data exchange processes that are working wonderfully right now. These are all things that user will probably not even think of… what’s the point of spending time on an evaluation if it a change doesn’t make good overall business sense?

    It’s a different situation entirely if a VP of Engineering looks at all these issues and sees opportunities and efficiencies to be gained by switching CAD. At this point. Now it makes good business sense to even think about evaluations… free or otherwise.

    In the latter case, it surely makes more sense to invest in some training and short-term licensing & support in as compact a time period as possible.

    Unfortunately, most requested “free evaluations” come from the former case.

  • Jeff Waters

    >>> No immediate need? So why are you evaluating in the first place? Indeed!We may not be on the same page here, though. “Who” is feeling this need is an important question. Let’s use CAD as an example. How about a Pro/E user in a group of 50 Pro/E users who believes Solidworks will provide a faster and easier workflow? Maybe that’s even true. True for him at least. But, maybe it’s not true for the manufacturing guys. Or, maybe a switch to another CAD tool would disrupt supplier data exchange processes that are working wonderfully right now. These are all things that user will probably not even think of… what’s the point of spending time on an evaluation if it a change doesn’t make good overall business sense?It’s a different situation entirely if a VP of Engineering looks at all these issues and sees opportunities and efficiencies to be gained by switching CAD. At this point. Now it makes good business sense to even think about evaluations… free or otherwise.In the latter case, it surely makes more sense to invest in some training and short-term licensing & support in as compact a time period as possible. Unfortunately, most requested “free evaluations” come from the former case.