SaaS: for or against free trials? (3/3) SaaS free of charge: no room for improvisation

What are the conditions identified by the professionals which make the free of charge “SaaS-compatible”?

The analysis of survey results by type reveals an interesting dichotomy between the world of back office software (in green below) and the world of apps used directly or indirectly by operational branches (in red).

CRM 25 5 20%
ERP 19 1 5%
Finance 17 1 6%
IT 24 8 33%
Marketing 21 6 29%
Production 18 4 22%
RH 17 3 18%
Strategy/decision making 18 7 39%

The column NUMBER indicates the number of solutions in the category; the column FREE gives the number of solutions which offer SaaS free of charge; and the column % indicates the percentage of free solutions within a category.

The average percentage of free offers is 13% for the first category and 33% for the second. Which lead us to the following conclusion: free offers only make sense if the solution is intuitive, agile, simple, packaged, in a whole, easy and quick to understand. It is the case, for instance, for RunMyProcess (, Cloud platform which enables companies to design, execute and manage business processes with no hardware, software or coding. Stéphanie Kidder, Marketing Director: “The free trial of 30 days ( is a key element of the sale because it allows the user to test the functionalities of our app and imagine the world that he will be able to build thanks to the app. During the free trial, we rarely get involved because we have created tutorials. Most importantly, the solution is particularly intuitive. The user feels independent, reassured ».

It is for this same reason that Jamespot waited a year, after the official launch of their solution, to set up a free trial ( “We wanted to work on the user route to make it as ergonomic and as simple as possible”, Alain Garnier explains. “A free trial is apparent to self service, which implies putting a device in place: packaging, tutorials, but also mechanisms of subscription and follow-up. This especially since CSR is new issue that has not been fully tackled yet.”

A fortiori, it is understandable that providers of solutions for ERP, production management or HR are more reluctant to offer free trials/versions. How long would be needed to assess the functional and technological depth of a solution for business integrated management? Some companies that provide “heavy” software have shown true marketing skills by looking at it from another angle: if we offer the possibility of a free trial, it means – in a way – that the solution is agile and simple to familiarize with.

To go even further: since the free trial’s goal is to reveal the added value of the offer, what perimeter should it cover? The players that we have interviewed point out the commercial imperative underpinned by the non-binding offer. As written by Peter Cohen ( since data security is key in the decision making process, it is absolutely necessary for the free trial to include a security test. It is for that reason that the free offers that only consist in trying out the software partially are clearly unappreciated (see table below) and that the majority of the software providers choose to impose a time limit on the free trial that enables the use of all software functionalities and not just a part of them.

Days 25 52%
Functions 10 21%
Storage 4 8%
Users 4 8%
Target 3 6%
Consumption 2 4%

And if your solution is too complex to allow the user to evaluate without assistance, even over a long period, you have the possibility to include a free assistance within the free trial. Such as Update CRM ( which offers 5 days of consulting in addition. Delphine Massenhove, Marketing Coordinator: « We target SMEs as well as large industrials accounts, for which CRM projects are most delicate. We believe that the upstream phase of the project will determine the success of the project, hence the strategic choice of Update CRM to offer free assistance to its clients during this essential phase ( More than creating goods conditions upstream, the combination of free trial and free assistance helps attracts policy makers who do not know that how to tackle CRM. Furthermore, it encourages them to try the software because they know that they won’t have to commit to anything and that they will benefit from our help in order to formalize their strategy and their marketing and sales organization” Alain Garnier agrees “In the end, free trials are beneficial when the company has established an upstream project. Otherwise, free trials primarily drive the companies to ask themselves the right questions.”

With time, software providers who have chosen to overlook free trials have succeeded in segmenting the market in order to offer a version to some types of clients only. Therefore, Smartline made available a version of Webleads Trackers for free to its business partners – so as to allow them to present the solution knowingly. More generally, free offers are useful when trying to seduce a population of influencers – as long as the free trial is well packaged so as to avoid backfire.


« Justice is free. Fortunately, it is not mandatory”, said Jules Renard. Just like the sword of justice, the free trial is double-edged, which is why it should be considered with caution. In SaaS, it can lead to good results, such as reaching a broad audience to win markets, or creating conditions for customer loyalty. However, from the beginning, each party needs to truly commit. The software provider must provide a seamless package and a well thought out pre-sale. As for the client, he must make the promise to invest time and energy in the free trial, without which his commitment would not be sufficient. Matt McGee: “You HAVE to make the customer put significant skin in the game. » TANSTAAFEL.

Written by Philippe Guihéneuc, consultant SaaS-Guru ( in collaboration with Marine Simon, Hubert Senant, Philippe Khattou and Thierry Bayon

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