Chapter 4

Trials, and the tribulations of finding the
perfect strategy that works for you

Trials are undoubtedly the best way to make your product sell itself. Short, long, free, paid, with a credit card, or without a credit card. You just can't ignore trials.

And no matter the effort that goes into concocting a brilliant marketing strategy and whipping out thoughtful content pieces for your ideal prospects to hit that coveted 'Sign Up' button, if they don't convert at the end of the day, then you're staring at an empty MRR dashboard.

You might be debating on how long you want the trial period to be set. You might choose to add friction early on in the cycle by requiring the prospect's credit card. Or you might want to attract a larger base by not asking for their credit card up front - all of these factors (and more) will decide if your evaluators are going to turn into buyers.

So read on to understand the different possible types of trial models for a SaaS product, when to use each, and how Chargebee can help you implement all of them.

Trial Strategies

Free trial with a credit card

Fictitious scenario: emailWeapon, an email marketing software for marketers, collects credit card information up front. When the trial period is about to expire, they give customers a heads up with an option to upgrade.

Use it to: Improve lead quality and keep the wrong users and tire-kickers out the door. Get better qualitative feedback from users who've canceled their trial, which in turn can be looped in to optimize for better product-market fit.

Use it if: You're hitting the growth pedal and are looking for fewer sign-ups and more revenue per user (RPU).

Ex. - Moz, an SEO toolset, requires a customer's credit card information to sign up for a 30-day free trial of their Pro plan.

Free trial without a credit card

Fictitious scenario: Notesy, a visual board and idea organizer for creators, steers their prospect through a zero-friction sign-up by not asking for the credit card information. When the trial period is about to expire, they give them a heads up with an option to upgrade.

Use it to: Have zero or minimum friction during the sign-up process - sometimes asking users for credit card information for a product they're unfamiliar with, can turn them away. Build trust during the first interaction.

Use it if: You're just coming up with a beta version of your product, and all you care about is the numbers game. You're looking for more sign-ups and less revenue per user (RPU), and already have a well-trained sales team to qualify and handle these leads better.

Ex. - Basecamp, a project management software, lets their users take their product for a credit card-less 30-day test run before they decide to commit to it.

Free trial with freemium plans and a usage limit

Offer a free trial with a freemium model pricing structure and a usage limit, with a credit card requirement.

Fictitious scenario: InFloat, a drag-and-drop intuitive drawing app, entices users to explore their product by offering a freemium (forever free) plan as long as the user only uses 100 'elements'. The freemium plan also requires a valid card on file to remain active. If the user exceeds the free usage limit, usage charges will be applied.

Use it to: Coax more customers to use your product with a free trial and a forever free plan, and create upgrade opportunities by restricting usage.

Use it if: Your product is simple to understand with an interactive UI, and you can rely on upgrades to happen automatically as usage scales.

Ex. - SurveyMonkey, an online survey tool, has a basic plan which is free but allows only 10 questions per survey. It collects the payment information up front, just in case anybody exceeds the limit.

Free trial with premium plans

Offer the highest paid plan as a free trial for a limited time, without a credit card requirement.

Fictitious scenario: DesignFor, a design collaboration app, lets users get a taste of the gamut of features that are housed under their highest plan. When the trial period is about to expire, they send an email asking the user to pick a plan. After she chooses the plan, they ask her to key in her card information. If she doesn't pick a plan, her account will be disabled.

Use it to: Tease your audience with everything in your arsenal.

Use it if: You can clearly classify the base features that must be a part of each plan, and your product is bundled and priced based on this classification.

Ex. - Xero, an accounting software, has a 30-day free trial and unlocks all of the product's features and optional add-ons for the trial users.

Trial Periods — the Long and Short of It

When Serge Salager, CEO and Founder of Retarget Links, a Link Retargeting Service and a budding SaaS startup was quizzed on what he thought was the biggest mistake they've made so far, this is what he had to say:

During our MVP we gave users a one-month free trial and then charged a monthly subscription. This kept our costs low but prevented users from testing the service beyond the first month. It also created some friction when we had to ask them to pay. So for now at least, the service is free so that our users can create audiences, and we only charge when ads are served.

Fix a trial too short, and you risk not giving your users enough leeway to understand the value of the product. Fix a trial too long, and you fail to create a sense of urgency and give freeloaders a chance to game the system.

You've built a product with a target audience in mind. Now, correlate how long your target audience would take to evaluate the product for their different use cases, given the complexity of it. And you get your magic number.

But we know it's simpler said than done. It involves experiments, a good understanding of the market, and a teeny-tiny bit of intuition too.

Sometimes, the more someone uses a product, the more they get hooked to it. Let's take productivity tools like Basecamp, HootSuite etc, for example. These companies provide a 30-day free trial because gauging if their solutions actually fulfill what they promise (to increase productivity within teams) takes time.

Sometimes, the user already has a good sense of understanding of what a product does, and a short window is enough to test their particular use cases. Ex. Intercom, Shopify etc. are big brands that give a 14-day free trial.

How Can Chargebee Help?
Chargebee's Trial Management lets you create trials of all lengths with as many (one-click) extensions as you need. Here's how you do it

Trial periods, free, paid, credit card or not are only the tip of the iceberg. How you actually make users believe that you've married their needs to the product's capabilities, within this period, is what will drive your customer acquisition metrics and let you leverage this beauty of a marketing strategy. If your free-to-paid conversion is taking a hit, start paying extra attention to onboarding and product education if you are not already doing so.

How Can Chargebee Help?
Chargebee lets you automate trial ending reminder emails when the trial runs its course. Customize email templates to your fancy.

Setting up Trials in Chargebee

You can create a trial when you create a plan for a product/service that has a trial period.

To learn more about how trials work in Chargebee, here's our extensive documentation on setting up and managing your trials.

Metrics you need to watch

Look out for these possible red flags on your dashboard, for which an unoptimized trial strategy is the most likely villain.

Is this a problem you're facing?

New MRR leak: This could be due to the lack of a free trial. And if there's a free trial, the trial to activation flow isn't smooth.

Then, monitor this:

  • Free to paid MRR

  • Free to paid evolution cohort This cohort shows how a group of customers move from free to paid in a span of 12 months

How can RevenueStory help?
We have a dedicated dashboard called "Marketing watch" to monitor all metrics related to customer acquisition and New MRR.


The interplay between understanding what your customer needs, getting acquisition channels right, and setting up a scalable (and optimized) monetization system is not one that you can easily grasp - it takes consistent and deliberate thought, testing, and tweaking.

But nailing that interplay is how winning businesses torpedo the rest.

The first step to getting there is building a sturdy foundation, to assimilate the basics of how each of the above factors operates. And this guide hopefully gave you just the right launchpad to do that.

If you found value in this guide, and are itching to learn more about how to join the league of winning businesses, let us know by writing to We'd be more than excited to accompany you on your growth journey.

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