Attracting a customer is hard, which is why free trials are popular with startups looking for traction.

Even then, convincing a potential customer to jump on the bandwagon is a challenge unless they see clear benefits. With so many options, consumers pick and choose carefully even when taking a test drive is “free”.

Let’s assume, however, that a consumer bites on a free trial. Then what happens?

In the scheme of things, this is the beginning of the relationship. It’s like a first date. It appears promising but you’re not really sure how things will go. It could be a smashing success. It could be a disaster. The person may not show up for the date. In other words, it’s a crapshoot.

onboardingFor startups offering free trials, the dating (aka onboarding) needs to involve three key elements: education, encouragement and excitement. It’s a combination that involves tact, subtlety and patience to turn a prospect into a customer.

Of the three, education is probably the most important. It is important to remember that potential customers are learning about your software. They’re dabbling as opposed to ready to make a purchase. Sure, there is interest but it’s driven by free so it is hard to know whether it is serious or not. 

In many respects, the customer is still learning about your product. It’s early days so the biggest priority is ensuring the customer understands what the product delivers and how it works. It needs to be easy for them to embrace the product so they can enjoy success, even if it’s a modest amount. As important, the product needs to delight.

Educating a customer can happen in a number of ways. It can be as simple as telling people to do three or five things to get started. It can be tutorial videos or the opportunity to ask questions via email (which a startup promptly answers, right!) 

When a customer is properly educated, they become more comfortable and confident. It becomes easier for them to see how the product could fit into their professional or personal lives. The barriers to entry are reduced and, as a result, the chances of them going from trial to purchase increase.

The second important element is encouragement. A startup has to make sure the customer is doing well with the trial. When a customer struggles, it’s pretty much game over. Given it is a free trial, there is no stickiness. If a customer isn’t convinced that they will see benefits, they quickly move on.

It means the onboarding process needs to make friendly inquiries about how someone is doing and whether they need any help. Ideally, the emails are based on insight that you have about a customer’s usage of your product. It makes your offers relevant and effective, rather than intrusive. A good tool to drive encouragement is a survey in which you solicit more feedback. Armed with this information your support can be even more on the mark.

A good tool to drive encouragement is a survey in which you solicit more feedback. Armed with this information your support can be even more on the mark.

Finally, customers have to be excited about using your product. They need to feel the product will make an impact or a difference. In some way, it will make them more productive, profitable, effective, attractive, healthier, etc. They need to believe that buying your product is a no-brainer because it oozes with benefits. 

One of the most effective ways to drive excitement is giving them examples of customers who have enjoyed success using your product. This can involve case studies, testimonials or videos – anything to convince a prospect that others took the plunge and never looked back.

Onboarding involves pushing, cajoling and cheerleading. While closing deals is the goal, selling can’t be too aggressive or blatant. Customers need time to learn about your product and how it will benefit them. Then, they will start to consider a purchase. If you push too soon for a sale, it could do more harm than good. When onboarding is done well, there is a natural flow into a purchase.

What do you see as the keys for successful onboarding?

If you’re looking for an example of a startup with a good onboarding process, check out Tile, a device to locate your keys, iPhones, wallets, etc.

After the initial confirmation email, you receive an introductory email that features three videos to get started. 











In the second email, Tile offers up more tips on how to use the device.












If you’re looking to jump-start your startup marketing, I can help you make it happen – everything from messaging and brand positioning to strategic planning and content development. Here’s how you can explore the different ways we can work together.