Dynamics CRM Online Free Trial – A SMB Deal Killer?

First of all, I am well aware of Microsoft’s push for trials ever since their entry into the SaaS space. Even though Microsoft is relatively new to the Free Trial game, apparently it has been successful for some products, but not as successful for others; CRM falling in the latter category.  I am convinced that the Free CRM Trial is a deal killer, for SMB at least.

Why do so many partners offer it?

A fair question, why do so many partners offer the free trial if it is such a deal killer? You already know the answer to that: Partner of Record. When an SMB customer clicks on a partner’s free trial link, that partner is automatically associated as Partner of Record for that trial customer. If that customer were to go on and buy CRM, that partner would get paid. Even though the conversion rate for trials in the SMB space is abysmal, some partners are playing a numbers game. Whenever you see a partner tweeting his free trial link, you know he is playing this game. Unfortunately, the majority of SMB customers do not convert, and are lost for a long time.

One chance to make a first impression

I remember my Dad telling me this when I first started in business (I thought he made it up). Upon a customer’s initial exploration of a CRM trial, assuming they were even able to run the gauntlet of signup and provisioning, a SMB customer will reach several conclusions within the first few minutes, all of them bad. CRM is [too big], [too complicated], [going to be too expensive], [my people will never learn this],[ my people will never use this], [etc]. As a partner circling back to this customer, you are now back on your heels, making excuses, and trying to convince that customer that the fears the trial implanted in their brain can be overcome. The trial has created a mountain of doubt that you now have to attempt to overcome.

The Partner Butt Puckerer

If you are a CRM partner, then you have been in the following situation before: An SMB customer, heck any sized customer, reaches out to inquire about CRM. You follow up with call to assess their general needs and then schedule a call to do an online demo. You perform a wonderful, controlled demonstration of CRM focusing on the requirements that they mentioned in the call. Everybody is duly impressed, even yourself. The customer’s team is very excited and says they will circle back to you in a day or two to move forward and your call ends with smiles all around. About an hour later you get an email from the customer: “I heard there was a free trial, can you send that to us so we can “play around” with CRM?”. This deal just went sideways, and has a very high probability of going away completely. You know you can’t say no, but you have been down this path before, and you also know that turning that customer loose in a trial will end up running them off… 99.99% guaranteed.

What’s wrong with a Free Trial?

Free trials are a common practice in SaaS, but that does not mean that every product is suitable. In order for a free trial to succeed in its mission of creating a buying customer, the customer must be provided an experience that convinces them to buy. CRM is way to complex out of the box, for a customer to ever reach this point without assistance. Unfortunately as a partner who has provided a trial link to your customer, you are not guaranteed to be able to chaperon them. Free trials really only succeed with easy products.

If not a free trail, what should Microsoft do?

Microsoft has created a Concierge service; unfortunately that still ends quickly with sending the customer down the same trial chute, only this time without a partner to reach out to.

Test Drive is probably the best direction from Microsoft in my opinion, at least for SMB. Microsoft should invest much more in this approach and include day-in-the-life scenarios instead of just showing out-of-context features. Sadly, even this exercise ends with a strong suggestion to sign up for a trial.  I talked in a previous post about losing a sale after a customer said yes, because you kept on talking… MS should stop talking after Test Drive and end with “Find a Partner”.

I think Microsoft, and their SMB partners and SMB customers would have much more success if the Free Trial would just go away. I am sure there are some that would argue that the customer who insists on a trial will end up going elsewhere, but I think that number is much smaller than the customer who actually gets the trial… and then goes elsewhere. Remember, before SaaS, everybody bought based on demos. Who decided that Free Trials are a requirement today?

RapidStart CRM vs. Free Trial

A primary focus of our RapidStart CRM solution is to provide the end customer with a dramatically simplified CRM experience with baked-in training and other goodies to make it pillow-soft for them to use and adopt CRM, and also have their Partner look like a Hero. We have created a demo tenant for our partners to use so they can avoid sending their customers down the trial path, but it won’t keep them from asking. I had one partner tell me that, after a RapidStart CRM demo, a customer who had insisted on a Free Trial, came back and said “No, not that one, the simple one you showed me the other day!”.

Advice to Partners

Well, I am guessing this will be pretty obvious, but just in case. If you have a burning desire to close a bunch of CRM opportunities in a hurry, and don’t might marking them all as “lost”, by all means, send out all the trial links you can. If, on the other hand, you would rather not put a bullet into the head of a CRM opportunity, I suggest you not breathe the words “Free Trial”. Take it off of your websites immediately and replace it with Free Demo. If the customer brings up the Free Trial, suggest that it would be better for you to do another demo if need be. If you are backed into a corner, with no escape, then save yourself a step after you send that link and go ahead and mark the opportunity “lost” right afterwards.

What has your experience been with the CRM Free Trial? Let me know in the comments below.

[info type=”info”]Non-Confidential Information Notice. This post was written by Steve Mordue who is a member of multiple Partner Advisory Councils and is therefore subject to an Enhanced Microsoft Non-Disclosure Agreement regarding information conveyed to PAC Members. All opinions expressed are solely those of Steve Mordue, and no information provided herein is subject to the NDA. Basically, Steve knows a lot more than he let’s on; He’d tell ya, but then he’d have to kill ya.[/info]

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