Three main steps
 
Any seller of software, and especially SaaS vendors, have to figure what’s the best way to attract their potential customers and then turn them to actual customers. This is not an easy task.
First, you have to get your audience, come visit your site.
Second, your site has to be good enough to have them download your trial/demo version.
Then, you hope they will be happy enough with it to want to continue using it, and of course – pay for it.
Each such step conversion ratio (site visits to downloads, downloads – actual trial, trial – paid) is a few percentage at best. Our experience shows that the last two are the tricky ones, and as anyone would have guessed, turning a trial user into a paying customer is the most difficult.
There are different ways to achieve your goals for each of the above steps. Let’s skip the discussion about how to get more site visits, as this is an issue covered by experts from day one of the first Internet sites, and multiple options are available for any site owner, at low costs, to do so. We’ll just mention that we use AdWords as a our main advertising tool, but we try to use other options as well. We do a lot of work of ‘guerrilla online marketing’, meaning we spend time in forums, blogs, relevant sites, have our own blog, twitter etc.
Usually you hit the wall on the second and third steps.
When a visitor enters your web site, the first 10-15 seconds are crucial. If he/she doesn’t have a “good feeling”, chances you lost them. If they stay a few seconds more, and are relevant in the first place to your offering, the chance of them downloading your software increases by numbers. Few approaches we tried, showed us that a one-main-message is very important on the landing page, mainly due to the short visit time, as mentioned. When we tried to say many things, in an effort to tell the ‘whole story’, we just confused and drove away our confused visitors.
You want to make sure you have a goal on the landing page. What is it that you want from your site’s visitors. In our case it’s download, so here you are with a big red ‘download’ bottom. What’s your goal? Is it understood in less than 10 seconds?

Trial (with no error)
 
Whether you have just a demo, or you have a trial version you are looking to turn users to customers. You don’t want to just see visits, downloads, and registrations – you want to see money.
And that is not easy.
Of course it all starts and ends with the quality of your software. If it’s no good, nothing else will help. However, having a good solution, is definitely not enough. Your competitors have good solutions as well, you are never alone. So, this is what we learned in the past years:
  • Good service is important, great service wins customers.
Can’t over estimate the importance of great service. Give your potential customers (and your customers) great service and you are increasing the chances to see them turning to customers more than anything else. great service is not easy – you need to be quick, thorough, personal (vs. automatic responses), responsive (listen to your customers and their needs and try to respond) and stay pro-active (tell them what’s going on during the process even if they don’t ask).
  • Keep it simple.
Think of yourself as a customer. You want to have easy-to-use application, comprehensive but intuitive and self-explained (no manuals, no training). Give your customers the same. design it that way and keep it even when you add more and more features to your application.
  • Don’t guess. Ask your users
When working on your solution, be it while still in Beta or after two years and version 2.0, don’t try to guess what is it that your users want and need. Simply ask them. They know and they will be happy to tell you. Take advantage of your communications options with them (your blog, your twitter, email list, web site) and make sure to pull feedback. If you make sure to demonstrate it matters, it will keep coming.
 
Freemium, Premium and Dollars
 
Then there’s the pricing model. If you were asking yourself how come it wasn’t mentioned until now, it was just because we wanted to give it the place it deserves :-)
Remember – we are trying to check how to convert trial users to paying customers. There is no point in just getting users to register. We know from experience that users will pay, if they believe there is value in the offering. If you think yours does – charge for it. Its worth it and your users know it. Free doesn’t work, if you want to stick around for a while. Even if you have a free trial or a free period, or any other option for attracting potemtial customers, there must be a Dollar at the end.
Should the trial be free, and ‘free’ of user’s payment details? Is it better to have a ‘money back guaranteed’ option? and how about “freemium” – give it for free but with less features, and try to make them upgrade to your premium paid version? maybe none, give them a demo and then if they want to use it they should pay?
Many possible ways for one problem.
Naturally, the price should be competitive. As said above, you are not alone, and users compare your solution in all aspects, including the price and it’s value in quality terms (how cost-effective it is for them).
We try to apply same rules as those written above. Give great service, keep it simple and listen to your users. It can all be applied to pricing as well.
Great service – have rules, but be attentive and see if you can be flexible and meet the specific needs of the specific customer. Try to work with them, and find a solution which meets their requirements as well, not only yours.
Keep it simple – why complicate it with many packages, some of which practically meaningless? First, build 2-4 options, it covers all possible options. Second, make sure the price is understood, and don’t hide future fees and ‘other’ charges. In our case we have one price for a license, and it includes everything (the license, maintenance, backups, security, upgrades, service). Don’t make it a math lesson.
Listen to your users – We didn’t ask our customers how much they want to pay (although in some places they do it. Successfully.) But, from time to time we have discussions with potential customers about the pricing, how they see it, how they compare it to other options in the market and we try to learn and adjust.