Who Invented the 30 Day Trial Anyhow?

This morning after posting a tweet, I noticed I had some new followers on Twitter. In this event I normally look at the new followers, decide if I want to follow them or directly message, or ignore completely.

But today the new followers notification sparked a curiosity about my stats in general as a Twitter user.

Ever since reading this post about tools for Social Media Managers I’ve created accounts with those social media account tools, and had a bunch of fun dashboards to look at and gain new insights from on my social media accounts with Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and more.

So, today, instead of looking at the new followers I’d gotten I wanted to head over to Sprout Social, one of several social monitoring tools recommended in that post.

What I discovered when getting over to Sprout was, my 30 day free trial with them was over.

Trial is over

It was curious that the trial was already over, because I have probably looked at my Sprout Dashboard 3 times since I started the trial.

After opening the account I got some emails from them with customer success managers offering to help me and nudging me to learn more about their tool.

Your New Sprout Social Trial Getting Started tomhillard gmail.com Gmail

I declined the help, maybe after finding some useful stuff on my own, I might want a more thorough introduction was my thinking. Also, when I started the account it took 2–3 days for my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts that I connected to be analyzed. This waiting step is a big obstacle in gaining new users. I believe people have an expectation to be excited about a product when they start it. At least, in the generalist pool that’s the case. Specialists know better and probably already have much more information about what to expect when they get started with a new product. But for a guy like me who has had no recommendations to use this Sprout dashboard except from a blog post, I didn’t know what to expect, nor did I really want to wait three days to start using it. But I did anyways.

After three days, there really wasn’t much data to look at. I know I’m not the biggest tweeter out there, I only post a photo on Instagram ever week or so, and my facebook is really not a business tool, just friends family, and a photography page, so I don’t have many people liking, commenting, or sharing/retweeting my posts, but really, the data was little or not useful at all. There was a good reason for that though, Sprout like a lot of these social monitoring tools are useful for tracking events in time, and changes over time, there isn’t much you can do except get an overview of your follower count, and some demographic data on those followers like the gender breakdown. Honestly I’d explain more about what data they do give you, but I can’t access my account at the moment. (play sad trombone here)

This whole shut out at 30 day trial ending thing really got me thinking. It created a reaction in me.

In the past, this moment of 30-day-trial-ending-before-proper-analysis-is-achieved has just been a turn off. In that case, I walk away, unless one of the many “come back to us” emails I would get down the road was really convincing, I just didn’t bother to look again, I wasn’t terribly informed about the product, but if someone asked I probably say I didn’t find it useful.

If after the ending of a 30 day trial I really believe I might learn something but wasn’t ready to spend money yet, I could use a new email address to make a new trial account. The whole pressure to sign up now or stop, just doesn’t leave a good feeling.

It forces my opinion of the product to be captured at that pay now moment, and asks me to decide.

So naturally since I hadn’t really gotten attached, my decision and forced analysis was, “this product must not be for me because I don’t feel motivated to open my wallet so I can keep using it” when they expect me to.

This paradigm of the free trial customer acquisition is very common in SaaS (software as a service) products. Sampling before buying, goes back to the beginning of time as a business strategy. Think of merchants at a market offering a sample of their food before you go in on a real purchase. But in the modern software online world, somehow, a lot of companies think that 30 days is the typical duration necessary to evaluate a process.

I’ve signed up for so many of those online services with a free trial, I just assume it’s a 30 day trial, I would be really blown away to be told I got anything else at this point. But as SaaS Marketing Strategist Peter Cohen rightfully points out in his article here, there is no magic number, the duration largely depends on the complexity and economics of the product. So why is everybody going the 30 day route? Who invented this? I’ve read dozens of marketing strategy books, and several historical non-fiction novels about the origins of modern salesmanship, I haven’t seen the initial starting point of this concept told. To be safe, I did a Google search, and also posted a question on Quora. Since those are the two lazy ways of researching such a topic and I don’t have a publishers advance to write about about it, that’s probably as far as my search will go for now.

But if there is any return on writing investment I hope to gain from this post, it’s not to discover who the creator of the 30 day product trial, it’s that companies think more carefully about what is required to fully try out and evaluate a product, and offer customers time to reach whatever metric / milestone that is, instead of this totally dumb and non-sensical 30 day period business, it just makes no sense.

In my case with Sprout, I wrote to their sales department, told them I hadn’t had enough time to evaluate the product, and if they would extend my trial I would continue using it and would be more likely to pay for the subscription after having more time.