SaaS Automation: How to Use Marketing Automation to Turn SaaS Trials into Paying Customers

SaaS Automation image

For a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business, one of the most difficult challenges to overcome is SaaS automation: converting trial users to paying customers.

If you’re a SaaS founder, one of your MIMs (Most Important Metrics) should be “New Paying Customers,” which relies heavily on your trial to paid conversion rate.

After all, you don’t see any revenue until those trial users are convinced your particular software is what they need.

No revenue, no business, no fun.

Ideally, whether you offer a 7, 14, 21, or 30 day trial period, you’d like to see a trial user convert before their trial is up.

Perhaps you have hundreds or thousands of trial users, but you’re only converting to paid at a rate of 5%?

Maybe your conversions are stagnant – or worse, they’re dropping.

Whatever your current situation is here, we need to talk about how, in particular, Marketing Automation can help you convert more trial users to paying users.

Let’s get into it.

We’re going to assume a few fundamentals here because if you lack them, well, no amount of marketing effort will yield you the kind of results you really need.

First, it’s important that your SaaS is something that people actually want; a certain amount of Product/Market Fit is necessary.

Second: You should have some knowledge base that your users can tap into, for learning how to use your software. In particular, I’m talking about How-To videos, tutorials, and the like.

Got ‘em?

Good, because we’re going to leverage that – and squeeze conversion juice out of them.

When And How To Use Marketing Automation For Converting Free Trial Users To Paying Customers

As I’m sure you’ve experienced, many users struggle to fully take advantage of your SaaS, or they may not prioritize spending time getting familiar with it.

There’s often very little incentive to do so when you haven’t spent any of your money.

So, clearly you can’t afford to simply hope that free trial users will make a purchase.

You need to engage them, encouraging meaningful and successful use, and conversion at every opportunity.

Marketing automation can help you do exactly that.

You’ll be able to find how your product is being used, and can use lead nurturing to engage with your customers and guide them through the purchasing cycle.

Now, when and how Market Automation comes into play depends on what phase your free trial user is in.

Essentially, we’re going to cover this:

  • Phase 1: How to use Marketing Automation for the signup phase.
  • Phase 2: How to use Marketing Automation for user onboarding.
  • Phase 3: How to use Automation to increase conversion.

The common denominator in all three phases is that engaging and nurturing prospective customers is a proven method of moving buyers through your sales funnel.

Yes, that trial period is a sales funnel. You need to remember this and treat it as such.

You know as well as I do that, because it’s so easy to take advantage of a free trial, plenty of people sign up before doing much research.

This means you don’t get many up-front opportunities – such as delivering an in-person demo, getting the prospect to read a compelling ebook, or watch a walkthrough video – to convince the user of the value and usage of your SaaS.

In other words, you’re giving your software the job of selling.

The best way to actually pull this off is by using Marketing Automation to do the heavy lifting.

Critical functions, such as timing (when you’re sending an email) and personalization (for what reason you’re sending an email, and to whom), can be handled and delivered properly.

So, let’s get into the first phase.

Phase 1: How to Use Marketing Automation for the Signup Phase

There’s always that question of when to ask for payment information, right?

Some do it during the signup process, others leave it for later (it’s sometimes easier to get initial signups by not asking for credit card information).

What will work for you is a matter of testing each scenario, and looking for which path converts into more paying customers.

Let’s look at Drip as an example, where asking for credit card information happens during signup (and as Step #2).

This will also illustrate what role Marketing Automation plays.

Drip Singup Marketing Automation

As you can see, on a basic level, Marketing Automation happens at two events: the first signup step (before Step #2) and then depending on the outcome of Step #2.

If someone signups up at Step #1, but then leaves on Step #2, Drip still has their contact information and sends tailored and specific emails to address possible concerns the trial user might have about giving out payment information.

If they enter their payment information, all is well and the regular onboarding process continues (with the necessary triggers and emails to automatically follow).

Tip: you can see a video walkthrough of how Drip does this by clicking here, and while you’re at it, you’re welcome to download the Drip emails by clicking here (zip file).

You can even get more granular here, and make use of lead sources, returning or new visitor information, along with tagging your trial users, to split them up into even more segmented lists – all possible with Marketing Automation.

And in turn, this will assist you in crafting better onboarding emails (and content), which will help with conversions.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about that onboarding process.

Phase 2: How to Use SaaS Automation for User Onboarding

Regardless of how long your trial is, the onboarding process is the most crucial step for conversion.

This is where your user starts using your software, keeps using it, and reaches that “Aha!” moment, when the stars align, the matrix is revealed, and they see how your product is benefiting them.

To understand where automation fits in, we’re going to look at a couple of specific events during the onboarding phase: the Welcome Email and the Points of Usage.

Before that, though, we do need to make sure of one thing: your onboarding phase needs to be a well-defined process.

By that I mean: break it down, all of it, into steps.

Why? Because Automation can best leverage your SaaS if you set rules and triggers.

Worth to keep in mind here is that the name-of-the-game is: Engagement.

If your free trial user does not engage with your SaaS, you won’t convert them.

Now, a typical onboarding process often looks something like this:

  1. Complete signup.
  2. Receive Welcome Email.
  3. Log in to software.
  4. Update profile information.
  5. Start using software.

What, exactly “using software” is depends. For Drip, it is setting up the first email campaign.

For an accounting app, it might be connecting bank accounts.

For a CRM, it could be importing a contact list.

But, first thing first: your Welcome Email.

The most important best practices are these:

  1. Understand the Onboarding journey you want your trial user to take, which leads to the goal of paid conversion: Your Welcome Email should lead the trial user to do the first thing of your onboarding checklist. Keep the message clear, minimize confusion, and get them to engage with your SaaS with one small step. You don’t have to ask them to do everything at once – know what your onboarding journey looks like, and encourage the very first step.
  2. One, single, clear Call-To-Action: Confused minds don’t buy, they bounce. Your email needs to have a clear CTA, not just assume that people will know what to do, even if you tell them in the email. Got links in the email? Use them only for this one, single CTA.
  3. Link into your SaaS: Ideally, your software should walk someone through the “getting started” process. If your single CTA, that starts the onboarding journey, is for them to add a photo to their profile page, link directly to the profile page and make it painfully obvious that this is something the should do. Don’t include steps like, “First, log in to the app, then do this, then that, then the other thing…” – That’s a surefire way of making the task seem daunting and that’s the last thing you want your users to feel when using your app.

Now, Automation here is obviously the sending of the Welcome Email, but it doesn’t stop there: have contingencies and if/then rules and triggers setup so that if someone does not open the email, or open but does not click, within 3 days or so, then another email should go out.

This kind of tracking and trigger-based email sending will go a long, long way to encourage use of your app. Make use of it.

Now, in regards to Points of Usage: These are those events where a free trial user engages with your app.

Educational assets, such as How-To articles, video walkthroughs, free guides, webinars, and so on can be distributed and leveraged with Automation.

By integrating your Saas with your Automation platform of choice, you can track how your product is being used during the free trial, and you can then use this data to create and trigger user nurturing campaigns to guide your potential customers through using your SaaS, which is effectively a purchasing cycle.

Not every single one of your free trial users will be ready to make a purchase after using your SaaS software for the first time. However, with marketing automation, you will be able to engage with your customers on a regular basis with relevant content.

Imagine if you can tell that a user seems stuck on one particular function of your SaaS – have this trigger an email that talks about that particular function, points to a helpful walkthrough, or even offers to show them how to make the best use of it.

The main point is: leverage your SaaS and ancillary assets with Marketing Automation, to increase meaningful Engagement

And that, dear SaaS owner, is one integral part of increase that conversion rate.

Phase 3: How to Use Automation to Increase Conversion to Paying Customer

There are a few key components of Marketing Automation that helps you with conversion.

Let’s take a look at the most important parts.

1. Personalization and triggers

Marketing automation is effective because it works with your CRM system to create campaigns that will really engage with your customers.

You would have already captured the name of a customer when they signed up for free trial, for example, but there’s more you can do besides that, such as adding tags to your contacts based on their interaction and usage of your SaaS.

Sending personalized behavioral emails can create rapport with your users, and help them reach the “Aha!” moment that’s necessary for their wallet to open up.

In general, personalization can be a powerful marketing tool that can increase click-throughs by as much as 14%, and conversions by as much as 10%. So, incorporating this function with your software should be a priority.

2. Relevant content

To increase conversions, you won’t want your emails to end up in the trash folder. That’s why you’ll need to create relevant content that really speaks to your customers. Marketing automation can help you do this, so you’ll be able to deliver the right content, at the right time.

3. Free trial user scoring

With marketing automation software, you’ll be able to score leads quickly and effectively. You can use this information to decide which leads need some nurturing, and which others are ready to make a purchase from your company – and which are most likely to never buy at all.

4. Guiding customers through the free trial

With marketing automation, you will be able to send correspondence throughout the free trial period (rather than waiting until the trial has come to an end).

For example, on day three of a 30 day free trial, you could explain the basics of how to use the software, follow this up with a ‘tips and techniques’ email a few days later, and sending those expiration notice emails.

Most of all, though, while there’s plenty of possibilities, you should have the most basic automation in place, and it’s that of an email series.

It could look something like this:

  • On day of sign up, send the Welcome Email.
  • On Day 3, send message explaining how to get started.
  • On Day 6, send “Tips and Tricks” message
  • On day 12, send case study highlighting the success of a similar company using the software.
  • On day 18, send “Expiration is nearing” message and encourage purchase.
  • On Day 21, send “Trial period is up” message with discount offer.

At the end of the day, what it comes down to is the engagement your free trial user has with your SaaS.

Increasing Conversion By Leveraging Engagement And Your Saas To Spark The “Aha” Moment

The fundamental goal of SaaS marketing is to remove buyer roadblocks to accelerate customer acquisition – and Market Automation allows you to do just that, at scale, and with accuracy.

You need to show how to use your product, communicate the value, follow-up to shorten the sales cycle, tell users what to expect, send relevant and useful information, and send emails based on behavioral triggers.

Remember: the goal is for your user to reach their own “Aha!” moment; that point where they see the value of your SaaS, and why they absolutely need it.

Shortening that period is also important, but at the very least, the success of all the tactics mentioned above is tied to Engagement – whether or not your free trial users actually make use of your SaaS.

And to getting them to do that, is dependent on how you make use of Marketing Automation.