Software “Test Drives”
Electronic Software Licensing Turns More Evals Into Sales
The ability to easily create eval/trial/demo versions of your packaged software is arguably one of the most powerful advantages of using a license manager. Using an electronic license with an expiration date, and possibly a demo flag, makes your product accessible to would-be buyers. Since electronic licenses can also be easily turned into full, purchased licenses, a trial version of your product is the logical first step in a successful sales process.
Considerations When Building Your Trial Licensing Program
For all but the most complicated software products, users expect to be able to evaluate software on their own before purchasing. It’s difficult to imagine running a successful software business today without a well-designed software trial program. As when buying a car, a software “test drive” is part of the process.
When considering whether your software is a candidate for a customer-driven evaluation program, you have to examine who your intended customers are, what their expectations are and whether your application is easy enough for them to use. You also have to be prepared to give a certain amount of extra support as a result of a new trial program. Be sure that your product allows install and initial setup to be accomplished with as little support as possible.
A well-designed trial licensing program will reduce your cost of sales, increase customer satisfaction and productivity, all while expanding your reach into wider geographies and attracting new types of users.
Software Distribution and Customer Qualification
Trial software can be provided to your customers on physical media (eg. trade-show giveaways) or downloaded from your website. Regardless of how they receive it, your eval should be easy to install and use.
Software vendors must decide how widely available to make the eval copy, and who will be allowed to access it. After all, you want as many potential buyers as possible to evaluate it, but perhaps not competitors or those who give obvious clues that they are unlikely to buy.
Registration Info – How Much Is Enough?
If you allow your software to be downloaded, , you have to decide how much user information to ask for from your users, i.e. name, company, location, phone/email, etc. Most B2B customers will have no problem providing a reasonable amount of reliable data. But those who resist or provide only personal email addresses instead of business email addresses, may be telling you they are not serious buyers. Also, be careful with consumer-types because you might spook them based on their privacy concerns. Look at what your competitors are doing and tread as lightly as possible.
The Role of a License Manager
Unless you’re OK with your software being treated as shareware, you have to implement some kind of mechanism to limit how it can be used during the trial period. License managers, such as RLM™ from Reprise Software, offer maximum flexibility without disturbing your install process. Best of all, the same distribution bundle that serves as your trial version can be upgraded to a paid version by issuing the proper key later.
With a license manager, you can turn on/off various software features and limit usage scope and trial duration. But which knobs should you control?
Length of Evaluation Period
Typically, trials are limited to a certain number of days. The 30-day eval is the most common, but the length can vary based on your customers’ preferences and the complexity of your application. But the big question is, “when does the clock start?” We have found that the optimum strategy is to tie the initial product installation to the Internet activation/licensing process. This tells you when the software was installed, and more importantly indicates when the eval will expire, instilling a sense of urgency in your user, and setting in motion a follow-up timetable to help your staff orchestrate a smooth sale.
Your licensing/activation software must ensure that the customer cannot easily modify the date (back-date) in order to extend his eval period. It’s best to have a liberal re-activation policy when necessary.
Other Schemes? Not So Good
Other strategies are sometimes used to limit the trial software. Some vendors limit the number of times a product can be run – we find that this is a crude method, at best, because the trial end date is uncertain. Others count down the number of days based on the initial install. Unless you (the software vendor) know the install date, this method is of little use. You don’t want your sales staff calling in on your prospects only to hear, “Oh. We haven’t installed your software yet.” Wasted effort.
Next time, we will discuss how much functionality you should include in your evaluation software.