Monthly Archives: July 2009

Free Trials Aren’t What They Used to Be

An important aspect of Demand Generation are the offers: what will your prospects register for? A popular offer for software vendors is the free trial. I read an interesting article on the decreasing effectiveness of free trials as a lead generation tool in the DemandGen Report. In the article Howard Sewell says that free trials “eliminate a huge subset of potential customers at the outset—people who (…) simply don’t want to expend the time or hassle downloading, installing and evaluating the actual product.” Very true.

Over 100,000 Downloads!

In my previous job I managed to get over 100,000 trial downloads. The frustrating thing was: very few prospects managed to use it successfully, so the conversion rate to paying customers was almost too low to measure, maybe 0.02% or so. And as a marketing manager I did not have control over the product experience. Very frustrating.

Developers or End-Users?

The product I promoted was used by developers. They tend to insist on trying out a product, so we had no option but to keep the free trial. Trials that are started by end-users are a different story though. Especially software-as-a-service (SaaS) products seem so simple! Even end-users get the impression that they can use the product in just 5 minutes. And that’s where free trials can really backfire.

Alternatives for Free Trials

The article mentions alternatives, like trials with limited functionality, single-user trials or shared online demo systems that are wiped every night. I think the issue with all these options is that prospects still have to learn the product, which takes time and effort. The other three solutions were interesting though: ROI tools, free consulting offers and paid pilots.

ROI Tools

ROI tools are probably more for decision makers than for product users. But if you don’t have an ROI tool yet, it may be a good idea to develop one. It doesn’t have to be a fancy web application: it could be as simple as a spreadsheet. It is useful to convince the decision makers, but I’m not sure if people who are interested in a trial will be totally satisfied with it.

Free Consulting offers

I see this as a version of the “free initial consultation” offer at most law firms. If a lawyer expects to get 10 billable hours after a 30-minute free consultation, a consulting or software firm may expect 20 billable days after 1 day of free consulting (as an example). The challenge is to qualify prospects well, to avoid providing free services to unqualified prospects.

Paid Trial

This is the alternative I like best, thinking from the vendor’s perspective. The customer pays money for the service, but can opt-out at any time in the 2-3 months of the trial. Even if they abort the trial they get useful deliverables, so it’s not waisted money. However, it serves a different function from a free trial: at the free trial stage, prospects are typically still comparing multiple vendors. With a paid trial the customer has already chosen a solution. So from the customer’s perspective a paid trial is not a good alternative to a free trial.

Other Ideas: Demos & Training

Other possible trial replacements that are not mentioned in the DemandGen article are recorded product demos and live product demonstrations. It may not be as “real-life” as working with the system yourself, but it still gives a good idea of the features of the product.

One strategy that has worked well for me is offering affordable online product training. Prospects pay a fairly low fee to learn the product. I believe we charged $400 for 10 hours of training. The fee covers the cost of the trainer. We simply used the revenue to pay our consulting department to deliver the training. And for highly qualified prospects we sometimes waived the training fee.

And If You Still Do a Free Trial…

In addition to making the product as user-friendly as possible, you could consider to provide sample projects, so prospect don’t have to set up the system. They can start playing right away.

Another suggestion is to do a manual qualification before granting someone access to a free trial. Prospects with the right skills and knowledge are more likely to be successful with a demo.

I also like Norm Bellisario’s suggestion to measure how far prospects get with the trial. If there are signs they got stuck (e.g. they didn’t login for a couple of days) you could kick off a lead nurturing program or send a notification to the sales and support teams.


Reduced attractiveness of free trial offers is a big issue for SaaS companies. There are many alternatives, but not all proposed solutions are a full replacement for trials, both from the vendor’s and the prospect’s perspective. But I hope that some of the suggestions in this article are useful for you. Let me know what you think!

Are You Old Enough for Inbound Marketing?

The tech industry is known for inventing new names for existing things, mainly to promote their own company. Great for them, but bad for customers: there’s always so much confusion about these new terms (earlier I wrote about the confusion around Demand Generation and Sales 2.0).

The newest term on the block is “Inbound Marketing”. I’ve already written several posts about Inbound Marketing, but I wondered if the average B2B marketing manager has any idea what it means. So I created a non-scientific poll on LinkedIn asking:

“Do you use Inbound Marketing for B2B Lead Generation?”

Are you using inbound marketing for b2b lead generation

LinkedIn showed this poll to randomly selected marketing professionals who work in the Tech Industry.

Overall Results

The overall results were pretty good: almost half of the respondents is already actively using Inbound Marketing. Although 25% has no idea what it is.

overall results of inbound marketing survey

Are You Old Enough for Inbound Marketing?

If you then zoom in on the demographics, the ‘age’ graph gives some interesting results:

inbound marketing survey results by age

The older the respondent, the more likely they are to know about and use Inbound Marketing. I though Inbound Marketing and Social Media would be a Generation Y thing!

Seasoned Marketers Know the Trends

If you then zoom in on the job level of respondents, we find a likely explanation. “Older” usually means markers in senior positions. And senior marketing executives have a helicopter view: they may not know the details, but they are good at spotting new trends and taking advantage of them.

Inbound Marketing survey results by job title

Is “Inbound Marketing” Approved?

I’d say “yes”. It clear that many B2B marketers know what it means, and many are already actively using it. Of course, the survey biased. LinkedIn users are more likely to know about Inbound Marketing than the average marketer, because LinkedIn is one of the Inbound Marketing tools. And people who don’t know what Inbound Marketing is could have simply skipped the poll.

For me personally: this blog is mainly read by innovators, so I should be safe to use Inbound Marketing as a well-known term. What is your take?

Use this link for the full results: Inbound Marketing Survey results

Social Media for B2B Lead Generation

Earlier this year Jame-Ane Ervin wrote a great post about the results of promoting her webinar via Social Media. She got a 400% increase in leads! Now that’s effective use of social media.

A couple of weeks ago I met one of the founders of the site Social Media B2B: Jeff Cohen (@dgtlpapercuts). We started talking and he asked me to write a post about using Social Media for B2B Lead Generation, as LeadSloth has done a fair bit of work in that area.

I decided to limit myself to Blogging, LinkedIn and Twitter. I could only use 1,000 words, and in my opinion Blogging, LinkedIn and Twitter are the powerhouses of social media for B2B lead generation. Just some excerpts from the post:

  • “Always include a clear call to action at the bottom of older blog posts (…) this call to action does magic for lead generation”
  • “Twitter is getting more popular every day. That’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s great that the audience is growing, but the average Twitter user has a hard time actually reading all those tweets.”
  • “The benefit of LinkedIn is that it is a business-focused social network, so it’s usually a source of very qualified leads.”

You can read the post here: Increase B2B Lead Generation with Social Media

Let me know what you think!

SEO Optimization – 3 Steps to Success

In the last years I’ve done a lot of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) projects. What keeps surprising me is that most people think it’s some kind of black art. Basic SEO is actually quite straightforward: hence my 3 steps to SEO Success. Agreed: I had to simplify some things, so please don’t bash me on that. My goal is to expose the basic principles of SEO, not to provide a comprehensive cookbook.

Side note: I mainly write about Marketing Automation, but I’ve come to believe that Inbound Marketing (which includes SEO) should go hand-in-hand with Marketing Automation. Inbound Marketing adds more leads to your database, and Marketing Automation manages those leads.

How Search Engines Work

All search engines have approximately the same approach: they rank based on relevant content and page popularity. Relevant content means that the keywords from the search query appear frequently on the page, and in the right places (Title, URL, Headings). Popularity means that many other sites link to this page, ideally using the same keywords in the link text. So let’s look at the 3 steps.

3 Steps to Improve your Search Engine Ranking:

(1) Choose your keywords wisely
(2) Create exactly 1 page for each keyword or keyword group
(3) Get links to these pages

(1) Choose the Right Keywords

First, pick approximately 10-20 keywords that you want to optimize for:

  • Choose keywords with enough search volume, but not too much. Too little volume means only few people will see your site, too much volume means that it’s going to be hard to get on page 1. You can find keyword search volume with the Google Keyword Tool. This tool also provides keyword suggestions
  • Choose keywords that are relevant. For example, for a company selling Portal software the term “web portal software” is more relevant than “news portal” (= people looking for a news website)
  • To start, choose keywords that are relatively specific. “Web Portal Software” rather than “Business Software” and “Web application usability” rather than “usability”. This ensures that you have a reasonable chance of getting on page 1 of the search results, and that you attract the right audience. Later on you can optimize for more generic terms.

(2) Optimize Your Website

Once you’ve created your keyword list, you can start optimizing your site:

  • Just to be sure, check if the search spiders can find your site. Type the following into the Gooogle search box: “cache:” without any spaces (click here for an example). You can use SEO Browser to see how Google sees your site: check that all content and links are visible in this text-only view. Do this for each page.
  • If pages are not indexed yet, make sure that other pages are linking to this page, and avoid JavaScript-generated links (search spiders don’t read JavaScript)
  • For each keyword term, create exactly 1 optimized page (or choose an existing page)
  • For each of those pages, put the keywords in the TITLE, URL, H1/H2 and in the content itself (example: a page optimized for “SaaS Analytics“); in the URL, use dashes (“-“) to separate words; if your website doesn’t use <h1> and <h2> tags (do a ‘view source’ to find out), ask you web developer to add them.
  • Use unique content on each page: if you use the same or similar content, you run the risk that the Search Engines think they are duplicates (and only show one of them)
  • Add an ‘elevator pitch’ in the META description tag, so Google will display this as a summary on the results page. Example: search for ‘Good Data’ and Google shows a summary written by Good Data’s marketing team: “Good Data brings easy, flexible, affordable analytics within reach of every company”.

(3) Get links

The search engines think your page is more relevant if other trusted sites link to it (“trusted” as opposed to “spammy” sites). The key is to write interesting content, and to network with bloggers and site owners so they want to link to your pages. You can still ask them, but an excellent ranking is only attained when other people link to your site without you having to ask for it. That means: create great content that is educational rather than necessarily promoting your products. So in short:

  • Write appealing content, so other people want to link to it. Consider creating “link bait”: popular topic formats are “top 10 rules for…” or a list of blogs or Twitter accounts that cover your space. Always keep in mind: write about the interests of your target audience, rather than pushing your wares.
  • Links (internal and external) should have descriptive link text. Use “business intelligence software” instead of “click here“. Google uses the link text to figure out what your page is about.
  • Ask other people to link, and already give them the HTML code for the link, so you can optimize the link text
  • Add your pages to directories that accept link submissions (e.g or industry-specific lists)
  • If you have a blog, put it on the company domain ( and ask other bloggers to add your blog to their blogroll (and do the same for them).
  • On your home page, include links to the keyword-optimized pages, so Google easily finds these pages (example: the links on bottom of The link text should be the same as the selected keywords.

Keep Optimizing

As you go through these steps you will find out what works for you. You should monitor the ranking for your selected keywords weekly or biweekly: just type it into the search engine and see if your site pops up. Then check your web analytics tool to see which keywords bring most traffic. If you monitor conversions (e.g. a whitepaper registration) you’ll see that some keywords convert better than others. Focus on link building for the keywords that work best for you, and keep adding new keywords. Also, as your ranking improves, you may take on more challenging keywords: the ones that are really popular.

I hope this article was useful for you: let me know if you have question, or if you want to suggest changes to the approach I described. And keep up the optimization effort: it will take at least a couple of months before you start seeing results.

PS. You may have noticed that I’ve optimized this post for “SEO Optimization”

Demand Generation Blogs Continued

In the spirit of Twitter’s Follow Friday I’d like to finally publish the remaining Demand Generation blogs that I enjoy reading. Earlier I published the Top 10 Demand Generation vendor blogs and the Top 10 Marketing Automation Blogs.

Of course, there were many great blogs that I forgot to include, so here are the remaining ones!

  • B2B Marketing Zone
    This is more of a meta-blog, aggregating a large number of B2B blogs, including this blog. I’ve discovered several new and interesting blogs on the B2B Marketing Zone, so highly recommended.
  • DemandGen Report
    This is an leading online magazine for Marketing Automaton, which features vendor information, news articles a job board and more.
  • Rebekah Donaldson’s “Red on Marketing”
    Rebekah and her team write about demand generation, with lots of good articles on content marketing and social media.
  • Brenda Gelston’ Marketing Momentum blog
    This blog provides a strategic perspective on the demand generation process.
  • Gary Katz, Marketing Operations at Work
    Gary is one of the forces behind promoting marketing operations as a important specialty, and on his blog he writes about this.
  • Ken Molay, Webinar Blog
    Demand generation is not complete without covering Webinars, one of the key lead generation programs. Ken’s blog full of useful webinar ideas.
  • Net-Results blog
    This is one of the newer vendors in the Demand Generation market, focused on the SMB market.
  • Jeff Ogden’s Fearless Competitor blog
    Jeff specializes in helping companies find new customers, he wrote a great e-book about that, and blogs about Demand Generation, primarily from a Sales perspective
  • Upshot Institute
    This is a resource website with information on marketing automation vendors, podcasts, webinars and blogs.

I hope you found some interesting new blogs in this list. And again, if you have any blog recommendations, please let me know: I’m looking forward to discover new thought leaders.

UPDATE: I’ve now put all marketing automation blogs on a single page.

Marketing Automation Introduction

Many posts on this blog are fairly in-depth, so it was fun to write an introduction to Marketing Automation on the blog. For easy digestion, I split up the marketing automation process in four steps:

  1. Getting more visitors to your website
  2. Get more visitors to register
  3. Lead nurturing and scoring
  4. Marketing & Sales Collaboration

In addition to the overview article that I linked to above, I’ve written one post for each step. Those will be published this week and next week. The first article about getting more website visitors is already live.

I’ve heard other definitions of the steps that are more catchy, like “pre-click, post-click and post-conversion”. These are the same steps as my steps 1 to 3. I’ve chosen to write out a description of the steps, because I think that’s easier to understand for people who are new to Marketing Automation. And I’ve added step 4 because collaboration with sales is one of the key success factors of marketing automation.

Anyhow, I hope you find the articles on the blog interesting, even though you may already be a Marketing Automation expert :- )