We are building an SaaS application. In an ideal world, we would just have 1 plan that can cater to the needs of everyone. However, as we know, that is not the case.

The situation:

  • I have 3 different plans to choose from: Basic, Balanced and Ultimate.
  • I do not wish to collect the user's credit card on signup.
  • I want to offer a 30 day trial for each product.

What sort of trial system do I use? I have seen the following:

  • www.squarespace.com: Only allow users to signup to a hybrid plan where they can see the "highend" features but can't really use them. They can then enter their own credit card later and upgrade to the appropriate plan. The flaw with this that it is quite confusing. I am not really sure which plan I am actually on for the trial.

  • www.salesforce.com: Allow people to sign up to trials for all plans. The only flaw with this approach is that users do not get to experience features that could be useful to them but are not available on a lower plan (if they have chosen a lower plan). It is also not apparent if they can switch plans during the trial period.

  • There are some sites that says you get the first 30-days free and if you cancel before then, you won't get charged. In terms of plans, they use the same approach as salesforce, but require a credit card to signup.

All of these are not very straight forward. I have the following requirements:

  • Be as frictionless as possible.
  • No credit card to signup.
  • Give the users access to the greatest amount of features possible. I have read somewhere that you get people to buy more accessories if they were included with the car and then have the customer remove the ones they don't need.

What is the best system? Statistics, testing and research to back it up would be nice.

2 Answers 2


Firstly, having a credit card required at sign up is usually done because it is more effective at getting people to become paying users. If you have someone only fill in their credit card details at the end of the trial, you are creating an additional barrier to becoming a paid user, as they have to now make two distinct choices a month apart - one to create an account and try the product, and the other to pay for the product.

When you get the payment information aside, the most effective method is usually to give someone trial access to the highest plan with the most features. Then, near end of the trial, you then inform them that the trial is about to finish, and when it does they will lose access to xyz features. This is an ideal time to offer them some discount if they upgradet to a higher version. This way they have a chance to get to use some of the more premium features and hopefully will not want to lose them.

Psychologically, it's more painful to have something taken away than it is to simply not have it in the first place. Hence people are more likely to choose to stay on a higher plan to avoid downgrading than they would be to upgrade to a higher plan.

- Consider validating payment method at the start of a trial account.
- Make the trial account have access to the features of the highest plan.
- Near the end of the trial, notify them that they are soon going to lose access to xyz features unless they upgrade do a higher plan. Preferably with some incentive to do so.

  • Your comment about asking for credit card details upfront is quite interesting and a perspective I have not previously thought about. I always felt a bit uncomfortable giving my credit card details to a service when I have not had a chance to try it.
    – F21
    Apr 11, 2013 at 8:14
  • 1
    @F21 A lot of people feel that way, but if you're interested in conversion to paying customers, it's better to do upfront. if you're just interested in numbers of customers, then don't ask for it.
    – JohnGB
    Apr 11, 2013 at 8:26
  • I don't think this approach would fly in the EU. Subscriptions can no longer be automatically extended without notification and action by the subscriber. That means that if the user doesn't respond to the question in your summary, the account should be automatically downgraded! So to become a paid user people would still have to make a second decision anyway (and rightly so). Ultimate conversion is better served by lowest barrier to trial with the full feature set and a reminder that they stand to lose certain features at the end-of-trial period. People just hate to lose things... Apr 11, 2013 at 9:52
  • @MarjanVenema You are right. I obviously wasn't clear in my explanation, but I've clarified what I meant now.
    – JohnGB
    Apr 11, 2013 at 10:22
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    @F21: Opinions differ. Some read it as confirmation required. Others as automatic renewal being allowed, but only if you notify the subscriber well in advance that the subscription is up for extension and you give them ample opportunity to cancel before charging them. In other words silent extensions (with automatic charges) no longer being allowed. The legislation was put in place because people tend to forget when things renew and magazines tended to have very long notification periods for cancellations. (ie pay monthly, renew yearly, 3 month advance notification for cancellations). Apr 18, 2013 at 6:52

When you to threaten (in a nice way) to remove "their" stuff, you risk alienating the user - but if that user was not planning to become a paying customer at this time, you're not actually losing a sale.

You could provide the users with an opportunity to downgrade their service manually as an alternative to a cancellation at the end of the trial. Make it clear from the beginning that they can try it out, and if they don't like it, they can keep certain features.

When you let your users know that the account is going to be cancelled, you make it easy for them to manually log in and self-select to a different tier. This is similar to how audible/amazon does cancellations, and this interaction gives you an opportunity to dig into the reasons for cancellation.

Example: The 30 day trial is up. The user gets an email saying "Your trial is up - but don't worry, you can keep using many of our features for free. Please log in to select a free tier - and don't worry! Your account will remain in stasis for an additional 30 days".

Then, when they select a lower tier, ask some questions! The more customization, the more opportunity to prompt with things like "Are you sure you don't want scheduling?".

So, give them 3 of the 10 features for free, but let them pick which ones. And let them upgrade once (at any time) to all 10 for 45 days (or something).

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