Are there any studies that indicate whether there is a negative effect of requiring users to apply for and enter a license key to e.g. a 30 day evaluation of (non-SaaS) software?

My feeling is that to maximize the try-ability no license key should be required ... but the sales folk want to know who is trying the product so that they can contact and influence their decision process.

  • Who is your target audience? Commented Jul 24, 2011 at 9:44

3 Answers 3


I'm a big believer in the Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy business model from Techdirt. This means getting as many people to use your stuff for free and then finding innovative ways of getting the ones who are interested to pay for it.

There are a lot of studies on that website about the business model.

Thus any hold ups to people getting your software is bad. Just don't give trialist any kind of special support - the conversion rate is usually really low around 1%. Sales people have a really hard time with this though.

I couldn't get our sales people from taking on this idea - thus all trialist have to email us if they want to trial. So good luck. We do however give away a free three year old version of our software to developing countries.


What to offer in a trial/evaluation version, how long and to whom is mainly a business decision. You'll have to take into account the whole sales process, and choose the methods that will help you reach your business goals, with satisfied customers. There are companies where you can only get into a free trial when giving all the info you'd normally give for a paid license, they have their own valid reasons to do so.

Any threshold or hurdle in the process, whether it's a registration form, a license key, or asking for credit card information will cause some people to leave. If that results in higher quality leads, that can be a good thing, so you can focus your efforts on the people who are most likely to buy and give them more attention and a better experience (this is what your sales people say). On the other hand you don't want to scare away potential buyers for the wrong reasons, so anyone who is genuinely interested in your product should be able to get the information they need before they buy (your point).

So whether or not you should work with a license key for the evaluation version depends on the nature of your product, your whole persuasion process, and on your particular customers. If you make it more difficult to get the trial, make sure to motivate and persuade your potential customers enough to make them jump an extra hoop. It's quite easy to test what works best though with a basic A/B test: allow some of your customers to download directly, and work with a license key for others. Allow your sales people to do their trick on the latter group, and compare the end results.


I had a client who came to me, worried that the whole 'user experience' of their software was causing a low conversion rate from evaluation licence to paid license. As it turns out after an in-depth analysis of their product, their concern was well founded.

But here's my point: The only way that the client got on to this idea was because they had a 30 day evaluation license key and they were able to track the trending and relative numbers of downloads or requests for evaluation licenses, and subsequent conversions to fully paid licenses. The conversion rate was unexpectedly low.

Undoubtedly, as Marielle says (and she makes some other great points), the more obstacles in the way, the more users get lost in the process, but unless you can get a handle on the bigger picture of what's happening, it might be a very long time before you pick up on much more important issues, and in the early stages of a product, this could be the difference between success or failure. That's why it is important for the sales guys, but ultimately for everyone involved. This is a good example of when business goals need to override ease-of-use or 'try-ability'.

Of course - it goes without saying that the actual process of getting the evaluation version and/or applying for the license key is an area that needs to be carefully crafted in its own right in order to make it as easy and desirable to complete as possible

  • 1
    ...it goes without saying - but I said it anyway...(I'm sure there's a word for that?) Commented Jul 22, 2011 at 9:21
  • 1
    Tracking the conversion rate could simply be the number of downloads (and some smarts could be built-in here to keep track where they download from) vs new paid licenses. An evaluation license key is not going to provide much more info I reckon and as both yourself and Marielle pointed out, maximize the try-ability by reducing obstacles.
    – Geert
    Commented Jul 22, 2011 at 9:51
  • @Roger, there's definitely a site for that (for finding words, that is :)
    – John C
    Commented Jul 22, 2011 at 14:25

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